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My Christmas Movie Top Ten
'Tis the Season to get a few days off work and watch some flicks. So what are you going to choose? Fortunately for you, I have decided to make a short list of ten films that are my personal favorites. Your choices may be different than mine, but that is just because I have better tastes in films. So sit back, check out my list, then head over to the video store (or your Netflix queue) for some of the finest Holiday entertainment you could ever hope to find. (And don't worry... There is a section for comments at the bottom so you can tell me how wrong I got it!)
Remember when National Lampoon made great movies? Vacation is one of their best, but amazingly, Christmas Vacation is even better. This is perhaps arguably the best Christmas movie ever made, but there has definitely not been a better Christmas movie made since. The Griswold family bite off more than they can chew when the relatives, some expected and some not-quite-so-expected, arrive for the Holidays. There is so much comedy packed into this film that it is hard to believe it only has a running time of 97 minutes. Everyone who has seen it has their favorite scenes, favorite lines and favorite characters, but all agree that from start to finish, the movie is full of laughs and Christmas Spirit. The film stars Chevy Chase as Clark, Beverly D'Angelo as Ellen, Juliette Lewis as Audrey, Johnny Galecki as Rusty and Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie.
Scrooged takes the classic story of Ebeneezer Scrooge and gives it a modern twist when television producer Frank Cross (portrayed by Bill Murray) is visited by the fabled Ghosts of Christmas Past (David Johansen), Present (Carol Kane) and Future. Carol Kane pretty much steals the show as she has a habit of doing, but the rest of the movie is excellent as well. With no Ghostbusters to call for help, Frank not surprisingly rediscovers the joy of life along with the meaning of Christmas with the help of the three spirits. Also stars Karen Allen, John Forsythe and Bobcat Goldthwait.
This film, starring Billy Bob Thornton, Lauren Graham and Tony Cox also features two comedy greats who have passed away -- John Ritter and Bernie Mac. In fact, some of the highlights of the film are the interactions between Ritter and Mac. Ritter is the mall manager and Mac is the head of security for a mall that hires an alcoholic Santa (Thornton) who is setting the mall up for a robbery with the help of his elf-sized accomplice (Cox) when a young boy and new romantic interest (Graham) enter his life and slowly turn things around. The only negative thing I can say about this film is they do sort of re-hash Tony Cox's "what-do-you-mean-you-people" shtick from Me, Myself and Irene. It should be noted that this film is definitely not intended for children.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Something is wrong with the kids on Mars. They are way to serious for their own good. But their Martian elders have a simple solution -- kidnap Earth's Santa Claus and bring him to the Red Planet. A couple of Earth children get caught up in the plot and soon the Martians cannot decide if they just want Santa to help their kids or if they want Santa and the Earth children dead. In the end, everything is worked out so that everyone is happy and the Jolly Ol' Elf returns to Earth with kidnapped children. John Call does and excellent job as Santa. Trivia buffs will note it was Pia Zadora's first film. She played one of the Martian children and would wait 18 years before making another appearance on-screen.
Without a doubt, this is my third favorite Christmas movie of all time and the only movie to be released since Christmas Vacation that gives it a serious challenge for the top spot, but it was not always that way. When I first saw the movie, it was because I always see Will Ferrell movies. With Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel and James Caan also in the cast, I had really high expectations. To top it off, there were also appearances by Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter, Faizon Love and Kyle Gass -- all very positive signs. And Leon Redbone was doing the voice for Leon the Snowman! Let's face it -- my expectations were unrealistically high. After seeing the film, I was disappointed that it did not live up to my expectations and didn't watch it again for a couple of years, taking away from it only that Zooey Deschanel was a pretty decent singer and it was kind of a funny movie. But when I finally did give it another chance, I was blown away by one of the most endearing Christmas stories ever. It isn't as great as neither Christmas Vacation nor White Christmas and it probably will not appeal to as many people as those classics do, but I absolutely adore this movie.
