Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Weekly Top Tens: Christmas Movies

I love Christmas, and god help me, I love Christmas movies. I recently watched the awful Four Christmases, and it got me thinking of some truly great Christmas movies. These are my favorites. I want to also mention The Ref, which I really wanted to put on this list, but just did not have room. Sorry Denis Leary!

10. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989)
No one is going to mistake this film for an actual classic piece of moviemaking. It is, it must be said, a rather poorly directed film, and entirely stupid. It is also downright hilarious, so even though the movie snob in me turns my nose up at the film, I must say that I find myself watching at least part of this movie every year. Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswald goes through one frustrating event after another, the entire time trying to pull off the perfect Christmas. Many series are hilarious – the lights that blind the neighbors, the excursion for the Christmas etc, but the two involving the animals – first the cat who is electrocuted than the rabid squirrel who jumps out of the family Christmas tree are my favorite. No National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is not a great movie – but I never fail to have a great time watching it.

9. A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)
Now that TBS has made a holiday tradition out of playing this movie for 24 straight hours over Christmas Eve and into Christmas day, I doubt there are few people who haven’t seen the movie numerous times. Like Christmas Vacation, I find myself watching at least part of this movie every year (and also like Christmas Vacation, I don’t really consider it to be a great movie, but it is great fun to watch). All Ralphie Parker wants for Christmas is a BB Gun, but everyone tells him he can’t have one because “You’ll put your eye out!”You cannot help my laugh at poor Ralphie as he tries to make his case, and the underlining nostalgia for childhood is quite endearing as well and I love Darren McGavin as the father. I quite like this film, despite its short comings.

8. A Christmas Carol (Brian Desmond-Hurst, 1951)
For classic film fans, there is no doubt that this is the most beloved of all the adaptations of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol over the years. Alastair Sim is certainly the best Ebenezer Scrooge in film history, a mean crotchety old man who learns the true meaning of Christmas through the course of one night when he is visited by ghosts. The filmmaking is impeccable – dark and moody lighting in the bedchambers, eerily ghosts and a bright and cheery finale. For me, this is the most faithful adaptation ever, and also the best film made out of the story. But as you will see by the next film on my list, it still isn’t my favorite adaptation.

7. A Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Hensen, 1992)
Yes, I know that many of my fellow serious film fans will tear me to shreds for ranking this above the 1951 version of the film, but I cannot help it. I love this movie to death. Michael Caine is wonderfully cranky and hilarious as Ebenezer Scrooge, and how can you not love Rizzo the Rat and Gonzo as our narrators, Kermit as Bob Crachit, Miss Piggy as his wife, Statler and Waldorf as the Marley Brothers and Fozzy as the appropriately Fozzywig. The songs are endlessly catchy, and the film just makes me feel good. My wife “makes” me watch this one every year, and I don’t care. I love it.

6. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
It’s Christmas eve and Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) has arrived in LA from New York to try and work things out with his estranged wife. What he finds when he arrives at his wife’s high rise office is that a group of terrorists, lead by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) has taken over the building and is holding everyone hostage. It does up to McClane to single handedly take them all down. One of the great action movies of all time, Die Hard is endlessly re-watchable and fun, and has just enough Christmas material to make it a real Christmas movie for the men of the world. How you can watch this film and not love it, I have no idea.

5. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, 2008)
Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale is not your typical merry Christmas story of a family get together. Instead, it is about the final Christmas an extremely dysfunctional family will spend together as a whole. And this family is not just regular movie dysfunctional – they are fucked up! Catherine Denueve plays the matriarch of the family, who finds out she is dying, and wants one more Christmas together with her whole family. The problem is that Anne Consigny, their oldest child, has refused to see Mathieu Almanac, the middle child, for years because of his irresponsibility. Poor Jean-Paul Rousslin and Melvil Poupaud, and the patriarch and youngest child respectively, who simply try and keep the peace – that is until their own issues come to the surface. A Christmas Tale is not really a feel good movie, but nor is it depressing. It is vibrant and alive, and a reminder that although we sometimes hate our families, they are the only ones in the world who are forced to stick by you no matter what.

4. The Shop Around the Corner (Ernst Lubitsch, 1940)
Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan play co-workers in a Budapest store who hate each other in real life, but fall in love with each other via the letters they send to their pen pals, not realizing that they are the same person. Director Ernst Lubitsch was a master at comedy, and this is one of his sweetest, most charming creations. Taking place during the Christmas rush, this is a movie that anyone who ever worked in retail will appreciate, but is also funny, sweet and touching. A wonderful concoction from the golden days of Hollywood.

3. Bad Santa (Terry Zwigoff, 2003)
Let’s face facts – sometimes we all hate Christmas. All that damn shopping, spending time with family members we don’t really like, driving in the snow, etc. No wonder that Christmas time has the highest suicide rate of any time of the year. But instead of suicide, this year try watching Terry Zwigoff’s gloriously demented Bad Santa instead. Billy Bob Thornton has perhaps his finest role as Willie Stokes, a thief who every December teams up with his partner Marcus (Tony Cox), and gets a job as a department store Santa and elf, and then robs the store on Christmas eve when it is packed with cash. This allows Stokes to live the rest of the year in alcoholic bliss. Bad Santa is a hilarious, profane, perverted Christmas movie with some killer one liners (“You not gonna shit right for a week”, “Is granny spry?”, “Look, I've boned a lot of fat chicks in my time, sure. But, as far back as I can remember, I've never fornicated anybody”, “Things are fucked up at the North Pole. Mrs. Claus caught me fucking her sister, now I'm out on my ass.”, and of course my personal favorite “Fuck me Santa, Fuck me Santa, Fuck me Santa!”). Bad Santa is the perfect cure for the Christmas blues.

2. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
Yes, I know that Frank Capra’s movie is a little bit cheesy. But I don’t care – I love it just the same. Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey is one of the most lovable characters in cinema history. When everything in his life seems to have gone to shit, he decides to jump off a bridge and kill himself, until a kindly angel comes down and shows him what life would be like if he had never been born. Yes, the movie starts off dark, but the end of the movie, with Stewart running through the town yelling “Merry Christmas Bedford Falls”, before heading home and realizing that he has friends and family who love him to death, makes me well up with tears every year. If you don’t love this movie, you have no heart.

1. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry J. Selick, 1993)
How can you not absolutely love this stop motion animated classic? The story of Jack the Pumpkin King, leader of Halloween town, becoming bored and dissatisfied with his life, so he decides to expand his operation. He kidnaps Santa Claus, and gets all of Halloween town to make toys for all the boys and girls in the world, which he himself will deliver. The songs are touching and catchy, the animated distinct and memorable – amazing images that stay in your mind. This is a film that no matter how many times I have see it – and I have long since lost count – reels me in every time. The best Christmas movie ever made? For me, yes.

No comments:

Post a Comment