The Feast & The Familial

When I was a kid I was under the mistaken impression that our local Italian Heritage Festival (celebrated each Labor Day Weekend for four decades) was one of a kind, the only such celebration in the entire country. I’m not sure where I got that idea, but as an adult I learned that not only are there other Italian Festivals, but apparently some are bigger & better than ours. Ah well…so be it. At any rate, a couple of years ago our festival premiered a rom-com called Feast of the Seven Fishes, which was filmed locally just a few miles up the road. I was unable to attend the showing for reasons I won’t bore you with, but recently I found the movie on Netflix, and while it doesn’t exactly mirror my childhood experience it hit enough of the right beats to make me just a bit wistful.

 

My father always called Christmas Eve one of the biggest nights of the year in the Italian culture. My great-grandparents emigrated (separately) from San Giovanni i Fiore in the southern Italian region of Calabria and settled here in northcentral West Virginia. They had a dozen children, all of whom are gone now, but their descendants continued the Italian Christmas Eve tradition.

 

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a celebration commemorating the wait…Vigilia di Natale…for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. It was introduced in the United States by Southern Italian immigrants in New York City in the late 1800s. Eating seafood on Christmas Eve comes from the Catholic practice of abstaining from eating meat on the eve of a feast day. Since no meat or animal fat can be used on such day Catholics instead eat fish (typically fried in oil). The seven fishes allegedly represent different things, depending on which source one believes…the seven sacraments, the seven deadly sins, the seven days of Creation, etc. Seven is an important number in The Bible for multiple reasons. Having said that, the truth is that most Italian-American families deviate from the formula in one way or another…some serve more than seven seafood dishes, while others serve less.

 

Now here is where it gets weird…my family isn’t Catholic. I am sure my great grandparents were, and some of my extended family still are. However, my paternal grandmother wasn’t Italian, and it was she (along with several of my great aunts who married into the family) that was the churchgoer. Back in the day when she & my Papaw got married our small town had only one church and it was United Methodist. Nowadays the trek into the city where there are multiple Catholic churches is about five miles…a ten minute drive. But for Grandma and the rest of the family a century ago it was quite a trip, so it was just easier to go to the church right down the street. When my parents got married my mother started attending the same United Methodist Church, and several of my cousins did the same. I’m still related to half the congregation, which makes it extremely difficult to meet a woman.

 

At any rate, our Christmas Eve fishfest always started in mid-afternoon, and we didn’t get home until close to midnight. My grandparents lived about a mile away in a cozy coal company house because Papaw and his brothers were miners. The cooking was done in the kitchen, but there was a small dining room where we ate. Well…where the adults ate. There wasn’t enough room for everybody at the big table, so there was a kids’ table in the kitchen. My grandparents had to put picnic benches around their table to accommodate everyone because they didn’t have enough chairs…sitting in the living room and eating while watching TV simply wasn’t done back then. As a child my most fervent wish was to eat at the big table with the adults, and when I finally achieved that goal as a teenager it was a proud moment. I don’t recall everything that was on the menu, but we always had fried (breaded) oysters, calamari (squid), whiting, and baccala (salt cod…not to be confused with the Greek dessert baklava). There were meatballs and mashed potatoes as well, and my mother always made a big salad with all kinds of meat & cheese (topped with Italian dressing of course). For dessert we always had German chocolate cake (made from scratch) and my grandmother’s homemade pita piata, which is an Italian nut roll made with raisins, lots of spices, and I’m pretty sure some sort of booze is in the recipe as well. The German chocolate cake confused me as a child because we were Italian. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that it’s a specific type of chocolate.

 

Now you’d think that the food would be the highlight of this extravaganza, but you’d be wrong. My father has told me over & over for decades that nothing is more important than family, and nothing drove that point home more than Christmas Eve. There were so many people packed into that little house. My great aunt lived right next door, and at some point in the evening her kids & grandkids would come over to visit us, and vice versa. Another great aunt lived just up the road, and oftentimes we’d visit that house as well. My maternal grandmother was widowed, so my paternal grandparents were kind enough to include her in our celebration, and only now can I truly appreciate how generous that was. She was our family, so she was family to them too. My grandfather, uncles, cousins, and father would all gather around the table after dinner and play poker, and another rite of passage for me came when I was finally allowed to participate in that game…it made me feel all manly & tough. More than any piece of fish or slice of cake that’s what I miss the most…having all of those important people in my life gathered together in one house enjoying each other’s company…talking, laughing, embracing. I wish I had a bunch of pictures & video of all of those Christmas Eves, but I don’t.

 

At some point when I was in high school or college (my memory is a bit fuzzy) the Christmas Eve fishfest was moved to my aunt’s house. It was still great, but lost a little pizazz since those other households weren’t next door or just up the holler (yes…my grandparents and much of the extended family lived in a holler…and it was a magical place, a great neighborhood). Still, the evening was always fun. But then we started losing people…my Uncle Peck, my little cousin Levi, my second cousin Jimmy, my mother, my Papaw Jim, my Grandma Pigott, my Grandma Mano. We soldiered on until 2019, when my aunt was just too ill to continue.

 

So now I spend my Christmas Eve at home by myself. No oysters, baccala, or German chocolate cake, but more importantly no mother or grandparents. In a perfect world I would have married and continued the tradition with my own children, inviting my Dad, sister, and nephews to celebrate at my house. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, that natural order of continuation hasn’t come to pass, and in a year of isolation due to the global pandemic and my own health issues I am feeling nostalgic. When I watched the Feast of the Seven Fishes film I must admit that it had me a bit verklempt. The 20-something main character has a meet-cute with a pretty girl and invites her to his family’s fishfest, and I can imagine a sequel wherein three decades later they are married and celebrating Christmas Eve with their children & grandchildren. Perhaps someday one of my nephews will marry and we’ll have some vague facsimile of The Feast at their house. I can be the crazy uncle to their bambinos and get to enjoy Christmas again thru children’s eyes, which is the way it is supposed to be. Above & beyond my own desires I want that for my father. As much as I miss our tradition I know it is an even bigger void in his life (although he’d never admit it), and I’d love to see him enjoy another Christmas Eve surrounded by love, laughter, food, & fellowship. Until then I have my memories, and I am so damn thankful for a family that always made the holiday so special. I miss them, but understand how blessed I was to have them in the first place.

 

Merry Christmas Manoverse. I hope now more than ever we all appreciate what is really important. Gifts are nice. Lights are pretty. Music & movies have the ability to touch our soul. Food keeps us alive and is a pleasantly tasty experience. But nothing is more important than family, so hug your spouse, smother the little ones in your life with kisses, appreciate your grandparents while they are still around, enjoy your aunts, uncles, cousins, and whoever else you consider La Famiglia. Take pictures & video. Capture those memories. Decades from now you’ll be glad you did. Viva bene, spesso l’amore, di risata molto. And never forget the true reason for the season…the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

Sammy Claus Returns!!

A year ago, after a decade of presenting to the masses The Sammy Claus Wish List, there was no Christmas Spirit in The Manoverse. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the malaise I was feeling not only foreshadowed my own personal health issues, it was the precursor to a year most of us will be glad to see come to an end. Things may not be perfect heading into 2021, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel concerning my particular situation, and the rest of the world has reason to be optimistic that lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing, and other related roadblocks may eventually give way to a return to normalcy. It may not happen overnight, but there is hope, and it is with that sense of positive anticipation that Sammy Claus has decided to resume traditional activities.

To refresh your memory, being Sammy Claus wields no special power. I can only hope that The Big Man at The North Pole has time to surf The Net and read what we publish here, then see fit to grant these wishes. Let’s face it…the past several months haven’t been easy for most of us, but perhaps handing out the suggested gifts to the entities mentioned here could atleast put a smile on some faces and make the world a slightly better place. Aside from all of that though, I sincerely hope The Manoverse never forgets the reason we celebrate Christmas. I am very honest in admitting that my faith has been tested this year, and ashamed to admit that I  too often fail the test. But, as Rocky Balboa once said, “life ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.” Christmas is a much needed reminder of our eternal reason to never give up.

 


COVID-19/Coronavirus – obsolescence
😷

The Pittsburgh Steelers – receivers who can actually catch the damn ball 🏈

Rush Limbaugh – a miracle 🙏🏻

Cardi B – a dry towel & an ounce of class 😳

Social Media “Fact” Checkers – an especially warm spot in the fiery pits of Hell…we all know what’s really going on 🤬

Live Music & Sports – the return of packed venues of raucous & appreciative fans 🎭

Small Business Owners – survival followed by prosperity 💰

Virginia, New York, & Michigan – new Governors 🇺🇸

Essential Employees & Frontline Healthcare Workers – kudos & a big fat raise

👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻

Social Distancing – hugs & kisses 🤗😘

Newspapers & TV News Outlets – truth serum 📺🗞

Vice President Mike Pence – a fly swatter 🪰

The Month of March – Madness (the good kind 🏀)

California – Wasn’t it supposed to fall into the Pacific Ocean decades ago??

Will & Jada Smith – a DVD of Disney’s Tangled 😬

Bill Gates – a medical degree, because that’s the only way anyone with an ounce of common sense will ever listen to the garbage he spews about vaccines 🤦‍♂️

Murder Hornets – death!! 🐝

Mike Tyson – a title fight…come on, y’all know you want to see it!! 🥊

The Constitution – protection from the assault it is about to face the next few years 🙏🏻

Wolfgang Van Halen – much success as he embarks on his own career in the formidable shadow of his legendary late father 🎸

 

 

As always I shall end with the traditional quote from the Rankin-Bass animated classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town:

“Lots of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give…of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.”

The Year Without A Sammy Claus

In 2009 I conceived the idea for the Sammy Claus Wish List, an irreverent, witty, yet occasionally insightful poke at notable entities thru the prism of what gifts they might deserve for Christmas. The List became an annual tradition for a decade, with the exception of 2015 when I spent the entire holiday season in the hospital. I’ve rarely had a problem finding suitable material, and the project was never a burden until last year when I found myself struggling just a bit to find the Christmas spirit, but I powered thru and Sammy Claus delivered his yearly epistle. However, there will be no such conquest in 2019. Last year I alluded to the 1974 Rankin/Bass classic The Year Without A Santa Claus in which Jolly Old St. Nick isn’t feeling very festive and decides to skip Christmas…atleast until Mrs. Claus steps in and engineers a change of heart with reluctant assistance from The Miser Brothers. A year later, sans aid from a wife or anyone else, Sammy Claus is taking a pass on the holiday.

 

I’ve tried to determine the exact reason for my lack of Christmas spirit, but the fact is that there are a bunch of little things that have built up over a long period of time. After all, I had to fight thru holiday apathy a year ago, so this didn’t happen yesterday, but the feeling of indifference is definitely more pronounced this year. I didn’t even bother to put up my humble little Christmas tree or the few decorations I have. It just felt pointless.

 

I’m not angry at anyone and I don’t feel particularly sad or depressed, but I do admit to feeling more lonely & lost than usual nowadays. The general idea of “Is this all there is??” is something I ponder occasionally. I’m bored with life. During this holiday season that has manifested itself in different ways. There have been a few events that I had the opportunity to attend but skipped for no real reason other than I just preferred to stay home. I have watched some Christmas movies and listened to some carols, but not to the degree that I’ve enjoyed them in the past. I mean really…how many damn times are AMC or Freeform going to air Christmas Vacation, The Polar Express, Home Alone, & Elf?? I always liked those movies, but let’s ease up and not beat the dead horse on a daily basis. Shopping has never been fun at Christmastime, but with my nephews fully grown men now and no other small children in the family I just don’t even bother doing much at all. The past couple of years I actually baked cookies, but in 2019 I took the easy way out and bought treats from others.

 

Citizens of The Manoverse will recall that I lost my beloved dog Rocco less than two months ago, and I think that may have something to do with how I’m feeling. It’s not that I’m curled up in the fetal position bawling my eyes out 24/7. I miss the little guy but life moves on, right?? However, it’d be dishonest to deny that Rocco’s death hasn’t greyed the skies in my world just a bit.

 

You may also remember me occasionally mentioning the annual Christmas Eve Fish Fest our extended family has always had. It’s a smaller version of the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, and our family has been celebrating the occasion since before I was even born. Heck, I think it was a thing before my father was alive. That’s a long time. Anyway, I’ll spare y’all the whos, whats, & whys, but our Christmas Eve tradition is ending. In my 47 years on the planet I can only remember missing it twice…in 2008 when I was laid up in a “skilled” nursing facility, and in the aforementioned 2015. Back in ’08 I remember praying for just one more opportunity to have the Fish Fest because at the time my paternal grandmother was 94 years old. We were blessed to have Grandma Mano until her passing in 2012, so I got my wish & then some. It is for that reason that I have no complaints. Things happen. Circumstances change. We have to roll with the punches. I don’t know whether I will begin a new Christmas Eve tradition or just stay at home watching Ralphie & George Bailey, but either way it’ll be fine. Still, it’s difficult to see a beloved family custom pass into the ether.

