Friday, November 27, 2009

Trailer Review: Ricky

Release Date: On IFC On Demand December 16, 2009, with a wider theatrical release planned for some time in 2010

Website: Official Ricky site (Warning: It’s in French)

Starring: Alexandra Lamy, Sergi Lopez

My Review: Ricky is a French movie that appears to be suffering from genre identity issues.

It tells the tale of a working-class single mother Katie who meets Paco and falls in love. It’s a romance!

They eventually have a baby boy, named Ricky, who never stops crying and begins to show signs of abuse when mysterious bruises appear on his back and bloodstains show up on his bedding. Naturally, Katie assumes Paco has something to do with this. It’s a family drama!

Ricky apparently has magical, mystical powers that initially alarm his mother, but win the hearts of all the townsfolk. It’s a supernatural fantasy!

But Ricky’s father is greedy and wants to exploit his magical son for his personal gain. It’s an extortion thriller!

The trailer for Ricky plays like a puzzle that I’m just too disinterested to bother solving, seeing as everything in it escaped my memory as soon as I watched it. I had to watch the trailer three times just to cobble together this post, and I grew more bored with each viewing. Which—correct me if I’m wrong—is the exact opposite effect a movie trailer is supposed to have.

Would I Pay For It?: No, I’ll think I’ll pass on this hot French mess.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Trailer Review: Date Night

Release Date: April 9, 2010

Website: 20th Century Fox Movies site

Starring: Steve Carell, Tina Fey, James Franco, Mila Kunis, Mark Wahlberg

My Review: I know it’s cool to hate on whatever is popular, but I’ve never been cool a day in my life, so I’ll just say it: I love Tina Fey and Steve Carell. I think they’re funny without being juvenile, clever without being inaccessible, and attractive without being scary. And since The Office and 30 Rock continue to be two of my favorite TV shows, I’m thrilled to see these two teaming up in a movie.

In Date Night, Fey and Carell are the Fosters, a married couple living in NYC and caught in a typical marriage rut. Then when they pretend to be another couple to get their reservation as a fancy restaurant, their marriage gets an unexpected jolt of life. Turns out that the couple whose reservation they stole are wanted by some shady characters who refuse to believe that the Fosters are who they say they are. After narrowly escaping an alleyway attack, the Fosters are on the run, trying to find safety, clear their name, and find out why exactly this other couple is in so much trouble.

Fey and Carell seem to play off of each other well in the trailer, and the supporting cast also looks great, with James Franco and Mila Kunis as the mysterious reservation-ditching couple and Mark Wahlberg without a shirt. I don’t deny that Fey and Carell’s movie careers so far have been hit-or-miss (Baby Mama and Get Smart were lackluster, but Mean Girls and The 40-Year Old Virgin were excellent), but it will be fun to see them taking on an action comedy which will give them more to do than sit around trading witty banter (not that that would necessarily be a bad movie, either…).

Would I Pay For It?: I’ll most likely wait to rent it, but if I hear it’s incredibly hilarious, I might actually shell out the money to see it in the theater.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Quest for the Best: Street Sweets Review

Location: Varies. Follow them on Twitter for up to date info on where they’re at.

Website: Official Street Sweets site

Price: Around $2 per treat

Atmosphere: Street-tastic. But their blue truck is adorable; one of the best street food trucks I’ve seen.

My Review: Another day, another dollar lost to a truck offering me freshly made baked goods. Sometimes I wonder if I would be sensible enough to say “no” to a guy in a windowless van offering me free candy.

The Street Sweets truck offers a lot of breakfast options; muffins galore, quiches, yogurt, coffees and teas, and croissants with your choice of fillings—just let them know what you want, and they’ll stuff your croissant for you while you wait (it’s not as dirty as I just made it sound). If you’re into savory and more health-conscious flavors, there’s spinach and ham & cheese. If you’re a sugar addict like me, there are a ton of sweet pastry fillings to choose from, like Nutella, almond butter, peanut butter, and chocolate cream. I went with a marshmallow cream filling, hoping it would be like marshmallow fluff. The filling they used was a bit runnier than fluff, and naturally turned my hands, face, and everything within a foot of me into a sticky mess. It felt like being in elementary school again, in the best possible way.

