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: Candy Cane (Round 2)

I happen to have a job that is oftentimes quietly tedious, and during the long late night hours I occasionally have an opportunity to watch a little television. There isn’t a whole lot on at 3am, but now & then I run across an old movie or two during the night that’s worth my time. Streaming is great. Setting the DVR is a very nice & simple option. Planning ahead is a smart way to go thru life on many levels. However, there is something to be said for spontaneity and small yet pleasant surprises, one of which is channel surfing and stumbling upon an awesome movie, especially if it’s just starting. Awhile back I was at work on a typically slow night and just happened to run across the 1989 rom-com When Harry Met Sally, which I hadn’t seen in ages. Because I am easily entertained I was absolutely giddy with delight, and that kind of pleasure is what I seek in a good Christmas movie this time of year. Jim Carrey’s The Grinch doesn’t make me feel like that. Neither does The Nightmare Before Christmas, Gremlins, Christmas in Connecticut, or Ernest Saves Christmas, which is why none of them are included in this competition. At any rate, when you see the decisions I make here that is a significant part of the criteria. What kind of film makes me instantly stop flipping thru the channels and watch?? What movies are so soothing, inspirational, funny, engaging, or enchanting that one is as excited to see it now as we were last year or five years ago?? Regrettably Hollywood doesn’t seem to produce very many stories like that anymore, but great Christmas movies belong to an extraordinary & exclusive club, and once they’re in they are in it for life, which is why we watch many of them year after year after year, over & over for decades. Today we conclude Round 2 of Merry Movie Mayhem with the Candy Cane Division. If you need to get caught up with previous second round action that is easily done here, here, & here. Happy Holidays y’all!!

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Quotes

For the past 50 years or so I’ve been getting more and more worried about Christmas. Seems we’re all so busy trying to beat the other fellow in making things go faster and look shinier and cost less that Christmas and I are sort of getting lost in the shuffle. – Kris Kringle

Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to. – Fred Gailey

Maybe he’s only a little crazy like painters or composers or some of those men in Washington. – Mr. Shellhammer

There’s a lot of bad ‘ism floatin’ around this world, but one of the worst is commercialism. – Alfred the Janitor

Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind…and that’s what’s been changing. – Kris Kringle

 

Factoids

Unbeknownst to most parade watchers, Edmund Gwenn played Santa Claus in the actual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade held November 28, 1946. He fulfilled the duties of most parade Santas, including addressing the crowd from the marquee of Macy’s after the parade was over.

The movie received a ‘B’ rating for being “morally objectionable” from the Legion of Decency because Maureen O’Hara played a divorcée.

According to the number of toothpicks on the table next to the telephone, Mrs. Shellhammer has apparently drank 9 martinis by the time she’s on the phone with Mrs. Walker.

Despite the fact that the film is set during Christmas the studio insisted that it be released in May because more people went to the movies during the summer. It was promoted while keeping the fact that it was a Christmas movie a secret.

The rivalry between department stores Macy’s and Gimbels depicted in the film was very real. The two stores were just blocks from each other in New York and major competitors for the same business.

The Post Office Department was a Cabinet-level department of the executive branch of the U.S. federal government from 1829 until 1971.

In the 1970s Natalie Wood & Robert Wagner were approached about doing a TV remake of the film with Natalie’s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner as Susan. Wood turned it down because she’d been a child star herself and didn’t want her very young daughter to start acting at such an early age.

Macy’s and Gimbel’s department stores were approached by the producers for permission to have them depicted in the film. Both stores wanted to see the finished film first before they gave approval. If either store had refused, the film would have had to been extensively edited and reshot to eliminate the references. Fortunately at the test viewing, both businesses were pleased with the film and gave their permission.

 

vs.

 

Scrooge (1970)

Quotes

There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. – The Ghost of Christmas Present

Comfort comes from other sources, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is given by other ministers than I to other kinds of men than you. – Marley’s Ghost

You don’t understand. He had the power to make us happy or unhappy, to make our work a pleasure or a burden. It’s nothing to do with money! – Ebenezer Scrooge

If I can wish a Merry Christmas to him, who is beyond dispute the most obnoxious and parsimonious of all living creatures, then I know in my heart that I am truly a man of goodwill. – Fred

How shall I ever understand this world? There is nothing on which it is so hard as poverty, and yet, there is nothing it condemns with such severity as the pursuit of wealth. – Ebenezer Scrooge

Your activities in life were so pleasing to Lucifer that he has appointed you to be his personal clerk. A singular honor. You will be to him, so to speak, what Bob Cratchit was to you. – Marley’s Ghost

 

Factoids

While shooting the movie Sir Alec Guinness suffered a double-hernia that required surgery to repair.

It took more than three hours each day to apply the old-age Scrooge makeup to Albert Finney, who was only 33 years old at the time.

In the film, after he falls into his future grave, there’s a scene where Scrooge goes to Hell. He speaks with Marley again, and then receives his chain. The giant chain is wrapped around him and starts choking him, and then he awakens in his own bedroom. The chain has been replaced by his bedclothes. This whole Hell sequence is often omitted when the movie is shown on TV. The cut takes Scrooge from when he falls into the grave to when he awakens in his room. The chain isn’t there, but the bedclothes are wrapped around him and he’s having trouble breathing, just like when he was in Hell.

This version differs from the book in that Scrooge’s fiancée, Isabel, is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. In the book, she is not related to them, and is named Belle.

