Oh, the holidays!! The best time of the year for many reasons. Of course Christmas in itself is enough, but look at all of the other reasons to be happy during this time of the year. Celebrating the birth of Christ, lots of great food to chow down on, the NFL season is in full swing, and you get to see family members that you don’t get a chance to see during the rest of the year (ok, maybe that’s not such a good thing for some of us). On top of that, the movie season usually delivers some of the years finest films, as we get a chance to see some heavy Oscar contenders, plus some big budget efforts that studios save for the end of the year.
One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is sit back and watch some of the best films that celebrate the season. My list is based on how these films get you into the holiday spirit, make you feel all warm and fuzzy, and basically just give you a great feeling while watching them. CHRISTMAS SPIRIT…that’s what it’s all about. From the ‘real’ classics to more ‘modern’ classics, here is a rundown of my top 10 holiday films, or series.
10. White Christmas - This Bing Crosby/Danny Kaye classic is a staple for the holiday season. Featuring memorable performances and a wonderful score by Irving Berlin, how could you not fall in love with this film. When this is on the tube, you don’t need any radio or Christmas themed cd…just let the performers do their thing. Turn it up and get caught up in the holiday spirit. A nice addition to blu-ray as well. Remastered to perfection with amazing sound, this is a must have for any collection.
9. The Polar Express – Robert Zemeckis absolutely loves to work with Tom Hanks. With box office faves Forrest Gump and Cast Away on their resumes, both teamed up for this stop motion animation effort that was a sight to behold when it debuted in 2004. The story of a young boy’s journey to the North Pole aboard a magical train is what fantasy holiday tales are supposed to be about. Hanks performs several roles in the film and once again delivers nothing less than stellar work. The film is available on blu-ray and in 3D nonetheless. Another must own and the perfect film to sit down and watch with your children…boys or girls. All kids should enjoy the amazing animation and great storytelling.
8. The Home Alone Collection (parts 1 and 2) – Macaulay Culkin’s reign as the cute kid who basically destroys burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern is known mostly for it’s creative and inventive ways of cruelty done to the intruders, but there is something much more going on here. The films contain a lot of positive messages. From the ‘not judging a book by it’s cover’ theme surrounding the creepy neighbor in part one and creepy bag lady in part two, to the realizing just how important family truly is (theme in both films). Yes, the films are hilarious and that is the selling point but try to appreciate the other themes involved as well. Written by the late John Hughes and directed by family film director Chris Columbus, the duo dealt out many hits over their careers but none as financially successful as this franchise. Great performances by Pesci and Stern, as well as Culkin, make these a complete must have for any collection. Available now on blu-ray as a double pack.
7. (tie) The Animated Classics – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus is Coming to Town; Charlie Brown Christmas; and Dr. Seuss How the Grinch Stole Christmas – When it came to deciding which animated classic would make this list I decided to lump them all into one. Rudolph is my personal favorite, but you really must have all of these films in your collection. When it comes to classic, old school animation, these are the best examples of such.
Charlie Brown with the cute story and nice Peanuts gang theme music playing in the background, Frosty with his beloved well-known tale, Santa gearing up for the big day, the Grinch plotting to destroy the day, and Rudolph becoming the leader of the pack after hanging with his band of misfit toys…all classic, easy for kids to follow stories that each and every child should watch. Great messages abound.
6. The Santa Clause - I tell ya, Disney sure knows how to crank out a hit, don’t they? Tim Allen, hot off the heels of his success on the small screen, was cast to play the big guy in this new, live action version of Santa Claus…with a twist. This version of Santa Claus comes with an ‘e’ on the end of it’s title to let us know just how an average, everyday man can take over the reigns of Mr. Claus. A wonderful, simple story follows as we see Scott Calvin (Allen) quickly become Santa, while at the same time developing a much closer relationship to his little son, Charlie. The film is fun, heartwarming, full of holiday magic (all the way down to the elves), and enchanting. Two sequels followed that lacked the heart of the original, but all in all this is a great series as a whole. As with most series, the first is the best however, and this film is available on standard DVD. Oddly enough, not yet available on blu-ray…maybe next year.
5. (Tie) Various versions of A Christmas Carol – The George C. Scott version, Disney’s animated version with Jim Carrey, The Muppets Christmas Carol, and the modern interpretation – Scrooged -featuring Bill Murray – So many different interpretations of this classic tale, but the message remains the same. Don’t take life for granted, be kind to those in need and to those close to you…and most of all, cherish the holidays and embrace the spirit of it all. The most recent version is the animated one starring Jim Carrey and directed by Robert Zemeckis. Produced by Disney, this rendition is not only very colorful, but the stop motion animation is just superb. The added 3D feature doesn’t hurt either. Carrey is marvelous in this.
