This is The Time of the Lists.
You know: The End of the Year Lists, when everyone tells you all about the best books of the year, the best movies of the year, the WORST television of the year, the Good and the Bad on Netflix, etc. and now you need a cup of eggnog, right?
“They” also want to explain which movies are really Christmas movies and then recommend which of those you should watch.
Where is my popcorn!? I know what I’m watching this holiday season. Same as every holiday season. Why meddle with perfection?
Now, I don’t only watch Gabriel Byrne during the holidays. I enjoy some GREAT Gabriel Byrne movies at this time of year, but I have my other favorites, too. Like holiday cookies: the more, the merrier! More about my favorites at the end of this posting.
My Gabriel Movies of Holiday Goodness List remains consistently and loyally the same however:
1. Into the West: Launch the Season with Enchantment
There is not much Christmas in this film, but it sets the holiday table anyway, by giving us tons of whimsy, a finely-tuned focus on the family, glorious Irish scenery, and a redemption arc that still stuns after all these years. Gabriel Byrne brings all of his truth to bear on the story of Papa Reilly and his children, their shared loss, and the magical gift that brings them hope. It IS the perfect holiday film and a lovely way to start the season.
Scene to watch for: All of the scenes with Tito and Ossie and that gorgeous horse capture just the right blend of realism and fantasy. But the ending, with its revelation and the understanding that follows, reminds us that we don’t always know the truth. Sometimes we must search it out—wisdom to balance our holiday frivolities!
2. Carrie Pilby: Polymath Celebrates all the Holidays
Carrie Pilby is the perfect holiday film. It begins with Thanksgiving, and Carrie’s dad, played by Gabriel Byrne, missing it. He shows up just in time for Christmas and some fireworks involving an old boyfriend and a book, and the story then segues right into New Year’s Eve and all that the new year promises.
Throughout, the dialogue is whip smart (as is Carrie), the scenery is New York in glorious winter (beautifully shot), and the tone is perfect: bright and shiny, with just a touch of melancholy.
Scene to watch for: An emotional moment at the Hans Christian Andersen statue in Central Park, with Carrie and her dad. Real drama and very touching.
3. Smilla’s Sense of Snow: Baby, It’s Cold Outside
So enigmatic. So mysterious. So HOT. Snow has many names in this film, but there will be no snow when Gabriel Byrne is around. His portrayal of the nameless Mechanic is a master class in saying everything with the eyes. The Mechanic just IS.
Smilla Jaspersen (Julia Ormond) is an equally enigmatic character: an uncommonly fierce and driven woman who follows her own path. She searches for answers to some deadly questions, but she does not question The Mechanic. We don’t, either. We just enjoy his shy smile and wait anxiously to see what happens next.
Scene to watch for: The Mechanic cooks dinner for Smilla. Hearts everywhere flutter. PS. Peter Peter Høeg’s novel is perfect for long cold nights. Skål!
4. Little Women: A Literary Christmas Celebration
Like Into the West, this film may not immediately strike the Christmas chord for everyone. If you take a closer look though, you will see that Louisa May Alcott’s story is full of the spirit of the holiday season, as well as its trappings, in the first part especially. There is snow everywhere, ice skating and snowball fights are daily past-times and, with the homecoming of the paterfamilias, there is a lovely celebration, complete with holly, candles, Beth playing her new piano, and a brilliant Christmas cake. The music for the film (Thomas Newman is a genius), with its exuberant horns and energetic motifs, creates a festive mood instantly.
The only thing missing during the Christmas celebrations is a certain German professor, but I like to think of him as the Gift Delayed–even sweeter for the waiting.
Little Women is a Christmas Classic in my book and I never tire of its unforgettable characters, their lives, and their experiences. This is great story-telling that transcends time.
Scene to watch for: Aunt March leading the way in singing “Deck the Halls”, with Beth ably providing the piano accompaniment. Brilliant!
End of Days: New Year’s Eve with a Bang!
I saw End of Days in the theater, on the big screen, when it was first released–in 1999. That was a strange year indeed and this movie took my Gabriel Byrne fan experience to a very strange place, too. I was not prepared for MY favorite actor to play THAT GUY.
But he did. He held the film together by the force of his portrayal and the surprises he gave us along the way: sexy, sultry, pugnacious, violent, without conscience or morality, and brandishing an acidic wit that made everyone else seem just a little boring–nice, but boring.
‘Tis the danger of Satan, you know. He’s so interesting, you forget he will destroy THE WORLD.
Scene to watch for: Satan explains the set-up and the deal. It’s just a soul. No biggie. Give it up or else. Arnold says “You’re a choirboy compared to me!” Gabriel says “Oh yeah? Watch this.” BANG!
Poor window. Poor Arnold. Happy New Year!
Gabriel Byrne is my Holiday Wizard, but there is a place for all those other movies, too.
So Love, Actually (I don’t care what anyone says, I actually love this movie), Die Hard (are you detecting an Alan Rickman trend here?), George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol (Roger Rees, David Warner, and Edward Woodward are the Three Englishmen of Dickens here), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (Boris Karloff is my spirit monster), and A Charlie Brown Christmas (tradition!) are all on the menu. This year I’m adding The Muppet Christmas Carol (someone recently observed that Michael Caine’s Scrooge is his role of a lifetime!) and Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander, because culture. I guess I’m meddling with perfection after all. wink
A Holiday Wallpaper for Your Trouble
Thanks for reading my deathless prose once again. Now it’s time to make a hot chocolate, find your Holiday socks, get cozy, and queue up some Gabriel for your viewing pleasure. Don’t forget to Byrne Up your computer and phone screens, too, with this icy cold wallpaper! Brrrrr! Happy Byrne-ing Holidays! heart