Scrooge tells the Ghost of Christmas Present that it is 1860, but the book that the movie is based on was actually set in the year 1843.

 

The Verdict:       Miracle on 34th Street. A Santa Claus story versus an adaptation of A Christmas Carol pretty much sums up the Christmas movie season, right?? This version of Carol is rather unique as a live action musical. My friend The Owl really likes this movie and sold me on it several years ago. I can be a little…rigid…in my preconceived notions of the way things ought to be, but sometimes one has to expand horizons and open up to new ideas. Carol is a story that lends itself well to being a musical, and the performance by Albert Finney as the titular miser is remarkable. How can one not dig a song like I Hate People?? However, Miracle not only spans the entire Thanksgiving to Christmas season, but it’s a Santa story that was decades ahead of its time, with themes like single parenthood, commercialism, frivolous lawsuits, the wonder of childhood, and belief in dreams. That’s a lot of stuff packed into one movie!!

 

 

 

Home Alone

Quotes

I hope that I never see any of you jerks again! – Kevin McCallister

I wouldn’t let you sleep in my room if you were growing on my ass. – Buzz McCallister

All kids. No parents. Probably a fancy orphanage. – Wet Bandit Harry

You can be too old for a lot of things, but you’re never too old to be afraid. – Old Man Marley

This house is so full of people it makes me sick. When I grow up and get married, I’m living alone. – Kevin McCallister

I did leave one at a funeral parlor once. It was awful. The wife was distraught and we left the little tyke there in the funeral parlor all day. All day. You know, we went back at night and apparently he had been alone all day with the corpse. He was okay though. After two…three…weeks he came around and started talking again – Gus Polinski

He’s a kid. Kids are stupid. – Wet Bandit Marv

 

Factoids

The picture Kevin finds of Buzz’s girlfriend was a picture of a boy made up to look like a girl because Director Chris Columbus thought it would be too cruel to make fun of a girl like that. The boy that was used in the photo was the Art Director’s son.

During rehearsal for the scene where Harry attempts to bite off Kevin’s finger, Joe Pesci actually bit Macaulay Culkin, leaving a small scar.

Chris Columbus had originally been hired by John Hughes to direct National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but after meeting with Chevy Chase it became clear to Columbus that the two of them would not get along so he asked Hughes if there were any other projects he could work on instead. Home Alone was one of the options presented to him.

The concept for Home Alone originated during filming of a scene in Uncle Buck in which Macaulay Culkin plays a character who interrogates a would-be sitter through the letter opening in the front door.

Robert De Niro turned down the role of Harry.

There is an urban legend that Elvis Presley makes a cameo in Home Alone. Many of those who believe that Elvis is still alive maintain that the heavily bearded man standing in the background of the scene where Mrs. McCallister is shouting at the desk clerk is Elvis.

Angels With Filthy Souls, the movie that Kevin watches on video tape is not a real film. It is a play on an actual 1938 movie called Angels with Dirty Faces starring James Cagney.

 

vs.

 

The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

 

Quotes

Don’t mess with me, Santa. I’m pre-El Nino. – Mother Nature

Seeing isn’t believing…believing is seeing, – Charlie Calvin

Santa was always there for you. And I will be, as long as you continue to believe in me. I know I’m asking you to leave everything at home, but I can guarantee you that this is worth it. This place is all about magic and love and wonder. And occasionally a thin-crust pizza and a movie and a long winter night. – Scott Calvin

 

Factoids

Carol Newman is very similar to Jessica from Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town. Like Jessica, she works at a school, is given a doll by Santa, and even shares the same hairstyle and blue eyes.

Lucy was played by Liliana Mumy, the daughter of Bill Mumy from the 1960s TV show Lost In Space.

Peter Boyle portrays Father Time in this film and previously played Scott Calvin’s boss in the original Santa Clause.

 

The Verdict:       Home Alone. Both of these movies are part of trilogies (kind of). The difference is that Home Alone is an original, while The Mrs. Clause is a sequel, which is not only rare with Christmas movies but, as we all know, doesn’t usually work out in general. I like The Mrs. Clause…seemingly more than many others. I hate the misguided politically correctness that apparently dissuades television from airing it with the other two Santa Clause movies. However, it probably did get made a few years too late, and really…the competition is just so formidable. It has been said that the plot of Home Alone doesn’t really have much to do with Christmas, and that case may have justification, but I am thankful that it’s been a holiday tradition for nearly three decades. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without it.

 

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Quotes

Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did not. The Grinch hated Christmas…the whole Christmas season. Don’t ask why…no one quite knows the reason. – Narrator

He puzzled & puzzed till his puzzler was sore, then The Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. “Maybe Christmas”, he thought, “doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” – Narrator

 

Factoids

Chuck Jones, a lifelong lover of Rudyard Kipling, was inspired to cast Boris Karloff as The Grinch after hearing a recording of Karloff reading Kipling’s Jungle Book stories. Dr. Seuss was unsure about casting Boris Karloff for fear that he would make The Grinch too scary.

Thurl Ravenscroft received no screen credit for his singing, an oversight Dr. Seuss attempted to rectify by sending letters to every major columnist in America identifying Ravenscroft as the singer on You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.

 

vs.

