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5 Holiday Movies to Watch if You’re in Need of a Little Hope this Year

To say 2020 has been a tornado of a year would be an understatement, but as we arrive at the holiday season, there’s hope for that to change. We’ve all experienced our individual challenges this year, and while the holidays don’t magically erase our problems, they can be a reminder that hope and love can carry us through dark times if we choose to embrace them. And so, I offer you all a hug in the form of this list of the best Christmas films to watch this holiday season to remind you that, as they sing in Les Misérables, “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” 

It’s a Wonderful Life

Trigger warning for mentions of suicide and self-harm.

If you’re in dire need of a reminder that hope and love do exist (despite the current state of our world), look no further than Frank Capra’s masterpiece starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. In this timeless Christmas classic, James Stewart portrays George Bailey, a selfless man with big dreams to leave his hometown of Bedford Falls, New York and travel the world. When his plans are repeatedly delayed and his father’s business falls into financial ruin, George contemplates suicide until his guardian angel, Clarence, intervenes and shows him what Bedford Falls would look like had he not existed. When George learns of how his kindness and generosity touched the lives of countless people around him, George realizes he has a wonderful life and receives help from friends and family in remembering it. Grab some tissues for this one, because it’ll have you sobbing (with joy) by the final scene.

Miracle on 34th Street

Step aside, Mara Wilson. We all love you as Matilda, but nothing can top the original 1947 film starring Hollywood legends Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara. Natalie Wood stars as Susan Walker, a little girl who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. When her mother Doris (portrayed by Maureen O’Hara) hires a man to be Santa Claus in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, they're shocked when he claims to be the real Kris Kringle himself.

His claim sparks a legal case, with Fred Gailey (portrayed by John Payne), Doris and Susan’s neighbor, defending Kris in court. Cynicism and optimism clash when realist Doris and idealist Fred argue over what it means to believe and have faith in others. Curl up with some hot cocoa for this one, and join Susan and Doris in being reminded that love and hope are the things most worthwhile in life and the world.

A Christmas Carol

Side note: can you tell I love old Christmas movies? This adaptation of Charles Dickens’ famous novella starring Alastair Sim is undoubtedly the best version of the timeless Christmas tale. Not only will it warm your heart from its take on the redemption of miser Ebeneezer Scrooge, but it'll send chills down your spine between the black-and-white nature of the film and emphasis on the Christmas ghosts of past, present and future. These elements, alongside Sim’s performance as a vulnerable and more multi-dimensional Scrooge, will have you weep at the sound of Tiny Tim’s famous line, “God bless us, everyone!”

​Love Actually 

​With Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Colin Firth, Alan Rickman and more, this fun Christmas rom-com takes “all-star cast” to a new level! Set in present-day London, this film follows the intertwined love stories of friends and family during Christmas. While briefly describing everyone’s story would take up too much space in this article, you’re guaranteed to laugh, cry, and squeal with joy throughout the duration of this film. As Hugh Grant recites in the movie’s opening, the stories of these characters will show you that “love actually, is all around.”

The Holiday (2006)

For those discouraged in the search for love, this film will remind you that there's a lid for every pot. With an all-star cast including Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black and Kate Winslet, this film will take you through the snowy English countryside and sunny Beverly Hills. As the characters find their love in unexpected ways and places, you’ll finish the film wondering if you will, too. Plus, the score alone (shoutout to Hans Zimmer) is enough to lift your spirits.

May these films not only remind you of the power of hope and love, but offer a brief escape amid these challenging times. Christmas can’t rid us of our hardships or problems, but can remind us, as these film’s messages do, that there are brighter days ahead when we choose kindness, generosity and empathy. Call me sappy, but to quote Fred Gailey from Miracle on 34th Street, “You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.”

Stefani Shoreibah

Columbia Barnard '21

Stefani Shoreibah is a student at Barnard College, Columbia University majoring in art history with a minor in biology. When not studying or working, she can be found exploring New York City, reading (memoirs, historical fiction, or Frank Bruni's newest article in The New York Times), or petting strangers' cute dogs.
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