December 04, 2015

10 Favorite Christmas Movies

Last week I talked about my struggles to seamlessly shift into Christmas mode now that I live along the Gulf Coast. I vowed to make an efffort to immerse myself in Christmas spirit this year, so in that vein, I give you the list of my 10 Favorite Christmas Movies:

Most of you are familiar with this movie, I'm sure. It's the story of Ralphie, a kid living in the 1940s, and his efforts to convince his parents and/or Santa that he needs a Red Rider BB Gun for Christmas. It's about much more than that, too--his relationships with his parents, his kid brother, his friends, and the neighborhood bullies. I've seen this movie at least 100 times, and the scene when his dad points out that one last present hidden away in the corner still brings a tear to my eye. 

My kids and I quote from the movie all the time. (A-plus-plus-plus-plus-plus...) I defy anyone who sees this movie to ever pronounce "fragile" properly again or sing Deck the Halls without becoming politically incorrect for a few seconds.

It's not Christmas at my house until we've watched this movie. It's old, of course. Made in 1954, it's the story of a couple of army buddies who team up after World War II as a successful song-and-dance team. They end up trying to help their former commanding officer to save the inn he's now running after leaving the military. It's full of sweet charm and romance and, of course, plenty of song and dance. If I have the story right, the movie was made to showcase the song (of the same name) which was introduced in an earlier movie, "Holiday Inn" starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. 

This one stars Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. I love "Sisters" (both versions) and the dance where Danny Kaye broke his foot in the middle of shooting and kept going without missing a beat of that catchy, syncopated rhythm. A true classic.

This movie follows the lives of several different couples on the way to Christmas. There are, of course, romantic couples but there are also different kinds of couples--friends, parent and child, cases of unrequited love, and business partners, all negotiating their way through complicated and troubled relationships or forging new ones. 

The movie stars Emma Thompson (who breaks my heart every time I watch it), Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Gregor Fisher, Liam Neeson, Martin Freeman, Kiera Knightley and, many others. It's centered around Christmas, of course, but it doesn't have to be the holiday season for me to watch it.

4. Noel

I don't think this movie is as well-known as the others on my list, but it's one of my favorites. It's set in New York City on Christmas Eve and, like Love Actually, is a composite of different stories about people who need a Christmas miracle. It stars the late Paul Walker, Alan Arkin, Penelope Cruz and Susan Sarandon, among many others. 

I'll confess that I'm not usually a fan of Sarandon's, but I really enjoy her performance in this movie (and in Stepmom, which reduces me to a blubbering blog of something unpleasant every time I watch it.) Walker's performance is sweet and touching. 

An unmarried food writer who has misled her readers about being the perfect housewife and mother must try to cover her deception when her boss and a returning war hero invite themselves to her home for a traditional family Christmas. Since our hapless heroine can't cook anything at all, hijinks ensue. Throw in a baby borrowed for the weekend and an ardent suitor who leaps at the chance to play husband, and it's a fun time for all. 

There are actually two versions of this movie: one made in 1945 with Barbara Stanwyck and Sydney Greenstreet and one made in 1992 starring Dyan Cannon, Tony Curtis, and Kris Kristofferson. I like both versions, but of the two, the 1945 version is my absolute favorite. I didn't realize until I was writing this blog post that the later version was directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. You can learn something new every day.

This is a true classic, based on the tale by Charles Dickens. I don't know how many different movie versions of this story exist, but there are a lot. Whoopi Goldberg made one. Mickey Mouse made one. The Muppets made one. Vincent Price made one. Ronald Reagan made one. Mr. Magoo made one. Susan Lucci made one. Jim Carrey made one. 

It's been remade on various TV shows too, from The Andy Griffith Show to The Many Lives of Dobie Gillis to The Animaniacs to The Six Million Dollar Man. IMDb (International Movie Database) lists 184 versions

Of all the various versions, my favorite is the one made in 1984 starring George C. Scott. Scott's performance as Ebenezer Scrooge is terrific. He's my favorite Scrooge of all.

Clark Griswold is an "every man" character who's kind of dorky and sweetly sentimental. All he wants is the perfect Christmas. Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. Take his immediate family, which has a few issues of its own, toss in his parents and in-laws, some uninvited guests and some snooty neighbors, and you have a recipe for disaster as only Griswold can deliver. 

It's full of moments I'm sure some people would consider inappropriate. It's got some language, too, so if those things bother you, you'll want to skip this one. 

There are three movies in the Santa Clause set, and I do like them all, but the first is my favorite. Starring Tim Allen as Scott Calvin, a divorced father who works too much (yes, that's a required element for almost any Christmas movie), Judge Reinhold plays the ex-wife's new husband, and Wendy Crewson plays Allen's character's ex-wife. Eric Lloyd stars as the son they all share. 

Scott inadvertently becomes Santa after the current Santa is killed after a fall from Scott's roof on Christmas Eve. Scott becomes the new Santa for the night and takes his son along for the ride. Naturally, complications must arise, and they do here because Scott's ex-wife and her new husband are trying to convince their son that Santa isn't real. That's hard to do since the kid has gone around the world in a sleigh--a fact psychologist stepdad finds deeply disturbing.

What can I say? I'm a Santa Claus fan. I'm also a Paul Giamatti fan and a Kevin Spacey fan. I'm not sure I'd call myself a Vince Vaughn "fan" (as in I'd go out of my way to see a film because he was in it) but I enjoy a lot of what he does on screen. Together as Santa (and Santa's bitter older brother, Giamatti and Vaughn are brilliant. 

The snowball fight scene can make me laugh out loud no matter how many times I've seen it as does the scene with the sibling support group. Maybe it's just me as a middle child identifying with all those overshadowed siblings, but I laugh every single time. 

An uptight, conservative, businesswoman accompanies her boyfriend to his eccentric and outgoing family's annual Christmas celebration and finds that she's a fish out of water in their free-spirited way of life. They're close. They bicker, but it's obvious they love one another. She is much more buttoned-up and watching her with this family makes me feel awkward and uncomfortable every time I watch it. 

It's got a great ensemble cast including Sarah Jessica Parker, Claire Daines, Diane Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson (is there anyone else who can play the dad of a big, warm, messy family quite as well?), and Luke Wilson, plus a host of others. 

I find family dynamics endlessly fascinating, which is one of the reasons I like this movie so much.

These aren't the only Christmas movies I enjoy and watch repeatedly. I could easily extend the list to my top 20 or even top 30. What can I say? I love Christmas movies. If I had to pick an Honorable Mention (okay, I don't have to, but I can't leave this one off the list), it would be A Christmas Visitor starring William Devane, Meredith Baxter and Dean McDermott. Another one that brings tears to my eyes every time I watch it -- probably because back in the day, I was a huge fan of Knot's Landing and there wasn't anything more moving than watching Greg Sumner mourning the loss of his beloved wife. Good grief! All the man has to do now is swallow and I'm a mess. And, yeah, he swallows in this one. 

Anyway, this is my list. What's on yours? 

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