The characters are not people, but rough drafts of simplistic character-traits, and the actors (game as they all are) cannot create something out of nothing.
We're counting down twelve great Christmas scenes from the movies. Yesterday we gave you #12 through #9. Today we've got everything from a 1940s drama that'll have you reaching for your handkerchief to a Yule-set horror film that riffs on "It's a Wonderful Life" (yes, you know what we're talking about). Enjoy, and make sure to come back tomorrow for the completion of our countdown.
8) "The Thin Man" (1934)
W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke is filming "The Thin Man," the studio's glossy adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's detective novel. Nicknamed "One-Take Woody," Van Dyke is known for his speed, able to complete even the most complex shots with ease and efficiency (most accounts put the shooting schedule of "The Thin Man" at somewhere between twelve and eighteen days). On this day, cast and crew are crafting a long tracking shot, around and down a long table, at which sit a variety of MGM character actors. One of the older actors is giving a long speech, the shot concluding with his final line: "That's all I've got to say." And it really is—the actor sits down and actually dies on set.
A worried assistant calls the studio doctor, who confirms that the actor has indeed passed, and orders him to be taken away. Van Dyke says to wait one moment: he takes out his viewfinder, moves behind the corpse, and ponders a possible over-the-shoulder shot. After a moment, Van Dyke approves the removal of the body, but orders the crew to leave the coat he is wearing. Without missing a beat, they return to work.
It's the kind of story Hammett might have told to amuse his friends, or that Nick and Nora Charles might have found the grim humor in while hosting a mad, floating Christmas Eve party (where cops, drunken sad sacks, and people they don't even know move in and out and all around their New York hotel room). Since we're talking here of corpses, observation and movie style, let's play detective and think of a question one might ask of someone who's just watched "The Thin Man" in its entirety: whodunnit?
How many people would get that answer right, even so soon after the movie ended? And isn't it the wrong question to ask?
As we ponder the riddles of Christmas, the dead body framed in Woody Van Dyke's viewfinder suggests that the key to solving the most important and confusing riddles lies in being a bit impudent and improper in the face of logic and decorum. That's why "The Thin Man" Christmas scene is on our list: it takes none of the holiday's sacraments seriously, even after its leads have almost been killed.
It's Christmas morning, and Nick and Nora Charles are sitting around their living room enjoying their new gifts, despite the gunman in their bedroom the previous night. Without missing a beat, they return to work. What stands out about this scene is its use of space and its initial quiet. Sometimes marked as one of the earliest "screwball" comedies, "The Thin Man" is remembered for its lightning-quick banter (courtesy of Hammett's book and the husband-and-wife screenwriting team Albert Brackett and Frances Goodrich), which necessitated often framing Nick and Nora Charles together to make that banter pop. But here's a moment that opens in thirty-nine seconds of silence, its couple isolated within separate frames, and connected by Christmas tree interstitials (as Nick blows up holiday ornaments with the new toy gun Nora has just given him as a gift). Nick is wrapped up in his game, not looking at his wife but nonetheless performing for her, with none-too-subtle trick shots aimed at crotch level between his legs; Nora says nothing, but her eyebrows and bemused stare speak volumes. You could walk into "The Thin Man" at this moment, and deduce everything you need to know about their romantic history.
That makes it emblematic for a detective film where the mystery that would normally be at its center is displaced, along with much of the rest of the plot, by brilliant moments of character and style. It was an "A"-level movie shot in "B"-movie time. Not unlike the close-ups and long shots that divide its stars here, "The Thin Man" is best thought of as as series of singular images, knowing glances, and double entendres that flow like the gin from Nick's martini shaker. "A dry martini, you always shake to waltz time," Nick instructs a bartender, and it's that drily romantic rhythm that matters far more than story.
Van Dyke had just worked with Loy and Powell that year in "Manhattan Melodrama," and convinced MGM to cast them together again in "The Thin Man." Film historian Thomas Schatz notes that "Melodrama" had reworked the early-thirties Warner Brothers gangster formula so it became the launching point for a romantic drama: Clark Gable's hood is sent to the electric chair, which "clears the way for Powell and Loy's happiness." But if "Manhattan Melodrama" had "tipped the balance toward righteousness," in Schatz's words, "The Thin Man" would take its newly-established couple somewhere more comedic and sexy: despite the murder that opens the film, its best stylistic precursor is not the crime universe of "Manhattan Melodrama," but the Paramount Europe of "Love Me Tonight" (1932), where Loy had first shown her comedic skills as the dizzy, love-starved Countess Valentine.