As for their dessert options, there are many, and everything is made with all natural ingredients, so if you’re the type to feel guilty about snacking, you can feel a modicum less so. There are a variety of cookies, cupcakes, whoopie pies, and brownies to choose from—and with the brownies they ask if you prefer a corner, side, or middle piece, which I love. Their flourless chocolate walnut cookie is a signature treat, and while tasty, it was also a bit bizarre. How you make cookies without flour I don’t know, but the end result comes out almost like fudge rather than cookie-like. The chocolate cookie was incredibly soft, pliable, and sticky, and felt like I could roll it into a chocolate ball if I wanted to. But I ate it like a normal human, and it was deliciously rich in its chocolate goodness and the walnuts added a satisfying crunch.

But the pièce de résistance is Street Sweets’ latest creation which is garnering a lot of attention: The macarella. It’s not an insipid dance craze from the mid-1990s, but a sandwich cookie that consists of two chewy coconut macaroons, flattened, and stuck together with a layer of Nutella. It looks a bit ungainly, since macaroons are meant to be ball-shaped and the flattened version is just odd to see, but when it tastes this good, who gives a crap what it looks like? The macaroons are delicious on their own, and very coconutty—they’re definitely not adding filler ingredients here. But turning them into a sandwich with Nutella was a stroke of brilliance on somebody’s part. The nutty, chocolaty spread works well with the coconut flavor, and they don’t glob it on, so the flavors all complement each other rather than competing against each other. It’s so good, I totally forgive them for giving it a goofy name.

Bottom Line: As far as desserts off the street goes, Street Sweets is a leap above Cupcake Stop and a short step below the Treats Truck (the caramel crème sandwich cookie from the Treats Truck is my new drug of choice). The staff who work in the Street Sweets truck are incredibly nice and accommodating and don’t make you feel like you’re being a pain when ordering one of their custom-built creations. With a wide and varied selection, treats that are both tasty and unique, and a friendly staff, I’ll definitely be visiting their crazy blue truck again soon.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Movie Review: Fix

Rated: TBD

Website: Official Fix site

Starring: Shawn Andrews, Olivia Wilde, Tao Ruspoli, Megalyn Echikunwoke, Jakob Von Eichel, Dedee Pfeiffer

My Review: I still find it amazing what some filmmakers can accomplish with a few dollars and a camera, while others have millions and a full crew and can barely scrape together a cohesive story.

In Fix, director/co-star/cameraman/co-writer Tao Ruspoli truly pours his heart and soul onto the screen, giving new definition to the phrase “labor of love.” Based on a real experience with his brother, Ruspoli tells the story of Milo’s quest to get his troubled brother Leo into rehab. Leo has been arrested and has until 8:00 that night to get to rehab, or else he’s looking a several years behind bars. Milo and his girlfriend Bella are working on a documentary in San Francisco, but once he gets the call about Leo, without a second thought Milo drives down to Los Angeles to pick him up in the wee hours of the morning to transport him to rehab (with a warily supportive Bella in tow). What starts out a simple drive from Point A to Point B gets complicated when Leo informs them that he needs $5,000 cash to get into rehab, which means making a few stops along the way to collect on some old debts. As they race against the clock, the trio meet up with several characters of varying degrees of shadiness, with Milo capturing the entire day’s escapades on film as he tries to both understand and reconnect with his brother.

Since Milo and Bella are documentary filmmakers, Fix is shot documentary-style with a handheld camera, primarily from Milo’s point of view. The shaky-cam feel of the movie is reminiscent of The Blair Witch Project, which in this case is a good thing, as it adds to the grittiness of the story. The Los Angeles these three are traveling through is not the Los Angeles you usually see in movies; they make stops in various undesirable neighborhoods—including chop shops, housing projects, and crack dens—which opens Milo’s eyes as to what sort of life his younger brother has been leading.

The most impressive element of Fix is how likeable Leo is (played by Shawn Andrews). The guy has basically nothing going for him—he’s been arrested twice, has a drug problem, has no money or home, doesn’t hesitate to steal whatever he feels is owed him, and is heading to rehab as a last ditch effort to get his life together—yet you can’t help but find him charismatic and charming. As they make their stops along the rehab route, you see how beloved Leo is in his circle of friends. Sure, said friends may be undesirable company to most, but in the world that Leo has created for himself, he’s a superstar.