 

Scrooged

Quotes

I’m not crazy. It’s Christmas Eve! It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, smile a little easier, cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be! It’s a miracle because it happens every Christmas Eve. And if you waste that miracle, you’re gonna burn for it. I know what I’m talking about. You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You do have to get involved. There are people that are having trouble making their miracle happen. There are people that don’t have enough to eat, and there are people that are cold. You can go out and say ‘hello’ to these people. You can take an old blanket out of the closet and say, ‘here.’ You can make them a sandwich, and say ‘Oh, by the way, here!’ I get it now! And if you give then it can happen…the miracle can happen to you. It’s not just the poor and the hungry, it’s everybody that’s gotta have this miracle! And it can happen tonight for all of you! If you believe in this pure thing the miracle will happen and then you’ll want it to happen again tomorrow! You won’t be one of these bastards who says, ‘Christmas is once a year and it’s a fraud.’ It’s not! It can happen every day! You’ve just got to want that feeling! And if you like it and you want it, you’ll get greedy for it. You’ll want it every day of your life, and it can happen to you! I believe in it now. I believe it’s gonna happen to me now. I’m ready for it! And it’s great. It’s a good feeling, better than I’ve felt in a long time. I’m ready. Have a Merry Christmas everybody. – Frank Cross

 

Factoids

All of Bill Murray’s brothers…John, Joel, & Brian Doyle-Murray…make appearances.

The leader of the street musicians insulted by Bill Murray is Paul Shaffer. The others are Miles Davis, David Sanborn and Larry Carlton.

The Ghost of Christmas Past’s cab belongs to the Belle Cab Company. Belle is the name of Scrooge’s first love in the Charles Dickens novella.

Preston tells Frank that in America there are 27 million cats & 48 million dogs and says that IBC needs to start gearing programming towards them. 25 years later there are several dog and cat specific channels on Roku that supply dedicated pet programming based on scientific studies of what interests them.

This was Bill Murray’s first starring role since Ghostbusters. He had been living in Paris and had seriously considered giving up acting altogether.

Movie critic Roger Ebert called Scrooged the worst film adaptation of A Christmas Carol he had ever seen.

 

The Verdict:       The Grinch. It’s pretty simple for me. I didn’t catch on to Scrooged until many years after it was released in 1988. It’s really only become a traditional part of my holiday viewing in the past few years. I was late to the party and that’s my fault. Conversely, like millions of others I’ve been watching The Grinch my entire life. The “true reason for the season” is sadly missing from most Christmas movies, but I decided long ago that I could deal with that because I know who I am and what I believe…I don’t need validation from Hollywood. Therefore, when the more spiritual elements of Christmas are actually alluded to in a film it stands out. The Grinch doesn’t address the topic directly, but it’s there if you pay attention and I appreciate that.

 

 

 

The Ref

Quotes

“How can we both be in the marriage and I’m miserable and you’re content?”…”Luck?” – Caroline & Lloyd Chasseur

You and my wife have a lot in common. You both think you have some right to life working out the way you want it to, and when it doesn’t, you get to act the way you want. The only trouble with that is someone has to be responsible. I’d love to run around and take classes and play with my inner-self! I’d love the freedom to be some pissed-off criminal with no responsibilities, except I don’t have the time! But you don’t see me with a gun. And you don’t see me sleeping with someone else. You think my life turned out the way I wanted because I live in this house? You think every morning I wake up, look in the mirror and say ‘Gee, I’m glad I’m me and not some 19-year-old billionaire rockstar with the body of an athlete and a 24-hour erection! No I don’t! – Lloyd Chasseur

You know what I’m going to get you for Christmas, Mom? A big wooden cross, so that every time you feel unappreciated for your sacrifices you can climb on up and nail yourself to it. – Lloyd Chasseur

What is the matter with you? I thought Mothers were sweet and nice a-a-and Patient. I know loan sharks who are more forgiving than you. Your husband ain’t dead, lady. He’s hiding. – Gus

 

Factoids

Gus only fires his gun once in the entire film, at the smoke detector to stop it from beeping.

The original ending had Gus being caught by the cops to show the son that a life of crime leads nowhere. However, after screening the movie to a test audience and receiving negative comments about the ending, director Ted Demme changed it. He now admits he regrets changing it.

 

vs.

 

A Christmas Carol (1938)

Quotes

I like Christmas! I LOVE Christmas! – Ebenezer Scrooge

It’s me! Your Uncle Scrooge! Smile makes a difference, doesn’t it? – Ebenezer Scrooge

 

Factoids

Lionel Barrymore was originally set to play Scrooge, but had to back out due to illness.

Although Marley’s Ghost did appear, the phantoms wailing outside Scrooge’s window were not shown. Scrooge’s fiancée, who eventually leaves him because of his miserly ways, was completely dropped from the film, as were the two starving children “Want” and “Ignorance”, who hid within the folds of the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robe. Also gone were the thieves who ransack Scrooge’s belongings after he “dies” in the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come segment.

The film was shown on local television stations in the United States throughout the 1960s & 70s, and was a staple of Chicago’s WGN. It ran in syndication throughout the United States from the 1960s thru 1990s on local stations.