Trapped in Paradise
Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey star in the superb film that some may feel isn't a Christmas movie per se. but to me, since it happens at Christmas and involves... well, let's call them "misguided souls" who learn the true meaning of the Season... to me that's a Christmas movie. Cage, Lovitz and Carvey play the Firpo brothers, low level criminals who come up with the idea of robbing the bank in a small Pennsylvania town on Christmas Eve. But fate seems to have other plans and before the movie is over, these bad seeds with good hearts find their way to a brighter future. But don't think it is too mushy. This one is loaded with laughs as well.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton set a new standard for weird with this odd little masterpiece about Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town who tries to take over Christmas. With a unique animation style and story that twists just about every idea we have about Halloween and Christmas, a stopry emerges that is both entertaining and heart-warming, albeit in Burton's own special way. The film features the voices of Chris Sarandon (Jack), Catherine O'Hara (Sally), William Hickey (Dr. Finklestein) and Paul Reubens (Lock). Perhaps this movie is not for everyone, but those who enjoy an occasional detour from the mainstream will find much to appreciate here.
The original Black Christmas was one of the first Christmas themed horror movies along with Silent Night, Bloody Night, both released in 1974. An inferior remake (almost seems like that is a bit redundant) was made of Black Christmas in 2006, but I am referring to the original. I would like to say this was a groundbreaking new concept in horror, but the truth is it is an above average but fairly standard horror flick put into a Christmas setting. I give the movie such high marks because of a plot that doesn't reveal too much until the end and the performances of many fine actors and actresses -- especially Margot Kidder, John Saxon and Olivia Hussey. Keir Dullea does a decent job as well but does not quite match his inspired performance in Bunny Lake Is Missing. Anyone looking for a gorefest should look elsewhere as this was before the "more guts the better" attitude took over Hollywood horror with more emphasis on atmosphere than blood.
Santa Claus: The Movie
Prior to Elf, Santa Claus: The Movie was third on my favorites list which is a little odd as there are some similarities between the two. The incredible Dudley Moore stars in the film as Patch, an Elf who, much like Buddy the Elf, leaves the North Pole after botching his job as a toymaker. But rather than searching for his father, Patch falls in with an evil toy company owner portrayed by John Lithgow, who attempts to take advantage of Patch in his effort to take over Christmas from Santa Claus. But, of course, before it is all over, Patch sees through the ruse and reconciles with Ol' St. Nick. As much as I loved this movie, I still always thought it would have been hilarious if there had been a scene with Patch getting drunk so Dudley could channel Arthur Bach as an elf.
It's A Wonderful Life
Jimmy Stewart. Need I say more? Probably not, but I will anyway. This is one of the greatest Holiday stories ever filmed. Jimmy Stewart is at his best and that is pretty much as good as it gets in any film. Sure, you can make the argument that the plot is merely a slight reworking of Dickens' basic Scrooge storyline, but that doesn't take any of the heart away from this touching slice of cinema. Though this movie would probably fall in fifth on my favorites lists, sometimes it is just the perfect Holiday treat when Christmas is approaching. The movie also stars one of my all time favorite TV mom's, Donna Reed, as well as Drew Barrymore's great uncle, Lionel Barrymore.
This is the movie that makes it difficult for me to say beyond a shadow of a doubt that Christmas Vacation is the greatest Christmas movie ever. If I am in the mood to laugh a lot, Christmas Vacation is the way to go. But if I am in the mood for a more engrossing story, you cannot beat this 1954 classic. With Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as the song-and-dance duo Wallace and Davis and Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen as the up-and-coming Haynes Sisters, the movie also benefits from Dean Jagger as Major General Thomas F. Waverly and the always delightful Mary Wickes as the nosy yet lovable Emma Allen. My mom loved this movie because of the scenery, the fashion and the music. My father loves it because of the war buddy aspect and the comedy. I love for it to many reasons to list. A great movie that is worth seeing year after year.