The holiday season is often accompanied by laughter, joy, delicious food, board games and lively discussions about sports, pop culture and current events. Many Americans flock to movie theaters to see the latest and often best films of the year trotted out in time for Oscar contention. For those who prefer the comfort of your own couch, TV and DVD player, The Root has put together a list of films you might want to check out at home.
Fat Albert's Christmas Special (1977)
Hey, hey, hey. It’s Fat Albert and the gang in a cross between The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and No Room at the Inn. This time, the Cosby kids are rehearsing for a Christmas play at the junkyard clubhouse when Mr. Tyrone, who owns the property, interrupts them with a threat to bulldoze their hangout spot in order to make room for another building. If that’s not enough stress for Albert, Mushmouth and Rudy, a little boy named Marshall shows up with his father and very pregnant mother, who have nowhere to live. Fat Albert and the gang work to change Mr. Tyrone’s hardened heart and make room at their inn in order to welcome a new baby into the world.
Trading Places (1983)
Trading Places helped make Eddie Murphy a superstar in the 1980s. He plays Ray, a homeless con artist who becomes part of a plot by über-wealthy brothers Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche) Duke. They decide to teach snooty Louis Winthrope III a lesson by framing him for a crime. Winthrope is expelled from the brokerage firm, and Ray is appointed as his replacement, taking all his wealth and power with him during the Christmas holiday.
Winthrope, meanwhile, meets a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis) who decides to help Louis reclaim his identity. Luckily, the Christmas spirit prevails, and Ray joins forces with the two to teach Randolph and Mortimer a much-needed lesson. If you can get past the raging stereotypes and focus on the underlying critique of trickle-down economics, then Trading Places can be entertaining post-Christmas dinner viewing.
Roots: The Gift (1988)
Roots: The Gift is the third installment in the Roots series, the films based on Alex Haley’s seminal book tracing his mother’s ancestry back to the African continent. In this movie set in 1775, Avery Brooks stars as Cletus, a black Northerner who has been working with a network to free slaves. Kunta Kinte (LaVar Burton) and Fiddler (Louis Gossett Jr.) learn of Cletus while accompanying their owner to the Reynolds plantation at Christmas time.
Cletus is captured by bounty hunters and asks Kunta and Fiddler to help the escaping slaves. Fiddler is scared but Kunta has faith that he can help. After Cletus is punished, Fiddler changes his mind and joins Kunta in his quest to give the slaves the most important gift of all — freedom.
The Preacher's Wife (1996)
This remake of the classic 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife, set in New York City, stars Courtney B. Vance, Gregory Hines, Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington. Rev. Henry Biggs (Vance) is struggling to keep his church going, fighting off Joe Hamilton (Hines) a predatory real estate mogul who is attempting to buy the church so that he can build luxury condominiums. Rev. Biggs’ wife, Julia (Whitney Houston), feels neglected because of his focus on the church and the community. For help, he prays to God, who sends Dudley (Washington), an angel, to help Biggs sort out his life.
Dudley’s mission becomes complicated when he realizes that he’s falling for Julia. If watching Houston, who passed away earlier this year, is too much, too soon, for you, then check out the soundtrack, which is the best-selling gospel album of all time.
Santa and Pete (1999)
Each year around the Christmas holiday, stories are reported about the controversy erupting over Black Peet (Zwarte Piet), a smiling black helper in Netherlands folklore who accompanies Santa as he delivers gifts. Stereotypical representations of blacks in pop culture aren’t necessarily earth-shattering, but the Dutch dressing up in blackface to celebrate the black “helper” from Spain who ensures a rich Christmas in 2012 under the guise of tradition can be pretty offensive.
In Santa and Pete, the only thing that Black Peet and the character Pete (Flex Alexander) have in common is the fact that the storyline is based loosely on the Dutch Christmas tale. The late, great Hume Cronyn plays Sr. Nick, a bishop known for spreading the word of peace and brotherhood throughout the Old World. The Spanish government thinks he is a spy and has him arrested. Pete, a cook, decides to risk life and limb to help free Sr. Nick so that the bishop can continue to spread his message to the world. Narrated by James Earl Jones, who also stars as Grandpa Nicholas in the New World, this tale is one take on how Pete became one of Santa’s most controversial yet beloved helpers.
