The Twelve Days of Christmas Specials
Top Twelve Television Christmas Specials of All Time
Let me go over the ground rules. I only included Christmas movies and made-for-television programs in my list. Films that were set during the holidays but did not focus on Christmas were not included. This eliminated some decent flicks including Edward Scissorhands, Trading Places, Gremlins, Die Hard and Planes, Trains and Automobiles not to mention Home Alone, which was a huge hit but wouldn't be on my list anyway.
It is a shame that I am not going to include any Music or Variety Specials on my list either because the Saturday Night Live skit featuring Alec Baldwin as Pete Schweddy and his Holiday Schweddy Balls would be near the top. We'll have to save it for another list or two in the future.
Oh, and one more thing-- all of these specials have been on TV and are scheduled to be featured on TV this holiday season. If you would like details of when to catch your favorite Christmas Special, there is a pretty comprehensive list available on Wikipedia.
Top-Twelve Television Christmas Specials of All-Time
So without further ado, here is my list of the Top Twelve Christmas Specials:
12. Polar Express (2004)- Although the story's message is about how the wonder of life never fades for those who believe and the imagery of the train trip to the North Pole is remarkable, there were many parts of this film that reminded me of a nightmare-- dark and spooky. The computer generated animation techniques developed for this production are innovative, even by today's standards, and the way the digital characters movement and emotions are driven by real actors, mainly Tom Hanks, is pretty amazing in itself.
11. A Christmas Carol (1951)- Talk about Spooky? There are several dozen film adaptations of Charles Dickens' novel including everything from musicals to Muppets but the black-and-white English production with Alastair Sim playing Ebeneezer Scrooge is considered the definitive movie version. We pulled off a much smaller scaled translation for the CYC Christmas show in High School that wasn't too, too bad. I played Bob Cratchit and my sister was Tiny Tim because, if I remember correctly, she was on crutches at the time for a real injury. Brian Leriche beat me out of the part of Scrooge but he did a great job.
10. Scrooged (1988)- Based on the same story but different enough to earn it's own spot on the list. Bill Murray is Frank cross, the wealthy, cold-hearted TV executive Scrooge-like character in this modern-day edition. It delivers the same feel-good message, but the ghosts are not as scary as in the original and, although it's no Caddyshack, it's still pretty funny, so it settles one place higher on my list.
9. Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970)- This is one of my earliest Christmas memories-- watching this claymation classic on our plaid vinyl couch in our new 70s add-on family room. This special was way before it's time as it took the format of a psychedelic, Behind the Music 25-years before VH-1... if Santa was in a band. Love the story... hate the song. Why do grown musicians still try to record this thing?
8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)- Were all the kids-film-makers from the 60s and 70s on dope? All of the fine Dr. Seuss' stuff seems that way. Boris Karloff as the narrator gives this show a tone that no other voice man could ever pull off. You want to do something crazy? Wait until the hottest day of the year and pop this DVD in. I bet you shiver before you reach the halfway mark.
What? What's that you say? Jim Carrey who? Message to all directors and producers in Hollywood. Stop trying to re-make Dr. Suess movies!
7. Miracle on 34th Street (1947, 1994)- Unlike with A Christmas Carol, I am going to list both versions of this film together because they are basically the same but they have some merit of their own. The original, starring Maureen O'Hara, Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood was awarded three Oscars and the latter, with Elizabeth Perkins, Richard Attenborrough and Mara Wilson was just as charming. Out of all the feel-goods on my list, this is the one that oozes the most Christmas cheer.
6. The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)- The second Rankin/Bass production on my list could have just about a dozen other similar animated specials including Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer or a Very Brady Christmas except for four-words that put this one over the top... I'm Mister Heat Miser...
OK, It's been easy up to this point but, to tell you the truth, I am having a hard time with the top five as any one of them could have been number one. Who decided that I should do this, anyway?
5. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)- What can I really say about this holiday standard? If The Polar Express is on the top of the technical effects pile Charlie Brown Christmas would be buried deep on the bottom. The first Peanuts program to make it to TV was done on a shoestring budget which resulted in a primitive, choppy animation style, poor sound quality and editing blunders but it has aired, unchanged, annually, every year since and, more recently several times a year. The first airing was a critical and commercial hit with half of all the TVs in the nation tuned in and it was honored with both an Emmy and Peabody award. The season was not quite complete for me as a kid until we plopped down in front of the tube to watch the Dolly Madison sponsored classic with the smooth jazz composition of Vince Guaraldi and Linus' reading of the Gospel of Luke 2:8-14 exclaiming the true meaning of Christmas to the gang.
4. A Christmas Story (1983)- This film makes it to number one on a lot of the lists that I have seen but, maybe because of overexposure, can only top out at four on my list. The low-budget flick, set in 1940 in a fictional Indiana town, follows nine-year-old Ralphie Parker and his family on his quest for the one thing he wants for Christmas-- an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle BB gun. Although it takes you back to a simpler time when Dad was "the Old Man", having your mouth washed out with soap and no red-blooded American Boy would turn down a Double-Dirty-Dog-Dare, it is really timeless in that I could relate to many of the characters and situations in the plot and multiple sub-plots. Overall a really fun and enjoyable way to spend 94-minutes during the holidays. I like to catch it as I help Santa assemble all the gifts during the 24-hour marathon on TNT.
3. It's A Wonderful Life (1946)- From a film set in the 40s to one that was made then. Frank Cappra's masterpiece based on the short story, The Greatest Gift, takes place in a fictional town called Bedford Falls shortly after WWII and features Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who is about to commit suicide when he is visited by his guardian angel, Clarence, shows him what the town, and all the people in it would be like without him. Feel-good, almost to the point of sappy, the film, because of production expense and competition at the box office, was originally considered a flop. It was nominated for five Academy Awards but won none, however it has been named as The American Film Institute's List of Top 100 movies at number 11 and AFI's List of Top 100 Inspirational Movies at number 1, as well as many other honors over the last 60-years. If you haven't seen any movies on the list, this is the one to rent this month.
2. Elf (2003)- I know! I didn't think that I could include this one but it cleared the ground rules. Then I thought I shouldn't include it because it was your traditional "classic" Christmas flick, but I think it is quickly becoming one. My wife and I happened to see this movie on opening night and, even with a broken nose that I got when she tried to pull a quick move and get her arm around me for some PDA and a sore neck because we arrived late and had to sit in the front row, we had the best time with this fun little film. Will Ferrell can make almost anything he does fun but his over-the-top, child-like, clumsy comedy is perfect for the part of Buddy-- the human raised by Santa's elves who travels from the North Pole, through the candy cane forest... to New York to find his Dad and gets into all kinds of hilarious mischief. All-in-all just good clean fun! Anyone that sincerely cannot say they had a good time watching this, must be a Cotton-Headed Ninny-Muggin!
1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)- Second best in the vacation series and this is no Caddyshack either, but still enough to pull off the top spot on my list. Chevy Chase, as Clark, and the rest of the Griswald clan hit way to close to home when they explore the best and worst part of the holiday season-- the family gathering. Although there are better feel-gooders on the list, bigger productions on the list and funnier scripts on the list, Christmas Vacation is a good mix of all of all of those things and everyone can relate with the situations that come up when we celebrate with loved ones.