For Amber Hinsley of St. Charles, nothing says “Christmas” like huddling in the dark with dozens of strangers. In a movie theater, of course.
Early in their relationship, Hinsley and her husband, Scott, began to usher in the season by watching their favorite holiday classics on the big screen, first in Los Angeles, then in Austin.
But since moving to St. Louis in 2010, the couple’s had a tough time finding any holiday films showing in theaters. As the 2015 season approached, Hinsley wrote Curious Louis:
“I think it’s that idea of getting into the Christmas spirit, the holiday spirit, with other people,” Hinsley said. “It’s a fun community experience.”
The 2003 romantic comedy “Love Actually” was one of the first holiday films the Hinsleys saw together. Then they discovered an annual “quote-along” version at the six-theater Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin. Soon holiday movies were right up there with twinkling lights and Christmas carols.
"It became a tradition," Hinsley said. Their next ritual? "Now I want to be able to take my kids to holiday movies." she said.
Some local big screens are 'Bah, humbug' but not all
But Hinsley said she couldn't even find good children's classics showing in St. Louis's major theaters, much less special movie events.
Meanwhile, in Austin, the "Love Actually" quote-along is just the start of the holiday fun. They're also hosting an “A Christmas Story” movie party complete with a Chinese dinner and a “Xmas Pops” sing-along/dance party.
“I just feel like St. Louis is missing out,” Hinsley said.
So Curious Louis hit the trail, Our initial search of local movie listings was tantamount to finding a lump of coal in your stocking: disappointing. But eventually, digging deeper produced several surprises.
First, the coal: While Wehrenberg, St. Louis’ biggest theater company, did show “Home Alone” in early November, that was it, marketing director Kelly Hoskins said. These days, December is the time for crowd-drawing blockbusters like “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
“So there’s no way we could take away an auditorium for a classic,” Hoskins said.
Ditto for the local St. Louis Cinemas (which runs the Galleria 6, Chase Park Plaza and Moolah Theatres) according to general manager Danny Becker.
“With the prevalence of home video and Netflix and Amazon streaming, it’s kind of hard to compete,” Becker said.
And something like a quote-along? “That would be a gamble,” Becker said. “The blockbusters are a safer bet.”
St. Louis not so 'Scrooge-y' after all?
So, remember those surprises we promised?
The Monday Indie Movie Club Facebook group revealed a wealth of holiday showings in alternative spaces. Through Dec. 22, Art Bar, 2732 Cherokee St., will present eight films including “Bad Santa,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and the original “Die Hard.” So maybe "Die Hard" isn't a traditional choice but Cinema St. Louis’ Chris Clark reminds us the film does begin with a reconciliation attempt at a Christmas party.
“If it’s set at Christmastime, to me it qualifies as Christmas movie,” Clark said.
Back to more classic fare: Food Outreach, supporting people with HIV/AIDS or cancer, is hosting a Sunday fundraiser, called “Misfit Christmas Brunch” showing of “The Year Without Santa Claus.” And from Dec. 9-30, the St. Louis Public Library will screen films ranging from “The Ref” to “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
But what about shows on the big screen? And our Curious Louis questioner's holiday favorites?
We hit the first mark when we called the folks at the Hi-Pointe Theatre on McCausland Avenue. They're planning to show two longtime classics, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas."
Then we hit the jackpot. Turns out AMC Theatres is presenting single showings of three traditional films at the West Olive location including “Elf” and “A Christmas Story." And — big drum roll — “Love Actually."
“I’m really excited,” Amber Hinsley said when we told her. A few minutes later, she emailed back that she’d just bought tickets to the Dec. 15 showing: “It’s reserved seating so I could see that we were the first ones!” she wrote.
It’s a 10:30 p.m. screening at the dine-in theater so they’ll enjoy a late meal during the movie. Even though it’s not a quote-along, taking in her favorite seasonal flick with an audience is the star on the tree of Hinsley’s holiday.
“That’s what we’ve been missing,” Hinsley said. “So even to get a little piece of that back feels very good.”
Watch the “Love Actually” rendition of “All I Want for Christmas” and wait for that quip by Hugh Grant as David the Prime Minister about what had formerly been a hidden romance.
Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL
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