 

In the past I’ve joked…sort of…about being one of those people who could pass away quietly and no one would notice until a putrid stench begins emanating from the apartment. Truthfully, my situation isn’t that pathetic. My sister & I communicate pretty regularly & I talk to my Dad almost every day. I’ve got a couple of neighbors that I interact with almost daily. I suppose if I didn’t show up to work there are people who might wonder what’s going on. However, there are friends who I used to talk to or chat with often that have cast me aside, and I don’t know why. I’m far from flawless, so it isn’t inconceivable that someone would decide that I didn’t need to be part of their life anymore, but I guess I like closure. Get mad at me. Tell me why you aren’t talking to me anymore. Perhaps we can resolve the issue, or maybe we won’t…either way I’ll know what’s happening, which is better than being left hanging.

 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention church…or more specifically a lack thereof. Because of my odd work schedule I haven’t attended church in probably a year & a half, and I think that lack of…connection…has been deleterious to my spirit for awhile. It’s not that I’ve lost my faith, but as the second chapter of James tells us “faith without works is dead”, and in the same way I feel like faith without fellowship with other believers praying, worshiping, & singing is kind of like food without flavor & nutrients…calories that’ll keep you alive but isn’t quite as appealing as one would prefer, and that lack of flavor is certainly felt more keenly during the holiday season.

 

One thing I cannot be sad about is the weather here in northcentral West Virginia. It’s been cold outside (especially early in the mornings), but I’ve been wearing my sunglasses in the afternoons and it’s going to be 50+ degrees on Christmas Day. That may upset folks who buy into the romantic notion of a white Christmas, but I’m perfectly happy with sunshine & dry roads, though I will concede that it doesn’t feel very Christmasy.

 

Will Sammy Claus be back again someday?? I hope so, but I make no promises. I’d like to think that next Christmas I’ll be as excited as I used to be and recapture some of those old magical feelings. However, I realize that may be a tough sell. I don’t see my life changing all that dramatically. Family & children are the lifeblood of a Merry Christmas, and those things don’t seem to be in the cards for me. Nevertheless, there are other ways that life can change & improve. God is faithful. God is powerful. God is in control. Just because I’m not in the mood to write or be particularly mirthful at the moment doesn’t mean I won’t find renewed joy in life in the future or become a perpetual Scrooge for Christmases Yet to Come. If tales like A Christmas Carol & The Grinch Who Stole Christmas teach us anything it is most certainly renewal & redemption. Ecclesiastes 3 says “to everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven… a time to break down and a time to build up… a time to weep and a time to laugh…a time to mourn and a time to dance… a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing… a time to gain and a time to lose…a time to keep and a time to throw away… a time to keep silence and a time to speak”. I truly believe in the miracle of Christmas and sincerely wish the happiest of holidays to everyone, even if I’m not really feeling it myself.

The 2018 Sammy Claus Wish List

In the 1974 Rankin/Bass stop motion classic The Year Without a Santa Claus the Jolly Old Elf isn’t feeling quite so jolly and decides that he’s going to take a vacation from delivering gifts. In much the same way Sammy Claus seriously pondered cancelling this year’s wish list, not due to any kind of illness or cynicism, but…well…for no real reason outside of a general malaise. Sammy Claus isn’t feeling ill nor particularly depressed, but does experience the occasional funk. Unfortunately there is no Mrs. Sammy Claus to broker a deal with the Miser Brothers, and neither is there access to elves to go out & drum up some Christmas spirit. Having said all of that, Sammy Claus has decided to power thru and deliver the Ninth Annual Wish List. As always, being Sammy Claus wields no special power. I will not be flying around the world in a sleigh pulled by reindeer on Christmas Eve. I will be spending the evening with family and then put in a bit of quality time with Ralphie Parker & George Bailey. However, my fervent hope is that a certain inhabitant of The North Pole reads The Manofesto on occasion and might see fit to…at some point in the future…bestow these gifts upon the entities named here. And of course my biggest & deepest wish is that everyone will step away from the gifts & the food & the movies & all of the wonderful merriment accompanying this most wonderful season to praise The One True Reason that we even celebrate Christmas to begin with:

 

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”! So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into Heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.  –  2nd Chapter of The Book of Luke

 

 

 

 

The State of Florida: Remedial Voting in Elections & Counting Ballots 101

 

 

 

 

CNN reporter Jim Acosta:       an ounce of class & professionalism

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:          an ounce of common sense

 

 

 

Valerie Jarrett:  all nine original seasons of Roseanne on DVD, and a Planet of the Apes boxed set

 

 

soon-to-be former Ohio St. football coach Urban Meyer:

improved health & a happy retirement

 

 

David Hogg:      a conceal carry permit & a 9mm

 

 

 

President Trump’s Border Wall:

proper funding and beginning of construction

 

 

Facebook:                   legit competition…we’ve had just about enough of their shenanigans

 

 

Harry & Meghan:        a healthy baby

 

 

 

 

 

James Shaw Jr.:        free waffles for life

 

 

soon-to-be Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi:         a big bottle of skunk pee

 

 

 

Star Wars:                    a fitting conclusion, and once & for all an end to the franchise…leave the memories alone

 

 

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

good health, but also the good sense to finally retire (it’s way past time)

 

 

SNL’s Pete Davidson:

improved mental health, maturity, & a better idea of what is actually funny

 

 

 

United States Unemployment:

a continued lowering trend (the current unemployment rate of 3.7% is the lowest in almost fifty years)

 

 

 

Dr. Christine Blasey Ford:

an adult voice, restraint is spending the huge amount of money she was undoubtedly paid to destroy Bret Kavanaugh, & a window to truth & honesty right beside that second front door on her house

Justice Brett Kavanaugh:

a voice of reason that opposes any attempt to destroy Constitutional rights and judicial restraint in deciding such cases

 

 

Michael Rotondo:      a job & a place to live…you’re 31 years old – time to grow up & be a man

 

 

Southern California:  deforestation

 

 

 

Stormy Daniels:                   dolla dolla bills y’all

 

 

#MeToo:   an end…it has outlived its usefulness & become a joke

 

 

former Cosby Show actor Geoffrey Owens:                 

much happiness & success with any opportunities that come his way

 

 

The Conners:    cancellation…ABC knows they made a mess out of the whole situation, so do the humane & intelligent thing and put the wounded bird out of its misery

The Big Bang Theory:        a fun & well-written conclusion to 12 wonderful seasons, and long life in syndication

 

 

 

Per established custom I shall end with the traditional quote from the Rankin-Bass animated classic Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town:

 

“Lots of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t Santa take a little bit of that unhappiness away? Doesn’t a smile on Christmas morning scratch out a tear cried on a sadder day? Not much maybe. But what would happen if we all tried to be like Santa and learned to give as only he can give…of ourselves, our talents, our love and our hearts? Maybe we could all learn Santa’s beautiful lesson and maybe there would finally be peace on Earth and good will toward men.”

35+ Days of Christmas on WSAM

Some years back I spoke my peace about Christmas Creep, and since then it’s just gotten worse. The holiday season pretty much starts in October now, which means that television networks like Hallmark and Freeform have already been airing Christmas movies for awhile. However, as much as I adore this time of year and love watching such films, I’ve always had an issue with the way AMC, TCM, and other such channels do their programming. Other than starting way too early I believe they make three key mistakes.

First of all, their definition of a Christmas movie is decidedly…avant-garde. Frozen?? Harry Potter?? Toy Story?? No…just…no. Just because a film is animated and/or produced by Disney doesn’t make it a Christmas movie. Hallmark obviously produces their own holiday flicks, but for the channels that show old big screen classics there are plenty of legit choices that fit the criteria.

Secondly, when the month of December hits I want wall-to-wall Christmas movies. I understand counter-programming. I get it. Some folks aren’t particularly into Christmas and they want some entertainment too. But for a television station…particularly one that is primarily dedicated to movies…I feel like it’s an all-or-nothing proposition. Are you in or out?? Don’t air a great old Christmas movie then follow-it up with a tepid rom-com or a western. You’re creating a vibe…ambiance… a certain kind of mood. Even amongst the Christmas sub-genre there can be synergy. I am not familiar with all the ins & outs of television programming, but I think the powers-that-be can do better.

And finally, I realize that Christmas movies are a relatively finite category. There are only a handful of really good ones, and they mostly fall into one of three groups: wacky family hijinks, Santa Claus stories, & adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Having said that, I still believe that any TV channel dedicating itself to holiday programming can do better than showing the same few movies over & over & over again until even the most ardent fans become a little bit tired of them. In the recent past Freeform has aired Elf, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, & The Polar Express about two dozen times…each. That’s ridiculous.

Citizens of The Manoverse may recall that a few years ago I came up with a weekend movie marathon for Christmastime. So I began to ponder the idea of expanding that concept. What if I owned a TV channel akin to AMC, TCM, Hallmark, or Freeform?? How would I program an entire month+ of holiday classics?? The first thing I had to do was establish some rules:

  • My holiday programming begins the day before Thanksgiving and ends a couple of days after Christmas. It runs on weekdays from 4pm-Midnight(ish), with expanded weekend hours.
  • Movies would air unedited. I am not advocating rampant profanity or other adult content, but is that really an issue with most Christmas movies anyway?? It has always driven me nuts when Freeform edits references to Jack Daniels & Wild Turkey in Christmas Vacation. There are more objectionable scenes in random commercials for pete’s sake. I’m also not a fan of cutting the infamous “blackface” scene in Holiday Inn. Societal norms evolve…oftentimes for the better…but I don’t believe in censoring a movie made darn near a century ago just because our collective belief systems are a bit different nowadays. If you are so overly sensitive that a two minute scene in a movie offends you that is your problem.
  • And lastly…the big one. After compiling a list of movies & television specials for this exercise I gave myself a limit of five airings. No matter how awesome a film might be I think seeing it five times in the space of a month is quite enough. I grew up in an era when It’s A Wonderful Life was on literally every day…multiple times per day…the whole month of December. I have spent the past two decades enjoying TBS/TNT’s 24 hour A Christmas Story marathon Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. I have no issue with any of that…I am simply taking a different approach.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday        11/21

4pm            Free Birds

6pm            Dutch

8pm            Home for the Holidays

10pm                   Scent of a Woman

 

I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. – Henry David Thoreau

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Day       11/22

3:30pm      WKRP in Cincinnati S1E7 “Turkeys Away”

4pm            Holiday Inn

6pm            Grumpy Old Men

8pm            A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving     

8:30pm      Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

10:30pm    The Nightmare Before Christmas

 

We eased into our merry month of holiday goodness with some Thanksgiving gems. Free Birds is a 2013 animated tale about turkeys traveling back in time to prevent their brethren from ever becoming the holiday’s main course. Dutch is an early 90’s dramedy starring Ed O’Neill (Married with Children’s Al Bundy) as a guy who offers to pick his girlfriend’s son up at his private school in Georgia and drive him back to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Home for the Holidays is a mid-90’s ensemble dramedy about a family getting together for Thanksgiving, notably starring Robert Downey Jr., Holly Hunter, Claire Danes, Dylan McDermott, Charles Durning, & Ann Bancroft. Scent of A Woman paints outside the lines a little bit, but does take place at Thanksgiving. Ditto for Grumpy Old Men, which has scenes set at both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles is a beloved Thanksgiving tradition in my house, as is Turkeys Away, probably one of the greatest sitcom episodes of all time. I’m never quite sure where The Nightmare Before Christmas fits in, but I suppose it’s worth a couple of viewings.

 

 

 

Friday        11/23

4pm            Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Holiday Inn        

10pm                   Miracle on 34th St. (1947)

 

Christmas is not just a time for festivity and merry making. It is more than that. It is a time for the contemplation of eternal things. The Christmas spirit is a spirit of giving and forgiving. – J. C. Penney

 

 

 

 

Saturday    11/24

Noon          The Year Without a Santa Claus

1pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

2pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

3pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

5pm                   Miracle on 34th Street (1994)       

7pm            Scrooge (1951)

9pm            Christmas with the Kranks

 

Trading Places stars Dan Aykroyd as a wealthy businessman & Eddie Murphy as a fast talking con artist who are both manipulated by two rich old geezers into switching societal roles as part of a bet they view as a sociological experiment. It was Murphy’s follow-up to 48 Hrs. and preceded Beverly Hills Cop. Is it a Christmas movie?? Ehhh…close enough for me.  Holiday Inn has scenes set at Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, and every other major holiday on the calendar, and it introduced the world to White Christmas, which has gone on to become the best-selling Christmas song of all time. The Lemon Drop Kid is a criminally underappreciated Bob Hope offering from 1951 in which he stars as a loquacious hustler who crosses the wrong gangster and must come up with the $10k he screwed him out of by Christmas Eve. When his department store Santa con doesn’t work out The Kid launches a scheme to raise money for a fake retirement home. Hilarity ensues. It is pretty much impossible to find The Lemon Drop Kid on television or elsewhere, but I would absolutely change that because it is a fun movie that deserves some attention, plus it introduced the world to the classic carol Silver Bells. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is a holiday episode of the British television show Blackadder, starring Rowan Atkinson. In this special episode Blackadder is the kindest & most generous man in England, but everyone takes advantage of him, his business isn’t doing well, and he’s miserable & lonely. On Christmas Eve a single spirit essentially shows him what life would be like if he were mean & uncaring like some of his ancestors, and he becomes convinced that everything would be awesome. It is a clever interpretation that turns Dickens’ A Christmas Carol upside down. Speaking of A Christmas Carol, the 1951 version starring Alistair Sim is generally regarded as the best by many, and so it’s a big part of our special month.