 

The Verdict:       The Ref. This might be the toughest decision yet. I am tempted to declare another tie, but won’t do that again. What it boils down to for me is distinctiveness. I love almost every adaptation of A Christmas Carol and they all bring something special to the table. This version is a jovial, family friendly movie, with many of the ghoulish parts of Dickens’ story skipped over altogether. On one hand I’m not a fan of such alterations, but on the other hand there are so many Carol movies that I am more than happy to make room on the spectrum for such a whimsical interpretation. It really does exude Christmas spirit. The Ref is definitely not as…merry…but it is hilarious in a more contemporary way. It holds a special place in my heart for reasons I have written about before, and I just cannot push that aside. It doesn’t get nearly enough play on television, but with streaming it is readily available, which makes me very happy.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Eggnog (Round 2)

Following up just a bit on the Christmas Movie Marathon I wrote about a few years ago, I must admit that such an idea doesn’t appeal to me as much now as it did back then. First of all, I work on the weekends these days, so I’d have to do my marathon during the week. That wouldn’t be a big deal I suppose, but there are other issues. I’ve felt for awhile now that my attention span has gotten shorter as I’ve gotten older. I’m just not sure that I could watch more than two movies back to back. A couple of years ago I did attend a special showing of the Back to the Future trilogy at the local movie theater, but that was a once in a lifetime event. Even in the comfort of my own home I think I’d need to do something else after a few hours. I’d probably be into a weeklong marathon where we’d watch a couple of movies each evening. That feels like it’d be more my speed nowadays. At any rate, if you need to catch up on second round action in the North Pole Division please take a few moments to do so. The rest of us are moving on to second round competition in the Eggnog Division. Enjoy!!

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story

Quotes

Life is like that. Sometimes, at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us. – Narrator

I triple dog-dare ya! – Schwartz

Some men are Baptists, others Catholics. My father was an Oldsmobile man. – Narrator

“Fra-GEE-leh!” It must be Italian! – The Old Man

I want an official Red Ryder carbine action 200-shot-range model air rifle! – Ralphie Parker

We plunged into the cornucopia quivering with desire and the ecstasy of unbridled avarice. – Narrator

 

Factoids

Jack Nicholson was given the script and was very much interested in the role of Mr. Parker, “The Old Man”. However, Clark didn’t learn of this until later and the studio didn’t want to pay Nicholson’s fee, which would have doubled the budget.

The model rifle as described by Ralphie in the film is a mistake. The weapon did not have a compass or “this thing which tells time” (As Ralphie refers to the sundial). Those features were a part of another BB gun model made around the same time. No one realized this mistake until it came time to produce the gun for the film and they were informed by the Daisy Rifle Company of the error. So the gun in the film is actually a custom made hybrid.

An elaborate fantasy sequence in which Ralphie joins Flash Gordon to fight Ming the Merciless was filmed but cut from the film.

Mrs. Parker’s memory is correct. The Lone Ranger’s nephew, Dan Reid, rode a horse named Victor. He was the son of the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver.

When Scut Farkas first appears the Wolf music from Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf plays in the background. The name Farkas is derived from the Hungarian word for wolf.

 

vs.

 

Serendipity

Quotes

You know the Greeks didn’t write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: “Did he have passion?”. – Dean

If we’re meant to meet again, we’ll meet again. It’s just not the right time now. – Sara

I just meant I had a really nice time. You know, maybe you should give me your phone number. Just in case. – Jonathan

 

Factoids

A gap of 12-15 years was originally intended for the time between the main characters’ first meeting & eventual reunion, and the characters were initially written to be in their early 20’s. Audiences felt that both Kate Beckinsale and John Cusack were not ‘fresh faced’ enough to pull off early twenties and that the time line had been too poorly established to tell that the characters met in the late 1980s. Eventually the film was edited and establishes a seven year gap between the initial meeting of the characters and their reunion.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Story. I threw Serendipity a bone in the first round, with good reason. However, at its heart it is simply a charming rom-com. There’s not a thing wrong with that, but it doesn’t come close to measuring up to the competition.

 

 

 

White Christmas

Quotes

“When what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting, whatever it is you’ve got left.”…” When I figure out what that means I’ll come up with a crushing reply.” – Phil Davis & Bob Wallace

If there was one thing I learned in the army it was to be positive, especially when you don’t know what you’re talking about.  – General Tom Waverly

You shouldn’t mix fairy tales with liverwurst and buttermilk. – Betty Haynes

“How can a guy that ugly have the nerve to have sisters?”…”Very brave parents, I guess.” – Phil Davis & Bob Wallace

“We wouldn’t be any good as generals.”…”You weren’t any good as privates.” – Phil Davis & General Tom Waverly

 

Factoids

Ed Harrison was played by Johnny Grant, who did not have a long acting career but was the honorary Mayor of Hollywood, CA who officiated over unveilings of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame from the early 1960s until his death in 2008.

White Christmas was intended to reunite Crosby and Fred Astaire for their third Irving Berlin musical. Crosby and Astaire had previously co-starred in Holiday Inn & Blue Skies. Astaire declined the project and Donald O’Connor was signed to replace him. Just before shooting was to begin O’Connor had to drop out due to illness and was replaced by Danny Kaye.

Percy Helton, who plays the railroad conductor, also appears in another holiday movie, playing the drunk Santa Claus at the beginning of Miracle on 34th Street.

 

vs.

 

A Christmas Carol (1999)

Quotes

Can you forgive a stupid old man who doesn’t want to be left out in the cold anymore? – Ebenezer Scrooge

Oh God, to hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing there is too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust! – The Ghost of Christmas Present

He’ll be about as merry as a graveyard on a wet Sunday. – Mrs. Cratchit

 

Factoids

This production includes the scenes of the lighthouse, coal miners, and sailors on a ship at sea in which the Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge different groups of people celebrating Christmas singing Silent Night in particular sections of the United Kingdom after departing from Bob Cratchit’s house. Almost every other film adaptation omits them.