Watch her in that film, how she brushes her fan against her uncle's face like bored child; how she slouches her body against the marble staircase of the castle, only to glance at the pants of the person in front of her and exclaim, "A man!"; how she plays verbal tennis with Charles Ruggles in the moments that follow while barely moving her gowned body, except to scratch her neck, put a hand on her waist, and otherwise let you know how bored she is with everyone else's moralism and inability to keep up. That's Nora Charles, raising her eyebrows and generating a dialogue with herself in her head, as her husband merrily wrecks their Christmas symbols.
In fact, thoroughly wrecking traditional Hollywood signifiers of Christmas is something this scene does with such grace, wit and economy that it's almost breathtaking. Here is a childless couple, rather than a nuclear or extended family; a hotel setting, rather than a house, and the city rather than the suburbs or rural neighborhood; silence, rather than bustle and laughter; and ironic bemusement and, eventually, banter rather than sentimental family homilies ("I saw where you were shot five times in the tabloids." "It's a lie—he didn't come anywhere near my tabloids"). The only "child" present is Asta, whose off-set name was "Skippy." That moniker is a lovely symbol for the movie's approach to both unnecessary traditions of story and unnecessary traditions of the Christmas story. What "The Thin Man"'s non-denominational tale remind us is that all one needs for Christmas is a girl, a gun and a dog.
7) "Since You Went Away" (1944)
In 1944, under the watchful eyes of the Office of War Information, famed Hollywood producer David O. Selznick made "Since You Went Away," his contribution to the American war effort. The film, based on Margaret Buell Wilder's epistolary novel, tells the story of an American family on the homefront, a mother and her daughters struggling to make their own contributions to the war while their husband and father is fighting overseas. The film was a success at the time of its release, earning $7 million, scoring four Academy Award nominations and receiving strong reviews. But in the nearly seventy years since its release, aside from the occasional airing on TCM and a perfunctory DVD release from MGM several years ago, it has fallen by the wayside, sometimes discussed in terms of Hollywood propaganda or the genre of the "woman's picture," but often overshadowed by either the more explicit flag-waving product of Hollywood in that period, or the darker and more ideological ambiguous films and war and gender roles in the forties—"Casablanca," "Best Years of Our Lives," "Mildred Pirece." It has become the forgotten middle child of the Selznick oeuvre, falling between the commercial glory of "Gone With The Wind" and "Rebecca," and the fascinating excess of "Duel In The Sun."
It's a shame, because I think it's the best movie about World War II that Hollywood made in that period. It's a plethora of paradoxes: a film about quiet family life told in epic style, a contradiction embodied in its description of the suburban home as an "unconquerable fortress"); a movie that strives to give its audience a sense of real life, circa 1944, but can only do so through the visual and narrative conventions of melodrama; an ostensibly patriotic film shot through with doubt, melancholy, and contradiction. Memorable moments cascade from it: Claudette Colbert, Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple gathered in the living room to read a letter from their "Pop"; the almost Rossellini-like images of the girls hoeing their Victory Gardens in the bleached sunlight; Joseph Cotten's dry interactions with Monty Woolley; a remarkable malt shop scene between Jones and her gawky soldier boyfriend (Robert Walker), which I wrote about at length here; and an even more extraordinary moment when Jones chases after the train carrying Walker away to the war, and then is framed by shafts of light in the station, weeping. "Since You Went Away" is a powerful testament to the power of melodrama to express absence, longing, and a need that is at once personal and political, national and individual. There are no battle scenes in "Since You Went Away," no scenes of marching men or gathering war clouds; there is a scene in an aircraft hanger, but it's the setting of a war bonds dance, not a bombing mission. Because of the absence of so many of the war film's tropes, though, the movie is forced to open up to other, extraordinarily resonant emotional spaces.
