I am one of the world's worst gift wrappers. People look at the presents I give them, and ask if I let my niece or nephew wrap the gift for me. I admit I can't be bothered to spend a lot of time getting the ribbons to curl just so, and to make sure that the wrapping paper fits the present size before I start cutting it out. Over the years, I've learned to rely a lot on gift bags, which are reusable (good for the environment) and look very smart with some tissue paper and perhaps a little raffia used to attach the gift tag. The gift bags were also good for quick last-minute wrapping during the years when I used to take the plane to my parents' house for the holidays, because wrapped gifts aren't allowed on flights.
A big reason why my gift wrapping isn't fabulous, however, is that I don't pay much attention. I'm very fond of putting on a movie in the background while I'm wrapping presents. The idea is that the movie should be something I've seen before, so I am not tempted to put down the scissors and ribbons and watch closely. It's also nice to watch a movie with a holiday theme, to get me in the right spirit for all that gift wrapping.
Therefore, I've put together a list of seven movies that are my favorites for background watching while wrapping presents during the holiday season. Many of them are on TV during the holiday season, so if you're stuck in the back bedroom of someone else's house on Christmas Eve, frantically wrapping before anyone comes in to see what you're giving them, you might be able to find one of these movies on cable (Turner Classic Movies especially).
- Auntie Mame -- One of the best present-wrapping movies ever. You'll want to look up everyone once in awhile to see which fabulous outfit Mame Dennis happens to be wearing, but otherwise, much of the film's charm is in its dialogue. ("Why Agnes, you have a bust! What have you been doing with it all these years?") There's even a festive Christmas sequence. Please note that I am recommending only Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell; stay away from the musical film Mame with Lucille Ball, which is dreadful.
- Little Women (1994) -- Any of the versions of Little Women would be pleasant to have on in the background while you virtuously wrap presents to give to others, but I first saw the 1994 version around Christmastime, so it seems like the best one for the holidays. This movie strays further from the book than other adaptations, integrating some of Louisa May Alcott's life into Jo's story, and the occasional anachronistic feminist rant (which somehow I don't mind). For once, Laurie and Professor Bhaer are played by attractive men (Christian Bale and Gabriel Byrne, respectively).
- Remember the Night -- This 1940 movie isn't available on DVD, but often airs on cable TV around the holiday season. It was written by Preston Sturges and directed by Mitchell Leisen. Barbara Stanwyck is a shoplifter who's busted on Christmas Eve and can't make bail, and assistant DA Fred MacMurray bails her out and offers to drive her to her mother's house in Indiana. Sentimental, but very amusing at times, with loads of familiar character actors.
- Christmas in Connecticut -- Yes, we're on a Barbara Stanwyck roll here, although don't expect me to list Double Indemnity or Stella Dallas next. Stanwyck plays the 1945 equivalent of Martha Stewart ... except that she's really a big-city writer, who relies on her uncle (S.Z. Sakall) for all her recipes. Her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) decides to show up at her (non-existent) Connecticut farm for Christmas with some important guests, so she's got to create a convincing show. The premise is cute but the execution is lame at times. The great cast makes it quite suitable, however, as a movie that I'm not paying much attention to while I'm trying to figure out which gifts will fit in which bags. There's a made-for-TV remake, directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger (!), which I haven't seen.
- Meet Me in St. Louis -- Probably the best holiday movie on this list, but I've seen it so many times that I'm comfortable having it as a background noise. It's a shame, because Vincente Minnelli's direction makes the 1944 movie look good, too. Do watch this one all the way through, without giftwrapping, before you put it on in the background. The story about a year in the life of a 1903 family, culminating in the World's Fair, has a lovely Christmas segment where Judy Garland sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to Margaret O'Brien. I also like the Halloween segment a lot.
- Holiday -- Holiday is one of my all-time favorite movies, so I will use any excuse to watch it again, and of course to sneak it into a list like this one. The 1938 film is set at Christmas and New Year's Eve. Cary Grant's character takes his first vacation and finds a woman he thinks will be his ideal partner ... and then meets her family. The cast also includes Katharine Hepburn and character actor Edward Everett Horton. Again, this is a movie you want to watch with undivided attention the first time, then enjoy the dialogue in later background viewings. (There's also a 1930 version, but it's extremely hard to find and I've never been able to see it.)
- The Godfather -- Don't look at me like that. For some reason, certain cable stations seem to like showing the Godfather movies around Christmas, and it's great to hear Marlon Brando and Al Pacino in the background as you tie pretty little bows. My mom gets upset when she sees we're watching this movie at Christmas, but think about it: these movies are a celebration of the importance of family. And isn't that what the holiday season is all about? (If it's really too violent a holiday film for you, Moonstruck is a pleasant alternative. Or The Royal Tenenbaums, depending on the kind of family you're in.)