Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Movie Lover's Christmas List


I love movies. New movies, old movies, black and white. You name it, I probably like it. I love Netflix and libraries and video rental stores like the former Video Spectrum in Bowling Green that has not only the latest hits, but also the really bizarre and hard-to-find stuff.

At the top of my list is the Frank Capra-directed Christmas classic "It's a Wonderful Life." I am fanatic about it. I offer my Web site http://iawlfan.110mb.com/home.htm as proof. While I no longer update the Web site, I don't plan to take it down. It's an interesting visit. I went back to it for the first time in about two years last week, and I was surprised by what I found. I had forgotten about some of this.

Between now and Christmas, I will post additional blog entries expounding on the virtues of "It's a Wonderful Life," but for now, I want to list my top 10 favorite Christmas movies. Actually, I need to make it my top 11.

This list actually appeared several years ago - I don't remember exactly when - in the Sentinel-Tribune in the early 2000s... probably 2004. I have added to/changed/and otherwise re-written this for the purposes of this blog.

You would think that as much as I love "It's a Wonderful Life," that I don't enjoy any other Christmas movies, let alone any other type of movie.


Interestingly, my top two favorite movies actually are holiday films: "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story." What follows is my own top 11 favorite Christmas movies. I know it's missing a lot of classics, like "White Christmas," but "why I don't like musicals" is a story for another day. Instead, this list more reflects my taste in humor, and the child that still lives inside of me.





11) "Mickey's Christmas Carol" - Split into two sections, both parts are funny. This animated classic gets to the point of the story quickly, and along the way, you get to enjoy the smeshmashio ... smeshmizelshmoof ... the yogurt.



10) "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street" - As a child, I thrived on Sesame Street. One of my fondest memories was a record put out in 1975 called "Merry Christmas from Sesame Street." It was great.


There were original songs, and classics, as well as Sesame Street skits put on vinyl. For 15 years, I maintained the distinct memory of having seen some of these skits and songs performed on television. I was convinced there had to be a movie.


I spent those 15 years looking for that movie, and in 2003 or 2004, with the help of EBay and Amazon.com, I finally found it in "Christmas Eve on Sesame Street." It's the movie I remember from television: Ice skating at the beginning of the movie, Oscar singing "I Hate Christmas," and Bert and Ernie performing their own version of the Gift of the Magi.


I have taken my childhood vinyl record and converted it to CD and MP3. I continue to listen to this CD every year.


(This paragraph appeared in the 2004 version of this story): As a new father, I am looking forward to sharing this new find with my son. And it is my promise that he will know who Mr. Hooper is before he becomes brainwashed by "Hokey Pokey Elmo." Hokey indeed. (Post-Christmas irony, added for the benefit of this Web page...my son got a Hokey Pokey Elmo for Christmas. Timing is everything!)




9) "Mr. Krueger's Christmas" - At a running length of about half an hour, it can barely be considered a movie. But the message in this very religious program is extremely strong, and is about the only movie on this list that looks at the true meaning of Christmas. You probably won't find this movie in your local video rental store, though. Ask a Mormon friend how you can get a copy of this movie, or look for it on Amazon.com.









8) "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" - I am a huge fan of television shows made the way this movie was made. Rudolph would have made this list if it had been longer. This is the story of how Santa Claus came to be, and it continues to be one of my favorites. It features Fred Astaire, and it's a musical, which is interesting considering how I feel about musicals.









7) "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" - This annual television Christmas tradition was pulled off of the air many years ago, but it remained special to my mother and I. We used to watch it together every year.

It starred Mickey Rooney as a retired police officer living in California. He has promised to take his grandson to New York to show him a true white Christmas, but dies before he gets a chance to make the trip. He makes a deal with the Archangel of Heaven to return to Earth for a week until Christmas and show his grandson the wonders of a white Christmas in New York City. Thanks to my father and (again) to EBay for bringing this movie back into my life. I can't find it anywhere on DVD, except as a bootleg.









6) "Muppet Family Christmas" - While I watched the Muppet Show as a child, my ex-wife introduced me to the Muppet movies through this film. This one gets everyone involved, from the Muppets to Fraggles, even characters from Sesame Street. "Honk, honk! Pass it on!"






5) "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" - I don't like this movie only because Russ is watching "It's a Wonderful Life" when the grandparents arrive. Instead, I like it because it's funny. What can beat Cousin Eddie emptying the RV toilet into the sewer while dressed in his boxer shorts? And Clark's "Holy Shit" Christmas toast? And all of that sap? Classic.





4) "Miracle on 34th Street" - I will break my own rule of thumb of "classic film over modern" and say that I prefer the 1994 version over the original version, for the sole reason that Mara Wilson steals the show as Susan Walker. I can watch this movie any time of the year.










3) "A Christmas Carol" - Again, I will go with the newest version, released in 2009 starring Jim Carrey. This was was digitally animated and done in 3-D. While there are the usual 3-D gimmicks, like the horse hearse chase that lasts way, way, way too long (think pod race in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and how that made you want to bang your head against the wall...or take a bathroom break and still get back in time to know who wins the race). Yet despite that big fault, this movie is amazing. It is breathtaking in depth and camera angles, and special effects, and it is true to the original story in most ways, including language. Despite obvious stupid gimmicks, this was extremely well done.




2) "A Christmas Story" - One word: Fra-gee-lay. Would you believe I have two leg lamps because of this movie? One is a life-sized custom-made leg that my dad made for me for Christmas last year. The other is the night stand-sized replica. I also have been to The Christmas Story House in Cleveland on numerous occasions. Played on multiple channels all day long, like "It's a Wonderful Life" used to be, "A Christmas Story" already is a cult classic and is fast becoming an all-time classic holiday film.





1) "It's a Wonderful Life" - Not only my favorite holiday film, but my favorite film all-around. I usually take a positive approach, describing how this film is timeless and its two major themes of "no man is a failure who has friends," and "each man's life touches so many other lives" work today as well as they did when the film was made. This time I'll take a different approach.


I am naturally a pessimist, so I'll quote critic James Wolcott, who got downright nasty in a 1986 review of IAWL that was printed in Vanity Fair: "Perhaps what has made 'It's a Wonderful Life' such a beloved holiday tradition in recent years is that George Bailey now stands for what we want to believe, and Bedford Falls is the home we can't go home to again. "It's a Wonderful Life' is the perfect film for the Reagan era, celebrating the old fashioned values of home and hearth that everyone knows deep down have eroded."


Sadly, I believe that is true. But there is so much more to it than that. My goal is to dig deeper in upcoming blog entries. Stay tuned.