Christmas movies - what makes them classic and just how many of them do we need?
Okay, so after my month-long exhausting movie Scarathon in October, you'd think I might have learned my lesson.
Not only am I gearing up for a series of Christmas movie reviews, but I've selected even more movies this time around. So many so that I'm actually having to begin before December even starts. There are even a few days where I'll be covering up to four movies on the same day.
Anyway, to start off my planned Merry-thon, as I look over the pile of Christmas movies to fill out my list, it gets me thinking: What exactly makes a classic Christmas movie?
First off, they basically have to be set around the Christmas holiday season. That seems to be a given. But does that automatically make it a Christmas movie?
That can't be quite right, because you'd then have to include the first two "Die Hard" movies as Christmas movies. And while there may be those out there who include them in their holiday watch list, it'd be hard to actually define them as Christmas movies.
If a Christmas movie is a movie that includes Santa, what about Santa's Slay with Bill Goldberg?
Is it the Christmasy message?
Let's look at the prototypical "Christmas Movie": It's a Wonderful Life.
What makes this a Christmas movie? In 1984, The director, Frank Capra, told the Wall Street Journal that he didn't even consider it a Christmas movie when he first came across it. He just liked the idea. Yes, the final act of the movie happens all on one Christmas Eve but, other than the opening shot of people praying, how much Christmas is there for the rest of the movie? (I'll give you a hint. It's 'none'.)
And what about the message? Is it a Christmas message? Not particularly. It's not a bad message, but there's no talk of Santa or the nativity or anything like that. In the end, the way Frank Capra puts it, it's a message about "the individual's belief in himself."
It's not much of a Christmas message. It's a fine one in its own right, but it's not particularly brimming with yule.
But then, maybe it's less about the specific message itself and simply the fact that, on this one fateful Christmas for one man who's spent his life thinking of anybody but himself, everyone he knows gets together just to show him that they love him and that his sacrifices had not gone un-noticed or un-appreciated. Maybe it's the very clear depiction that, regardless of social status or race or whatever else you can come up with, a community gets together to save one of its own and reflect on the difference that one man can make.
And it all happens on Christmas Eve.
No, that's not a Christmas-specific idea. It could have been just as easily set on St. Valentine's Day. But the concept of Christmas is definitely no stranger to the idea of the brotherhood of man. Or the idea that one single person can affect the entire world.
Own the season
And let's not have any of this nonsense of avoiding the word "Christmas".
Whether you celebrate it or not is irrelevant. Do you disagree with the message of Christmas? And I'm talking about the real one, not the commercialism that cynics get so excited to point out every year. (I'd love to see how much money is made every year by film makers and TV execs who put out movies and TV specials that point out how commercial Christmas has become.)
I'm not even talking about the Nativity story. That's a cute story, but it's not a "message" in itself. I'm talking about the brotherhood of man and the idea that we can overlook each others' faults and show real love for our fellow man. Yes, that's a broad interpretation of "the Christmas message", but it's there. And isn't that something that everyone should aspire to?
No, Christmas doesn't have a corner on that kind of message. That's why I wouldn't mind if someone wished me a Happy Hanukkah or any other holiday you may personally celebrate. No, I don't observe Hanukkah or the Feast of St. Stephen, but I recognize that they are important to some of you out there and I hope to be around for them.
And I wouldn't mind having a happy one.
Being politically correct for the holidays doesn't mean disavowing what you believe. It means accepting that others believe differently and celebrating that.
Now, it's true that I've chosen Christmas movies for my reviews. Let's face it, they're everywhere and each year they just make more. But also, it's where my mind and heart go for the season. If you're really not a fan of Christmas, you don't have to pay any attention to what I have to say. But if you're even luke-warm to the idea of the holiday, maybe some of the movies I've picked will speak to you.
And Ho Ho Ho!
Movie reviews in this series of hubs
- A Shiny New Year and a Santa-less Christmas - Ring out the old with a last hurrah!
The Year Without a Santa Claus and Rudolph's Shiny New Year come bundled together on DVD and make a good addition to your holiday collection.
- 'Twas the Night Before Christmas: a Christmas classic in a new way
Rankin/Bass' Night Before Christmas is charming and fun.
- Little Drummer Boy's storytelling is a little weak - Pa-rum-pa-pum-pum
The Little Drummer boy isn't my favorite Rankin/Bass production, but it's ... okay.
- Santa Claus is Coming, but maybe not quite how you expect
Rankin/Bass puts forth an interesting story to explain some of the odder traits of a certain jolly old fat man.
- The Star of Christmas is simple but sincere
VeggieTales is always putting out videos of good Christian values. So it's only fitting that The Star of Christmas speaks strongly of the heart of the Christmas season.
- The Small One is my most strongly held Christmas movie tradition
The Small One is a wonderful show for everyone's Christmas movie library.
- The Santa Clause series is two thirds good
The Santa Clause is unique. The Santa Clause 2 is fun. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause is a re-telling of another Christmas classic.
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation can test your patience
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is random and a bit raunchy. It can test the patience of those who don't like potty humor in their yule tide spirit.
- White Christmas may digress a bit much, but I'd watch it for Kaye alone
White Christmas is a great time for the family and I just love Danny Kaye.
- The Polar Express is lovely, but oddly creepy
The Uncanny Valley tends to pull The Polar Express down from time to time, but overall, it's a very pretty movie with some real heart to it.
- Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: a childhood favorite for many a decade and a cultural classic
When we think of Rudolph, we often think first of either this made-for-TV special or the song that it uses as inspiration. But there's much more to the story's history than that.
- A Christmas Story makes me nostalgic for an era I never even saw
A Christmas Story gives a slice of life from a unique era. Makes me start remembering things that never happened in my own childhood.
- The Home Alone series proves that kids should never be left at home for Christmas, so take them with
Home Alone itself is a fine movie. But maybe they really should have left it well enough alone.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas is an absolutely unique holiday classic
Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is unique and heart-felt. A bizarre story that we could only get from the mind of Tim Burton.
- Frosty is a seasonal icon though he doesn't always get the best movies
For a simple seasonal song, Frosty certainly has gotten a whole lot of screen time.
- Holiday Inn: Besides the title and a couple of scenes, what exactly makes this a Christmas movie?
Holiday Inn may not be part of my Christmas traditions, but if it's part of yours, you could do worse.
- It's a Wonderful Muppet
Kermit and the gang get together for their favorite kind of Christmas: madcap. The theater is at stake and they must pull together. Then it suddenly becomes "It's a Wonderful Life." Not a problem. Just the way it is.
- Ernest saves Christmas and puts it on display for the whole world
Ernest is chaos incarnate, but the kind of chaos that maybe we need for the holidays.
- Will Vinton's Claymation characters bring song and cheer to the holidays
Claymation Christmas is a great way to sing the holidays.
- Does Charlie Brown ever have a normal, boring Christmas?
Charlie Brown, the little kid the world loves to pick on, can still show the world the reason for the season.
- Miracle on 34th Street is a wonderful classic that confronts the belief of Santa head on
Miracle on 34th Street is a great classic for the whole family.
- The Grinch and Christmas may have a more complicated relationship than you might think
The Grinch is a well known story, but is it really all about Christmas commercialism?
- A Christmas Carol: As many new versions as there are people watching them
There are more versions of A Christmas Carol than I care to mention, but I'm sure you each have a favorite. That is, of course, assuming you aren't completely sick of it by now.
- It's a Wonderful Life: The accidental Christmas classic
It's a Wonderful Life lives forever in the public eye as the prototypical Christmas movie. You can debate whether it's a Christmas movie, but nobody can argue that it isn't a classic.