A Diva's Christmas Carol (2001)
Looking for a modern film adaptation of Charles Dickens’ holiday classic A Christmas Carol? Here’s one, starring Vanessa Williams. What should you expect from a movie with the tagline, “Christmas can be such a bitch”? A twist on a classic that delivers every time.
Williams stars as Ebony, a raging, foul-mouthed pop singer who plans to give a charity concert under the guise of helping the homeless, while really helping her bank account. As in Dickens’ classic, Ebony is visited by a number of spirits who help her understand the true meaning of Christmas. One of the ghosts is Ebony’s former singing partner, Marli Jacob (TLC’s Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas), who appears as the spirit of Christmas past. Through her visits, Ebony changes her ways and realizes that Christmas doesn’t always have to be a “bitch.”
Friday After Next (2002)
With all of the hoopla surrounding why Chris Tucker won’t be appearing in the next Friday installment, now is the perfect time to revisit the franchise. Why not start with Friday After Next, which follows cousins Craig (Ice Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps) as they try to grow up, having moved out of their parents’ homes.
A rogue Santa (played by comedian Rickey Smiley) robs the cousins of their rent money and stereo equipment. The cousins become security guards at the local strip mall to raise rent money and have some cash to buy Christmas presents. Add to the mix John Witherspoon (Craig’s father) and Don D.C. Curry (Day-Day’s dad) as owners of the barbeque pit the cousins must protect while tracking down the rogue Santa, plus an appearance by comedian Katt Williams as Money Mike and you’ve got the gift of laughter.
Last Holiday (2006)
In this remake of the 1950 film of the same name, Queen Latifah stars as Georgia Byrd, a frumpy woman who lives a modest life in New Orleans as a cookware consultant at a local gourmet supply shop. Georgia has a serious crush on Sean (L.L. Cool J), her handsome co-worker, but is too shy to let him know her feelings. Sean likes Georgia but is too gun-shy to let her know that he’s also in the mood for romance.
Georgia’s friend Rochelle urges her to live life to the fullest, a concept that Georgia embraces after being diagnosed with a rare disease and given a short time to live. She decides to make the most of her life, springing for a European vacation for her last holiday. The adventure includes a four-star hotel, European fashions and skiing. Upon learning of her illness, Sean follows Georgia to Europe to have one more shot at true romance. This film reminds us that life is for the living, and following our dreams should start now, not later.
A Perfect Holiday (2007)
This Christmas romantic comedy stars our favorite movie couple, Gabrielle Union and Morris Chestnut. Emily (Khail Bryant) wants the department store Santa — and aspiring singer and office supply clerk — (Morris Chestnut) to find a husband for her single mother, Nancy (Gabrielle Union). Like many mothers, Nancy has been putting the needs of her three children ahead of her own to such an extent that even a child can see that her mother deserves more out of life. Nancy’s only wish for Christmas is to receive a compliment from a man. Emily’s request really touches Santa, as she is willing to forgo a gift for herself so that her mother can be happy, and he sets into motion a plan to make sure that mother and child have the perfect holiday.
This Christmas (2007)
The holidays are a wonderful time for sharing, caring, giving, receiving — and family drama. This Christmas is no exception, following the shenanigans of the Whitfield clan. The matriarch of the clan is Ma’Dere (Loretta Devine), a mother desperate to hang on to her family as they make their way in the world. Idris Elba stars as Quentin Whitfield, a traveling jazz musician indebted to thugs, who has come home for Christmas for the first time in years. Sharon Leal plays Kelly, the daughter who has hang-ups about not going to college, but lands Malcolm (Laz Alonso), a self-absorbed businessman, nonetheless. Chris Brown stars as Baby, the youngest of the clan, who, to the chagrin of his mother, has dreams of singing superstardom.
Add to the mix Joe, (Delroy Lindo) Ma’Dere’s longtime, on-again, off-again boyfriend. You have a family drama that suffers under the usual Christmas movie clichés but offers strong performances by an all-star black cast.