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2013 Holiday Films: No Classics, But Good Stories

Remember when December was the time for Christmas movies?

I'm not talking about on TV, where each year the networks re-roast old holiday chestnuts starring Rudolph and Charlie Brown and unwrap new specials they hope (in vain) will become annual traditions.

No, I mean in theaters, where you could once find honest-to-goodness big-screen Christmas flicks like White Christmas and A Christmas Story and even National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

I'm told the globalization of the movie industry has helped to put the kibosh on Christmas movies. Draw a long arc from Saudi Arabia to Shanghai and you'll be hard-pressed to find many folks along the way who will rush to see The Santa Clause, and even fewer who'll seek out The Nativity Story.

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So we should be happy there are any new movies out there that acknowledge Dec. 25 marks anything other than the end of the Holiday Shopping Season:


A Madea Christmas
Tyler Perry is back as the mammoth matriarch whose previous films (including Madea's Family Reunion and Diary of a Mad Black Woman) have made writer/director/star Perry one of the most bankable filmmakers on the planet. This time Madea-a perpetually angry, sometimes violent woman who only grudgingly reveals her heart of gold-is heading to the hills for a good old-fashioned country Christmas, and fans of the series understand that's shorthand for "hilarity ensues." Last year Perry turned in a sensitive, stirring performance in the detective flick Alex Cross and the public, sadly, stayed away. Will Perry's fans only accept him as Madea? As far as Perry's bank account is concerned, the question isn't even relevant.


Black Nativity
The pedigree is hard to beat: Langston Hughes wrote the 1961 musical play on which the movie is based, and it became a classic of Black theater. But while Hughes' production was primarily an African-themed Christmas Pageant, writer/director Kasi Lemmons has wrapped around it the story of a Baltimore youth (Tyrese Gibson) spending the holidays with his estranged New York grandparents. Jennifer Hudson plays the boy's mom; Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett are the grandparents (he's pastor of a church that's staging Hughes' Black Nativity). The earnestly offered message is one of traditional Christian values; the music is timeless.


Best Man Holiday
Fourteen years after the same cast starred in writer/director Malcolm D. Lee's 1999 comedic drama The Best Man, they're back as the same characters, this time for a holiday reunion in New York City. There are enduring rivalries, jealousies and attractions, and it's hard to imagine a more appealing cast than one that includes Morris Chestnut, Monica Calhoun, Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs and Melissa De Sousa.


Not a "holiday" movie per se, but there's lots of snow and ice, and that's as close as a global entity like Disney will come to making a Christmas movie, it appears. Disney has two animation studios-Disney and Pixar-and this is by far the most accomplished computer-animated flick to come from the Disney side of the family. The story of a plucky young woman (is there any other kind in a Disney flick?) and a hunky mountain man trying to free their kingdom from a curse of never-ending Winter is exciting, funny and spectacular, especially in 3-D.

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