Since the advent of television, families have gathered around the boob tube during the holidays to catch classic Christmas movies.
With advent of the VCR and the DVD, we can enjoy the tradition at our convenience.
That can be good, and that can be bad.
When I submitted this story to the editor of the Tri-City Herald A&E section, he wrote back and said my picks were pretty “safe.” He was “hoping for some surprises.”
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There just aren’t very many Christmas movies, and new ones are few and far between. The last one I can think of was Four Christmases a couple of years ago with Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon.
It was awful.
Before that it was Christmas with the Kranks in 2004. It made me cranky. Fortunately, it’s not one that my family pops in the DVD player when we crank out our favorites.
Truthfully, I’m bored to tears with Christmas movies. I’ve seen all of them so many times that — like you — I can practically do them line-for-line. And I’m not a Christmas kind of guy anyway. For years, I managed to miss the season entirely. I had no kids at home, no wife, family hundreds of miles away — perfect.
Things have changed. I’m close to the family, happily married and am now forced to do Christmas traditions such as gather around the tube and watch Christmas movies. I start — and when no one is watching — I slip off and find something else to do.
There is one exception: Bad Santa.
It is my guilty Christmas pleasure. This is a comedy for those relating more to Scrooge than Santa. It’s very, very R-rated and one to catch when the kiddos are in bed. Billy Bob Thornton plays a drunken department store Santa who befriends the most pathetic kid in the history of movies.
A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thornton, and the first comment I made to him was that no one else could have played that part and made the movie work. And it’s true. Thornton gives his best-ever performance and is the most disgusting character to ever hit a holiday movie.
But we don’t watch holiday movies for disgusting characters. We’re in it to feel good. These are my feel-good picks. And no doubt my list looks — heavy sigh — a lot like yours.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life: James Stewart’s selfless but struggling character, a brilliant screenplay and director Frank Capra’s three-hankie ending get you year, after year, after year. If forced to pick an all-time favorite movie for any time of the year, this is it.
2. Any version of A Christmas Carol: Charles Dickens’ lesson-laden tale is my favorite story of all-time. What’s great about this one is the variety of genres available to you stretching from drama to comedy. I love almost all of the versions from the 1938 super-serious classic to the Muppets to Mr. Magoo to Disney’s Mickey Mouse and 3D Jim Carrey. Even Henry Winkler — TV’s Happy Days Fonzie — did a decent TV version.
3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas: The 1966 Boris Karloff narrated half-hour animated version and not the awful Ron Howard directed, Jim Carrey star-vehicle with its Fisher-Price sets and dragged out plot. Karloff’s narration of Dr. Seuss’ classic is killer.
4. Miracle on 34th Street: Is Santa real or not really mattered to kids from the 30s to the 1970s. A more commercialized and media-soaked holiday season has changed that. What it hasn’t changed is the power of this classic to warm the heart. It too has a three-hankie ending.
5. A Christmas Story: All Peter Billingsley’s Ralphie wants for Christmas is a BB gun. It’s at the center of Jean Shepherd’s terrific story. In addition to the writing duties, Shepherd also does the film’s tongue-in-cheek narration. His script and some excellent character actors perfectly paint a portrait of childhood and family life in the 1950s and 1960s.
Honorable Mentions: A Nightmare Before Christmas and The Santa Clause.
The most overrated Christmas movie — Elf. I was so bored, and Will Farrell is so boring.
What do you think? Are you as tired of Christmas movies as me?