With the exception of one of my favorites, the movies on the list all revolve around Christmas.
While to some it is not politically correct to refer to the season as Christmas, I still like to call them Christmas movies. That’s the holiday and in the past Christmas was the reason for the season.
For some of us, it is still.
Depending on my mood and the year, my list of favorites evolves and changes. What you will never find on one is Elf, A Christmas Story, Home Alone and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Sorry. There are those I like better, but if they’re on your list, I’m glad.
I will add a post script for A Christmas Story. In the last five or six years while channel surfing for something that isn’t Christmas music — love Christmas movies, hate non-stop Christmas music — I’ve stopped on the channel showing it non-stop for 24-hours. Each year, I find myself staying longer and laughing louder.
Love or hate it, this is my list:
Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Yes, it is really a Thanksgiving movie. But so what? The ultimate message is the same you’ll find in most Christmas movies. Friendship. Love. Caring about others in spite of differences. These are what matter in life.
This John Hughes written and directed film is the career acting highlight of both Steve Martin and John Candy. Candy’s work is one of the great "sad sack" performances of all-time and deserved more award-accolades than it got. In 1987, Sean Connery won the Academy Award for best supporting actor for The Untouchables. The other nominees were Vincent Gardenia, Moonstruck, Albert Brooks for Broadcast News, Denzel Washington, Cry Freedom and Morgan Freeman in Street Smart.
Great performances all but who remembers them? A pathetic Candy sitting on the bench, alone and grieving at the end of the film still moves us to tears and is one of the movie images that remains burned in my brain 24 years later.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is the half-hour TV special from 1966, not the overblown, over-amped and over-acted Jim Carrey/Ron Howard movie disaster. Boris Karloff’s narration and Dr. Seuss’ terrific characters make this the best Christmas story this side of Ebenezer Scrooge.
Speaking of Scrooge. Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol is my all-time favorite story. I love almost any movie version, though I cringe at Bill Murray’s Scrooged. When push comes to shove, I am partial to the older classics and the Muppets. A Christmas Carol is a timeless tale with a great moral and one of the few movie plots that, no matter who does it, ends up equal to, or better than the book.
Want proof? Though I don’t have an official count, my educated guess is it has been put to film probably more than any story in history including The Count of Monte Cristo.
I have two new Christmas favorites. One is in theaters now and the other is going to have many of you scratching your heads. And if you’re my pastor or my grandchildren, stop reading now.
You can catch Arthur Christmas at a local theater. During the Thanksgiving weekend, The Muppets and Martin Scorsese’s brilliant Hugo got all the glory. The film to take the family to see is Arthur Christmas.
It is done by the producer of Wallace and Gromit. Animated and non-stop motion with claymation, the film is a sweet and very funny story about the naive son of Santa. It explains that Santa’s one-night spin around the world is now high-tech and looks more like a NASA mission to the Moon than a Jolly Old Elf gliding the skies.
It is — however — the Jolly Old Elf in the form of GrandSanta and Arthur, whose dedication to Christmas sends him on the adventure of a lifetime and one that will have you howling.
Bad Santa is new to my list. Catch this one late, late at night when the kids are in bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads
A few years ago I had the pleasure of interviewing Billy Bob Thornton and told him that no one could have played the Bad Santa character except for him. Cast anyone else, and the movie flops. Love him or hate him, the guy is a great character actor, and this is his best character.
Thornton is cast as the most disgusting department store Santa of all-time. He is the alcoholic part of a duo that robs a new store each year. In a movie full of disgusting scenes, Bernie Mac eating an orange is the most revolting of them all. It is the most foul food scene in the history of movies.
Other than Mrs. Santa’s Sister and John Ritter’s last role as the store manager, you can’t like anyone in Bad Santa. Even like the kid whom the bad Santa ends up using and protecting is unlikable.
The film has zip for an end of the movie moral, but along the way there are plenty of laughs. It’s a nice change of pace from the holiday movies we’ve seen too many times and new releases that are more fluff than substance.
Comedian/TV star Tim Allen stars in the next three. It fits because all are TV movie of the week material: The Santa Clause, The Santa Clause 2 and Christmas with the Kranks.
The Santa Clause flicks are both charming and sometimes even clever. The Kranks drags the lame comedy nearly to death before you are finally given a two-hanky payoff that makes it worth squirming through most of the movie.
Then there are the must-see Miracle on 34th Street — the original, not the remake — and White Christmas. We do these because they’re tradition, and who doesn’t love the end of Miracle when the Post Office delivers thousands of letters to a packed court room and the kid who gets her new home and a new dad?
It’s a Wonderful Life. The not-a-Christmas movie that became a Christmas classic and tops the favorite Christmas movie list of most of us. Avoid seeing this on TV with all the commercials, the Ted Turner colorized version or an edited version. Frank Capra’s slow-developing, wonderfully acted and well-written original is an exploration of how we touch each other’s lives in ways we cannot imagine. It defines how life changes the dreams of our youth but blesses us by fulfilling our lives in unimaginable ways. Nothing is more Christmas-like than this film.
Like you, I’ve seen this dozens of times and still grab a hanky at Capra’s brilliantly executed finale.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. See you at the movies.