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10 Great Movie Christmas Parties

Hark! Film critic Alonso Duralde picks 10 classic big-screen yuletide celebrations.

by | December 20, 2016 | Comments

‘Tis the season to awkwardly clutch a plastic cup full of lukewarm egg nog while having awkward conversations with co-workers and distant relations as “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” plays loudly in the background. Or you could ditch the boring holiday get-togethers on your calendar and check out the wild and crazy merriment from some of our favorite Christmas movies:


It's a Wonderful Life (1946) 94%

its-a-wonderful-life

You’ve got a roomful of your closest friends and most beloved family members, everyone is there to tell you you’re awesome (and to give you money in your time of need!), Mr. Martini is pouring the wine, and Burt the cop is playing the accordion. What else do you need at a Christmas party?


Desk Set (1957) 100%

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With the prospect of looming unemployment because of the computer that’s being built in their department by Richard Sumner (Spencer Tracy), the research librarians at the Federal Broadcasting Network – led by the usually level-headed Bunny Watson (Katharine Hepburn) – cut loose at their annual Christmas party, knocking back the drinks, dancing around a piano stolen from one of the TV studios, and generally making mad merriment. “How does champagne go with Four Roses, scotch, martinis and Bloody Marys?” asks Peg Costello (Joan Blondell).


The Apartment (1960) 93%

The-Apartment

Three years after Desk Set, Billy Wilder’s acclaimed tragicomedy upped the stakes on the great American office party, showing the kind of corporate bacchanal that would send modern-day HR officers into a frenzy. It’s a wild time, but it also captures the film’s horrendously sexist microcosm, where dorky executives cheat on their wives, exploit their secretaries, and generally mow down any woman in their path in true Mad Men fashion.


On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) 80%

On-Her-Majestys-Secret-Santa

This being a 007 adventure – the only one to date set during the Yuletide season – there’s a Christmas party involving a bevy of beautiful women from around the globe (including future Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley). Of course, the presents they receive are actually hidden vials of biological warfare chemicals that the evil Blofeld (Telly Savalas) is hypnotizing them to take out into the world, but no one ever said all these parties were strictly for fun.


Scrooge (1970) 74%

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We’ve all got our favorite screen version of the Charles Dickens tale, and this one’s mine. One of the best things it’s got going for it is Albert Finney, one of the few actors to play the young, idealistic Ebenezer as well as the old crabby one. Since this version is a musical, it spends more time on the singing and dancing revelry at the Christmas party thrown by young Scrooge’s employer Fezziwig (Laurence Naismith).


Fanny & Alexander (1982) 100%

Fanny-and-Alexander

One of Ingmar Bergman’s more life-affirming films opens with the lavish Yuletide revelry of a prominent Swedish theatrical family. (In the U.S. theatrical version, this happens over the first half an hour or so; in Bergman’s longer miniseries for Swedish TV, Christmas takes up the entire first episode.) Even as we get to know the problems and conflicts of each of the relatives, their dinner and celebration is gorgeous and opulent, the holiday you’ve never had and always wish you could.


Die Hard (1988) 93%

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Putting aside the nonsense argument that this somehow isn’t a Christmas movie – even though it’s about an estranged couple working out their differences on December 24 – all the action takes place at a lavish Christmas party that goes south rather quickly. You wouldn’t want to be a guest at this one, what with all the shooting and explosions and Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) holding everyone hostage, but watching John McClane (Bruce Willis) save the day is a blast for all seasons.


The Ref (1994) 72%

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Maybe Caroline (Judy Davis) watched Fanny and Alexander too many times, but her idea of a Christmas feast is a Scandinavian smorgasbord that includes seven-day-old lutefisk. Joining her and her husband Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) this year is on-the-lam burglar Gus (Denis Leary), who’s trying in vain to be their surrogate marriage counselor so their constant bickering doesn’t blow his cover to the police. The food at this holiday meal sounds iffy, but everyone looks good in a fully-lit Lucia wreath.


Go (1999) 91%

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X is for Xmas but also for Xtasy in this ensemble piece about young L.A. types buying, selling and doing drugs at a wild Christmas Eve rave. It’s a movie full of actors who were just starting to be famous (Katie Holmes, Timothy Olyphant) crossing paths with ones who weren’t famous yet (Melissa McCarthy), and the rave scene – such a snapshot of late 20th century debauchery – illustrates the lengths to which some people will go just to get out of the house on Christmas.


Office Christmas Party (2016) 41%

Office-Christmas-Party

The boozy secretaries of Desk Set and The Apartment might find these goings-on a little too wild even for them, as district manager Clay (T.J. Miller) tries desperately to throw a decadent bash that will attract the client (Courtney B. Vance) whose business will stop Clay’s sister (Jennifer Aniston) from closing the branch. Anarchic revelry meets white-collar rage as word breaks out mid-fiesta that the employees may be sacked before year’s end; nuggets like that make this Party feel as relevant to the current moment as the Eisenhower-era bashes in those earlier movies were to theirs.


Alonso Duralde is the author of the quintessential holiday film guide Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas. Follow him on Twitter at @aduralde.

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