Given its blend of well-worn sentiment and uncertainty about the new world it's exploring, it feels right that the final emotional space of "Since You Went Away'" is set on Christmas Eve, often a moment of simultaneous nostalgia and rebirth. Anne Hilton (Colbert) is hosting a small party for friends and family; the charming family friend "Uncle Tony" (Cotten) shows up with a fellow Navy officer and a band of off-key child carolers; curmudgeonly wartime boarder Colonel Smollet (Wooley) is driven to frustration with his charades team's inability to guess his performance of "bottoms up," until family maid Fidelia (Hattie McDaniel) walks in the room and gets it straightway; shy teen Gladys shows up and struggles out a quick "Merry Christmas" before running away in embarrassment; Anne is surprised to find out that Tony has been awarded the Navy Cross for valor, and quizzes the suddenly reticicent charmer about it alone in the kitchen; the family heads to bed, but not before kissing Smollet beneath the mistletoe; Anne catches Fidelia sneaking Mr. Hilton's sent-long-ago Christmas packages beneath the tree, and they have a touching conversation on faith and family; Anne breaks down as she opens her gift from her husband; and a last-minute phone call, telling her he's coming home, ties both Christmas Eve and the film up with a perfect holiday bow.
Summarizing the sequence seems necessary, especially since no clip for this final, ten-minute stretch of the film exists online, but no plot summary could really convey the look and tone of it, and it's the mise-en-scene that really conveys the spirit of both the movie and the season. Cinematographer Stanley Cortez shot the film two years after "The Magnificent Ambersons"; he brings to "Since You Went Away the same deep focus photography, smooth mobile framing and preference for long takes, and rich shadows falling across domestic spaces that also dominate the Welles picture. but their effects early in this sequence are far different. Rather than the sadness and sense of loss that permeates "Ambersons," the chiaroscuro around the fireplace of Fortress Hilton, and v-shaped shadows that fill the walls behind Anne and Tony in the kitchen, generate a sense of warm solidity, depth as an layered emotional base rather than a frantic field of play. The Cortez/Selznick preference for tracking shots and medium or long shot framings extends this sensation of comfort—this is a place of wholeness, togetherness and family, and there's no need to constantly cut. In tandem with Max Steiner's score (the only Oscar the film won), Cortez's camerawork is seductive, drawing the viewer towards the relaxed interplay of the film's stars, the way in which their performances humanize what might otherwise be read as holiday or wartime cliche.
That's not to say the film loses sight of holiday melancholy. Writing more generally of the power of melodramatic mise-en-scene, film scholar Thomas Elsaesser observes, "Pressure is generated by things crowding in…and life becomes increasingly complicated," and that certainly plays out at the end of this otherwise very tender sequence. When Anne opens her gift, reads her husband's note, and breaks down alone, the shadows in the room become more darkly noir, and that preference for movement over cutting has its meaning cruelly reversed (a pan from Anne to her husband's empty living room chair links her only to his absent presence). It's a simple but devastating cinematic gesture, a reminder of the darkness of the world outside of the Fortress, and when the phone rings, cutting to a medium shot of Anne, the irony is extended—we're released from the shot of the empty chair by an intrusion from the outside world that made that emptiness necessary. The relatively long take that follows, as Anne listens to the call, gets the news of her husband's return, and begins to cry, brings together the various contradictions of both this sequence and the film as a whole: dark and light, sadness and happiness, isolation and togetherness—all released at once, and scrambling viewers emotions like the holidays themselves.
Writing of "the woman's film," Mary Anne Doane suggests the problem's with the term, and how hard it is to capture its contradictions in a single category: "The 'woman's film' is not a 'pure' genre…It is crossed and informed by a number of other genres of types…and finds its point of unity ultimately in the fact its address." That last word is a pun on the relationship of domestic space to cinematic style and point-of-view, and it zeroes in on why "Since You Went Away" is so difficult to describe, and why (particularly in our own, postwar moment) it is worth trying to do so: there is no one point of unity, no singular style or tone, not even a completely stable or singular point-of-view on the war itself (despite Selznick and OWI's best efforts, the meanings the camera can generate keep slipping away from them). It is a cinematic jumble, partially by accident and partially by design, and that makes it the most Christmasy of "Christmas movies," if we think about how so many seasonal traditions are adaptations and alterations of images, ideas and rituals from several places and points in history, grouped under one holiday name. Perhaps this sense of stylistic generosity is why its sentimentality doesn't grate on me the way other holiday scenes can: it feels earned and real, inviting rather than imposed. Those slightly off-key children warbling carols at the sequence's start are on to something: what matters is not staying on melody or finding exactly the right rhythm, but one's willingness to sing the song in the first place, and to do so with an open heart (and maybe a slightly snotty nose). It's the holiday as a democratic ritual, an expression of secular faith, and God bless us, every one.
