Tuesday, December 18, 2018

My Ten Favorite Christmas Movies: Some No-Brainers & Surprises

"Yippie-ki-yay.... and Merry Christmas!!"

Watching movies -- at home and in a movie theater -- is just as much a beloved Christmas tradition in our house as drinking eggnog, kissing under the mistletoe, and shoveling reindeer poop off the roof. Wait, what? You don't shovel reindeer poop off your roof?  Eww....

Below, in no particular order, are my ten favorite Christmas movies of all time. Some of these you'll know, but some you may not. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all! 

1) The Family Man - This was an instant classic, a new standard, when it came out in 2000. The modern Dickensian tale stars Nicolas Cage (right) as a hapless, hardened Wall Street titan and Tea Leoni as the long-lost love of his life. This hopeful fantasy is actually rooted in reality: It's all about evaluating your life, and learning the encouraging lesson that it's never too late to re-set, to start over and go after what you want rather than what you think you need.

2) Scrooge - This somewhat obscure 1970 musical is a hugely underrated take on "A Christmas Carol," with the great Albert Finney as Ebenezer. Finney is a masterful actor, and this for me is the finest screen performance ever of Scrooge, with terrific songs by Leslie Bricusse. Every bit as good as "Oliver," the Oscar-wining musical take on Dickens' Oliver Twist, Scrooge also stars Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley's ghost. 

3) Christmas Vacation - Another instant classic. Funny, and surprisingly touching, this movie undoubtedly resonates with every American father/husband who wants to give his family a perfect Christmas. This is Chevy Chase at his most endearing and vulnerable.

4) Holiday Affair - Another underrated Christmas film, this 1949 comedy/drama tells the story of a young mother (Janet Leigh) who lost her husband in World War II, and the charismatic stranger (Robert Mitchum) who befriends her and her precocious but likable son, eight-year-old Gordon Gebert. Gebert, who is still alive and was born in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa, steals every scene he is in. This for me is the best Christmas movie no one knows about... unless you watch Turner Classic Movies. 

5) Die Hard - I mean, what's Christmas without “Yippie ki-yay, mother****er!” Bruce Willis at his beleaguered, charismatic best. And yes, it's a Christmas movie, there are lots of references to the holiday throughout. It begins, you'll recall, on Christmas Eve with Willis’s character John McClane arriving in L.A. to attend his wife’s work Christmas party with the hope of reconnecting with his kids for the holiday. "Winter Wonderland" and "Let It Snow" play during the movie, which may be a bit too violent for some folks’ taste on the holiday, but I find it cathartic. 

6) Bells of St. Mary's - Poignant classic about the goings-on at an inner-city Catholic school with Bing Crosby reprising his Father O'Malley role and Ingrid Bergman as the feisty, big-hearted nun. We watch it every Xmas, and here's some trivia: "Bells of St. Mary's" is the film that appears on the movie theater marquis in a scene from "It's a Wonderful Life," which was released a year later.

7) Just Friends - Ryan Reynolds plays to perfection a former chubby, high-school nerd and now svelte, big-shot Hollywood record producer who reluctantly returns to his hometown for Christmas after a "flyover" flight is forced to land nearby. He reunites with his high school dream girl, played by Amy Smart, who never let him get out of the “friend zone.” He tries to win her over by acting cool, and she rejects him. It’s funny, touching and real. 

8) Elf - Another immediate standard. I've seen this movie at least 15 times. Will Ferrell is a revelation as Buddy the, um, world's tallest elf. He’s pure joy, and freaking hilarious. What better way to explain the movie than to include a couple of lines from Buddy: "We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns and syrup.”    "I planned out our whole day: First, we'll make snow angels for two hours, and then we'll go ice skating, and then we'll eat a whole roll of Toll-House cookie dough as fast as we can, and then to finish, we'll snuggle."    "I'm sorry I ruined your lives and crammed 11 cookies into the VCR."

9) Scrooged - My favorite Christmas comedy/satire, with the inimitable Bill Murray inhabiting the Scrooge character as an insufferably self-centered TV executive. Admittedly, this is a favorite in part 'cuz I covered this film as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times Syndicate in New York in 1988. I got to spend the entire afternoon with Bill Murray. It remains one of the favorite days of my career.

10) It's a Wonderful Life - Last but certainly not least, there is the gold standard of Christmas movies. Frank Capra's heartwarming masterpiece never gets old. There has never been a film that I can name that resonates more deeply with more people. It has universal appeal. And for the record, the common narrative that this film was not popular when it was first released is actually not entirely true. It wasn't a smash hit like some of Capra's movies such as “It Happened One Night" and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” but it did ok, and it was nominated for five Oscars, including Best Picture. It is now widely and deservedly considered the best Christmas movie of all time and, yes, one of the best movies, period.

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