Thursday, December 20, 2012

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid

Oh, Christmas.  You never actually live up to that wonderful picture of you we dream up in our heads, do you?  At least we have the movies to remind us of how good it used to be, right? 

Stealing the idea from something I wrote on MySpace back in the year two thousand and--um, you know what, we don't need dates, do we?--I'm presenting all you readers with the gift of my selective guide to holiday* movies.  And when I say selective, I mean selective.  I'm not even writing about all the Christmas movies I've seen.  For one thing, there's a whole bunch I can't remember because I saw them long ago on TV or something.  And for another thing, there's a whole bunch more that are so mind-numbingly awful I don't want to remember them.  So here are fifteen Christmassy films I think you need to check out right now or avoid at all costs. 

As charming as an eel.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Ron Howard, 2000)
A version of the Dr. Seuss classic about, well, it pretty much does as it says on the tin.  The film made me weep.  Not because it was touching, mind you, but because IT WAS AN ATROCITY.  Stick to the Chuck Jones animated version.  Or, you know, the book.

Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincent Minnelli, 1944)
A year in the life of a family from St. Louis, Missouri, that culminates in the 1904 World's Fair.  So, um, other than the part where Judy Garland sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", not really a Christmas movie, even though everyone claims it is.  Allegedly a Hollywood classic, I'm not overly fond of this film, mostly because it can't decide whether it wants to be a melodrama or a musical.

Love Actually (Richard Curtis, 2003)
Hugely popular, especially among every British person I know, I must confess that I don't care for it all that much.  As one of those inter-connected stories films, there were parts I liked (the kids are cute, and Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson turn in stellar performances, as usual), and parts I didn't (getting Colin Firth wet? Yeah, like that's never been done in everything he's ever been in).  Over all, it's probably not a bad film.  Curtis is, of course, the master of the romantic comedy.  I hate romantic comedies.

The Bishop's Wife (Henry Coster, 1947)
An angel comes down from heaven to help a bishop get his church built, and along the way sort-of falls in love with his wife.  Another alleged classic, I've always found it boring and much prefer the 1996 remake The Preacher's Wife.  Not that it's any better; it's just got singing.

The Santa Clause (John Pasquin, 1994)
Santa falls off a roof and dies, and the guy that finds him winds up putting on the suit and delivering presents.  Only problem is, he forgot to read the fine print and winds up the new Santa Claus.  Not the best movie by any means, it is, however, some solid family entertainment.  The sequels, though, were crap.

Miracle on 34th Street (George Seaton, 1947)
Natalie Wood plays an adorable little girl who doesn't believe in Santa Claus!  But then her mother, who works for Macy's, hires a guy who claims to be the real thing.  Never been one of my favorites, but it's a good movie, and a true holiday classic.  Unfortunately, the colorized version from the 1970s still seems to be in circulation, and the remake is one to be avoided.

Shabbat shalom, motherfuckers!
The Hebrew Hammer (Jonathan Kesselman, 2003)
In this Jewsploitation flick, detective Mordecai Jefferson Carver (he's like Shaft, but 100% kosher) has to save Chanukah from Santa's evil son.  Very funny, though some of the jokes do require at least a minor in Jewish Studies to get, and even then you'll still be wondering if you really ought to be laughing at them.  But, hey, it's not like there are that many other Chanukah movies out there anyway.

Christmas in Connecticut (Peter Godfrey, 1945)
A house and home columnist's editor invites himself over to her farm for Christmas, bringing a handsome war hero with him.  Only problem:  she's really a Manhattan career woman whose cooking skills don't exceed a trip to the corner deli.  Hilarity ensues.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992)
What's a list of Christmas movies without one of the 10 gazillion versions of A Christmas Carol?  This might not be my absolute favorite, but it's definitely one of the best.  And--Muppets!  What's not to love?  Gonzo makes a perfect Charles Dickens, though I'm not sure about the historical accuracy of his talking rat sidekick.  (Big blue nose, on the other hand....)

Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990)
Kevin lives any kid's dream of having the whole house to himself when his family accidentally leaves him behind on a visit to relatives in Paris for Christmas.  But then he has to defend his house against the pair of crooks burgling the neighborhood.  Cringe-worthily painful (yet still funny) slapstick ensues, as well as some heartwarming stuff.  

White Christmas (Michael Curtiz, 1954)
Hit duo Wallace and Davis get lured to a struggling Vermont ski resort by a pair of singing sisters only to find that it's being run by their old general.  What can they do to help him?  Put on a show, of course!  Yeah, the plot may seem a bit silly, but it's got humor, romance, song and dance numbers (plus both Technicolor and VistaVision!), and the Irving Berlin classics "Counting Your Blessings" and, of course, "White Christmas".

Chimneys are for wimps.
Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
When Hans Gruber and his pack of terrorists take over Fox--um, I mean, Nakatomi Plaza, they didn't count on one of the employees being married to John McClane.  Ass-kicking ensues.  Hey, who says Christmas movies have to be all warm and fuzzy?  Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)
All Ralphie wants for Christmas is an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle, but the adults in his life seem to be conspiring against his attempts to get one.  Dripping with nostalgia, the film is nevertheless a hilarious look at what it was like when the most important thing in your life was getting that one thing you wanted.  Also:  sexy lamp.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989)
Clark Griswold invites the whole extended family over for an Old Fashioned Family Christmas.  What could possibly go wrong?  Everything.  From exterior illumination, to squirrels in the Christmas tree, redneck relatives and yuppie neighbors, Christmas Vacation is jam-packed with seasonal laughs.  Easily the best Christmas movie of the last 50 years. 

It's a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
George Bailey's at the end of his rope--feeling like he's always lived for others and got nothing for himself--and he's starting to think that maybe everyone would be better off without him.  So the angel Clarence, hoping to earn his wings, comes down to show George just what life would be like if he'd never been born.  Overexposure in past decades has caused a lot of people to look down on this film, but it's not only heartwarming, it's inspiring.  These days especially, we need Capra's reminder that "No man is a failure who has friends." 


*I'm not being P.C., I'm being accurate.  They're not just movies about Christmas.

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