With Christmas falling on a Saturday this year, there's one last full week -- well, almost -- before St. Nick makes his annual rounds.
Thanks to television, DVD and Blu-ray, there also are chances to give yourself some extra holiday cheer with movies that invoke the yuletide. Here's a look at some of our favorites, those that are very traditional in their use of the holidays ... and others, not as much.
"White Christmas" (1954), Jay Bobbin: A sure sign of the season, this enduring delight -- reutilizing elements of the earlier "Holiday Inn," including Irving Berlin music -- guarantees warm feelings as soon as the title tune's first notes sound over the opening credits. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are teamed memorably as ex-soldiers, now a successful song-and-dance team.
They take their act to a Vermont inn operated by their former commander (Dean Jagger), who has fallen on hard times and may have to shutter the place ... but not if Crosby and Kaye, along with two comely sisters (Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen), can help it. Also notable as the film that introduced Paramount Pictures' VistaVision process, it gets multiple Christmas Eve showings Friday, Dec. 24, on AMC.
"A Christmas Carol" (1938), John Crook: I'm a "Christmas Carol" junkie, and this faithful early MGM adaptation, which casts real-life acting couple Gene and Kathleen Lockhart as the senior Cratchits, is fine on many counts. But look closely at the kids, which include their real daughter, June ("Lost in Space"), who years later would charm me in an interview with warm memories of that film, as well as the Christmas traditions she and her parents shared back then in Hollywood, when they would open their home to other Brit actors pulling holiday jobs in California. I still treasure that chat.
"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946), Jacqueline Cutler: Though inescapable during the holidays and essentially a twist on "A Christmas Carol," try watching this film without crying. This is the only movie I know precisely when I first saw it -- July 23, 1983. It was a week before my wedding, and my fiance couldn't believe I had never seen it. While we watched Jimmy Stewart, as George Bailey, become the richest man in Bedford Falls, my car was burglarized, and wedding gifts, just retrieved from the post office, were stolen. Yet the inscription guardian angel Clarence (Thomas Mitchell) wrote to George resonates: "Remember, George, no man is a failure who has friends."
"Miracle on 34th Street" (1947), Kate O'Hare: This film dangles the tantalizing proposition that Santa Claus is not just a nice man in a red suit and then provides a surprising legal resolution. Customers love Macy's store Santa Kriss Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), but his calm assertion that he's the real thing gets him accused of insanity. His unlikely defender is a stubbornly rational little girl (Natalie Wood) whose divorced mother (Maureen O'Hara) has banned all fantasy. With a little help from the U.S. Postal Service (how often is that agency a hero?) and some deductive reasoning, Kringle -- along with love, faith and imagination -- is vindicated.
"Love Actually" (2003), Jay Bobbin: Directing one of his scripts for the first time, Richard Curtis ("Four Weddings and a Funeral," "Notting Hill") infuses the many plots of his something-for-everyone romantic comedy-drama with the holiday season from the start, as a washed-up rock star (the superb Bill Nighy) has trouble converting the Troggs' pop standard "Love Is All Around" into a Christmas-oriented version.
Frequent Curtis doppelganger Hugh Grant plays England's new prime minister, Colin Firth appears as a jilted writer, Andrew Lincoln ("The Walking Dead") is an acquaintance of new bride Keira Knightley, Alan Rickman portrays an office boss with Laura Linney one of his employees, and Liam Neeson is the stepfather of a wise-beyond-his-years schoolboy (Thomas Sangster, who -- trivia alert! -- is a real-life cousin of Grant). And they're all affected by, and affecting in, matters of the heart. Lifetime will run the picture twice on Christmas Eve.
"The Ref" (1994), John Crook: I like to pull this one out when I reach that inevitable point where my holiday goodwill is at its lowest ebb. This acidly funny, grandly acted yarn about a harried burglar (Denis Leary) who is forced to take a relentlessly bickering married couple (Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey) hostage on Christmas Eve just gets funnier every time I see it. The classy supporting cast, with Christine Baranski and Glynis Johns, doesn't hurt, either. A few sips of this improbable mix of eggnog and bitters -- lots and lots of bitters -- can lift the fa-la-la-la-lousiest funk for me.
"Meet John Doe" (1941), Jacqueline Cutler: Besides my weakness for old newspaper movies, this stars the handsome, honorable Gary Cooper as Doe, and as the wisecracking newspaperwoman, the magnificent Barbara Stanwyck. Just before Christmas, her character is laid off; furious, she writes a fake letter, signed "John Doe." The paper publishes it, launching a movement. Doe is supposedly so disheartened by the political climate he's going to jump off a building on Christmas Eve. A broke baseball player pretends to be John Doe, but his conscience kicks in, and ultimately so does everyone else's.
"Die Hard" (1988), Kate O'Hare: In this blockbuster, NYPD Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) lands in Los Angeles to celebrate Christmas with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and kids but winds up battling high-tech thieves in a Century City office tower.
To the accompaniment of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," McClane blows up the bad guys while reaffirming the values of courage, love, family, sacrifice, determination and friendship -- all while showing that Christmas-wrapping tape is really good for securing your gun. Amid a flurry of paper in the finale, the reunited McClanes drive away to Vaughn Monroe's "Let It Snow! Let it Snow! Let It Snow!"