 

 

Sunday      11/25

Noon          The Star Wars Holiday Special

12:30pm    A Charlie Brown Christmas

1pm            All I Want for Christmas

3pm            Christmas Every Day

5pm            Four Christmases

7pm            Fred Claus

9pm            Frosty the Snowman

9:30pm      Scrooge (1951)

 

The Star Wars Holiday Special aired only once…on November 17, 1978, which was about a year after the first film but a couple of years before The Empire Strikes Back. It received such negative reviews that it has never been on TV again and is a rare find, but since Star Wars is a much bigger deal now than it was then I think it’s time to bring the Christmas special out of the moth balls. It can’t be any worse than the prequels & sequels, right?? Vince Vaughn is a guy that many people either love or hate, and I happen to like the guy. Not all of his movies are winners, but both Fred Claus and Four Christmases are worth an airing or two during the holiday season. All I Want for Christmas and Christmas Every Day are made-for-TV movies that originally aired on ABC Family (now Freeform) back in the early to mid-90’s. They’re cute & entertaining enough that I’ve retained a certain level of fondness for them over the years, and I believe others might enjoy them as well. Christmas with the Kranks is based on John Grisham’s 2001 novel Skipping Christmas and stars Tim Allen & Jamie Lee Curtis as a couple whose plan to ditch the annual holiday hullabaloo in favor of a tropical cruise doesn’t quite work out. It isn’t the greatest Christmas movie, and at first I kind of hated it…but it has begun to grown on me.

 

 

Monday     11/26

4pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

6pm            Scrooge (1951)

8pm            Trapped in Paradise

10pm                   Santa Claus: The Movie

 

Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel, & reindeers, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas. – Ronald Reagan

 

 

Tuesday    11/27

4pm            Deck the Halls

6pm            The Santa Clause

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

Trapped in Paradise stars Nicolas Cage, Dana Carvey, & Jon Lovitz as three dimwitted brothers who rob a bank in a small Pennsylvania town on Christmas Eve then are unable to leave. They are befriended by the super friendly & naive citizens who don’t realize that they’re the bank robbers. Deck the Halls stars Danny DeVito as a guy determined to make the Christmas lights display at his house so dazzling that it can be seen from space, and Matthew Broderick as the tightly wound neighbor hellbent on stopping him. Neither are considered good movies by critics or the viewing public, but I don’t mind watching them once or twice this time of year. For some strange reason only 2/3 of Tim Allen’s Santa Clause trilogy…the original & the third one…currently get a lot of play on television. I seem to recall reading somewhere that feminazis & other social justice warriors have an issue with the second film, but I rather enjoy it. I mean…it’s a trilogy, right?? I readily admit that the first Santa Clause is far & away the best, but I also think it’s pretty obvious that The Mrs. Clause is much more entertaining than The Escape Clause. Not even Martin Short & Alan Arkin could save that one. Still though, all three need to be a part of our celebration.

 

 

Wednesday 11/28

4pm            Scrooge (1970)                                                 

6pm            Frosty the Snowman  

6:30pm      Disney’s A Christmas Carol

8:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas

9pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

9:30pm      The Lemon Drop Kid

 

Once again, we come to the holiday season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.  –  Dave Barry

 

 

 

Thursday 11/29

4pm            Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

5pm            The Star Wars Holiday Special    

6:30pm      The Lemon Drop Kid

8:30pm      A Christmas Carol (1938)

10:30pm    A Christmas Carol (1984)    

 

I wrote about my favorite adaptations of A Christmas Carol four years ago, so I won’t go into full rehash mode here, but a little clarification couldn’t hurt. The 1938 version is a sanitized, family friendly movie starring Reginald Owen as Ebenezer Scrooge. The 1984 version was a made-for-TV movie starring George C. Scott as Scrooge that didn’t start airing annually again until 2007 per an agreement with Scott’s estate. The 1970 version is a musical starring Albert Finney as Scrooge. Patrick Stewart starred as Scrooge in a made-for-TV movie originally aired on TNT in 1999. Disney’s screen capture animated version was released in 2009 and stars Jim Carrey as Scrooge as well as other roles.

 

 

Friday 11/30

4pm            Mixed Nuts

6pm            Lethal Weapon

8pm            Die Hard

10pm                   Bad Santa

 

Wow…talk about a weird Friday night!! Mixed Nuts has an all-star cast, including Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Garry Shandling, Juliette Lewis, Adam Sandler, Robert Klein, Rita Wilson, Rob Reiner, Parker Posey, Jon Stewart, & Liev Schreiber. That’s quite an eclectic lineup. It is an alleged comedy about a suicide hotline that has been evicted from its office space on Christmas Eve. There are a lot of subplots & hijinks, but I’ll spare you the details. Mixed Nuts has been mentioned as the worst Christmas film of all time, but I’ve seen worse and believe the impressive lineup of performers alone merits a viewing or two, even though all of that talent adds up to shockingly little  entertainment. Bad Santa is a bit too vulgar for my tastes, but it has a 78% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered by some to be a modern classic. Few seem to engage in the same good-natured debate about whether or not Lethal Weapon is a Christmas movie in comparison to the annual arguments for & against the worthiness of Die Hard to be considered thusly, but for our purposes both are included as an action packed & mildly violent break from the typical sentimentality of the holiday season.

 

Saturday 12/1

Noon          Mickey’s Christmas Carol   

12:30pm    The Star Wars Holiday Special

2pm            Disney’s A Christmas Carol

4pm            It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

6pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

8pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

10pm                   Scrooge (1970) 

 

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas. – Calvin Coolidge

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 12/2

Noon          The Muppet Christmas Carol

2pm            Jingle All the Way

4pm            Scrooge (1970)

5pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

7pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

9pm            The Ref    

 

I fondly remember watching Mickey’s Christmas Carol when I was a kid. It’s only a half hour long, and let’s face it…Ebenezer Scrooge is a role tailor made for Scrooge McDuck. It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is a Muppet homage to It’s A Wonderful Life in which Kermit is on the verge of losing his theater and a guardian angel shows him what life for his friends would be like if he’d never been born. There are a lot of human performers, including Whoopi Goldberg, David Arquette, Joan Cusack, & William H. Macy. I assume that movie was made based on the success a decade earlier of The Muppet Christmas Carol, starring Michael Caine as Scrooge. I am generally not a fan of remakes, and nothing can touch the greatness of the original Miracle on 34th Street, but the 1994 version is decent enough. My love for The Ref goes all the way back to its initial foray onto home video in the 90’s. Denis Leary stars as a burglar forced to hold a bickering couple and their dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve. You won’t see it on television all that much, but I always seize every opportunity to spread the word & encourage folks to seek it out during the holiday season.

 

 

 

Monday 12/3

4pm            Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

4:30pm      The Polar Express

6:30pm      Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

7:30pm      How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

8pm            Frosty the Snowman

8:30pm      Mickey’s Christmas Carol   

9pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

 

Peace on earth will come to stay, when we live Christmas every day.  – Helen Steiner Rice

 

 

 

Tuesday 12/4

4pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

4:30pm      Rise of the Guardians

6:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas

7pm            The Santa Clause

9pm            Scrooged

 

Mr. Krueger’s Christmas is a half hour special produced by the Mormon Church that initially aired on NBC in 1980. Unfortunately you’ll have a difficult time running across it these days, but if it were up to me it’d become an annual tradition. Jimmy Stewart stars as an elderly janitor living in the bottom floor of the building that he takes care of, and he is a very lonely man desperate for human interaction. The story depicts Willie Krueger having Walter Mitty-esque dreams on Christmas Eve, including singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and being part of the manger scene on the night of Christ’s birth. It is a well-written & very poignant story with a fantastic message. Rise of the Guardians is an animated tale about Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, & The Sandman recruiting Jack Frost to help them wage battle against The Boogeyman. I saw it when it hit theaters a few years ago and my biggest takeaway was wondering why Alec Baldwin decided to give Santa a German accent. It hasn’t really made much of a holiday pop culture impact, but that could change.

 

Wednesday 12/5

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

6pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Ref

 

Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing but of reflection. – Sir Winston Churchill

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/6

4pm            White Christmas

6pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

8pm            The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

10pm                   Scrooged 

 

We are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime. – Laura Ingalls Wilder

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/7

4pm            Arthur Christmas

6pm            Trapped in Paradise

8pm            The Ref

10pm                   Silent Night, Deadly Night

 

I’m not a horror movie fan by any stretch, but 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night is cheesy fun for fans of the genre. It tells the story of a boy who witnesses his parents being murdered by The Jolly Old Elf, then grows up to become a psychotic Santa himself. There were four sequels produced. We’re not including them here, but you’re welcome to check them out if that’s the sort of thing that you’re into. Arthur Christmas is an animated tale about Santa’s inept son Arthur and his Christmas Eve mission to deliver one present that was inadvertently left behind at The North Pole. It has a really unique vision of what The North Pole & Santa’s toy enterprise might look like, and depicts the role of Santa Claus as a generational title passed down from father to son.

 

Saturday 12/8

Noon          The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

1pm            It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

3pm            White Christmas

5pm            Santa Claus: The Movie

7pm            The Bishop’s Wife

9pm            Jingle All the Way

 

Jingle All the Way is another not-so-great movie that has grown on me just a bit. It stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as a negligent Dad trying to track down the hottest Christmas gift of the year for his son, and Sinbad (whatever happened to him??) as the wacky mailman who keeps getting in the way. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus is an 80’s Rankin-Bass production of a children’s book written by L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz). It is essentially another Santa origin story. The Bishop’s Wife stars Cary Grant as guardian angel sent to provide some guidance to a clergyman & his flock, but things get weird when the angel is smitten with the minister’s wife. A remake called The Preacher’s Wife starring Denzel Washington & Whitney Houston was made in the mid-90’s, but no one knows why.

 

Sunday 12/9

Noon          Holiday Inn

2pm            White Christmas

4pm            Elf    

6pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

8pm            A Christmas Story

10pm                   Scrooged

 

Christmas is the season for kindling the fire of hospitality. – Washington Irving

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12/10

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

6pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

8pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

10pm                   Home Alone

 

I don’t think Christmas is necessarily about things. It’s about being good to one another. – Carrie Fisher

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 12/11

4pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

5pm            The Ref

7pm            Elf

9pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

 

 

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. – Bob Hope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12/12

4pm            The Polar Express     

6pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

8pm            A Christmas Story

10pm                   Home Alone

 

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn’t for any religious reasons. They couldn’t find three wise men and a virgin. – Jay Leno

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/13

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

6pm            A Christmas Story

8pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

10pm                   Elf    

 

The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live. –  George Carlin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/14

4pm            The Family Stone

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Die Hard   

10pm                   Lethal Weapon

 

Christmas waves a magic wand over the world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. – Norman Vincent Peale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 12/15

Noon          A Christmas Carol (1938)

2pm            Frosty the Snowman  

2:30pm      All I Want for Christmas

4:30pm      Christmas Every Day 

6:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas 

7pm            The Family Stone

9pm            Die Hard

 

I bought my brother some gift wrap for Christmas. I took it to the gift wrap department and told them to wrap it, but in a different print so he would know when to stop unwrapping.  –  Steven Wright

 

 

 

Sunday 12/16

Noon          A Christmas Carol (1999)

2pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

3pm            A Christmas Carol (1938)

5pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

7pm            Mickey’s Christmas Carol

7:30pm      Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

8pm            Scrooge (1951)

10pm                   Scrooge (1970)

 

Ever wonder what people got Jesus for Christmas? It’s like, “Oh great, socks. You know I’m dying for your sins right? Yeah, but thanks for the socks! They’ll go great with my sandals. What am I, German?” – Jim Gaffigan

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12/17

4pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

6pm            Trapped in Paradise

8pm            Fred Claus

10pm                   Four Christmases

 

The very purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was that he might offer up his life as a sacrifice for the sins of men. He came to die. This is the heart of Christmas. – Rev. Billy Graham

 

Tuesday 12/18

4pm            Christmas Every Day 

6pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

8pm            Frosty the Snowman

8:30pm      How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

9pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

9:30pm      Scrooge (1951)

 

A lovely thing about Christmas is that it’s compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all go through it together. – Garrison Keillor

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12/19

4pm            The Polar Express

6pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

7pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

8pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

10pm                   The Family Stone

 

The only real blind person at Christmastime is he who has not Christmas in his heart. – Helen Keller

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/20

4pm            White Christmas

6pm            The Polar Express

8pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation       

10pm                   The Ref

 

The Magi, as you know, were wise men…wonderfully wise men who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. – O. Henry

 

 

 

Friday 12/21

4pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Scrooged

10pm                   Santa Claus: The Movie

 

Christmas is a day of meaning and traditions, a special day spent in the warm circle of family and friends. – Margaret Thatcher

 

 

 

 

Saturday 12/22

Noon          Fred Claus

2pm            Santa Claus: The Movie

4pm            All I Want for Christmas

6pm            Disney’s A Christmas Carol

8pm            Home Alone

10pm                   Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

 

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home! – Charles Dickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 12/23

Noon          Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

1pm            The Year Without a Santa Claus

2pm            Home Alone      

4pm            Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

6pm            The Santa Clause

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

T’was the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. – Clement Clarke Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Eve

Noon          Elf    

2pm            The Santa Clause

4pm                   Scrooged

5pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

7pm            A Christmas Story

9pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

 

 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild & sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

Christmas Day

11am                   How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

11:30am    A Charlie Brown Christmas

Noon           Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

12:30pm    Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

2:30pm      A Christmas Carol (1938)

4:30pm      The Polar Express

6:30pm      White Christmas

8:30pm      Disney’s A Christmas Carol

 

One of the most glorious messes in the world is the mess created in the living room on Christmas Day. Don’t clean it up too quickly. – Andy Rooney

 

Wednesday 12/26

Noon          Home Alone

2pm            Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

4pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

6pm            Elf

8pm            A Christmas Story

 

Perhaps it is because I don’t have children or work in retail and therefore don’t suffer some of the burnout & fatigue that others do as the holiday season draws to its conclusion, but I usually feel a general sense of melancholy when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas night. All the sudden all of the hoopla is over. Radio & TV stations resume regular programming. Some folks take down their decorations immediately. Well that’s not how we roll here ladies & gentlemen. We’re going to wean ourselves off of the holiday high we’ve been on for the past month and have one more day of Santa Claus, Ebenezer Scrooge, & general Christmas merriment.

