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Tom Tangney’s 7 favorite lesser-known Christmas movies

(Image courtesy of MGM)

To call these movies lesser-known is an understatement. They might not be the obvious crowd-pleasing Christmas movies everyone in your family will love, but are nonetheless worth checking out this holiday season.

The Dead

The best film adaptation of any work by James Joyce, “The Dead” takes place during an Epiphany Dinner in 1904 Ireland. The dinner conversation is simultaneously banal and profound, and leads to a hard revelation for one particular couple. This final film by the late great John Huston was written by John’s son and stars his daughter Angelica. Gorgeous, poetic, and deep.

Fanny and Alexander

Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece barely qualifies as a Christmas film since only the first half hour revolves around that holiday. But this rendition of a big turn-of-the-century Swedish family’s get-together is so rich in detail and imagery, that it perfectly captures the magic and mystery of Christmas celebrations, from a child’s perspective.

Little known fact: Richard Linklater is so enamored with “Fanny and Alexander” that he toyed with naming his most recent film “Mason and Samantha,” before eventually settling on “Boyhood.”

One Magic Christmas

This little seen Disney movie from the 1980’s is a surprisingly effective and heartfelt tale of a harried mother who’s lost the Christmas spirit. Mary Steenburgen’s best role ever. And in a refreshingly original casting choice, Harry Dean Stanton plays a Christmas angel.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Probably the best known film on my list, “Miracle on 34th Street” is still not seen as often as it deserves these days. The idea of proving the existence of Santa Claus in a courtroom is cleverly handled. And Edmund Gwenn is still the best Santa ever.

Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

If you’ve seen one too many versions of “A Christmas Carol,” this is the perfect antidote. Charles Dickens’ “Carol” is turned upside down and inside out by the brilliant Rowan Atkinson.

The Shop Around the Corner

“The Shop Around the Corner” is about a romantic rivalry between two Budapest store clerks is a real charmer. With stars like Margaret Sullavan (my favorite) and Jimmy Stewart, how could it not be?

Santa Claus

Unlike anything you’ll ever see, this bizarre 1959 low-budget Mexican fantasy pits Santa Claus against Lucifer. Santa apparently lives in outer space and has a workshop full of boys and girls of every race and nationality working for him. When Lucifer’s assistant Pitch is sent to earth to ruin Christmas, Santa jumps into action, with the help of a wizard named Merlin and a giant telescope more effective than anything the NSA has ever devised. (To give you a better sense of the quality of this film, keep in mind that it earned its own episode on Mystery Science Theater.

Check out Tom’s other, more relevant movie reviews.

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