During the 1990s, Sir Patrick Stewart wrote and starred in a one-man play based on A Christmas Carol, performing it in various places in the United States and the United Kingdom. In the play, he performed over forty different characters.

The word “humbug” describes deceitful efforts to fool people by pretending to a fake loftiness or false sincerity. So when Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, he is claiming that people only pretend to charity and kindness in a scoundrel effort to delude him, each other, and themselves. In Scrooge’s eyes, he is the one man honest enough to admit that no one really cares about anyone else, so for him, every wish for a Merry Christmas is one more deceitful effort to fool him and take advantage of him.

This is one of the very few adaptations to include a short scene when Scrooge is with the Spirit of Christmas Future: Bob Cratchit visiting Tiny Tim’s body lying in repose in an upper bedroom. In the book, this takes up only one paragraph.

 

The Verdict:       White Christmas. While Holiday Inn introduced the song it was this retooled rehash that really established its place in pop culture. And rather than spanning an entire year of holidays it is set solely around Christmas. I love Patrick Stewart, and his version of Carol is dandy…but the competition is just too good.

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Quotes

I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way what I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents, and sending Christmas cards, and decorating the trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed. – Charlie Brown

You need involvement. You need to get involved in some real Christmas project. – Lucy Van Pelt

All I want is what I have coming to me. All I want is my fair share. – Sally Brown

Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know that can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem. Maybe Lucy’s right. Of all the Charlie Browns in the world, you’re the Charlie Browniest. – Linus Van Pelt

 

Factoids

Kathy Steinberg, who did the voice of Sally Brown, had not yet learned to read at the time of production, so she had to be fed her lines, often a word or syllable at a time, which explains the rather choppy delivery.

Bill Melendez tried to talk Charles Schulz out of using Biblical references. Schulz reportedly won him over by saying, “If we don’t do it, who will?” As it turned out, Linus’ recitation was hailed as one of the most powerful moments in the highly acclaimed show.

The program is the second longest-running Christmas special on U.S. network television (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer premiered one year earlier).

Producer Lee Mendelson wrote the lyrics for Vince Guaraldi’s Christmas Time is Here music, and his son Glenn & his 6th grade class classmates sang the vocals.

When they first saw the show CBS executives were horrified at the idea of an animated Christmas special with such a blatant message, strongly objected to the fact that the show had no canned laughter, and greeted Vince Guaraldi’s jazz score as an intrusion that audiences would never accept. However, upon learning about the spectacular ratings the show earned on its initial broadcast and the glowing reviews the network promptly contracted the producers for more specials.

During his famed speech, Linus, who is well known to be dependent on his security blanket, actually lets go of it when he recites the words “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10).

 

vs.

  

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Quotes

Poor, misguided folks. They miss the whole point. Lot’s 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. – SD Kluger

Toys are hereby declared illegal, immoral, unlawful, AND anyone found with a toy in his (or her) possession will be placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon. No kidding! – Burgermeister Meisterburger

Stop, in the name of the law! You brats are under arrest! – Burgermeister Meisterburger

 

Factoids

There were fewer commercials on network television when this special was made. When shown on Freeform the special is edited in order to accommodate more commercials. The songs If You Sit on My Lap Today and My World is Beginning Today are cut, as well as a scene deemed “traumatizing” for younger viewers when Burgermeister Meisterburger burns all of the toys belonging to the children of Sombertown.

A burgermeister is chairman of the executive council in many towns & cities in Germany.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. Amongst the plethora of Rankin-Bass Christmas specials Town tends to be undeservedly overlooked. When I was a kid it was shown on network television (ABC I believe), but for the past couple of decades it’s been relegated to ABC Family/Freeform. It has been edited over the years as well, which is a no-no in my book. Thank God for streaming. Conversely, A Charlie Brown Christmas still airs annually on ABC. Sometimes it is even shown twice, which is awesome. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it feels like the stature of this particular special has actually grown over the years, which is rare.

 

 

 

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Quotes

“More gravy than of grave?”…”What a terrible pun. Where do you get those jokes?”…”Leave comedy to the bears, Ebenezer.” – Robert & Jacob Marley

It’s all right, children. Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it. I am sure that we shall never forget Tiny Tim, or this first parting that there was among us. – Bob Cratchit

Christmas is a very busy time for us, Mr. Cratchit. People preparing feasts, giving parties, spending the mortgage money on frivolities. One might say that December is the foreclosure season. Harvest time for the money-lenders. – Ebenezer Scrooge

 

Factoids

Before production began, Sir Michael Caine told Brian Henson, “I’m going to play this movie like I’m working with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I will never wink, I will never do anything Muppety. I am going to play Scrooge as if it is an utterly dramatic role, and there are no puppets around me.” Henson replied “Yes, bang on!”.

Jacob and Robert Marley surrounded by wailing cash boxes is a nod to Bob Marley & The Wailers.

Fan, Scrooge’ s late sister, does not appear in this film. Instead she is replaced by Scrooge’ s old headmaster played by Sam the Eagle.

 

vs.