My personal favorite is the version starring George C. Scott. There is something about that one that I enjoy the most. It’s dark overall tone suits the characters and the music/score is also quite good. Great acting from all of the supporting players helps make this one stand out. You really feel for Bob Cratchit and his disabled son Tiny Tim and you feel for Ebenezer Scrooge’s family who doesn’t want to give up on him.
Probably the most varied version of this story comes in the form of the Bill Murray starring vehicle, Scrooged. Set in the modern, corporate world, Murray is Frank Cross, a megaboss who only thinks of dollar signs. This is a very funny version of the classic tale that features fine performances from Karen Allen, Bobcat Goldthwaite, John Glover, and David Johansen. By the end of the film, of course, Cross realizes the error of his ways and in a big spectacle of an ending announces this to the world.
And of course, we can’t forget about the Muppets version. A more family friendly tale (come on, it was made for the kids), this is a fun film that features the great Michael Caine in the role of Scrooge. The Muppets are always fun to watch and it’s nice seeing them in a Christmas setting. The music is especially good here, and once again…a must have for any collection.
4. Miracle on 34th Street (original) – The second oldest film on the list and it still tugs at the heart strings even today. A very cute, young Natalie Wood gives a fine performance as a girl who has been told not to believe in fairytales. Things such as a ‘Santa Claus’ do not exist. But when Kris Kringle arrives (in Macy’s), he begins to tell people who he really is…or at least, who he thinks he is. Naturally, people become angry at the man and eventually, a young lawyer goes to court to represent this man who is claiming to be Santa Claus. The basic principle here is that you should never stop believing in miracles. Despite what you may have been told, miracles do happen…and in this world, Santa Claus does in fact exist. The 1994 remake is quite good too, but the original holds up a little better over time. This is definitely a film for everyone.
3. A Christmas Story – Talk about an ageless movie. One never seems to tire when watching this funny, traditional little Christmas film. Set in the 1940′s, the simple story of a boy (Ralphie), who only wants one thing as a gift…a Red Ryder BB Gun. Along the way, we get a glimpse into his troubles with a bully, his weird parents, a mean teacher, and even, to him, a crazy mall Santa Claus. Several scenes stick with you long after viewing, including the tongue being stuck to the pole, Ralphie finally taking care of that bully, the leg lamp, and many more. Available on blu-ray at a reasonable cost, I highly recommend seeing this if you haven’t already…has anyone not seen this gem? Doubtful.
2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – The funniest Christmas film…ever. The most watched Christmas film…ever. Everyone loves this third entry in the popular Vacation series. Why does everyone dig this one so much? Let me explain. The writing is outstanding. Clever humor, mixed with a bit of slapstick, mixed with the fact that a lot of people can relate to having a family as dysfunctional as the Griswolds. The film is a showcase for Chevy Chase who really symbolizes the ‘family’ man and cousin Eddie, who completely symbolizes ‘idiocy’. There are a lot of memorable scenes and memorable lines in this ‘modern’ holiday classic. I nearly put this flick at the #1 spot simply due to the fact that it still hilarious after 50 or so viewings. Probably the coolest thing about this Griswold adventure is that it takes place entirely at their home. No road trip, no overseas vacation…just Christmas with the Griswolds. Words of wisdom from Clark W. Griswold, Jr…”Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Kiss my ass, kiss his ass, kiss your ass, Happy Hanukkah”.
1. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE – The one film that sends the most profound message of any film…possibly ever. It’s a tale that teaches us to value what we have despite the frustrations of everyday life. Jimmy Stewart, one of the best actors to ever grace the silver screen, gives a one man renaissance of a performance in what is without a doubt the best Christmas film ever made. True, it’s not as funny as some of the others on the list, but it does resonate with you more than any other. When the angel shows George Bailey what life what have been like if he had never existed, it’s a moment that hits a chord in all of us. Having contemplated suicide, George now understands the importance of his being…the importance of one’s self. It’s a heartfelt story that has a great ending. Frank Capra’s classic is a film that must be watched by all…young and old. Uplifting is the best word to describe this masterpiece. The oldest and the number one Christmas film of all time.
Those that almost made the cut….The Family Man, Bad Santa, Miracle on 34th Street (remake), Edward Scissorhands, The Bishop’s Wife, Holiday Inn, Love Actually, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Elf.
For the record…Planes, Trains, and Automobiles would have made my top 10…but it is a Thankgiving film, not a Christmas film. Die Hard could also be considered a Christmas film, because it does take place on Christmas Eve…but it doesn’t really meet the requirements of making this list. For the record, I still consider it one of the best actions films ever made.
So, that’s it. Let me know if you think something may have been ommitted from the list. I would love some opinions. ‘Best of’ lists are always fun to create, but even more fun once others opinions are voiced. On that note…MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR to all!! My best of 2010 list will be up in a couple of weeks!