A lot of the time, Milo and Bella (played by real life husband and wife Ruspoli and Olivia Wilde) seem like secondary characters in what is essentially The Leo Show. Milo remains behind his camera for most of the movie, leaving Bella to play the role of the responsible adult, which she isn’t thrilled about and wonders why they’re going so far out of their way to help a guy who doesn’t seem to really care about helping himself. Naturally, Leo manages to wear her down, and as they draw closer to their 8:00 deadline, Bella concedes to getting the $5,000 any way they can, which involves some ambiguous dealings and some outright illegal actions.

While as a whole Fix is a compelling story of attempted redemption—both Leo’s and Milo’s—there are some elements that don’t seem to come together. Milo is granted access to film every stop they make, and while I don’t have much experience with drug dealers and other criminals, I would think they wouldn’t be cool with having their transactions recorded. Bella’s turnaround also seems a bit unrealistic as it happens to quickly. She begins the movie reluctant to get involved and annoyed with what Milo asks of her, but after one encounter with a friend of Leo’s that she finds amusing, she hops on board with plans that involve selling stolen goods and dealing pot on the streets.

Though dark and gritty in its overall tone, Fix also manages to be darkly funny at times, especially with its casual acceptance of the criminal activities that take place all in the name of getting Leo rehabilitated. Then it turns around and is frustratingly heartbreaking as you see the sort of life Leo leads and how comfortable he seems in that life, and you wonder how serious he is about getting himself back on track. Milo and Bella compromise themselves in multiple ways to help him out, but you’re never safely sure it’s all going to be worth it in the end.

Bottom Line: Ruspoli has been a documentarian up until this point, and Fix is an incredibly well-done first feature film (the fact that it’s shot documentary-style helped, no doubt). The story he’s telling is deeply personal to him, and a shoestring budget and lack of major studio backing wasn’t going to stop him from telling it. Fix is the very personal journey of a truly formed character, and will hopefully pave the way for Ruspoli to bring more of himself to the screen.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

TrailerSpy Mobile is Here!

For the most part, I don’t usually care that I don’t have a fancypants iPhone and that my phone is just…well, a phone. But then cool apps like this become available and I get tech envy.

TrailerSpy Mobile is an app for your iPhone or iPod Touch that will allow you to watch all of the videos you can find on the TrailerSpy website. The site is continuously updated (I should know, I help work on it), so no matter where you are, you can see the most currently available movie, TV, video game, and book trailers. We also offer fun “extras” like clips, interviews, featurettes, behind the scenes looks, and deleted scenes. You can also easily search for older trailers from within the app if you want to check out something that came out awhile ago.

So if you have an iPhone or an iPod Touch and you’re a movie, TV, game, and/or book junkie, download the new TrailerSpy Mobile app. Then come over to my house so I can check it out, too.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quest for the Best: Cupcake Stop Review

Location: Varies. Follow them on Twitter for updates on their location.

Website: Official Cupcake Stop site

Price: $1 for mini cupcakes, $2.50 for regulars

Atmosphere: It’s a truck on the street, so don’t go for the ambiance.

My Review: New Yorkers love mobile food and cupcakes. So when the two are put together, it’s pretty much a guaranteed success. And with a rabid following on Twitter, a wide variety of flavors (both classics and new creations), and frequent contests and giveaways, Cupcake Stop has quickly become one of the “it” places for a quick sugar fix.

They only sell five of their flavors each day, but when they list their location on Twitter, they also list that day’s menu. On the d

ay I went I figured I may as well sample all of the day’s choices (oh the sacrifices I make), and got carrot cake, cinnamon bun, red velvet, chocolate vanilla, and vanilla chocolate. And just like the flavors themselves, the results were a mixed bag.

First, the worst part of it all: Raisins! Raisins are foul, loathsome, and disgusting things and have no business being in anything that is meant to be delicious. So I was already dismayed when I saw that both the carrot cake and cinnamon bun cupcakes contained raisins. The only good thing about raisins? They’re solid enough to easily pick them out of whatever you’re eating, which is exactly what I did.

The best of the bunch was the carrot cake (once the vile raisins had been removed). The cake was moist and flavorful, and the cream cheese frosting was sweetly tart and creamy. It was even topped with an icing carrot, just like all carrot cake should be. On the other end of the spectrum, the cinnamon bun was the worst, mainly because it wasn’t really a cupcake; it’s essentially a mini cinnamon bun baked inside a cupcake wrapper. Which I guess would be OK (though a bit misleading) if it wasn’t a crappy cinnamon bun; it was dry and practically flavorless, and the sugar icing drizzled on the top was way too scant. Cinnamon buns should be soft, doughy, gooey, and turn your hands into a sticky mess while you eat them, so Cupcake Stop’s version failed on all counts.