 

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Quotes

Kevin is so much stronger and braver than I am. And I know Kevin’s fine. I’m sure he is. But he’s still all by himself in a big city, and he doesn’t deserve that. He deserves to be at home, with his family, around his Christmas tree. – Kate McCallister

“What kind of idiots do you have working here?”…”The finest in New York.” – Kevin McCallister & Desk Clerk

If I had my own money, I’d go on my own vacation. Alone. Without any of you guys. And I’d have the most fun in my whole life. – Kevin McCallister

Your heart might still be broken, but it isn’t gone. If it was gone, you wouldn’t be so nice. – Kevin McCallister

“What store is going to make the most cash on Christmas Eve that nobody’s gonna think to rob?”…”Candy stores!”…”Nine year-olds rob candy stores, Marv.” – The Sticky Bandits

It’s Christmas Eve. Good deeds count extra tonight. Think of an important thing you can do for others, and go do it. Just follow the star in your heart. – Bird Lady

I’m 10 years old. TV is my life. – Kevin McCallister

 

Factoids

Entertainment Weekly had a doctor analyze what the actual effects of the injuries to Harry and Marv would be. Bricks to the face would have caused “at best, brain damage, at worst, death.”

Brat Pack alumnus Ally Sheedy has a cameo as an airport ticket agent.

The carpet was removed from The Plaza lobby for one scene so that Macaulay Culkin could slip and slide on the floor. Plaza owner Donald Trump liked it so much, he never had it refitted.

In the scene where Kevin visits various landmarks in New York City, the part where he visits the World Trade Center was removed from television broadcasts after 2001, out of respect for the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Kevin’s room service bill indicates that he ordered two chocolate cakes, six chocolate mousses with chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry ice cream topped with M&Ms, chocolate sprinkles, cherries, nuts, marshmallows, caramel syrup, chocolate syrup, strawberry syrup, whipped cream, and bananas, six custard flans, a pastry cart, eight strawberry tarts, and thirty-six chocolate-covered strawberries.

 

The Verdict:       The Muppets. I am tempted to point out the distinctiveness of The Muppets, while Lost in New York is a sequel that essentially tells the same story as the first Home Alone, just in a different setting. But to be fair, The Muppet Christmas Carol is another adaptation of a story that’s been told numerous times. So the question that must be asked is what does each movie bring to the table that its predecessor(s) do not?? In the case of Lost in New York the answer is…not much. I don’t mean that to sound harsh because it’s still an entertaining film, but it really does follow almost the same exact template as the original only in a different location. The Muppet Christmas Carol successfully pulls off the difficult trick of remaining more faithful to the source material than one might expect while still being fresh & imaginative.

Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 2)

A few years ago I wrote about an idea for a Christmas movie marathon and as we jump into Round 2 of Merry Movie Mayhem I thought it might be fun to revisit the idea. Since that piece was published I purchased a Roku streaming stick for my television, though I haven’t made the leap of cutting the cord from cable quite yet so I have both. Anyway, there are a few movie streaming services available (Vudu, Netflix, FandangoNow, Amazon Prime), and with a little research I discovered that one could purchase just about the entire Christmas movie marathon for about $350. At first glance that sounds awfully expensive, but when you break it down it’s actually not too bad. At $4/rental you’d have to rent about 87 movies. Considering there are about two dozen movies & TV specials involved that would mean renting each of them less than four times to get to $350. Since most are films we all watch atleast once annually that means if you purchase instead of rent the expense would be “paid off” within a minimum of four years. When one realizes that we watch many of them atleast 2 or 3 times every December the idea of purchasing really begins to make sense. And while it is true that TV channels like Freeform, AMC, TCM, USA, & others air a fair amount of holiday favorites (often multiple times), one still has to deal with commercials & edits to the films. I am not suggesting that you spend such a sizeable chunk of change in one fell swoop, but it is an idea to consider doing a little at a time as your budget allows. Think of it as a long term Christmas investment. Okay, so while you ponder that idea let’s move on to second round action in the North Pole Division.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life   

Quotes

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence Oddbody, AS2

“I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!!” – George Bailey

“You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.” – Henry F. Potter

 

Factoids

As Uncle Billy drunkenly leaves the Bailey home, it sounds as if he stumbles into some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped a large tray of props right after Thomas Mitchell went off-screen. James Stewart began laughing, and Mitchell quickly improvised “I’m alright, I’m okay!” Frank Capra decided to use this take in the final cut, and gave the stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”

Despite being set around Christmas, IAWL was filmed during a heat wave.

The name Zuzu comes from Zu Zu Ginger Snaps, cookies produced from 1901 until the early 1980s by National Biscuit Company, aka Nabisco.

Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie share their names with the IAWL‘s cop & cab driver, but it’s believed to be just a coincidence.

Carl Switzer, better known as Alfalfa from The Little Rascals, appears in IAWL as Freddie, the guy that becomes so annoyed about Mary ignoring him at the dance in favor of George Bailey that he opens up the swimming pool beneath the dance floor.

At one point in the film Mr. Potter’s housing project in Bedford Falls is referred to as Potter’s Field. The term Potter’s Field is often used to refer to municipal cemeteries where paupers & unidentified bodies are interred.

 

vs.

 

The Lemon Drop Kid

Quotes

“You’ve still got your hourglass figure, dear, but most of the sand has settled to the bottom.” – Old Woman

 

Factoids

The movie was filmed in 1950 but not released in theaters until March 1951. When a recording of Silver Bells by Bing Crosby became a hit in December 1950 the studio called actors & crew back to re-shoot a more elaborate musical version of the song for the film’s release.