 

Thursday, 12/27

Noon          Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

1:30pm      Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

2:30pm      New Year’s Eve

4:30pm      When Harry Met Sally

6:30pm      Holiday Inn

8:30pm      Sleepless in Seattle

 

Christmas may be over but technically it’s still the holiday season. In the old days people used to celebrate The Twelve Days of Christmas (you may have heard a song about it). Those don’t even begin until what we know as Christmas Day and conclude on January 5. Don’t worry…I’m not going to take things that far. However, even in modern times most of us reserve a bit of the ol’ festive mojo for one more round of frivolity, and so we will conclude our holiday celebration with a day of entertainment revolving around New Year’s Eve/Day or atleast having scenes centered on it. I am certain that most are familiar with the offerings suggested here, but I will dive into 2011’s New Year’s Eve just a bit. It’s one of those rom-coms with a large ensemble cast and interweaving stories, all taking place on…well, I’m sure you can figure it out. It’s not a great film, as evidenced by an atrocious 7% Rotten Tomatoes score. Newsday called it “a perfect example of why the adjective Hollywood is so often used as a pejorative”. The New York Post said that it is “a soul-sucking monument to Hollywood greed and saccharine holiday culture”. Our old pal Ebert wondered “How is it possible to assemble more than two dozen stars in a movie and find nothing interesting for any of them to do?”. But it is that all-star cast (including Halle Berry, Jessica Biel, Robert DeNiro, Josh Duhamel, Sarah Jessica Parker, Ashton Kutcher, Hilary Swank, Zac Efron, Katherine Heigl, Michelle Pfeiffer, & Jon Bon Jovi) that is the draw, and I feel alright throwing it in amongst a few other movies that are certified classics, kind of like how a single horn player who isn’t really that talented can just kind of blend in & disappear amongst a large orchestra.

 

 

 

This concept could certainly be modified annually. Most of the movies & specials we’ve chose wouldn’t change all that much from year to year, but there would be nothing wrong with the occasional addition or subtraction. I’d put this lineup against any station out there and am confident that it would be considered by most to be superior to any alternatives. Having said that, I’d love to hear from The Manoverse. What has been included here that you don’t enjoy all that much?? Did I miss something that should be given some love?? As opposed to my viewpoint, do you like watching some holiday classics almost daily each December?? Which adaptation of A Christmas Carol do you prefer?? What is your stance on Die Hard as a Christmas movie?? Leave me some comments and let’s have some back & forth.

Superfluous 7: Worst Halloween Candies

Happy Halloween Manoverse!! My trick-or-treating days are way way way in the rear view mirror, and since I have no children of my own and no crumb crunchers will be visiting the ol’ Bachelor Palace I’ll be spending the evening with Boris Karloff, Abbott & Costello, and Washington Irving. However, y’all know that I have an active sweet tooth and never pass up an opportunity to discuss junk food. Candy Corn seems to receive a lot of unnecessary wrath this time of year, and I recently remarked to a friend of mine that I could easily name a dozen sweet treats which I find much more revolting. That set the wheels in motion, and the result is what follows. So sit back, relax, and prepare to edit your shopping list for tomorrow’s discount candy binge, as I present…..

 

 

 

 

from the home office in Hershey, PA…..

 

 

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Worst Halloween Candies:

 

 

 

7          Whoppers

Whoppers come in at #7 because they do actually contain chocolate, which is a good thing. However, it’s what is underneath those little chocolate balls that I can’t get past. Malted milk?? What in the world is malted milk?? Well…apparently it is “a powdered gruel made from a mixture of malted barley, wheat flour, and evaporated whole milk” originally developed as “an improved, wheat- and malt-based nutritional supplement for infants”. So basically Whoppers are chocolate covered oatmeal. No thanks.

 

 

 

6          Tootsie Rolls

I’ve always been confused by Tootsie Rolls. Is it caramel?? Is it chocolate?? I guess it’s chocolate caramel?? I don’t know. The candy’s creator named it after his daughter, whose nickname was Tootsie. That’s nice, but I still can’t get into it. Given a choice I’d pick candy corn every time.

 

 

 

5          Bubble Gum

I am a big fan of chewing gum, but I cannot stand the taste of bubble gum. That’s probably why I never learned to blow bubbles. Also, if you’re going to turn on your porch light and welcome the neighborhood youngsters at the door let’s not be cheap. Handing out bubble gum is about a half step above those evildoers who kept giving Charlie Brown rocks.

 

 

 

4          Heath Bars & Skor

Much like Tootsie Rolls I am a bit flummoxed by these two, and just like Whoppers yummy chocolate on the outside masks the insidious wickedness hiding beneath the surface. What is underneath that chocolate is toffee, a concoction “made by caramelizing sugar or molasses (creating inverted sugar) along with butter, and occasionally flour. The mixture is heated until its temperature reaches the hard crack stage of 149 to 154 °C (300 to 310 °F)”. It’s that hard crack stage that I want to focus on. I bet if we did some market research we’d find out that Halloween distribution of Heath Bars and Skor is part of a sinister plot from Big Dental. I realize that eating enough sugary snacks will increase the bottom line for dentists everywhere over the course of time, but hey, why not hasten the process and force the rugrats to come in for a visit to get that cracked tooth repaired, right??

 

 

 

3          Licorice

Licorice seems to be an all or nothing proposition. Either you love it or hate it. Whether it’s Twizzlers, Red Vines, or any other brand, I fall into the latter category. Once again, I’ll take candy corn every single time.

 

 

 

2          Gummy & Chewy Candy

You know what I’m talking about. There are a hundred different brands out there. Jujubes. Sour Patch Kids. Dots. Mike & Ike. AirHeads. Swedish Fish. They tend to be fruit flavored and have a weird, gelatinous, jelly-esque consistency, which I find rather gross. The only place I ever see them prominently displayed is at the movie theater concession stand. I suppose there are some folks that buy them, but I’m not sure I could be friends with or ever truly trust such individuals.

 

 

 

1          Hard & Sour Candy

Here we have a two sides of the same coin situation, with the common thread being there isn’t a speck of chocolate anywhere in sight. This is a movie theater’s version of counter-programming. Y’all know how at Christmastime, while other TV channels are airing non-stop Christmas movies, there is always one station that does a John Wayne marathon?? While most of polite & intelligent society is spending their candy money on a wide variety of chocolate bars, there are a handful of savages who go in the opposite direction and choose to consume stuff like Good & Plenty, Warheads, Nerds, Skittles, Lemonheads, SweeTarts, Smarties, & Runts. Those people aren’t normal, and I bet they’re the ones who commit most of the violent crimes in our country.

The Polarity of Memorial Day

All is repose and peace. Untrampled lies the sod. The shouts of battle cease…it is the Truce of God! Rest comrades…rest and sleep! The thoughts of men shall be as sentinels to keep your rest from danger free. Your silent tents of green we deck with fragrant flowers. Yours has the suffering been…the memory shall be ours. –  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

 

Once upon a time what is now referred to as bipolar disorder was known as manic depression, while what we presently call dissociative identity disorder was commonly christened split or multiple personalities. Memorial Day has a little in common with both.

 

When I was a kid I used to get Memorial Day and Veterans Day confused (and that’s without throwing Armed Forces Day into the mix), but there is a subtle yet significant difference. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, whereas Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans. In other words, though it may seem counterintuitive, Memorial Day is not the time to thank current or retired soldiers for their service. It is my understanding that, while most would likely smile & nod and give an appreciative “You’re Welcome”, others might possibly be offended because…well…they’re not dead, and probably have military friends & family that are. To add to the confusion, since 1950 Armed Forces Day has been celebrated about a week before Memorial Day on the third Saturday in May, and it specifically honors those currently serving in the U.S. military. Armed Forces Day doesn’t seem to resonate all that much with the general public, and there are plausible reasons for that, not the least of which is its redundancy and the fact that it doesn’t provide a three day weekend.

 

Memorial Day was initially known as Decoration Day and originated in the aftermath of The Civil War, which ended in 1865 after more than 620,000 casualties… more lives lost than during any military campaign in American history. The astounding number of deaths led to the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries, and on May 5, 1868 General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic…an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois…established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. General Logan stated “Let us then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime. Let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor. Let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow & orphan.” President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Decoration Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery (which until 1864 had been Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plantation), and General James Garfield (who would become President just thirteen years later) made a speech before 5000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union & Confederate soldiers.

 

The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day, which was first used in 1882, and as early as the 1890’s some observed a “growing tendency to make Memorial Day an occasion for festivity and indulgence in games & sports foreign to the purpose of the day and the sacred spirit which ought to characterize it”, and professed “pastimes and all amusements on Memorial Day as inconsistent with the proper purposes of the day.” It probably didn’t help that perception when The Indianapolis 500 ran its inaugural race on Memorial Day in 1911 and continued to do so until the early 70’s when the event was permanently moved to Sunday as part of the long holiday weekend. In the late 19th century there were only a handful of holidays on which workers got a day off, so Decoration Day became an unusual respite from the daily grind, an opportunity for sports fans to attend afternoon games or families to take excursions. It soon became common practice to split the difference on Memorial Day, visiting a cemetery in the morning then relaxing in the afternoon.

 

As the 20th century dawned a younger generation who hardly remembered The Civil War was emerging, but Memorial Day lived on. By then, it was well entrenched in American social life and didn’t require a direct connection to war to be meaningful. But it wasn’t long until World War I started and the United States found itself entangled in another major conflict, and so Memorial Day evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. Just a few decades later WWII happened, which further solidified the holiday.

 

Charleston SC, Waterloo NY, Columbus GA, and various other towns all claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Some assert that the first Memorial Day was held in April 1865 when a group of former slaves created a proper burial site for more than 250 Union soldiers at a Charleston horse track. But on May 26, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated an official birthplace of the holiday by signing a proclamation naming Waterloo as the holder of the title. Waterloo earned this distinction because in the summer of 1865 a local pharmacist named Henry C. Welles came up with the idea to place flowers on the graves of those who fought in The Civil War and hosted an annual community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flags as well as flowers.

 

From 1868 to 1970 Memorial Day was annually observed on May 30, with some believing that the date was chosen because it is not the anniversary of any particular battle, while others say it is an optimal date for flowers to be in bloom. Both assertions are probably true.

 

On June 28, 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to increase the number of three-day weekends for federal employees. Washington’s Birthday in February and Veteran’s Day in November were also changed (although Veteran’s Day was later moved permanently back to November 11 in 1978), and Columbus Day was established. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May, with the law taking effect in 1971.

 

And this is where the dichotomy really began to propagate.

 

Many opine that changing the date merely to create a long weekend diluted the meaning of Memorial Day, turning it into “a three-day nationwide hootenanny that seems to have lost much of its original purpose”. With its move to Monday in the 1970s increasing commercialization also turned the weekend into an occasion not just for sports & vacations, but for shopping as well.