The rest of the flavors fell in the comfortable “pretty good” middle ground. The chocolate vanilla (which is just chocolate cake with vanilla frosting) was tasty; the cake was moist and chocolatey, the frosting creamy and sugary. The red velvet was also good, though not remarkable. The vanilla chocolate (vanilla cake with chocolate frosting) was kind of bland, and the frosting tasted like the canned kind you get at the supermarket, making it very reminiscent of having cupcakes at an elementary school birthday party. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I expect a bit more when shelling out $2.50.

Bottom Line: On the whole, Cupcake Stop’s cupcakes are good, but not overwhelmingly so. I also found them to be overpriced for what you get. Every bakery in the city jacks up the prices on their cupcakes, but most will counter balance that by making them a bit larger, using superior ingredients, or piling on mounds of frosting. The ones at Cupcake Stop are obviously made in standard sized muffin tins, some of the cakes don’t taste any different than a box mix, and the amount of frosting is normal, so they’re basically the same cupcakes you could make yourself at home or find at a school bake sale. They do have some unique flavors—I’ll most likely go back once the seasonal gingerbread spice is available—and obviously the convenience factor of being a mobile operation plays in their favor, but unless they start parking right outside my door or lower their prices, I’ll continue to spend my overpriced cupcake money elsewhere.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Trailer Review: The Cry of the Owl

Release Date: TBD

Website: IMDB page

Starring: Julia Stiles, Paddy Considine, Karl Pruner, Gord Rand, Caroline Dhavernas

My Review: The Cry of the Owl is based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, the same author who created The Talented Mr. Ripley, a taught, clever, and suspenseful psychological thriller. Too bad it doesn’t look like The Cry of the Owl embodies any of those qualities.

Julia Stiles stars as Jenny, a woman who lives in an eerily isolated cabin in the woods, who is being stalked by Robert, an odd man who likes to lurk in the trees surrounding her house and watch her. After an angry confrontation between Robert and her boyfriend, Jenny finds herself drawn to her stalker and then flips the table on their dynamic to become the creepy one as she romantically pursues Robert with unrestrained vigor.

Then Jenny’s boyfriend goes missing and you can probably guess who Suspect #1 is. Robert needs to clear his name, but his history as a stalker and an ex-wife who testifies that he’s mentally unstable aren’t doing him any favors. And Jenny is still behaving like a total nutcase, which isn’t too surprising seeing as she’s a woman who fell for her stalker.

It’s highly possible that everything in The Cry of the Owl could fall neatly into place on screen, but the trailer is all over the place. Plus it seems to drop too many major hints as to how everything ends, which defeats the entire point of watching a crime mystery movie.

Would I Pay For It?: Pay for it? This isn’t even going to make it to the Netflix queue.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Movie Review: Humble Pie

Rated: PG-13

Website: Official Humble Pie site

Starring: Hubbel Palmer, William Baldwin, Kathleen Quinlan, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Vincent Caso, Bruce McGill

My Review: Humble Pie is the story of Tracy Orbison, a severely overweight guy who can’t seem to catch a break. He has a lame job as a clerk at the local supermarket, he still lives at home with his overcritical mother, he admittedly has no real friends, trying to pass his driver’s test is a never-ending quest, and he yearns to be a poet in a middle-of-nowhere town who has little need for poetry since it will never pay the bills. Tracy doesn’t necessarily long for greatness, but he knows he needs to get something more out of life.

His moment of revelation occurs when attending a local theater production starring Truman Hope—a “real” actor whose biggest credit is a three-episode stint on J.A.G.—who also teaches an acting class for the local wannabes. With his trusty notebook of poetry tucked in his pocket, Tracy starts attending the class, longing to filter his artistic side into a new creative outlet and to make Truman his mentor. He also becomes a mentor himself to his new teenage coworker and his group of ne’er-do-well friends, reveling in the feeling that he’s needed and is making a difference in someone’s life. But while everything seems good on the surface, there are inevitable complications that arise from putting too much faith in those who don’t deserve it.