The song Silver Bells was originally called Tinkle Bells until someone pointed out that tinkle was also slang for urinate.

 

The Verdict:       IAWL. I always liked Bob Hope, and The Lemon Drop Kid really should be shown somewhere on television during the Christmas season (make it happen AMC & TCM). However, IAWL is in a league of its own. I think some of the backlash from the days when it was on TV ad nauseum every December has softened just a bit, and folks are starting to rediscover how fantastic a movie it really is.

 

 

 

The Polar Express

Quotes

At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell. But as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found, one Christmas, that she could no longer hear it’s sweet sound. Though I have grown old, the bell still rings for me. As it does for all who truly believe. – Hero Boy

Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see. – The Conductor

There’s no greater gift than friendship. – Santa Claus

One thing about trains: It doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on. – The Conductor

 

Factoids

The Polar Express is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the first all-digital capture film.

When the Hero Boy first meets the Hobo on the roof of the train he is playing the carol Good King Wenceslas. The story of Saint Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia is that of a king braving the harsh winter to bring alms to the poor on the Feast of Stephen on December 26th. His page finds he can’t go on through the harsh conditions and is directed to walk in the footprints that the king has made in the snow. The Hobo directs Hero Boy to follow behind him and ultimately helps him reach the engine before they make it to the tunnel, thus allowing him to find and help his friend. The Hobo can be viewed as a representation of the Holy Spirit that he guides those who believe in Him to safety even in perilous times.

Lonely Boy is played by Peter Scolari, who starred alongside Tom Hanks in the 1980’s sitcom Bosom Buddies.

The movie is based on the 1985 childrens’ book The Polar Express by Chris Van Alsburg, who also wrote Jumanji in 1981.

The close shots of Hero Girl’s train ticket floating in the air are a nod to the feather doing the same in Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 film Forrest Gump, which starred Tom Hanks.

The Ebenezer Scrooge marionette that frightens Hero Boy was used as the basis for the physical appearance of Scrooge in Robert Zemeckis’s 2009 film A Christmas Carol.

 

vs.

 

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Quotes

 

Perhaps, in the future, you will hold your tongue until you have discovered where the surplus population is, and who it is. It may well be that, in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man’s child. – The Ghost of Christmas Present

Good Spirit, your nature intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I may yet change these shadows, by an altered life. I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The spirits of all Three shall strive within me! I will not shut out the lessons that they teach! Tell me that I may sponge the writing from this stone! – Ebenezer Scrooge

It’s time you made your way in the world. I’ve arrange an apprenticeship for you. You’ll move into Mr. Fezziwig’s establishment in three days’ time. – Silas Scrooge

Make sure that a check for the entire amount is deposited with my clerk. I don’t ship until I have the cash in hand. – Ebenezer Scrooge

Tact is a quality I despise. – Ebenezer Scrooge

“Almost” carries no weight. Especially in matters of the heart. – The Ghost of Christmas Past

Spirit, what perversity is this? I’ve asked to see some emotion connected with that man’s death… and you’ve shown me only greed, malice, and apathy! Let me see some tenderness, some… depth of feeling! – Ebenezer Scrooge

 

Factoids

Scrooge’s nephew Fred, whose full name was never given in the book, is surnamed Hollywell. Also, his wife, whose name was never mentioned in the book, is named Janet.

Scrooge stops at the Royal Stock Exchange on his way home from work, which not only gives us a look at how ruthless he is in dealing with his colleagues but also it is where he encounters the charity collectors rather than at his office.

This is the first film version to actually show Scrooge’s father (here named Silas Scrooge), a character referred to in the book but never seen.

Scott’s Scrooge differs from most portrayals in that not only is he stocky rather than scrawny, he is portrayed as a ruthless businessman rather than an archetypal miser.

A subplot is added to explain what it was that caused Ebenezer to dedicate his life to the accumulation of money, putting the kindly youth on a path to hard-heartedness. During the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Past, it is shown that young Scrooge believed his lack of a fortune made him unworthy of Belle’s attention and that to deserve her he must be able to finance their future together.

 

The Verdict:       The Polar Express. This is a tough one. George C. Scott’s version of Scrooge was released theatrically in Britain and aired on CBS here in America. After that it was only shown by local channels here, and not released on home video for several years due to ownership issues thru Scott’s estate. It wasn’t shown on national television in The States until American Movie Classics began airing it in 2007, over two decades after it was produced, and I still feel like it flies a bit under the pop culture radar. Conversely, The Polar Express was the tenth highest grossing film of 2004, which is impressive, and almost immediately became a holiday TV staple. I adore motion capture, and though the technology has noticeably improved in the past decade this is the film that got the ball rolling.

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles              

Quotes

I won’t quote it here, but the exchange between Neal Page and a car rental clerk is CLASSIC.

Those aren’t pillows! – Neal Page

You’re going the wrong way! You’re going to kill somebody!  – couple on the highway

Too long to quote here is a motel room conversation between an exasperated Neal Page and an obviously sad Del Griffith that is at the heart of the entire movie.

Our speedometer has melted and as a result it’s very hard to see with any degree of accuracy exactly how fast we were going. However, the radio still works. – Del Griffith

 

Factoids

No transportation company wanted to appear inept or deficient in any way, so crews had to rent twenty miles of train track and refurbish old railroad cars, construct a set that looked like an airline terminal, design a rent-a-car company logo and uniforms, and rent two hundred fifty cars for the rental car scene.