6) "Gremlins" (1984)
There's a wonderful "Saturday Night Live" sketch from 1986, where host William Shatner introduces "the lost ending of 'It's A Wonderful Life.'" Picking up where the actual film ends, Phil Hartman's Uncle Billy remembers where the missing $8,000 went: "I just called Clarence at the bank! He told me that Old Man Potter deposited $8,000 right after I left! It was him!" A suddenly bold George Bailey (Dana Carvey) declares, "Well, what are we waiting' for? Let's go get him!" An angry mob of Bedford Falls residents marches to Old Man Potter's office and smashes down his door with pipes, bats and axes: "You made one mistake, Mr. Potter," George yells. "You double-crossed me and left me alive!" They attack Potter (Jon Lovitz), at one point pulling him out of his wheelchair: "You're not even a cripple!," an astonished George exclaims. "Harry, Mary—hold him for me!" The pummeling—on both Lovitz and a dressed-up "Potter" mannequin—continues, with even Mary Bailey dropping her demureness and getting in a few good kicks and punches.
The loving care with which the sketch is created—from the spot-on impersonations of the cast, to the re-created detail of the movie's sets and props, to the deliberately scratched-up black-and-white video footage—speaks to the way in which Frank Capra's film continued to hold the imaginations of later generations (despite being a flop at the time of its release in 1946). But it also speaks to the deeper need in that audience for resolution: after all, despite the warmth and humanity of "It's A Wonderful Life," it's still a film that ends with Mr. Potter getting what he wanted, without retribution (just one of many reasons "It's A Wonderful Life" is the greatest of all Christmas-set films noir). If we had the resources, as "Saturday Night Live" did, wouldn't we also create a fanfic-before-the-term, and redress the balance?
"Gremlins" is Joe Dante's long-form riff on "It's A Wonderful Life," except it's shot through with an anarchic variation on Mr. Potter's cruelty. Imagine Bedford Falls had really become Pottersville, and that the town had a really great film school. That's the world that produced Dante: his film is dark, chaotic, trashy, horrific and sensuous. It's also extremely funny, and so full of intertextual reference that it's a dizzying Russian Doll of a movie: from comics to movies to music to television shows, "Gremlins" is completely encircled by pop culture in the same way the movie's characters are surrounded by the titular reptilian monsters. Nothing exists outside of a world of pop connection—it is the both movie's mise-en-scene (movie marquees, TV screens, the Marvel comics that smother the covers of the hero's bed) and its structuring device: like that "SNL" sketch, it knows that you know what it's up to, and the movie makes no sense unless you're willing to play along (at one point, the through-the-looking glass quality is so intense that the Gremlins are singing a carol to a victim, and you suddenly realize they're singing the theme from their own movie). That flattens any potential depth, which just makes it all the more Potterific: if the characters are one-dimensional, there's no chance of any Bailey-like sentimentality creeping in (even when a scene from "It's A Wonderful Life" is shown, it's played for laughs). Freed from that kind of emotional obligation, everything can focus on Dante's craft, and "Gremlins" is an anti-Christmas movie made with exquisite detail, from the look of both Gizmo and his monstrous offspring, to production designer James H. Spencer's deliberately tacky suburban sprawls, to the staging of the film's horror/action sequences (particularly the infamous microwave scene, which helped usher in the PG-13 rating). There are times when "Gremlins" feels like an extension of the kind of action/satire blend that its producer Steven Spielberg achieved in the underrated "1941" (and in both films, Disney movies are key touchstones amidst the cynical craziness). Watching the film again, it's easy to see that the character closest to Joe Dante's heart is not the nebbishy Billy of "Gremlins," or the idealistic adolescent dreamers of "Explorers," but John Goodman in Dante's 1993 masterpiece, "Matinee": he's a showman with a tacky heart, but he loves that tackiness so thoroughly—and so wants to share that love with his audience—that even amidst the bloody nastiness on-screen, it's hard not to smile.
