Mr. Movie

Mr. Movie: Holiday movies, the good and the bad

This image released by CBS, shows Hermey the Elf, voiced by Paul Soles, left, and Rudolph, voiced by Billie Mae Richards in a scene from “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
This image released by CBS, shows Hermey the Elf, voiced by Paul Soles, left, and Rudolph, voiced by Billie Mae Richards in a scene from “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Associated Press

A recent study by psychologists says too much Christmas music is bad for your health. As the season wears on the effect is similar to the Stockholm Syndrome. The study led me to wonder if holiday movies might have a similar effect.

Early on, watching the cartoon stuff with the kids, or a nice evening spent in Bedford Falls with “It’s a Wonderful Life’s” Jimmy Stewart is a positive thing. However, by the time you get to the annual 24-hour TV marathon that broadcasts “A Christmas Story” over and over, do we become a zombie-like captive?

Do we actually need to see it again? We already know Ralphie gets his BB gun.

The good thing about holiday movies is the considerable variety. The bad thing about holiday movies is — as with Christmas music — they’re holiday movies. Every family has its favorites. Me? I’m a critic. Then I read a study like this and find that maybe my cynicism is based on decades of a bombardment of boring holiday movies.

I don’t expect most people to be as bah-humbuggy as me, however, there are five or six versions of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch stealing Christmas and even more of Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas Eve revelations. Everyone from Disney to the Muppets to Bill Murray and Jim Carrey have taken a shot at this most wonderful story.

Some of you watch them all.

These days I get more pleasure out of reading Dickens’ prose than watching someone’s interpretation of his story. You might, too. By the way, the Murray and Carrey versions pretty much suck.

That brings me back to my original point. There are a huge variety of films for a nation with a nearly insatiable appetite for holiday movies. So why not skip the classics like “White Christmas,” 1947’s “Miracle on 34th Street” (not the 1994 cruddy remake) and one of my all-time favorite movies — and just one of two I’ll see every holiday season — “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Others? “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer,” “It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas” and 1967’s “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” “Home Alone,” “The Santa Clause” and “The Polar Express.”

You might also drop what may be the dumbest movies in holiday history, “Elf” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” You may love them, but in my book when it comes to comedy Will Ferrell and Chevy Chase reside at the bottom of the forced laugh barrel.

Another complaint. Like Christmas decorations filling up the big box stores in August, holiday movies get released in theaters earlier every year. This year two of them were out before Thanksgiving. They are a new version of the Grinch story and “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”

The latter isn’t exactly packing in audiences, and so far has only earned $45 million. That can’t be close to the cost of producing this effects-laden clunker. Look for it to do a lot better — and maybe recoup the losses — when it becomes an annual TV event.

“The Grinch” opened two weekends before Thanksgiving. It’s the Grinch so what’s not to love? In this case, it’s a better film than the bloated 2001 Jim Carrey bomb that many of you force yourselves to watch each year.

My point? Maybe it’s time to stretch a bit. Skip the classics. Start a new tradition. One suggestion is “Arthur Christmas.” This 2011 film is a really sweet, and sometimes funny, story about passing the Santa mantle from one Santa to the next. It’s great for kids and adults.

Or how about “The Ref.” It’s not really a Christmas movie though it takes place on the holiday. The film is about a robbery. Comedian Dennis Leary anchors the chaos but it is the work of Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis that pack the film with laughs.

Another you ought to try pretty much got ripped by critics. It is “Christmas with the Kranks.” I admit the film is awful until you get to that break out the hanky scene at the end of the movie. It makes the whole thing worth the time.

That brings me to the second movie I watch every year: “Bad Santa.” I cannot emphasize enough this movie is not for everyone.

Billy Bob Thornton’s department store Santa is one of the most disgusting movie characters ever. This one is dark, tongue-in-cheek humor for people like me. We are the weary Scrooges tired of the whole holiday thing but our hearts somehow soften, and we end up actually enjoying the end of the season with family and friends.

Whatever you chose to watch — or not watch — this holiday season, I wish you and your family happy holidays.