 

In addition to the debate about long weekends & the date of Memorial Day, we must also consider the evolution of the summer season. Meteorologically & astronomically speaking summer officially begins with the summer solstice on June 21 and ends with the autumnal equinox on September 21. However, in the late 19th century standardization reforms in education led to the creation of the nine month school calendar with which we are all familiar, meaning that children typically begin school in early September and end their year in late May. This essentially redefined summer from a cultural perspective to being June, July, & August, and created a “summer leisure economy” in which families are encouraged to go outside, relax, & have fun. It became logical to bookend summer with Memorial Day and Labor Day. Kicking off summer with Memorial Day gives it a sense of anticipation, a sense of good things & coming attractions when summer is perfect and it hasn’t even happened yet.

 

It seems natural that as individual sorrow fades a tragic event gradually loses its impact, and so a Memorial Day tug-of-war between solemn remembrance and summertime fun has ebbed & flowed for a century & a half. The holiday was conceived in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. After a few decades those tear-stained memories faded, but then two World Wars happened, which galvanized the nation. Vietnam came along in the 60’s, but America…unlike during previous military conflicts…became fragmented about what it meant for an American soldier to die and the purpose of war in general. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that patriotism rebounded as a foundational aspect of the Reagan Revolution, and then there was another period of ambivalence & malaise before the tragic events of September 11, 2001 led to renewed respect & appreciation for our military.

 

So the question remains: how should we treat and “celebrate” Memorial Day?? I don’t know if there is a simple answer, but I certainly have a few opinions.

 

First of all, I have always been uncomfortable with people wishing each other a “Happy” Memorial Day. It’s kind of like running into an old friend at a funeral and enthusiastically saying “It’s great to see you!!”. It may be nice to catch up with a friend, but the venue and the occasion certainly aren’t joyful. Some things are just better left unsaid.

 

Secondly, the holiday is clearly going to mean something different to folks depending on the circumstances. For those of us who haven’t had any family or close friends die while serving in the military it really is simply a fun weekend and the kickoff for summer, and kids are justifiably excited about getting a break from school or graduating. However…especially with our nation’s involvement in places like Iraq & Afghanistan in the past 17 years…there are plenty of spouses, families, & friends mourning the loss of a loved one, and we must be respectful of that fact.

 

In 2000 Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, meaning that all Americans are supposed to pause for a minute of silence at 3pm on Memorial Day to pay tribute to the men & women who have died while serving the nation. If this is the first time you’ve heard of that legislation you aren’t alone…I didn’t know about it either, which calls into question its efficacy.

 

There is a school of thought that going out & enjoying yourself on Memorial Day…whether that means swimming, shopping, a picnic, attending a concert, chillin’ out with a good book, or going to a movie…is appropriate because it is exercising the very freedom that so many gave their lives to secure, and I don’t necessarily disagree. That being said, I am reminded of the constant refrain every December about the commercialization of Christmas, which has minimized “the reason for the season”. In the same way that I take no issue with Santa Claus, It’s A Wonderful Life, or The Chipmunks crooning about hula hoops as long as proper reverence is given to celebrating the birth of Christ, I happily embrace the frivolity of summer’s grand opening weekend on the condition that we respect our military, appreciate their sacrifice, & honor fallen heroes.

Merry Movie Mayhem – A Dream Finale

Greetings friends!! You thought I forgot, didn’t you?? No…no I didn’t. After making rather merry for a couple of days I just got lazy. While folks in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, & Great Britain were celebrating Boxing Day, conceived in the early 19th century as a day for servants to receive a gift or “Christmas Box” from the boss and get a day off to be home with their families the day after Christmas, and some Christians might have been observing St. Stephen’s Day, honoring, according to the Biblical book of Acts, a church deacon appointed by Jesus’ apostles to distribute food to the poor who became the first Christian martyr when he was stoned to death after a passionate speech to the Sanhedrin in defense of Jesus Christ, I was…well…watching a lot of football. Actually I am quite thankful for those meaningless collegiate bowl games, as they make the sudden scarcity of beloved Christmas movies on TV a little more tolerable. At any rate, New Year’s Eve has arrived, and if you’re really old school the Twelve Days of Christmas aren’t over until the end of the upcoming week, so now seems like a perfectly valid time for the conclusion of  Merry Movie Mayhem.

 

I know that many people have their best ideas occur to them in their sleep, but my dreams are usually stupid & utterly pointless. However, earlier this week a fantastic notion formed in my snoozing brain. This wasn’t how I originally envisioned wrapping up the project, but after some thoughtful ponderation I believe it is an appropriate course of action.

 

We started the competition with 64 participants and have whittled the field down to eight. In the early rounds the process was rather easy and the decisions fairly obvious, but as things progressed it became necessary to pick nits and find faults in movies & Christmas specials that I truly do enjoy watching. I was willing to fall on that particular sword…after all this was my idea. But when we made it to the final eight (a group that was probably destined to get this far from the very beginning) it just didn’t feel right to eliminate any of them or choose one over another. They all add something different & wonderful to the holiday mix, and it just depends on what kind of mood one is in when deciding what to watch on any random November or December evening. When it comes to these Elite Eight there are no bad options or wrong decisions. To that end what I have decided to do is…in the grand tradition of The Sammy Awards…grant assorted accolades in various categories, with all of the nominees & winners coming from the final eight entrants in Merry Movie MayhemMiracle on 34th Street, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, It’s A Wonderful Life, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, A Christmas Story, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are 15 awards, each with three nominees. I hope you’ve enjoyed Merry Movie Mayhem, and I sincerely wish The Manoverse Season’s Greetings, Merry Christmas, & best wishes for a wonderful New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

Best Narration

 The Nominees:

 

Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story)

Shepherd is the writer, humorist, & radio personality on whose stories A Christmas Story is based. He is also the “adult Ralphie” who we hear throughout the film, and he even makes a cameo as a mall shopper who informs Ralphie where the line for Santa begins.

 

Boris Karloff (The Grinch)

Karloff is best known as the actor who portrayed Frankenstein in classic films in the 1930’s. His ominous voice lends a sense of foreboding to The Grinch.

 

Sam the Snowman (Rudolph)

Sam the Snowman is voiced by actor/singer Burl Ives as a framing device in telling the events of Rudolph’s birth, rejection by everyone at The North Pole, flight to The Island of Misfit Toys with pals Hermie the Elf & Yukon Cornelius, & how his “disability” eventually saved Christmas.

 

The Winner:       Jean Shepherd. I never had the chance to listen to Shep (as his friends & fans called him) on the radio when I was a kid, but I envy those who received the opportunity. What a gift, and what immense talent he had!! I have read his books, and one can’t help but hear his voice in your head when reading them after seeing A Christmas Story. Narration is a tricky method that isn’t & shouldn’t be commonplace in movies, but it is an essential element of A Christmas Story.

 

 

 

Best Dog

The Nominees:

 

Snots (Christmas Vacation)

Snots is the rottweiler that Cousin Eddie, his wife Catherine, & their youngsters bring along when they pay a surprise visit to the Griswolds. His name stems from an apparent nasal problem, he enjoys drinking Pennzoil & water meant for the Christmas tree, likes to yack on bones & rifle thru trash, and famously destroys the Griswold home on Christmas Eve while chasing a squirrel. He is last seen jumping on snooty next door neighbor Margo, who decided to knock on the door at the exact wrong time.

 

Snoopy (Charlie Brown)

Everybody knows Snoopy, right?? He disappoints an already downtrodden Charlie Brown by getting caught up in the commercialization of Christmas and apparently entering his doghouse in a decorating competition.

 

Max (The Grinch)

Max is The Grinch’s dog who has no choice but to go along with his master’s harebrained scheme to steal Christmas from The Whos. The Grinch even puts antlers on the poor little guy in an effort to make him look like a reindeer, and he is tied to the front of the sleigh as it heads down & then back up a very steep Mount Crumpet.

 

The Winner:       Snoopy. How can anyone go against Snoopy?? He doesn’t have as much to do in A Charlie Brown Christmas as he does in other Peanuts specials (no appearances by The WWI flying ace doing battle against The Red Baron), but he does do some pretty kickass figure skating.

 

 

 

 

Best Santa Claus

The Nominees:

 

Higbee’s Santa (A Christmas Story)

This is the Santa that gives mall Santas a bad name. He’s impatient, not particularly good with children, & actually kicks Ralphie down the slide after Ralphie tells him that he wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Oh, he’s also one of several people who warns Ralphie that “You’ll shoot your eye out!!”.

 

Santa Claus (Rudolph)

As one of only two human adults in The North Pole and the undisputed leader of the community one would expect Santa Claus to be kind, empathetic, charitable, & helpful. Not this guy. Not only is he willing to “cancel Christmas” (as if snow in December in The North Pole is a new concept), but he is just as narrow-minded about Rudolph’s deformity as the reindeer who laugh, call Rudolph names, & refuse to let him participate in reindeer games. But then Santa figures out how Rudolph’s shiny nose can benefit HIM, and all the sudden it’s all good and Rudolph is just dandy.

 

Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

On one hand Mr. Kringle insists that he is the real Santa Claus and goes to court to prove it. But, on the other hand, he is apparently living in an old folks’ home in NY City, which seems odd. Anyway, he teams up with attorney Fred Gailey and together they work their magic on jaded mother Delores Walker & her precocious daughter Susan.

 

The Winner:       Kris Kringle. By the end of the movie Mr. Kringle has everyone convinced that he is Santa Claus, and he even gets little Susie the dream home she asked for. Edmund Gwenn won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role.

 

 

 

Best Animated Character

The Nominees:

 

Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph)

Yukon is a bombastic prospector with a pick axe & a six shooter who’s searching for silver & gold. He befriends Rudolph & Hermie and they all end up on The Island of Misfit Toys. After Rudolph strikes out on his own Yukon saves him from The Abominable Snowman and is thought to have perished by going over the side of a cliff, but he turns up okay and actually tames the monster.

 

Linus Van Pelt (Charlie Brown)

Linus is Lucy’s little brother and Charlie Brown’s best buddy. Amidst a cast of characters with all sorts of neuroses & flaws Linus is the quiet voice of reason. When Charlie Brown reaches his breaking point and furiously demands to know what Christmas is about it is Linus who takes the stage and reads the Biblical story of Jesus’ birth found in the book of Luke.

 

The Grinch (The Grinch)

The Grinch is a weird looking green creature who lives in a cave and apparently hates everybody & everything. He especially hates Christmas, and formulates a plan to steal everything on Christmas Eve from The Whos down in Whoville. He steals their presents, their Christmas trees, & even their food. But when The Whos sing their happy little hearts out on Christmas morning even after having been robbed The Grinch realizes that Christmas isn’t just about “stuff”, his heart grows three sizes, & he returns everything to The Whos.

 

The Winner:       Linus Van Pelt. Charlie Brown & Snoopy are cool, but Linus is a Peanuts character that shouldn’t be overlooked. Oh sure he carries a blanket and sucks on his thumb, but hey, we’ve all got our issues, right?? We think of our modern society as politically correct and scornful to God, but even a half century ago the powers-that-be weren’t comfortable with Scripture being read on their television special. They tried to convince Charles Shultz to take it out, but he adamantly refused. I don’t know whether we’d still be watching A Charlie Brown Christmas without that scene or not. I suppose we probably would…but it certainly wouldn’t have the same impact.

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:

 

Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter, IAWL)

Barrymore was a very famous stage, screen, & radio actor in the early to mid 20th century. He even won a Best Actor Oscar in 1931, and for decades performed Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on the radio, which made him a natural choice to portray the richest & meanest man in Bedford Falls. Henry F. Potter is obviously a riff on Scrooge, except for the fact that we never see him punished for his crimes or realize the error of his ways. As far as we know he kept that $8000 misplaced by Uncle Billy, and that’s just evil.

 

Darren McGavin (The Old Man, A Christmas Story)

McGavin starred in a variety of movies & TV shows in a career that spanned a half century, but no other role made quite the impression as that of Ralphie Parker’s beleaguered father. The narrator refers to him only as The Old Man, and no other character ever uses his name. We watch The Old Man battle his furnace, haggle with a Christmas tree salesman, change a fuse “quicker than a jackrabbit”, & of course win a “major award” for a trivia contest. He’s grumpy & (allegedly) profane, but underneath it all he’s got a heart of gold.

 

Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie, Christmas Vacation)

Quaid brought Cousin Eddie to the big screen in 1983’s Vacation, but was only a very small part of that movie. He doesn’t appear in 1985’s European Vacation, but in Christmas Vacation it is probably fair to say that Cousin Eddie is a significant source of the film’s most memorable moments. While most laugh hysterically at Eddie in his bathrobe emptying his RV’s toilet and loudly proclaiming to all of the Griswolds’ neighbors “Merry Christmas!! The shitter was full!!”, my favorite scene is right after he first arrives. As he & Clark are in the living room chatting about the RV he cautions Clark not to fall in love with it “cause we’re taking it with us when we leave here next month”.