It's also hard to imagine anyone but Phoebe Cates performing the monologue in this scene. It starts with Kate (Cates) offering a description of holiday family ritual (decorating the tree), moves towards mystery and suspense (a missing parent, a police search) and winds up in the space of horror (the Santa found dead in the chimney). It hits all the tonal notes of both a Christmas film and a horror movie, and it's done in perfect deadpan by Cates, who never lets on that it's anything but sad and strange—it's a scene that needs a solid center, and Cates provides that. But watch the scene again, and notice everything that's going on around her—Billy is distracted as Kate tells her story, and barely listens at first. As she's speaking, the film cuts to Gizmo's confused face, and what seems noticeable is not her words, but the animatronic movement of his ears and eyes (especially when the cut to Gizmo's shocked open mouth feels like a visual rimshot to Kate's Santa revelation). As the tale progresses, Billy begins paying attention, but can only provide a dumb stare as Kate says, without irony, "And that's how I found out there was no Santa Claus" (seriously, Jerry Goldsmith's score—a blend of horror music strings and "Silent Night"—provides better support than Billy). While he might be a bright-eyed idealist working in a bank in a small town with "Falls" in its name, Billy's general incompetence throughout is a reminder that he's no George Bailey (he doesn't even save his "building and loan"—Keye Luke returns at the end of "Gremlins" to take Gizmo away, stating that Billy isn't ready for the responsibility). All the intercutting blends with Cates' reading and Goldsmith's music to blur the line between parody and sincerity, and the result feels like a very dark sketch from the earliest days of "Saturday Night Live," or perhaps the kind of story that its one-time head writer, Michael O'Donoghue, might have written for the "Lampoon": you want to laugh and shudder in the same moment (Dante had cut his teeth with Roger Corman, and directed episodes of the short-lived "Police Squad!" television show, and is expert at walking this line).
But do such scenes really make "Gremlins" any darker than "It's A Wonderful Life," a film that suggests an entire small town would literally be transformed if a single person in it hadn't been born? At least the Gremlins can be killed if exposed to sunlight, something no one but George ever has the guts to try on Potter (and he's crushed for doing so, saved only by the most literal deux ex machina). Dante was one of a pack of filmmakers (Robert Zemeckis, "Gremlins" screenwriter Chris Columbus, Joe Johnston) that Spielberg hired and helped promote in the mid-eighties, but he's the only one to truly, consistently mess around with the fifties/early sixties nostalgia they all trafficked in to various degrees: the others might poke fun at that suburban milieu, but none went straight for its literal and figurative jugular quite like Dante did (Zemeckis sometimes could, as long as he was writing with Bob Gale, but seemed to lose his nerve without his partner). Cates' story, falling in the midst of what looks like Bedford Falls is a reminder, two years before "Blue Velvet," that even Frank Capra understood that small town mythology was just that—a set of myths that needed cultural protection, if not protection from a higher power. "Gremlins" just chooses not to provide such protection, letting the monsters in the Christmas tree jump out and have some fun—it's a catharsis that only guilt-free craft can provide. This makes the movie a wonderful post-holiday tonic: pop it in after you've taken down the tree and gotten sick of the Hallmark Channel's endlessly sappy holiday programming, and see if it doesn't make you sigh with sweet relief.
5) "Christmas In July" (1940)
Here's a question: who is the auteur of this scene?
Preston Sturges made "Christmas In July" in June 1940, after he'd shot his directorial debut, "The Great McGinty," but before that film was released in August. "Christmas in July" is the tale of Jimmy (Dick Powell), a smart-but-desperate office drudge who enters a slogan contest a coffee company is holding; some co-workers decide to play a prank on Jimmy and create a false telegram telling him he's won the contest, and its $25,000 prize. Elated, Jimmy tells his co-workers (including his girlfriend Betty), which leads to a promotion at work (because his boss figures if others think Jimmy is a success, he must be), and a big spending spree to celebrate his win, and finally help his mother and his neighbors in a downtrodden section of New York. The only hitch is, he hasn't won. And what happens when he finds that out?
In his charming, evasive autobiography "Preston Sturges by Preston Sturges," the famed comedy writer/director recollects about "McGinty"'s filming: "I went into strict training. This was the big opportunity of my life. I gave up drinking. I gave up smoking. I gave up late hours. After I started shooting, I had a masseur waiting for me every night and when he got through with me, I had dinner in bed. I saved my strength, I treated myself like an egg, and as a result of this totally wholesome and totally unaccustomed manner of living, I was rewarded, on the fourteenth day of shooting, with pneumonia."
