A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Christmas, Christmas movies, Clarence, Clark Griswold, Ebenezer Scrooge, Elf, George Bailey, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Ralphie, Red Ryder, Santa Claus, Santa Claus: The Movie, Scrooged, The Muppet Christmas Special, The Old Man, The Snowman
It’s December 11th. Is it too early to start celebrating Christmas?
…Yes, but too bad. I’m getting older and I spend most of my time working, so I’m doing this anyway.
I love Christmas movies…er…good ones. Not the ones that were made for a holiday buck and you know which ones they are. And in spite of how many times I’ve seen them and how much they can be syrupy sweet and a bit overdone, I still appreciate a scene that really stands out or hits you in the feels. And since I like top ten lists, I figured I’d make one of my personal favorite Christmas movie moments.
Because what else do you use a blog for if not meaningless personal opinions? 😀
10. “Walking Through the Air” from The Snowman
Ok, this one is a bit of a stretch, but it is during Christmastime, it does feature Santa Claus…and I’ve got to fit in an animated moment somewhere on this list.
This animation is short yet sweet, highlighting the wonder of being able to tell a story in pictures and body language rather than words, and it’s just plain magic. The ending is…a little abruptly dark, but just literally turn off the last ten seconds of the film and you’ll be good. At any rate, when words finally do go into the film for the “Walking Through the Air” sequence, I’m as rapt as that kid in the movie. It’s a beautiful song, it just “sounds magic”, and the sequence is fantastic. Who cares that the physics of snowmen flying is even less realistic than reindeer flying…I love it! I could just close my eyes and imagine myself “walking through the air” for the whole song.
9. “Over the River and Through the Woods” from The Muppet Family Christmas
This one’s a tad on the obscure side, but I’ve got to throw it in because I loved it. I mean, I grew up in the 80s when the Muppets were still fairly big or, at minimum, Jim Henson was. And this one was the “mother of all” Jim Henson specials. I mean, where else were you going to find a show that featured the cast of The Muppet Show, the cast of Sesame Street, and the cast of Fraggle Rock all crashing the same house for Christmas? This was, like, “The Avengers” when I was a kid.
It’s got a number of memorable moments in it, but my personal favorite is right there at the onset. The whole Muppet crew crammed into one vehicle riding out to Fozzie’s grandmother’s belting out “We Need a Little Christmas”. I had never heard that song before this TV special, and ever since then the song always seems to be “missing” something. It’s like it was written for the Muppets, because the Muppets don’t sing like a well-toned choir or acapella group. They sing like a group of regular joes, which is perfectly fine because part of the nice thing about Christmas is your family and friends, including the tone deaf ones, all singing songs together. This nails it.
8. “First Night Out” from Santa Claus: The Movie
Ok, ok…a lot of people think this movie is a bit too corny and cliche…but I love it. Always have. It’s a lot like two separate movies, really…the first 30-40 minutes, which serves as the origin story of Santa Claus, and the remainder which is the whole plot involving Dudley Moore and John Lithgow’s characters. I tend to prefer the first part. I like the attention to detail and atmosphere even if the critics panned it for being too “wooden”.
But the part I really like is when David Huddleston, the “Big Lebowski” himself, finally dons the red suit for the first time, loads up the toys into the sleigh, hitches up the eight reindeer, gets behind the reins, and rolls out for the first time. Come on, tell me you didn’t feel a least a little “magic” right there when you were a kid. I mean, this is every little kid’s biggest Christmas fantasy. Imagining Santa Claus rolling out of the North Pole for the first time ready to do his first world-wide trek on Christmas Eve, seeing him getting into the “spirit” of it. I even like how he does his first “Ho-ho-ho!” To me, this was Santa Claus when I was growing up, not just a movie version of it. And it’s still my favorite part of the movie.
7. “Elf Abuse” from Elf
Let’s be honest…getting a new “Christmas Classic” is about as hard as finding a good Tim Burton movie nowadays. With holiday films like “Four Christmases”, “Fred Claus”, and “The Polar Express” (I think it stank. You can’t make me say otherwise.) constantly hitting subpar, it’s hard to find a newer Christmas film you’re willing to actually keep rolling out year after year. However, once in a while, you get movies like “Elf”. While the whole Christmas message is a bit stale, the rest of the movie is spot on. Ron Burgandy might end up being Will Ferrell’s greatest role, but the role of his that might go down in history is Buddy the Elf.
And in a movie that manages to appeal to levels of older children through adult, the best scene may not have much to do with “Christmas Spirit”, but is definitely one of the more enjoyable sequences. When Buddy intrudes on an important children’s-book-brainstorming meeting being held by his estranged father and featuring notable author Miles Finch (Peter Dinklage) who (as you know if you watch “Game of Thrones”) happens to be a little person, the PC-clueless, raised-by-elves man immediately mistakes him for one of his brethren and calls him out on it. Multiple politically incorrect comments later…and Buddy learns the hard way that when someone dares you to “call me elf one more time”, that’s a warning.