Pulling double duty in Humble Pie is Hubbel Palmer, who both wrote the screenplay and stars as Tracy. He easily conveys everything Tracy is feeling with just a look and a handful of words; he lives in the quietest of desperations, mainly due to the fact that there’s no one in his life who cares enough to really hear him. This is most evident when he’s put in charge of training a new employee at the supermarket and is overjoyed to take the young man out to lunch and share all his wisdom and insights of the world, like how to properly pack groceries and his big artistic plans for the future. For the first time, he sees an opportunity to make a positive impact on someone’s life, which is just the first small step in making a positive impact on the world.

As local thespian Truman Hope, William Baldwin is an inspired casting choice as he manages to unironically portray an actor who is deluded enough to not see that he’s going nowhere. We don’t know if he’s a has-been or a never-was, but that certainly doesn’t bother him. His small classroom of local acting students hang on his every word, and when Tracy approaches him with awe and admiration, you can practically see his ego grow three more sizes. All he’s ever wanted in life is the ability to wow people by just being there, and if remaining the big fish in this incredibly small pond is the only way to do that, so be it.

Where Humble Pie falters is in its lack of direction during the third act. It sets everything up nicely with Tracy’s lousy job and his undesirable home life with his angry mother and weird sister. Then the inevitable downfall when everyone he thought he could trust betrays him is tragic to watch—especially one so-true-it-hurts moment when his boss tells Tracy that his big promotion isn’t quite the big deal he thinks it is. But the final payoff never really happens. Certain gears are set in motion and some resolutions are made, but for the most part it just feels like the last third of the movie fizzles out. We’re not left with a very clear picture of where Tracy is going from here, but a feeling that he’s learned some lessons and knows there’s still some work to be done to achieve his life’s happiness.

Bottom Line: As a first foray into screenwriting, Palmer does a commendable job. His main strength obviously lies in developing characters, as the performances are what stuck with me most after watching the movie. The structure of the story tends to falter in places, and it seems to have trouble deciding what genre it wants to fall into—it’s not uproarious enough to be a comedy, not serious enough to be a drama, and not bizarre enough to fall into the beloved “quirky indie romp” category. But the characters are well-drawn and well-cast, and their situations solidly established, which is more than can be said for a lot of big-budget Hollywood movies. Hopefully in his next project, Palmer will have a story as tight and well-planned as his personalities.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Trailer Review: A Single Man

Opens: December 11, 2009 (limited release)

Website: Official A Single Man site

Starring: Colin Firth, Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Ginnifer Goodwin, Nicholas Hoult, Lee Pace

My Review: A Single Man is an emotional drama that stars Colin Firth. And that’s about all I need to know to decide that I will eventually be seeing this. For those who need a bit more:

Based on a Christopher Isherwood novel, A Single Man tells the story of one man’s struggle to go on after suffering a great loss. Set in 1962, it follows one day in a British professor’s life in Los Angeles after his long term boyfriend has suddenly died in a car accident. The trailer doesn’t give much away—not even a snippet of dialogue—but there are plenty of shots of longing looks and flirty glances set to a morose tune, so you know that yes, this is an arty film, and yes, there will be plenty of emotional drama.

Rounding out the cast is an impressive, but not ostentatious, group of actors, including Julianne Moore, Matthew Goode, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Nicholas Hoult. A Single Man has already played at several film festivals and received mostly positive feedback from both critics and audience members, with Firth’s heartbreaking performance already creating a bit of Oscar buzz as the awards season starts to gear up. Colin Firth in any role tends to make me a bit swoony; Colin Firth mourning the loss of the love of his life may very well push me over the edge.

Would I Pay For It?: Given the opportunity, yes, but due to its limited release, it’ll probably be rented, and is already in my Netflix queue.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Top 5 Holiday Movies to Watch

Whether you like it or not, now that Halloween is over, the holiday season is officially upon us. And depending on your feelings about the holidays, this season can give you a case of the warm fuzzies as you think about spending time with loved ones, sipping hot chocolate by a roaring fire, and all the delicious goodies you get to eat because “the diet starts the first of the year!” Or it can ignite a slow, burning pain in the pit of your stomach as you dread preparing your home for undesirable houseguests, worry about how not to go into debt while still getting gifts for everyone on your list, and loathe the idea of seeing those special few relatives who always make you feel like crap about yourself.