 

The Winner:       Darren McGavin. Tough category!! All three men are deserving. However, it has always been my contention that, while A Christmas Story is ostensibly about Ralphie and his dogged yearning for a Red Ryder BB gun, it is just as much about The Old Man. My own father used to hide a special present on Christmas just like The Old Man does in the movie, making us think that we were finished but then surprising us with one last gift. Obviously adults understand that Christmas isn’t about gifts, but for kids it’s kind of a big deal, and A Christmas Story captures that perfectly. McGavin was in his 60’s when he starred in the film, which would seem to make him a little too old to be a father to young boys like Ralphie & Randy. But consider the fact that the entire story is told thru Ralphie’s eyes, and when kids are little they’re parents seem old to them. It’s a nice touch, and, with all due respect to Charles Grodin & Daniel Stern, all you have to do is watch other films based on Jean Shepherd’s stories to realize that McGavin is the perfect choice to play The Old Man.

 

 

Best Duo

The Nominees:

 

Charlie Brown & Linus (Charlie Brown)

Charlie Brown is the neurotic loveable loser that everybody walks all over. Linus is the seemingly immature thumb sucker whose best friend is his security blanket. The two complement each other perfectly, especially when Linus comes thru with surprisingly sage insight that alters Charlie Brown’s perspective for the better.

 

Clark Griswold & Cousin Eddie (Christmas Vacation)

Clark is the affable dunderhead who is apparently a brilliant food scientist at work but is constantly confounded by the conundrums of family life. He just wants to have a good old-fashioned family Christmas complete with a house full of relatives on the inside and adorned with a ton of lights on the outside. Cousin Eddie is the unemployed hillbilly with horrible fashion sense and an overactive libido. Yet, despite his faults one can’t help but like Eddie. Some of the best moments in Christmas Vacation involve Clark & Eddie interacting & bouncing memorable lines off one another. The powers-that-be obviously recognized the comedic potential during Cousin Eddie’s limited scenes in the first Vacation, and it was a brilliant decision to have he & Clark reunite in this film. They would team together again in Vegas Vacation, which is most certainly an inferior product.

 

Neal Page & Del Griffith (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

Odd couples are nothing new in buddy movies. As a matter of fact they’re the standard. It’s a tried & true formula that works most of the time depending on the quality of the script and the skill of the performers. With Planes, Trains, & Automobiles you have a story by John Hughes and Steve Martin & John Candy as the disparate duo, so what’s not to like??

 

The Winner:       Neal Page & Del Griffith. The old axiom is that opposites attract, right?? What’s really fun about the movie is seeing the bond form between the two men and watching each of them evolve as one influences the other. Del is a gregarious extrovert who is hiding the painful fact that his wife died a few years ago and, despite knowing a lot of people & making acquaintances easily he doesn’t have any true friends or a home to get back to. Neal has a wife & kids, a solid job, & a nice house, but he’s kind of aloof & insensitive. After spending a few hellish days together Del understands how he tends to rub people the wrong way and Neal becomes a little more generous & approachable. This isn’t your typical comedy where the goal is to be as profane as possible, get laughs from over-the-top stunts, or crack jokes about sex & bodily functions. This is a John Hughes comedy where characters matter, and it doesn’t get much better than the two leads.

 

 

Best Villain

The Nominees:

 

Henry F. Potter (IAWL)

He’s back!! As mentioned, Mr. Potter is a 20th century take on Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s wealthy, mean, selfish, & hell bent on putting the Bailey Brothers Building & Loan out of business. Near the film’s conclusion he ends up with $8000 in cash that absentminded Uncle Billy loses, but does he come forward to straighten out the mess?? No!! Mr. Potter would be perfectly content to see George Bailey dragged off to jail on Christmas Eve, the Building & Loan go under, and the entire Bailey family suffer. Thankfully George’s friends come to the rescue, but Potter never pays for his crimes. Well…atleast he didn’t until Saturday Night Live resolved the situation.

 

Scut Farkas (A Christmas Story)

Bullying has become a much talked about issue the past few years, but the truth is that school bullies have existed forever, and Scut Farkas is the quintessential bully. He & his toady Grover Dill corner the smaller kids and physically torture them just for the pleasure of making them say uncle. He even looks evil, with braces on his teeth, a coonskin cap, & yellow eyes!! Unfortunately for Scut Farkas he runs into Ralphie right after he’s been warned about shooting his eye out one time too many, and Ralphie takes out all of his pent up frustration on the stunned bully, a scene that has to be immensely satisfying for anyone who’s ever been pushed around.

 

Frank Shirley (Christmas Vacation)

While Scut Farkas is the epitome of a school bully, Mr. Shirley is the prototypical arrogant boss, looking down at “the little people” who do the real work in his company and being too above it all to even learn their names. His biggest sin in Christmas Vacation is replacing what must have been a sizeable annual Christmas bonus for employees with a subscription to a Jelly of the Month Club. I suppose whether or not it is proper for employees to expect a Christmas bonus as a regular part of their salary would be a fun debate, but I think we can all agree that any boss who alters the accepted bonus structure for whatever reason should atleast inform everyone of that decision. To his credit Mr. Shirley decides to reinstate the Christmas bonuses (after being kidnapped by Cousin Eddie).

 

The Winner:       Scut Farkas. This might seem like a little bit of an upset. First of all, I just love the name Scut Farkas. Secondly, if A Christmas Story would have been solely about Ralphie’s pursuit of a BB gun it might have become tiresome rather quickly, but since there are several other subplots weaved into the film it all gels into a potpourri of Americana that makes one chuckle & gives us the warm fuzzies at the same time. In our hypersensitive, overly neurotic, politically correct modern society bullying has become a topic that everyone wrings their hands about as if it is a harbinger of The Apocalypse, but I have always controversially opined that if your kid is so weak-minded & soft that they either contemplate or actually commit suicide because they’ve been bullied then you as a parent need to look in the mirror and recognize where you failed. The scene where a fed up Ralphie beats the snot out of Scut Farkas while uttering a torrent of inaudible obscenities is really important because it exemplifies exactly how to handle a bully…punch ‘em in the mouth.

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:

 

Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker, A Christmas Story)

Much like her on-screen husband Melinda Dillon had a long & underappreciated career during which she was nominated for a Tony Award and two Oscars. She also never receives a first name in A Christmas Story…Ralphie just refers to her as Ma or my mother. Mrs. Parker isn’t quite as colorful as The Old Man, but she embodies the typical overburdened housewife, always at the beck & call of her husband & children. Mrs. Parker stands up to her husband after shattering his “major award” (Accidentally?? On purpose?? Who knows??), is horrified when hearing about Ralphie dropping an F bomb, & has a well-deserved moment of levity at the Chinese restaurant. I never realized duck was that funny.

 

Maureen O’Hara (Delores Walker, Miracle on 34th Street)

Mrs. Walker is a big shot at Macy’s Department Store and is in charge of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, so she must be a pretty smart cookie. We should remember that this film was released in 1947, so such a strong, successful, independent female character was a little out-of-the-box. She’s also a single mother, which had to be rare in movies back then. The reasons for her cynicism are never detailed, but we can read between the lines. As things progress both her neighbor/boyfriend Fred Gailey and Kris Kringle break down the walls that Mrs. Walker has put up, to the point that she is able to recapture some of the faith that she has lost.

 

Edie McClurg (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

McClurg is best known for playing meddlesome supporting characters on TV shows like The Hogan Family and in in films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. She only has one scene in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, but holy moly is it unforgettable. She portrays an exceedingly chipper rental car agent who encounters Steve Martin’s character Neal Page right when he’s reached the end of his rope and completely loses it by hurling a deluge of F bombs. Her simple response is absolutely perfect and totally hilarious. I’m not one who equates laughter with profanity, an abyss that our culture fell into decades ago. However, it really works in that particular scene and McClurg plays her small yet vital role flawlessly.

 

The Winner:       Maureen O’Hara. O’Hara was a red-headed Irish lass whose Hollywood career spanned more than fifty years. She starred in a number of westerns directed by John Ford alongside John Wayne. Her final film role was in an underrated 1991 romantic dramedy called Only the Lonely as John Candy’s feisty mother. It’s worth your time if you’ve never seen it. She was perfectly cast on Miracle on 34th Street, a role that required strength & spirit, with just a hint of vulnerable brokenness.

 

 

Best Inanimate Object

The Nominees:

 

The Leg Lamp (A Christmas Story)

The infamous leg lamp was modeled on the logo of Nehi, a soda pop that reached its peak popularity in the 1920’s & 30’s. In 1955 the company changed its name to the Royal Crown Company (makers of RC Cola obviously). In 2008 the brand became part of the Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group. Nehi sodas…most notably grape & orange…are still produced, although they’re not as easy to find as brands like Coke & Pepsi. Anyway, the “major award” that The Old Man wins in A Christmas Story is supposed to be an allusion to “pop art”, which is loosely defined as “a challenge to traditional fine art that includes imagery from popular and mass culture, such as advertising, comic books and mundane cultural objects.” It’s a goofy yet endearing subplot in the movie that has become such a huge part of its pop culture status that one can purchase your very own leg lamp (I have one), as well as buy leg lamp ornaments, make leg lamp cookies, or find it in a plethora of other incarnations each holiday season.

 

The Sad Little Tree (Charlie Brown)

When A Charlie Brown Christmas was produced back in the 60’s the world had just been introduced to aluminum Christmas trees with foil needles and illumination from below via a rotating color wheel. They never quite caught on, in large part due to the scorn & derision with which they are treated in the beloved animated special. Artificial trees are still very popular, but we decided long ago that, while convenience is a good thing, it is preferable for our fake tree to atleast look like the real thing. As part of its subtle social commentary about the commercialization of Christmas the show has disillusioned Charlie Brown rescue a real but very tiny & rather unattractive tree for use in the Christmas play he is directing. At first everyone…including Snoopy…laughs at him & makes fun of the tree, but soon enough they come around and decorate it very nicely. As an apartment dweller I have a small four foot tree that sits on a bookshelf, so while I appreciate the beauty of huge, lavishly festooned trees, there will always be a special place in my heart for a small, humble Christmas tree.

 

The RV (Christmas Vacation)

When Cousin Eddie & family coast into Chicago on fumes (their gas money ran out in Gurney) it isn’t in a car, van, or even a Queen Wagon Family Truckster…it’s in a huge, dingy, hideously painted RV, or as Clark Griswold refers to it, “the tenement on wheels”. It turns out that the family is actually living in in because they lost their house. Catherine is busy taking care of all of their kids, and Eddie hasn’t held a job for seven years (he’s holding out for a management position). We don’t really see much of the RV, and when one really stops to ponder there’s not much funny about the family’s dire straits…but let’s not overthink things.

 

The Winner:       The Leg Lamp. Who could have ever fathomed 35 years ago that a ridiculous household accessory would become the cherished symbol of a classic Christmas movie?? In today’s business & entertainment climate there would be a predetermined marketing strategy to merchandise the object and maximize profits for the movie studio. Sometimes those tactics actually work, but it’s so much more fun when popularity occurs organically & out of the blue.

 

 

 

Best Christmas Village

The Nominees:

 

Whoville (The Grinch)

According to the book Horton Hears a Who!, the town of Whoville is located within a floating speck of dust placed onto a clover flower. Its citizens…The Whos… are whimsical, furry humanoids with canine snouts, warm hearts, and welcoming spirits. Of course just north of Whoville is Mount Crumpet, a high mountain with a cave at its peak where The Grinch resides.

 

Bedford Falls (IAWL)

Bedford Falls is allegedly a fictional representation of Seneca Falls, a mill town in upstate New York that’s about a hundred miles from Buffalo, 50 miles from Rochester (a city mentioned in the film), and 65 miles from Elmira (another city referenced). George Bailey wants desperately to “shake the dust of this crummy little town” so he can go explore the world, but of course we know he never quite makes it. However, with the help of guardian angel Clarence, George does discover that life in Bedford Falls and his relationships with its various citizens is actually pretty cool.

 

Hohman, IN (A Christmas Story)

Hohman is a fictional representation of Jean Shepherd’s actual hometown of Hammond, a city in the northwest tip of Indiana on the shores of Lake Michigan and less than an hour from Chicago. One doesn’t get a real sense of Hohman’s vibe just from watching A Christmas Story, but if you read Shep’s books he goes into more descriptive detail of his childhood environment. The movie was actually filmed mostly in Canada, and the Parker house is in Cleveland, OH. It was renovated and opened as a tourist destination several years ago.

 

The Winner:       Bedford Falls. I hate snow & cold weather, so I could never see myself living in a northeast winter wonderland. However, other than its undesirable climate Bedford Falls seems like a nice town…small enough where everybody knows everybody, but big enough that there are a few things going on. Much like George Bailey I have always had a love/hate relationship with my hometown, and just like George I’ll never escape it to go on adventures I’ve dreamt about. I’ve identified with IAWL & George Bailey since I was a youngster, and the movie has served as a kind of angel that has opened my eyes about the positive aspects of my life and my own Bedford Falls.

 

 

Best Director

The Nominees:

 

Bob Clark (A Christmas Story)

Bob Clark might be best known to non-Christmas fans as the director of 1981’s teen sex comedy Porky’s & its 1983 sequel. Clark also directed the 1974 slasher flick Black Christmas and produced a 1975 film called Moonrunners, which eventually evolved into the TV show The Dukes of Hazzard. Sadly Clark and his adult son were killed in a car crash by a drunk driver about a decade ago.