6. “Frank’s Christmas Message” from Scrooged
With the exception of the Nativity itself, you can’t get much more timeless for the Yuletide season than “A Christmas Carol”. Pretty much every version you can think of has been done over the years because the overall message and story is eternal. Some have been big hits while others have been colossal misses. To me, the key ingredient to making it work is to realize that whoever is playing Ebenezer Scrooge has to be able to both be an incredibly loathsome jerk and a totally lovable gentleman, and has to convince you that both are the same guy. The reason George C. Scott’s version “fails” to me is because Scott can’t play someone lovable. Likewise, the reason Patrick Stewart’s version “fails” to me is because Stewart can’t sell me on “being bad”. But Bill Murray is a match made in heaven for a late 80s reboot, as he demonstrated in Richard Donner’s break between Superman films and Lethal Weapon movies. And, in a unique take, the ghosts actually try to play “matchmaker” and get him back together with his old love, played by Karen Allen.
This movie is all around good, but the part that really gets you in the heartstrings is when Frank Cross, recently reformed after visitations by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, purposely destroys his own “baby”, his live-action cable presentation of “Scrooge”, so that he can urge the viewing audience to spend Christmas doing something more worthwhile than watching the TV and to make an impassioned plea for an increase in humanity and to embrace the “Miracle” of Christmastime. Capped off with a reuniting with Claire and a fourth-wall breaking rendition of “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”, the scene closes this retake on an old classic on a high note.
5. “Clark’s Gift Idea” from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
When it comes to the “Vacation” movies, most would agree the first one was the greatest and the others are forgettable at best. But I honestly think “Christmas Vacation” deserves a bit more praise than it gets. It used the 80s style of comedy when it was still “en vogue”, before it started to fall flat in the 90s. It manages to explore territory the other “Vacation” films didn’t by basically going through the mishaps associated with trying to have a great holiday season at home. And, frankly, I think it’s enjoyable. I’m not sure why it’s not a classic on more lists.
But one part of the movie which I’m pretty sure is universally agreed upon as being excellent, regardless of your view on the movie itself, has to be toward the end. Clark Griswold, having faced the latest mishap on his rapidly degenerating attempt at the perfect “Fun, Old-Fashioned, Family Christmas” (namely Uncle Louis burning down the Christmas tree), sees some light at the end of the tunnel when a delivery service gives him what he thinks is his long-awaited Christmas bonus check which will allow him both to provide his family with a swimming pool for a Christmas present as well as take away the “rubber coating” a check he wrote for the deposit currently has on it. But when it ends up being a corporate “f— you” from his uncaring boss, Clark blows a gasket. He ends up giving out the “gift suggestion” that someone bring his boss to his house as a Christmas present so that he can give him the biggest trash-talk in history. After all, why bother giving a person one insult when you can give him “all of them”?
4. “Cause and Effect” from Miracle on 34th Street
I’m not as “wild” about this movie as other Christmas films. As I noted above, for me it was always David Huddleston who was Santa Claus, not Edmund Gwenn although he was still quite good at the role. (And if you thought I was going to say Richard Attenborough…get out. Now. We do not speak of “that” on this blog any more than we speak of the Rule 63 version of “It’s A Wonderful Life”.) But it has it’s own charm and appeal. Consider the fact that this movie came out in 1947 and it features a single mom in an occupation/position of authority over numerous men. That had to be, like, the 1940s version of “Eraserhead” at the time. Granted they don’t exactly give her the most “flattering” of images and one might argue it takes a few swings at the idea of female liberation years before there was even a movement, but I don’t think that was its intention so much as the importance of remaining “young at heart” and daring to dream about something better than cold, hard, “logical” reality. And frankly the whole “final act” of the film with the courtroom makes it one of my favorite “courtroom drama” films of all time, right up there with “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “A Few Good Men”, not to mention it presents a plausible look at how it would be possible to legally prove Santa Claus exists.
On that note, however, my favorite scene in the film doesn’t involve Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, or Natalie Wood(who, let’s be honest, is a repulsive brat in that film)’s characters. It involves two of the lesser ones…the judge presiding over the trial and the “highest authority of the land”: his campaign manager for reelection. When asked by the DA to definitely state on behalf of the US judicial system that Santa Claus does not exist, his campaign manager gets him to call a special recess where he lays out, in no uncertain terms in one of the best Christmas movie monologues ever, exactly what kind of political suicide he’ll be committing by saying that. Between killing Christmas sales, ruining toy manufacturers and candy companies, and, last but not least, forcing massive layoffs of union employees, it doesn’t take long to make the judge keep “an open mind”. The fact that his campaign manager is played by the immortally-curmudgeony William Frawley also helps.
