You've already seen "It's a Wonderful Life" for the umpteen billionth time. Now what?
No disrespect to Frank Capra's classic of small-town values and undying loyalty, but could you really blame the average moviegoer for wishing that, just once, when George Bailey jumps in the river to save Clarence, neither of them surfaces?
Ask 10 people for their favorite Christmas movie, and nine of them will probably say "It's a Wonderful Life," if only because it's the only one they can think of (the 10th will say "Gone With the Wind," because that's the only movie of any kind he can think of). Years of multiple holiday showings can do that to a film, and an audience.
But this sort of monopoly has got to end. There are plenty of holiday films out there that don't star Jimmy Stewart. Here are a dozen and one examples, all available on video.
* "A Christmas Story" (1983): This hilarious film speaks to every baby boomer (and more than a few post-baby boomers) who ever sat on Santa's knee, or watched as Mom and Dad struggled fruitlessly to put the lights on the tree, or wanted something for Christmas they knew they would never get. The only thing poor Ralphie (a pitch-perfect performance from Peter Billingsley) wants Santa to bring him is a Red Ryder BB gun; all he hears from his mom is, "You'll poke your eye out with that thing." Based on the writings of Jean Shepherd, who also narrates.
* "Christmas In Connecticut" (1945): A screwball classic with Barbara Stanwyck as scheming newspaper columnist Elisabeth Lane, whose utter hopelessness as a housewife (even though her column makes her out to be the best ever) is nearly exposed when her editor forces her to take in a Navy hero (Dennis Morgan) for the holidays.
* "Meet Me In St. Louis" (1944): Although not entirely a Christmas film -- it's about a family forced to move from old-style St. Louis to big-city New York at the turn of the century -- Judy Garland's heartbreaking rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" makes it a classic. Anyone who thinks this is a happy song hasn't been listening.
* "Big Business" (1928): A silent short from Laurel and Hardy, one of their best. The boys play door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen in July. When a would-be customer (the always-threatening-to-explode Jimmy Finlayson) slams the door on their product, what starts as a minor ruckus soon escalates into a destructive force to rival any tornado. Gut-bustingly funny.
* "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (1964): Perfectly awful grade-Z fare, with John Call as a Santa kidnapped by jealous Martians who want Christmas on their planet. Includes a pre-teen Pia Zadora(!) as one of the green-faced Martians. To quote film historian Frank Thompson, "It's a film you can laugh at, or with, or both."
* "The Santa Clause" (1994): Tim Allen is Scott Calvin, the clueless dad whose roof proves too slippery for the real Saint Nick. When Calvin puts on Santa's suit, he finds himself -- at first unwillingly -- stuck with delivering presents all over the world Christmas Eve. Gently funny, and the elves are a stitch.
* "A Christmas Carol" (1951): Sorry, George C. Scott fans, but this is the definitive version of Charles Dickens' holiday classic. Most people couldn't name an-other film starring Alastair Sim, but his Scrooge is one for the ages. When he finally smiles, hearts melt.
* "Miracle On 34th Street" (1947): On the subject of definitive characterizations, don't forget Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, the elderly New Yorker who really believes he's Santa Claus; he certainly looks (and acts) the part. Includes wonderful footage of 1940s-era Macy's Thanksgiving parades and a winning star turn from a very young Natalie Wood. True Christmas magic.
* "Holiday Inn" (1942) and "White Christmas" (1954): Two chances to hear Bing Crosby sing Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," which is reason enough to watch. In the black and white "Holiday Inn," Crosby is a song-and-dance man who adds spice to his retirement by opening his New England farm as an inn on national holidays; in the color "White Christmas," Crosby and Danny Kaye are a song-and-dance team who come to the rescue of a troubled New England ski resort.
* "Black Christmas" (1975): Here's the one to watch if your tastes run toward a gore-filled holiday. Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey and Andrea Martin are three dorm residents at a Canadian college who decide not to go home for the holidays. Big mistake, because a psychopath named Billy (Keir Dullea) is having a little too much fun with sharp objects.
* "A Midnight Clear" (1992): Set in the Ardennes Forest during the waning days of World War II, this film features Ethan Hawke, Kevin Dillon, Gary Sinise, Peter Berg, Frank Whaley and Ayre Gross as members of an intelligence squad sent to occupy an abandoned chateau. A little holiday magic establishes a bond between them and some nearby German troops, with tragic results.
* "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993): Director Tim Burton, who has one of the most consistently bizarre visions in Hollywood, uses stop-motion and replacement animation to breathe life into this visually arresting tale of a group of Halloween figures, led by Jack Skellington, determined to put their own stamp on Christmas.