Our Most Memorable Holiday Movie-Watching Experiences
When I was in middle school, pretty much all I thought about was The Lord of the Rings, so even though we’d just seen The Two Towers (which came out during the Christmas of 2002), my best friend and I were already scheming ways to go see it again. One day, when she was planning to spend the night at my house, we spent the afternoon strategically working it into conversation, peppering my mom with not-so-subtle hints à la those kids in the Nickelodeon Magazine commercials who would mow “PLEASE BUY ME NICK MAG” into their parents’ lawns. “Doesn’t that guy over there look like Legolas?” I asked. “Mrs. Beck, look!” my best friend said. “I think I saw Shadowfax galloping over that hill!”
We didn’t really expect her to take us — we were mostly just having fun. Eventually, we gave up the chase. By 10 p.m. or so, it seemed hopeless anyway. My mom was pretty strict about curfews and bedtimes, and I said as much. About half an hour later, my mom waltzed through the living room with her car keys and told us to put our coats on and meet her outside.
“See?” she asked me. “You don’t always know what I’m going to do.”
I remember going up to the Poconos every year with my parents and their political friends for New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s Day, the kids would sit around and watch the Twilight Zone marathon. But what I DON’T remember is that every year since I moved to L.A., a group of friends and I get together the week before Thanksgiving to watch Planes, Trains and Automobiles and eat a lot and drink a lot. So much so that the following year, when get back into position on someone’s couch and start playing the movie, I’d have no idea what happens. Thinking about it now, I have no recollection why John Candy and Steve Martin land up traveling together.
My mom and I spent the first Christmas after she left my father watching It’s Complicated. (My mother, bless her: a devotee to all things cornball, though hardly a connoisseur.) The plot, though all too appropriate, wasn’t an issue. As far as she was concerned, the only worthwhile romance in that film lay strictly in the impossible conveniences of a Californian life: The behemoth of a kitchen; a sofa you can drown in; lavender-honey ice cream — homemade, natch. My mom had moved out only a week prior to my visit, and her new apartment was still relatively bare.
A few days later she bought something large, wooden, and disturbingly rustic, though not the Christmas tree my dad never bothered with growing up. It was a ridiculously overpriced and oversized bench for her new foyer, delivered during the lull between Christmas and New Year’s.
“Merry Christmas,” the man mumbled as my mom, gleeful for the first time in decades, signed off on the slip. It was the best present she’d ever bought herself.
My boyfriend and I watched all of Twin Peaks together around the vicinity of our first Thanksgiving together, when we were very poor. It is a “tradition” in the sense that we always mean to do it again every year, but we haven’t yet. And he always watches the James Bond marathon on Thanksgiving while I cook and yell at him.
Way back in the winter holiday of 1995, my grandmother, “Dearie,” took me and my cousins Sarah and David on a trip to Cleveland for David’s 10th birthday. The highlight was supposed to be the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but I can’t recall a single exhibit. Instead, I remember our hotel room double feature, Waterworld and Desperado. We sat on the floor and ate room service cheeseburgers. I don’t think Dearie expected quite so much sexy action in Desperado, but she didn’t make us turn it off or feel embarrassed. Later that year, while visiting Dearie’s house, I found a VHS copy of Desperado in her basement. I miss her every day.
There’s a weird tradition of watching a James Bond marathon, not on Thanksgiving itself but in those slow lazy days after. It’s not really a tradition, just something that seems to happen; it probably started with a James Bond marathon on TNT or something. My favorite Bond is Sean Connery, my favorite Bond film is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (with Lazenby) and my favorite Bond screenplay is Living Daylights (with Dalton). I’ll watch Bond movies any time. Thanksgiving is just as excuse to watch like five of them.
Growing up, I assumed that everyone’s holidays, like mine, were “like a picture print from Currier and Ives.” On Christmas Eve, in every house in America, baby Jesus was ceremoniously being placed into the creche under a tree hung with colored paper ornaments stuck together with Elmer’s glue. Aunts and uncles caroled as Grandy lined the younger generation up in height order for the March of the Wooden Soldiers, which would send the older generation, now drunk, stumbling off to Midnight Mass.