3. “Christmas Morning” from A Christmas Carol
I’ve already gone into length about my appreciation for the timelessness of “A Christmas Carol”. Out of all of the dozens of different versions out there, there are few I actually “dislike” although there are many I’m rather ambivalent to. However, what I think is the best version is the Alastair Sim one from 1951. And this is one of my favorite scenes: when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come suddenly disappears in the graveyard and Scrooge finds himself back in his room, on Christmas Day no less, and realizes he has a chance to change the grim future he saw.
This is basically “the payoff”…what the visit of all four ghosts before now has been building up to. And it’s at this point that Scrooge completes his 180 and becomes the total opposite of the greedy, selfish, heartless miser we were introduced to at the beginning of the story. And it’s just a great moment. Not only is Scrooge overjoyed to see everything can change, so is the audience. Where before everything seemed bleak and despairing, we see now that “everything’s going to be alright”. We kind of “share” in Scrooge’s joy too. There are many scenes from “A Christmas Carol” that are iconic, to say nothing of the wonderful dialog, but I rank this one as the best.
2. “The Greatest Christmas Gift I Ever Received” from A Christmas Story
Most people are nuts about this film. But long before TBS started running it in 24-hour blocks, I was burned out on it. Oh, as a kid, it had a few moments I liked in it, but not many. I grew out of it early and as I’ve gotten older I’ve sort of lost more interest in it. It’s one of those films I could honestly go the holidays without watching once. Still, it’s one of those timeless classics, so it needs a slot here.
Most people would probably put one of the more “iconic” scenes here (of which the movie has many): Flick’s tongue getting stuck to the pole, Ralphie coming downstairs wearing the worst Christmas present ever, the nightmarish visit to Santa, the Bumpus hounds devouring the turkey, Scott Farkus finally getting his comeuppance, (my mom’s personal favorite) Ralphie’s mom making the call to Mrs. Schwartz about who Ralphie “heard” say the dreaded f-bomb, the “Major Award”, etc. But my favorite is none of the “classic” scenes. It’s a scene I didn’t “appreciate” until I was older enough to understand, and that’s when Ralphie finally gets his beloved Red Ryder BB Gun. You see, when I was younger, I didn’t know how it had got there. I assumed “Santa” had left it. Only when I got older did I realize the truth. And really…it’s a big “redeeming moment” to me in the film. Until that point, the Old Man mostly seems lost in his own world. Between his contests, his job, his “furnace fighting”, and his leg lamp, I figured he was the stereotype of dads from that era that pretty much lived their own life and relied on mom to “keep everything in order for whenever he comes home for dinner”. I assumed the Old Man really didn’t care one way or another what happened in Ralphie’s day-to-day life, too busy with his own concerns and life, and so long as he didn’t get in trouble he was content to just “leave him be”. After all, Ralphie doesn’t even really make an attempt to ask the Old Man directly for the gun for Christmas. So…when it turns out that the Old Man had indeed been paying attention to Ralphie’s constant attempts to hint at what he wanted for Christmas and actually “came through”, even making sure to hide it where his mom wouldn’t find it until it was too late to try and get rid of it, that’s pretty big to me. A “my dad, the hero” moment. I like that part probably better than any other in the film.
1. “Farewell Message” from It’s a Wonderful Life
Alright, technically this movie isn’t really Christmas. It’s set around the Christmas season and George wishes everyone a “Merry Christmas” in one of the most famous scenes from the film, but it’s not a Christmas movie. It’s more a movie about human goodness and the ability for simple acts of kindness to actually change the world, and how much value a person in a rather mundane and unremarkable existence can really have on everyone around them. However, that’s why it’s at the top of my list. Because what better time is there than the Christmas season to uplift people?
In all seriousness, if I could, I would declare the entire film to be my number one entry. It’s just so powerful for such a simple story all set in the same small town where nothing really remarkable happens. Heck, even the part with the “World without George” isn’t anything budget-breaking. Every part of the movie is filled with good stuff. But, if I have to choose…I’ll go for the moral. I don’t go for the “Every Time a Bell Rings” scene so much that everyone knows by heart if for no other reason than other Christmas films have done it so many times… I go for what happens literally right before that. There’s George, not only having his spirit restored as he realizes the own impact of his life, but partaking in a second Christmas miracle as every life he’s touched over the course of his own life comes in to help him out in his own hour of need. But somehow in the crowds of people pouring in, it seems something a little “extra” has found its way onto the growing pile of money: Clarence’s copy of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. And right inside the cover is, to me, the best “movie note” of all time. And I can’t think of any better way to sum up the movie than just simply reading what it says:
“Remember. No man is a failure who has friends.
“Thanks for the wings!
Merry Christmas, everyone.