Well…Christmas Eve is tomorrow. Hopefully, you’re like me…and not one of those people who doesn’t even wait until the stroke of midnight on December 25th to start taking the ornaments off the tree. I really keep the celebration going as long as possible. After all…everyone’s been hyping it so long…so why not?
And, as a result, ’tis the season for Christmas/Holiday movies. There have been a lot over the years. Some are good…some are bad…and some should be warded off with crosses and holy water (I’m looking at you, “Fred Claus” and Rule 63 version of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.). You can’t go wrong with a lot…but here’s my recommendations for some of the best you can enjoy this holiday season.
Let’s start simple. On the animated side…there’s really only one good selection.
“Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966)
Naturally…the animated film. Not that movie that stars a person whose first name is Jim and last name rhymes with “Larry”. This is great for kids. I loved it every year, even if it’s a bit on the short side. A nice runner up is “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, but it may go a bit over their heads. “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” is also a good bet if you can find a copy. This one is at least visually appealing, considering it was done by Chuck Jones. Good fun and cute with nifty little songs. I really recommend this one over the traditional “Rankin-Bass” fare that usually comes out this time of year…you know, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “The Year Without a Santa Claus”…all that. Those are just a bit too “corny” for me.
What’s Christmas without at least one version of “A Christmas Carol”? Unfortunately, the “market” is a bit glutted with this one. It’s been redone too many times to count. Again, some versions are great and some are really “lacking”. Picking just one is a bit hard, so I’ll give you two versions to choose from.
“A Christmas Carol”/”Scrooge” (1951)
To me, this version will always be the best rendition of “A Christmas Carol”. It stars Alastair Sim as one of the best Ebenezer Scrooges that I’ve ever seen, and everything about the movie just “clicks” with me. It’s rather iconic too and is frequently referenced in other movies that allude to “A Christmas Carol”. It’s also the only version I’ve seen which “adds” to the original story as opposed to taking things away, namely in going through in more explicit detail Scrooge’s transformation into a miser over the years.
There have been many “alternate versions” of “A Christmas Carol” done over the years, but this is probably the best I’ve ever seen. Genuinely funny as well as touching, with Bill Murray at his best. Only he could come off as such a royal jackass for the bulk of the film and turn around to be a heartwarming protagonist by the end. Also, it was directed by Richard Donner, infamous for the original “Superman” film and the “Lethal Weapon” movies. Carol Kane’s Ghost of Christmas Present is timeless.
(Naturally, there are many other “good” versions you can’t go wrong with, but I’ll highlight these two.)
There was a flurry of new Christmas movies over the past 14 years or so…and most of them were horrible. The far bulk of new Christmas movies are only here for a season and then gone forever. However…the occasional one stands out to become a “new classic”…and, naturally, there’s only one of those films that deserves to be on everyone’s “must watch” list…
“Anchorman” aside…and possibly including it…this is Will Ferrell’s best performance. The difference is that this is humor the entire family can enjoy without fear. Genuinely funny and entertaining, and starring numerous nods to classic Christmas films (such as the set design of the North Pole being identical to that of Rankin-Bass’ “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and a cameo by Peter Billingsley [best known as Ralphie from “A Christmas Story”]), it’s a lot of fun. Sure…Ferrell’s relationship with Zooey Deschanel seems a bit “forced”…but it’s still a nice film.
I’m a sucker for older movies. I know a lot of people don’t like them. They seem to consider any film in black-and-white a signal to go to sleep and ignore. However, the two top picks for my list are classics for a reason…and you should watch them at least once to find out why.
“Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)
First off…avoid the remake like the plague. In fact, never watch a remake of anything EVER. Second…this movie may be more modern than you think. How many movies in the 40s featured a single mom who has a position of considerable authority in one of the biggest department stores in the country? Third…it’s just a great movie. I didn’t think so when I was a kid, but the whole concept just intrigues me…about how an attorney could prove in a court of law that an old man is Santa Claus. Natalie Wood’s (yes, I said Natalie Wood’s…she’s the little girl) character always kind of annoyed me, but I love Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle. And, in all honesty, the dialogue is top-notch and full of wonderful quotations. (I love William Frawley’s speech to Gene Lockhart…as he points out exactly why no politician will ever say there is no Santa Claus.)
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
Most people I know who tried to watch this fell asleep during it…which is a pity, because it’s an excellent movie. The only problem is you really have to sit through the first 70 minutes to appreciate when the plot gets “underway” for the last 30 minutes of the movie. It’s fantastic, inspirational, well-acted, full of great bits of dialogue and drama, and, in all honesty, isn’t a “real” Christmas movie. It’s just the climax is set around Christmastime. Plus, it gives a real interesting message about how even a seemingly mundane and “boring” life can make all the difference in the world to a lot of people.
Merry Christmas…or Happy Holidays…or whatever doesn’t offend you. 😛