But as any movie junkie knows, the holidays are also a great time for watching movies. Everyone has their favorites that they dust off the shelf every November and December, whether they be movies that are actually about the holidays, or just an enjoyable distraction from the insanity that ‘tis the season. Here are my top five movies that I look forward to watching during the most “wonderful” time of the year:

5. Home for the Holidays (1995) – “Dysfunctional family gets together for the holidays” has really become its own sub-genre of holiday movie over the years, but I still find the underappreciated Home for the Holidays to be one of the best in this category. Directed by Jodie Foster, it stars Holly Hunter as single mother Claudia (daughter is played by a young teen Claire Danes) who heads to her crazy parents’ house for Thanksgiving. She’s commonly known as the family screw-up, which makes arriving just after being fired from her job all the more painful. Her sister is a total suburban snob (and married to Steve Guttenberg), her mother is hypercritical and shrill, her aunt is losing her mind, and her father has no interest in anything other than not dealing with anyone. Her one refuge is her beloved younger brother, played both hilariously and tenderly by Robert Downey, Jr. The entire movie is great, but the best parts are seemingly throw-away moments that stick with you afterward because they are all too familiar. Case in point: Claudia loses her stylish winter coat in the airport, and is forced to wear her mother’s hideous, lumpy old coat throughout the rest of the movie. Which always reminds me of how I forget to bring my winter hat with me to my mother’s every year, and she then tries to offer me some ugly pom-pom hat from days long gone by to wear when she wants to talk a walk after dinner. But obviously I’m not as good a daughter as Claudia, since I prefer to freeze than wear that hat.

4. Little Women (1994) – Little Women is fantastic to watch pretty much any time of the year, but I particularly like it at the holidays because it showcases the sort of family love and understanding that nearly everyone wishes they had. It’s especially poignant to watch now as the four March sisters (played by Trini Alvarado, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, and Kirsten Dunst) and are struggling with a newfound poverty while their father is off fighting the Civil War. But despite the hardships they’re facing and the things they’re forced to go without, they find happiness and support in each other. Which sounds really lame and cheesy, I know, but the movie manages to be warm and moving instead. And it’s not all soothing talks by candlelight; the March girls know how to throw down when push comes to shove (youngest sister Amy can be an absolute devil child). Little Women also features Christian Bale in one of his first big roles, as boy-next-door Laurie, and since this was the movie where I first “discovered” him, accepting him as the new Batman has been a bit of a process. And in case you’re wondering, no, the rest of my holiday movie picks do not feature Claire Danes.

3. Elf (2003) – Will Ferrell movies are hit or miss, depending on both your sense of humor and whether he’s doing anything other than screaming with his shirt off. But he’s so hilariously spot-on as Buddy the elf, I really think he’s missing his calling as a family movie star (hey, if The Rock can make it work…). While it is family-friendly, there’s plenty of laughs for adults in Elf, mainly due to the oversized child-like reactions Buddy has to everything Christmas-related (so it’s perfect to put him in NYC, which in December looks like Christmas puked all over it) and the collection of hilarious one-liners (“Smiling is my favorite!”). James Caan is also perfectly droll in his role of the curmudgeon who lost the spirit of the season, and Peter Dinklage’s cameo as a perpetually pissed off children’s book author nearly steals the entire movie.

2. Love Actually (2003) – Love Actually embodies nearly everything I hate in romantic movies: sappy love stories, unrealistic relationships, promotion of the idea that no one can be happy while single, etc. And yet somehow, when all this is presented in Love Actually, I adore it. I blame this on the fact that it’s a British movie (everything seems to look and sound better when presented with a British accent). The movie also manages to make Christmas in London look like the most wonderful place to be and I just want to pack up and move there and have intertwining stories with all those crazy characters. Not all of the vignettes presented are winners—I couldn’t care less about Colin’s quest to get laid in America—but as soon as you grow bored or disinterested in one story, another one stumbles in to reengage you. And with a cast that reads like the who’s-who of British cinema (or the adult cast of the Harry Potter movies), you can’t help but to eventually fall under its spell. Every year I devote a Sunday afternoon to wrapping all of my Christmas presents while watching Love Actually, and every year I have to stop to wipe away tears during the scene when Emma Thompson has her very controlled breakdown to a very melancholy version of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now.” Bloody brilliant.

1. A Christmas Story (1983) – I think of A Christmas Story as the holiday movie for people who don’t like holiday movies (I’m looking at you, It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street). Sure, it’s a movie about Christmas, but it focuses on a boy’s quest to get a BB gun as a gift and includes scenes of kids torturing other kids, cursing, and an abusive department store Santa. All the things that make the season merry and bright! Just don’t shoot your eye out, kid.