NOEL (not rated, PG): In a hospital room in New York City on Christmas Eve, lonely
Rose (Susan Sarandon) cares for her elderly mother and shows kindness to another patient.
Across town, a gender-confused elderly man named Artie (Alan Arkin) has a heart attack
outside the apartment of Mike, a policeman. Thus, Mike accompanies Artie to the hospital.
Meanwhile, Mike’s beautiful fiancée, Nina (Penélope Cruz), wants him
to trust her more. Also in the picture is Jules (Marcus Thomas), a street kid who commits
a desperate act in an effort to have a happy Christmas.
The hospital is a symbolic artery of love and humanity for the characters and the angels
who dwell among them.
When I interviewed the multitalented actor/director Chazz Palminteri (A Bronx Tale, Analyze
This, The Usual Suspects), he said the film is the “story of five lonely
people whose lives cross on Christmas Eve. Due to incredible circumstances, miracles
happen and their lives change forever.” He said the film “has a message of
hope that, no matter how bad things are, your life can turn around.
“This movie is about how God can intervene and change your life in a heartbeat,” he
continued. “Besides, New York is America’s Christmas city. When a movie conveys
that a person is lonely in New York at Christmas, the audience can identify with that,
as they can with the miracles that happen there.”
Although the film seems to lose its pace in the middle and the conflict is a little too
easily resolved, Noel explores how people who are searching for redemption can find
it in the Christmas mystery. (Sister Marie Paul Curley and Sister Hosea Marie Rupprecht
also contributed to this review.)
This low-budget film was scheduled to open in November in some theaters and air on TNT
once. At the same time, disposable DVDs will be sold through Amazon.com for
$4.99. Thematic elements, some sensuality and problem language; a gritty and honest
film for mature audiences about finding love and companionship in the midst of loneliness.
CHRISTMAS FAMILY FILM FEST Many families watch a favorite holiday movie
together during Advent or the Christmas season. These films can make us laugh and cry,
and help us reflect on the meaning of Christ’s birth today.
Choose three movies from the list that follows or other favorites. Watch them together
and discuss the films. Give an award to the best one, based on the following elements:
the story, how well the filmmaker tells it and your values. (You can even vote on the film
at www.imdb.com.) I recommend screening these
films before watching them with your family to judge if they are appropriate.
Select a quote from the Scriptures that reminds you of the film. Make a Christmas movie
journal or scrapbook together that you can add to each year.
Unless noted, the following films are available on both video and DVD. Many will air on
TV; check your local listings for a schedule. Some are not rated (nr).
For the entire family:
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, nr): Charlie Brown gets tired of the superficiality
of his friends at Christmas. He asks, “Isn’t there anyone out there who can
tell me what Christmas is all about?” The answer Linus gives at the end makes this
film a family classic. It’s a movie for anyone who has ever had a scrawny Christmas
Heidi (1937, A-1, G): I have always loved the Shirley Temple version that
highlights Heidi’s Christmas away from her grandfather and her desire for hearth
and home, rather than comfort and riches.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992, A-1, G): This witty version of Charles Dickens’s
timeless story is told in true Muppet style with broad appeal.
For families with pre-teens:
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1983, nr, VHS only): This comedy, based on the
novel by Barbara Robinson, is for anyone who has ever tried to put on a Christmas play.
Starring Loretta Swit, it’s about the true meaning of Christmas.
A Christmas Story (1983, A-2, PG): Based on Jean Shepherd’s memoirs, this
classic is about an Indiana family in the 1940s: Mom (Melinda Dillon), Dad (Darren McGavin),
sons Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and Randy (Ian Petrella). Ralphie wants a Red Ryder 200-shot
carbine-action BB gun for Christmas. Although I don’t like showcasing a film that
might seem to promote firearms of any kind in today’s gun culture, this movie has
so much heart that parents will help kids understand the real meaning. There’s some
vulgar language and mild sexual innuendo.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966, nr): I like the animated version of the
Dr. Seuss yuletide classic more than the high-concept 2000 adaptation with Jim Carrey (A-2,
PG). Both tell the story of a lonely creature who seeks to destroy Christmas joy but who
is ultimately transformed by the innocence of the Whos of Whoville.
The Littlest Angel (1969, nr): I fell in love with an animated version of this
film when I was in elementary school in the 1950s. The 1969 version, with Johnny Whitaker,
Fred Gwynne and E.G. Marshall, is based on Charles Tazewell’s book about a shepherd
boy from biblical times who arrives in heaven and doesn’t understand where he is.
Miracle at Moreaux (1986, nr): This true story is based on the book Twenty and
Ten by Claire Hutchet Bishop. A French boarding school during World War II takes
in some Jewish children. The students’ reaction when the Nazis arrive at Christmas
is brave and moving.
For families with adolescents:
The Bishop’s Wife (1947, A-2, nr): This amusing story focuses on a busy Episcopalian
bishop (David Niven) who neglects his lovely wife (Loretta Young) at Christmastime. An
angel (Cary Grant) befriends her. The film was remade as The Preacher’s Wife (1996,
A-2, PG), featuring gospel music and starring Courtney B. Vance as a Baptist minister,
Whitney Houston as his wife and Denzel Washington as the angel.
A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1987, nr, VHS only): This appealing and endearing
story about a boy and his grandfather is based on a poem by Dylan Thomas. It’s fine
for adults but too slow for kids.
Elf (2003, A-2, PG): This comedy stars Will Ferrell as an orphaned human brought
up as an elf who seeks his real father at Christmas. Themes of identity, belonging and
family are couched in some adolescent humor.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, A-2, nr): Frank Capra directed this feel-good
classic. When George (Jimmy Stewart) is suicidal, his guardian angel, Clarence (Henry Travers),
shows him that his life is worth living because “one man’s life touches so
many others; when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole.”
Little Women (1949, A-3, nr): My favorite version of this story is the movie with
June Allyson. Christmas figures prominently in this Louisa May Alcott tale of a mother
and her four daughters living in Massachusetts during the Civil War.
Scrooged (1988, A-4, PG-13): Director Richard Donner’s funny film has heart,
as well as an edgy rendition of the three ghosts and a man headed for reform. Frank Cross
(Bill Murray) is a modern version of Charles Dickens’s Scrooge. The new Frank says
tearfully at the end: “It’s Christmas Eve....For a couple of hours out of the
whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be.” There’s some
crude language, sexual innuendo and rough action.
Stepmom (A-3, PG-13): When a divorced mom (Susan Sarandon) learns she is dying,
the new stepmom of her kids sacrifices her own interests and makes Christmas special for
everyone. It can be consoling to those who have lost a parent through divorce or death.
While You Were Sleeping (1995, A-3, PG): Lonely Lucy (Sandra Bullock) rescues a
man on Christmas Eve. His family thinks she is his fiancée. There’s some mild
Friends added their favorite Christmas films to my list, in some cases indicating specific
versions. An American Christmas Carol, The Christmas Box, The Christmas
Coal Mine Miracle, The Christmas Gift, Christmas in Connecticut (1945
version), A Christmas to Remember, The Christmas Tree, Christmas Vacation, The
Christmas Wish, Come to the Stable, The Crippled Lamb (based on Max Lucado's
book), Frosty the Snowman, The Gift of the Magi, Holiday Inn, Home
Alone, Miracle Down Under, Miracle on 34th Street (1947 and 1994), The
Nightmare Before Christmas, The Santa Clause, Santa and Pete, We're
No Angels (1955 Bogart version), White Christmas.