 

Frank Capra (IAWL)

Capra was one of the most beloved film directors of the first half of the 20th century. He helmed classics like It Happened One Night, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, & Meet John Doe, and won six Academy Awards out of 15 nominations. “Capra-corn” was a term coined to describe his particular brand of sentimental Americana, and Lord knows we could use more of that nowadays.

 

John Hughes (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

Hughes was the voice of my generation, writing/directing/producing modern classics like Mr. Mom, the Vacation series, The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink, Weird Science, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone, & Uncle Buck.

 

The Winner:       Frank Capra. According to my research a director “controls a film’s artistic & dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfillment of that vision, and has a key role in choosing the cast, production design, & the creative aspects of filmmaking.” In my experience as a fan it seems like most directors create films with a particular atmosphere, and if you enjoy one of their movies there’s a good chance you’ll like their other work. I’m not sure that’s the case with Clark, but it certainly holds true for Hughes & Capra. Frank Capra said of IAWL in later years that “It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen…the film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be President. I’m proud, but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.” Upon its release Capra described IAWL as being about “the individual’s belief in himself” and said that he made it “to combat a modern trend toward atheism”.

 

 

Best Song

The Nominees:

 

Christmas Time is Here (Charlie Brown)

Not only did the suits behind A Charlie Brown Christmas express concerns about the celebrated Biblical reference, but they were also anxious about using jazz music for a children’s cartoon. Vince Guaraldi was a pianist & composer with a solid career when he took on the task of writing the score for the first Peanuts animated special at the suggestion of the show’s producer Lee Mendelson. After the success of A Charlie Brown Christmas Guaraldi would collaborate on 17 more Peanuts specials. I still use his song Linus & Lucy as the ringtone for my sister, but my favorite tune from the Christmas show is Christmas Time is Here, a somewhat melancholy melody that talks about olden times, ancient rhymes, & yuletide by the fireside. There is an elegant instrumental version, and the song with lyrics is sung by the children’s choir from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, CA. It’s been covered many times by everyone from Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney to Chicago, Mariah Carey, & Kenny Loggins, but the original(s) are by far the best.

 

Welcome Christmas (The Grinch)

Oh sure, You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch is a fun novelty song that still gets its share of radio play every December, but Welcome Christmas, as sung by those happy little Whos, is an undeniable delight. Some of the lyrics are Seussian gibberish, but the song does have heartwarming turns of phrase like “Christmas day is in our grasp so long as we have hands to clasp” and “Christmas day will always be just so long as we have we”. It really drives home the ultimate message of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, which is “maybe Christmas doesn’t come from a store…maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more”.

 

Mess Around (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

Mess Around was recorded in 1953 and was one of Ray Charles’ earliest hits. The song is a backdrop for one of my favorite scenes in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles in which John Candy’s slovenly chatterbox Del Griffith REALLY enjoys it while driving on the highway late at night. I’ll resist the urge to break down that entire scene, but suffice to say it is very very funny and really showcases Candy’s comedic talent. Who knew it was possible to do brilliant physical comedy behind the wheel of a car?? I’m not sure why that particular song was chosen other than the fact that it’s lively & fun, but as a fan of jazz & blues I am always appreciative of such songs’ inclusion in a great movie.

 

The Winner:       Christmas Time is Here. I’m a big fan of Christmas carols, but this one is slightly off the beaten path. It’s a little too esoteric to be sung while you’re trekking around the neighborhood caroling, but it is such a classy & beautiful song. My town has a holiday jazz event every December, usually in a cozy venue with good food and a talented potpourri of musicians. They play a variety of tunes, but it’s a sure bet that at some point they’ll bust out a velvety smooth cover of Christmas Time is Here, and it’s always one of the highlights of my holiday season.

 

 

 

 

Best Actress

The Nominees:

 

Donna Reed (Mary Hatch Bailey, IAWL)

Donna Reed’s underappreciated career spanned more than four decades. Along the way she starred in her own titular sitcom in the 1960’s and won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1953. In 1984 she became a controversial replacement as JR Ewing’s mother on the nighttime soap Dallas and famously didn’t get along with star Larry Hagman. As Mary Hatch in IAWL she is in love with George Bailey her entire life and finally marries him & has a family. When George is in financial trouble due to Uncle Billy’s absentmindedness it is Mary who rallies practically the entire population of Bedford Falls to save her husband from going to jail.

 

Natalie Wood (Susan Walker, Miracle on 34th Street)

Natalie Wood was only 8 years old when she starred as the precocious Susan Walker, who has been taught by her mother not to believe in Santa Claus or any other “fairy tales”. It takes Kris Kringle himself to restore her faith & imagination. Wood would go on to have a very successful career, scoring three Academy Award nominations before the age of 25. Sadly she met an untimely & mysterious demise at only 43 years old.

 

Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold, Christmas Vacation)

D’Angelo has starred as Ellen Griswold…the loving & supportive wife of inept Clark and dedicated mother of Rusty & Audrey…in five Vacation films (I’m being generous by including the ill-conceived reboot from a couple of years ago). Outside of that series though she has had quite the career, starring in over five dozen films and receiving a Golden Globe nomination in 1980 for her role as Patsy Cline in the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter.

 

The Winner:       Donna Reed. Thru the prism of our politically correct modern society “supportive wife & mother” roles are viewed with dubious disdain, but most films & TV shows are products of their time & culture. If one really looks at Mary Bailey with a clear perspective it becomes apparent that she is a great role model. She is educated, resilient, resolute, & devoted. We cannot overlook the fact that Mr. Potter never gives back the $8000 and it is Mary who goes out and saves George from landing in prison. Oh sure, Clarence helps George understand the value of his life, but once all of that happens and George is back in the present timeline he is prepared to turn himself in and selflessly take the punishment for financial malfeasance. In other words, though he’s happy to be alive he’s still kind of giving up. Not Mary!! She understands what George has meant to his neighbors, and by golly she knows that they kind of owe him. We should all be so fortunate to have such a compassionate & insightful partner in life.

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees:

 

A Christmas Story (from Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash)

Actually Shep’s stories are collected in a few books, and while A Christmas Story is mainly taken from In God We Trust there are a few bits & pieces from the other books. When you read the books you get a much better sense of Shep’s acerbic wit & comedic flair. The movie has its subversive moments, but is undoubtedly “family friendly”. That being said, it still effectively translates the author’s original intent, and thanks to brilliant casting, gives an eclectic tapestry of characters vibrant life.

 

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (from the book of the same name)

Dr. Seuss is brilliant in his own unique way, but let’s be honest…he’s not exactly Shakespeare. It’s a children’s book, and since the animated special is only a half hour in length and doesn’t try to paint outside the lines what you see on your TV screen is pretty much word-for-word from the source material. That’s not meant as criticism at all. Kudos must be given for accuracy & efficiency.

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (from the song of the same name)

Rudolph was initially a children’s story created for an ad campaign. That story was then adapted into a song. And then the song was transformed into a brilliant animated special that we still enjoy after many decades. Through it all the basic idea of who Rudolph is and some of the obstacles he faced has remained consistent. The television special adds little flourishes like Yukon Cornelius, Hermie the Elf, & The Island of Misfit Toys, but all are welcome additions to the story.

 

The Winner:       A Christmas Story. This comes down to simplicity & effort. As noted, both Rudolph & The Grinch are largely precise reproductions of the source material. Rudolph adds a character or two or three, and The Grinch throws in a couple of songs, but for the most part they are animated versions of the stories on which they are based. Translating Jean Shepherd’s stories into little vignettes and then putting all of it together to form a coherent movie deserves praise, and the fact that the film is damn near brilliant is an amazing accomplishment.

 

 

Best Actor

The Nominees:

 

Peter Billingsley (Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story)

Billingsley got his start in show business as a kid in various commercials, most notably the Messy Marvin campaign for Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup. His big break was in the 1981 film Paternity starring Burt Reynolds, and he also co-hosted the comedic reality show Real People on NBC. These days he works mostly behind the camera as a producer for films like Iron Man, The Break-Up, Four Christmases, & Elf.

 

James Stewart (George Bailey, IAWL)

Jimmy Stewart’s legendary career lasted sixty years, during which he starred in over 80 movies. He received five Academy Award nominations and won the Oscar for Best Actor in 1941 for The Philadelphia Story. His celebrated filmography includes unforgettable performances in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Shop Around the Corner, Harvey, Rear Window, Vertigo, The Glenn Miller Story, & The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

 

Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation)

Chevy Chase was one of the original Not Ready for Primetime Players on Saturday Night Live and was the first “anchor” of the show’s Weekend Update segment. After leaving SNL in the midst of the second season he embarked on a hit & miss movie career, with the Vacation series definitely being one of the highlights. Chase’s particular blend of physical comedy & deadpan humor isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea, but he deserves credit for creating one of the most endearing characters in comedy film history, and for a contribution to the Christmas sub-genre that has stood the test of time.

 

The Winner:       James Stewart. Jimmy rarely played the debonair, sophisticated, wealthy guy in movies. He spent his career portraying ordinary men facing extraordinary circumstances, the kinds of characters with which most of us can identify on some level. I first watched It’s A Wonderful Life when I was a teenager and immediately felt a connection with George Bailey. In real life we don’t get an opportunity to have an angel show us the positive impact our lives have had on others…we just have to figure that out for ourselves. But thanks to IAWL it is atleast a point of view that some may consider during tough times.

Merry Movie Mayhem – The Sweet Sixteen (Part 2)

The original goal was to wrap things up here by Christmas Eve, but that’s just not going to happen. C’est la vie. Best laid plans, etc. & so forth. I’m fine with that for a couple of reasons. First, the holiday season isn’t over until after the New Year, and if you really want to kick it old school the Twelve Days of Christmas don’t end until January 5. Secondly, I always kind of hate that Christmas night feeling when all the hoopla, hubbub, rigmarole, & hullabaloo of the past several weeks is just all the sudden over. The gifts have been unwrapped, the food has been eaten, families have returned to their own homes, radio stations stop playing carols, & these Christmas movies we love that have been a constant presence for the last month (or two) disappear as TV stations return to their normal programming. So why not extend that Christmas spirit just a little longer?? If you haven’t had time to check out Part 1 of the Sweet 16 please take a few moments to do so, and when you’re done come back here for semi-final action in the Mistletoe and Candy Cane divisions.

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation             vs.              Elf

I like to laugh. As far as movies (and television) go I have always preferred comedy to drama, action, & horror. So when my love of laughter is combined with an obvious passion for Christmas…well, that’s very cool. Christmas Vacation is the third in a series of movies starring Chevy Chase as the affable patriarch of the Griswold clan of Chicago. In this film they don’t actually go on vacation…instead they invite extended family into their home for a holiday season where everything goes hysterically wrong. But it’s not Clark Griswold who’s the real star of the movie. That honor goes to Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, a dimwitted country bumpkin who we first met in the original Vacation in 1983. Eddie, his wife Catherine, & two of their kids pop in on the Griswolds for a surprise visit, and in the process take Christmas Vacation to a whole new level of hilarity. Most of the best moments either belong to Cousin Eddie or involve others (mainly Clark) reacting to him. 2003’s Elf is a classic fish-out-of-water story, with much of the humor derived from Buddy the Elf trying to figure out how to interact with regular humans and being a bit overwhelmed by New York City. Elves are usually secondary characters in Christmas films, but Will Ferrell as Buddy carries Elf. I’m no expert on all the ways that a director shapes & defines a movie, but I will make an educated assumption that Jon Favreau deserves much of the credit for a flawless tone that almost feels a little retro. Even if a person doesn’t particularly enjoy Ferrell’s vibe in other films I can’t imagine many really disliking Elf.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. It’s amazing how well Christmas Vacation has aged nearly three decades after its theatrical release. The humor has stood the test of time, although it’s more entertainment comfort food nowadays than laugh-out-loud amusement. That’s what happens when the masses have watched a movie dozens of times and can quote almost every scene verbatim. Elf is heading down the same path (perhaps it’s there already), but Christmas Vacation has been around longer and has a stronger pedigree.