It wasn’t until I was in my twenties, and on a date at a tea shop with a Jewish Anglophile, that I realized that our family’s exuberant approach to Christmas fell outside of the norm (oh, and also some people don’t even have Christmas). To build anticipation for the day, in addition to the advent calendar (obviously), when I was in third grade, my father decided to read a few pages of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to me every night before bed. It was arguably a dense story for an eight-year-old, but I was on board until Tiny Tim died. I was heartbroken. And then I turned and saw my father, the unflappable man who once when grating mozzarella for pizza and accidentally scraping off the tip of his finger shrugged, continued grating, and said “I guess somebody is going to eat that,” was crying.
My entire world was turned upside-down. I couldn’t tell any of my friends (who I presumed were also reading A Christmas Carol with hardcore stoic dude-dads). I spoke of this only in one feverishly scrawled entry in my diary. The following year, my father got a copy of George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol on VHS, and announced that we would be having annual viewings (because we needed more traditions). So every December, I invented last-minute science projects and headaches so I could opt out. I just wasn’t ready to accept that my father was fallible and human. I’ll probably be ready in two hundred years.
Like many families with first-generation Americans at the head, the Tolentinos aren’t too traditional about Thanksgiving. One year we went out for sushi; another time, we picked up pizza; once, when I was in high school, my mom chucked a to-go bag of Boston Market on the kitchen table and trilled happily that she’d snagged the last of the cornbread.
I protested. I wanted to have a real Thanksgiving (relatedly, I also wanted to make cheerleader, to get my braces off, to stop being an ethnic 12-year-old in a homogenous country club of a high school). So my family made plans to spend our next Thanksgiving with friends, gorging ourselves in the all-American way, or at least an approximation of its spirit. For the potluck, we made spaghetti instead of stuffing, roasted a big fish in the oven right underneath the turkey. My mom went to the supermarket for apple pie, and returned with a sheet cake festooned with autumnal flowers, reading “Happy Thanksgiving!” in orange cursive.
And then, in the damp warmth of a Texas late fall, we drove out to a house in the suburbs. We sat down at a warmly lit table, a dozen Filipino-Americans at a heavy, hybrid feast. We refilled our plates and stuffed ourselves, and once we were done, we looked around blankly. We’d fulfilled tradition. What next?
“I have a movie,” someone said. “But it’s Jackass: The Movie.”
“Sure!” we said. We moved to the living room and curled up on the couches, and as we passed cups of coffee and plates of cake, we watched Steve-O stuff raw chicken down his pants and walk a tightrope over a pit of alligators. Shamelessly, we gawked at grown men snorting wasabi, sticking toy cars up their butts, then shooting firecrackers out of them. The light from the television made the fake gourds glow. It was Thanksgiving, my first real one, and my best.
My dad is LOTR obsessed. He is a huge sci-fi/fantasy nerd, and grew up reading Tolkien’s books. When the LOTR trilogy came out, he was beside himself. Every Christmas morning since the first movie came out on DVD, my sisters and I would wake up early, sneak downstairs to open our stockings, wait for our parents to wake up, then we’d all eat breakfast and take turns opening our presents.
After all the wrapping paper had been cleaned up and we had gorged ourselves on chocolate oranges, my dad would say, “Time for Lord of the Rings, everybody!,” my mom would say, “Ugh, again, Steve? I’ll be up in a while,” and my sisters and I would all run upstairs and pile into my parents’ bed, and my Dad would start up the first movie with great fanfare. It was an all-day LOTR marathon, and sometimes he’d even play all the DVD extras at the end as well. We would wander in and out of my parents’ bedroom throughout the day and evening, stopping in to watch our favorite scenes. The day after Christmas was usually a Matrix marathon.
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