Certain he would be replaced due to his directorial inexperience, he was delighted when a representative of Paramount visited him at his home, and told him the studio was so thrilled with the footage shot thus far that they had no plans of replacing him. "I gave up not drinking and not smoking and have not been troubled with pneumonia since," he wrote. But looking at this scene from "July," as Jimmy (Dick Powell) gets out of a cab with his girlfriend to deliver unexpected gifts to people in his downtrodden neighborhood, it looks like Sturges gave up being "Preston Sturges," at least for the space of one scene. Compared to "The Lady Eve" or "The Palm Beach Story," where the action is so often soundstage-bound and made lush and gauzy through star-focused three-point lighting (which makes the slapstick pratfalls all the more unexpected and hilarious), this scene from "July" is harder-edged, shot outdoors, full of large and busy crowd shots where the actors are often dominated by the landscape. Look how hard the outline between Dick Powell's face and the taxicab is at the start, and how the shadow falls across his right cheek, how the fabric of the street stand is torn, how the eye travels to the two men standing next to it in the lower left corner, one's work-cap and the other's fedora cutting up the frame. It's a studio backlot, but the lighting, framing and naturalistic acting (to say nothing of the overlapping crowd noises) give it the feel of a documentary. It doesn't look like "Preston Sturges," and it doesn't feel like him, either—the scene with the little girl and the doll and the look Jimmy's mother gives him are much more un-self-consciously sentimental than in most Sturges films of the period ("Sullivan's Travels" being the one notable exception). "Christmas In July" was based on an unproduced play called "Cup of Coffee" that Sturges had written in the early thirties, and had originally planned to make for Universal in 1934 (when studio founder Carl Laemmle was forced out in 1936, so was Sturges' project, giving a nice intertextual edge to the slogan Jimmy pitches: "It's not the coffee, it's the bunk"). Like Jimmy's slogan, it didn't work out, but it became his ticket to being the highest-paid screenwriter in Hollywood by the time "Cup" became "Christmas" in 1940. If the play could shift creative identities, could Sturges, too?
Is the documentary feel of the photography a clue? The movie's cinematographer, Victor Milner, had gotten his start as a newsreel photographer with Pathé in 1913, before shifting to feature production, and was known for his work with Cecil B. DeMille and Anthony Mann, as well as his flexibility on everything from epics to romances to films noir.
He would shoot four films with Sturges, including the director's darkest, "Unfaithfully Yours" (1948), and would also be one of the founding members of the American Society of Cinematographers. But given the cameraman's flexibility, it might not be his sensibility that's dominating the proceedings. Instead, what about the guy he's shooting?
Dick Powell was best known in 1940 for starring in successful Warner Brothers musicals like "42nd Street" "Gold Diggers of 1933," and "Dames," and there's something very rakish about his straw hat, which evokes both his own musical persona and that of Maurice Chevalier. But Powell desperately wanted to expand his range as an actor, and within four years, he would have his wish: "Murder, My Sweet" (1944) would establish him as a major star of noir, and he would eventually find another artistic signature when he became a major television producer in the 1950s and 60s. "Christmas In July" therefore offers a star in a transition—as Jimmy, a man transformed by his "win" and finally able to be the person he wants to be, Powell is once again a charming, working-class fella, but there's an air of sadness and desperation about him, an edge that would soon come to fruition in other roles.
Other answers could be offered—Paramount, where "Christmas in July" was shot, or the genre of the screwball comedy, or even Frank Capra, whose blend of sentiment, slapstick and social commentary feels more prevalent in "July" than the more idiosyncratic blend of character and style that Sturges would perfect on "The Lady Eve" a year later. The question is interesting because authorship, success and their uncertain effects on one's identity are one of the major themes of "July," and because that question of who controls the holiday narrative—at least in media terms—seems to be the contemporary Christmas gift that keeps on giving, from "Wars on Christmas" to movie marathons, holiday-themed songs, and "Very Special" television episodes. "Christmas In July," as its title suggests, has its own cockeyed take on holiday identity. It's not set at Christmas, and references the holiday only in the most secular sense. But the generosity, family, forgiveness and sense of supporting the less fortunate that dominates this scene, and so much of the rest of the film, certainly embodies the best of the season's spirit. The rest of it, as Jimmy might say, is just bunk.
Captain's log: eight fifth graders, one adult, one James Cameron movie.
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