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer                        vs.              Scrooge (1951)

Santa Claus is pretty cool all by himself, but over the years little bits & flourishes have been added to the legend, in the process creating a richly layered mythos right up there with Tolkien’s Middle Earth, George Lucas’ Star Wars Galaxy, & CS Lewis’ Narnia. In 1823 Clement Clark Moore, in his poem A Visit From St. Nicholas, made reference to eight reindeer…Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, & Blitzen. It wasn’t until a century later that an ad campaign from Montgomery Ward added a ninth reindeer to the group, and after a song, TV special, & countless other appearances in every form of media Rudolph really has become the most famous reindeer of all. The 1964 stop motion animated television special truly is a classic and is still aired annually more than a half century after it premiered. That’s some kind of staying power. 1951’s A Christmas Carol adaptation…simply called Scrooge…is celebrated by many as the best of the numerous versions of Dickens’ story. Its tone is appropriately dark, and Alastair Sim’s performance stands out as one of the greatest interpretations of Ebenezer Scrooge on film. He has a…unique…face, and uses it quite effectively in conveying the old miser’s evolution throughout the story. Of all the Carol movies, this is considered by most to be the standard that all others should be judged against.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph. Here is the issue one runs into with the various A Christmas Carol movies: there’s just so many of them, and none strictly follow the book. They all add, subtract, & alter small details and/or significant plot points. Scrooge adds a character named Mr. Jorkins, a nefarious businessman largely responsible for leading Ebenezer down a greedy path, and creates a subplot in which Scrooge’s father resented him because his wife (Ebenezer’s mother) died in childbirth, and then Scrooge comes to bear a grudge toward his nephew because the boy’s mother (Scrooge’s sister) died the same way. I understand creative license and the idea of “fleshing out” a story, but I just don’t think it’s necessary when it comes to A Christmas Carol. And it’s not only major narratives…it’s small details. For example, in the book Scrooge’s fiancé is named Belle, but in this film she is called Alice. Why?? Why change something like that?? It’s completely pointless. Conversely, Rudolph actually makes direct references to the original story & song. The “film” fleshes out those things, but in a good way. We have fancier technology now than they did in the 60’s, but there’s just something about that quirky old animation that still provides the warm fuzzies. The music is fun, the characters are great, & the story is timeless.

 

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)               vs.              The Ref

A movie about the commercialization of Christmas is par for the course in the 21st century, but seventy years ago I assume it was rather edgy. Add to that a cynical single mother and a Santa Claus who ends up in a courtroom to prove his identity & defend his sanity, and all the sudden what we look at as a nostalgic trip down memory lane becomes something much more interesting. Speaking of edgy & cynical, The Ref has a lot to say about life. Listen to the dialogue. Really pay attention when watching The Ref. Yes, it is funny. The cast is perfect and the situation is amusing & silly. But what appealed to me the first time I ever watched it and why I’m still fond of it over two decades later is the writing. Compare The Ref to something like Christmas with the Kranks, and it’s like putting a Picasso on the wall next to a toddler’s finger painting. It may be a little too acerbic for the masses, especially at Christmastime when everyone expects their cockles to be warmed, which might explain why it’s never quite achieved the level of popularity that dictates heavy rotation on TV throughout November & December…and that’s a shame.

 

The Verdict:       Miracle on 34th Street. As much as I love The Ref I have to be truthful in my assessment. It is the offensive lineman of Christmas movies. It’ll never receive the glory or adoration of the crowd. It will never be part of Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas or be shown on TCM or AMC. The Ref can only be seen down in the trenches, and if one wants to recognize its greatness & appreciate its humor you’ll have to purposely seek it out. But I promise that if you make that effort it will be worth the time. Conversely, Miracle is on the Mount Rushmore of Christmas movies. Everyone has seen it, and everyone loves it. It may not be on television daily each December, but it’s on just enough that we continue to admire it with little risk of backlash or fatigue. Natalie Wood gets all the attention, not only because everybody digs precocious children, but also due to her fame as an adult and…sadly…in part because of her untimely demise and the mystery surrounding it. However, I really enjoy John Payne as the eager & sincere attorney Mr. Gailey, Maureen O’Hara as the jaded single mother Mrs. Walker, & Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, a role for which he won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.

 

 

 

Home Alone                vs.              How the Grinch Stole Christmas        

MacCaulay Culkin got noticed for his role in Uncle Buck, became a pop culture sensation after Home Alone, and eventually flamed out like so many child actors do when they can’t bank on their cuteness any longer. But unlike so many other child stars he gets an annual opportunity to go back in time for a few weeks every holiday season and become that mischievous little boy that everyone roots for. A tip of the cap also to Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern, because The Wet Bandits provide hilarious adversaries for that small boy. Many have overanalyzed the cartoonish violence near the film’s climax, and in the hypersensitive bubble that we now reside in some are critical of it, but I’ll always fondly recall my then grade school aged nephew & I laughing so hard we were crying when he stayed with me once and we ate pizza & watched Home Alone. The Grinch is mostly a vehicle for Dr. Seuss’ curious turns of phrase (what exactly are tar-tinkers & sloo-slunkers?), and I’m sure fifty years ago landing Boris Karloff to narrate the story was a huge coup. However, when one really pays attention what you’ll discover, more than catchy music or clever rhymes, is a tale of profound significance, and how often can one say that about a thirty minute children’s cartoon??

 

The Verdict:       The Grinch. I love Home Alone, but let’s be honest…it doesn’t age particularly well or hold up to thoughtful ponderation. I’m not a fan of paralysis by analysis, but the entire premise of Home Alone is amusingly far-fetched and there are little plot holes here & there. The biggest issue though is that less than three decades later it just could not happen. Post-9/11 there is zero chance the family could get thru an airport that rapidly, and the kid would have a laptop and/or smartphone with internet access & a social media presence that’d allow Mom & Dad to check on him before they ever got off the plane. I am well aware that I am picking nits here, but I’m also absolutely right. Conversely, The Grinch doesn’t take place within the confines of the real world, and that allows it to be eternal. I am not a fan of the live action Jim Carrey movie, but it is my understanding that 2018 will bring a computer animated film adaptation featuring the vocal talents of Benedict Cumberbatch, and I am open to giving that a whirl.

Merry Movie Mayhem – The Sweet Sixteen (Part 1)

As with 80’s Movie Mania, when looking at these wonderful (for the most part) holiday films & specials I have taken into consideration a few important factors:

*Re-Watchability –       Is it on television a lot during the holidays?? If it is on TV do I stop & watch??

*Relevance            –        Does the story hold up well?? Or do modern societal norms & changes in technology make it feel dated?? How “Christmasy” is it??

*Quotability          –        Fun, interesting, well-written movies of all genres are usually very quotable.

*Cultural Impact  –        Is it one of those movies that everyone of a certain age has seen?? Is it familiar to multiple generations?? Do people still occasionally talk about it & watch it even many years after its release?? This is a given for some holiday films, but not all of them.

*Pleasure              –        Do I enjoy watching this movie?? We’ve all read books or watched shows/movies just because we felt compelled to…because we wanted to be cool or seem educated. But what do you enjoy when no one else is around??

 

I’ve broken down the third round of Merry Movie Mayhem…The Sweet 16…into two parts. Today we’ll see semifinal action in the North Pole and Eggnog divisions.

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life           vs.              Frosty the Snowman

IAWL is a 1947 feature film about a depressed man being shown by a guardian angel how his life has positively impacted those around him. Frosty is a 1969 animated television special based on a song that had become popular two decades earlier and tells the story of a snowman who comes to life with the help of a magician’s hat. IAWL was nominated for a half dozen Academy Awards but was only a modest box office success. It became a beloved holiday classic in the 1970s & 80s when local TV stations across America utilized the film’s public domain status to fill their schedules throughout the Christmas season. Frosty has aired on television annually for nearly a half century.

 

The Verdict:       IAWL. Frosty the Snowman is awesome. The song is catchy, the animation is solid, and the characters are fun. But It’s A Wonderful Life has the incomparable combination of director Frank Capra & leading man Jimmy Stewart. The premise of an angel showing a person what the world would’ve been like without them has been ceaselessly borrowed, copied, & parodied throughout pop culture for decades. Some may have railed against its plentiful repeated airings once upon a time, but that backlash seems to have diminished.

 

 

 

The Polar Express              vs.              Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

Motion capture technology is the process of recording the movement of objects or people. It is used most often in video games, but there have been a number of films that used it in part, or in the case of The Polar Express for the entire film. It is certainly a quantum leap from the animation past generations have experienced. However, while I don’t want to push the technical aspects aside…especially since I am truly fascinated by the beauty of motion capture…the most important thing to me is the plot. On its surface The Polar Express is a tale about believing or not believing in Santa Claus, which is a perfectly lovely Christmas story. Childhood. Wonder. Imagination. A hero’s journey. All are wonderful themes. But look a little deeper. Can it be viewed as an allegory?? Does The North Pole represent Heaven?? Is Santa a stand-in for God?? Is The Conductor a Christ-like figure whom children must rely on to deliver them to The Promised Land?? Is The Hobo a Holy Spirit that guides & directs those who are lost?? Interpretation is an individual choice, but I certainly believe that the movie could be viewed thru this prism. I’ve always felt that Santa Claus doesn’t have to be an enemy of Jesus Christ, that parents can use the story of Santa to teach children about Jesus. I realize that many disagree with that perspective, and I respect those opinions, but it’s an interesting idea to ponder. Planes, Trains, & Automobiles is ostensibly more straightforward…a simple buddy comedy set at Thanksgiving. But then again is it?? It also has deeper themes. Friendship. Love. Loss. Family. Self-respect. Priorities. This movie has layers folks!! Yes it gets a little mawkish in the last few minutes, but what exactly is wrong with that?? Steve Martin & the late, great John Candy are known as comedic actors, but in Planes, Trains, & Automobiles they showed that if given the chance they had the kind of dramatic chops that made Tom Hanks a multi-Oscar winner. Despite all the memorable films he wrote & directed John Hughes has always been underappreciated, and this is one of his best films.

 

The Verdict:       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. I adore The Polar Express. In the past decade it has established itself as a certified holiday classic. We’ll still be watching it every December a half century from now, and someday its cutting edge technology will seem quaint & nostalgic like we view animation from the mid-20th century nowadays. But Planes, Trains, & Automobiles has been around longer and is just as entertaining today as it was twenty years ago. It may not have turkey, parades, or football, but it as much quintessential Thanksgiving as any of those things.

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story               vs.                        The Muppet Christmas Carol

Jean Shepherd was a somewhat well-known radio personality back in the 1960’s & 70’s when listening to a guy talk on the radio for hours was a popular entertainment option. His shows weren’t about sports or politics or current events. Shepherd told stories…spinned yarns…spoke monologues…conveyed anecdotes…articulated poetic commentary about life. He allegedly had no script, and many of his stories were about his childhood in pre-WWII Indiana. Those stories eventually evolved into several books like In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash, Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, & A Fistful of Fig Newtons. A potpourri of those tales were eventually turned into the 1983 film A Christmas Story, which wasn’t a huge box office success but has since become a holiday tradition, mostly because of an annual 24 hour marathon on television from 8pm on Christmas Eve until 8pm on Christmas Night. While 90s kids have grown up with A Christmas Story as an integrated part of their childhood, children in the 70s grew up with The Muppets. They may seem kind of corny in today’s computer generated world, but when I was a kid they were cool & they were everywhere, including a variety show on television for a few years. They eventually made it to the big screen and there have been numerous feature films & TV movies. The Muppet Christmas Carol premiered in 1992 with modest box office success and tepid critical reviews. However, like many other Christmas movies none of that stuff has mattered in the long run, as fans are still enjoying the film 25 years later. The Muppets have always had human performers interacting with the furry creatures, and in this movie Michael Caine gives…to the surprise of many…one of his best performances as Ebenezer Scrooge. The plot is more faithful to the source material than one might expect, but also adds some of its own unique touches.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Story. This is a very difficult decision. I LOVE The Muppet Christmas Carol. It is well written, funny, & full of the kind of holiday magic that defines the best Christmas movies. However, the cultural impact of A Christmas Story is undeniable. It has struck a chord with the masses, in large part because everyone can identify with Ralphie Parker as he navigates the ebb & flow of childhood, and because all of us can remember wanting Santa Claus to bring us that one special gift really really really badly.

 

 

 

White Christmas                           vs.                        A Charlie Brown Christmas

White Christmas is well-known as the best-selling song of all time, and the song itself was introduced to the masses in the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire film Holiday Inn. Twelve years later the eponymous film was produced, with Danny Kaye filling in for Astaire in what isn’t really a sequel or a remake, but a creation that shares artistic DNA with Holiday Inn. The film is visually striking, and there are several memorable musical numbers. Charles Schulz created the Peanuts comic strip in 1950, and it eventually became a marketing juggernaut with fingerprints on every facet of media, advertising, merchandise, movies, & books. A Charlie Brown Christmas was the first animated Peanuts television special, and a half century later is still aired annually.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. Two strikes go against White Christmas. First of all, other than its title and a musical number at the very end it really doesn’t have all that much to do with Christmas. I don’t mean that to sound harsh because I can’t express strongly enough how much I adore the movie, but at its heart it is a romantic comedy/musical that would be almost as enchanting if it were set in February…it’s just that the Christmas angle makes it that much more exceptional. Secondly, there is a subplot where one of the female leads becomes upset at the Crosby character because she thinks he is exploiting the unfortunate plight of General Waverly. He’s really not…except that he still kind of is. Crosby isn’t making any money off the Christmas Eve bash he’s planning at The General’s country inn, but he does go on national television and sing a sad song that pretty much makes the old guy seem like a pathetic has-been that is in desperate need of charity. That song & that plot point has always bothered me. Conversely, A Charlie Brown Christmas is all about Christmas, weaving in ideas about commercialism and struggling to find the Christmas spirit, while directly addressing…unlike most Christmas movies…what Christmas is actually all about. The tone is perfect, the music is sublime, and the cultural impact is unquestionable.