John Hughes was inspired to write the story after an actual flight he was on from New York to Chicago was diverted to Wichita, KS, thus taking him five days to get home.

The Marathon Car Rental scene is exactly one minute long from the time Steve Martin starts his tirade to the time the attendant ends the scene. In that sixty seconds The F Word is used eighteen times.

 

vs.

 

The Santa Clause

Quotes

The Santa Clause: In putting on the suit and entering the sleigh, the wearer waives any and all rights to any previous identity, real or implied, and fully accepts the duties and responsibilities of Santa Claus in perpetuity until such time that wearer becomes unable to do so by either accident or design. – Bernard the Elf

Everybody likes Denny’s…it’s an American institution. – Scott Calvin

Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. – Charlie Calvin

I think if we’re going to destroy our son’s delusions I should be a part of it. – Scott Calvin

 

Factoids

In the original film Tim Allen made a sarcastic remark which included the line “1-800-SPANK-ME.” A woman from Cleveland, OH called the supposedly-fictional number for her curious grandchildren and it turned out to be a phone sex line. In 1997, when Disney received complaints from parents whose children called the number and racked up huge phone bills, the studio take action and cut the line for future releases.

The role of Scott Calvin/Santa Claus was written with Bill Murray in mind. After reading the script and being offered the lead role, Murray declined, saying he didn’t think it suited his humor.

Television airings of this film usually edit a scene in which a doctor tells Scott to pull his shirt up for a heartbeat check and his heart beats to the tune of Jingle Bells.

 

The Verdict:       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. A couple of things must be considered. Obviously films about Santa Claus are a huge part of the whole Christmas movie thing, but that lack of distinctiveness can be a deficiency in a competition like this. The Santa Clause is a delightful origin story that gives one warm fuzzies, but I’m not sure how much it stands out from the crowd, especially since it’s the first of a trilogy. Conversely, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles has become a Thanksgiving tradition on par with turkey & pumpkin pie.

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Quotes

As any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic to the very first snow. Especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow…well, something wonderful is bound to happen. – Narrator

Happy birthday! I am alive! What a neat thing to happen to a nice guy like me  – Frosty the Snowman

I must get that hat back! – Professor Hinkle

You’ve got to excuse him Sir. You see, he just came to life and he doesn’t know much about such things. – Karen

Frosty’s not gone for good. You see, he was made out of Christmas snow, and Christmas snow can never disappear completely. Oh, it sometimes it goes away for almost a year at a time, and takes the form of spring and summer rain. But you can bet your boots that when a good, jolly December wind kisses it, it will turn into Christmas snow all over again. – Santa Claus

 

Factoids

Rankin-Bass wanted to give the show the look of a Christmas card, so a greeting card & Mad magazine artist was hired to do the character and background drawings.

Jackie Vernon, the voice of Frosty, was a stand-up comedian known as The King of Deadpan.

 

 

 

vs.

 

Holiday Inn

Quotes

“What happened to her millionaire?”…”Slight mistake there. He didn’t own millions, he owed them.”…”Poor girl. Always straying to greener pastures and finding spinach.” – Jim Hardy & Ted Hanover

He always has that look! It doesn’t mean anything emotionally. It has something to do with his liver.” – Ted Hanover

When a fellow is surprised to hear about his own wedding, brother that’s when I go to work with a clear conscience.” – Ted Hanover

 

Factoids

For the “drunk” dance Fred Astaire had two drinks of bourbon before the first take and one before each succeeding take. The seventh & last take was used in the film.

The animated Thanksgiving sequence, in which a turkey jumps back and forth on the calendar between the third and fourth Thursday in November, is a topical reference to the “Franksgiving” controversy. In 1939 and 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’ attempted to change Thanksgiving to the third Thursday in November, instead of the fourth, in an effort to bolster holiday retail sales by starting the Christmas season one week early. This led to a joint resolution in Congress, which Roosevelt signed into law in 1941, officially designating the fourth Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day.

The firecracker dance sequence was added to the movie as a patriotic number, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which took place during filming.

 

The Verdict:       Frosty. Wow, this is a really difficult decision. At the end of the day, though credit must be given to Holiday Inn for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, I cannot overlook the fact that several holidays…Independence Day, Lincoln’s Birthday, Easter, etc…are celebrated in the film. That’s not necessarily a bad thing (Fred Astaire’s Fourth of July performance is incredible), but it dilutes the movie’s claim to being about Christmas (or even Thanksgiving), even though that is when it is traditionally aired on TV. Meanwhile, Frosty has been a beloved annual tradition every December for a half century.

Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 1)

Today we finish the first round of Merry Movie Mayhem. If you need to go back and catch up on the results thus far just click on the links to see what went down in the Candy Cane, Eggnog, & Mistletoe Divisions. I’m pleased with the pace we’ve set so I think we’ll take a break for a few days before moving on to Round 2. If you didn’t see your favorite holiday film in the competition don’t hesitate to leave me a comment asking “What up with that, dawg??”…or something to that effect. There is probably a perfectly reasonable explanation for its exclusion. Or maybe I just completely overlooked it. Who knows??

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life                             

Released                                           12/20/46

Starring                                              James Stewart, Donna Reed                                

Director                                              Frank Capra (It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington)

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

I feel like I’ve written just about everything there is to say about IAWL in the years since the inception of The Manofesto, but allow me to offer a brief refresher. The story was conceived by a Pennsylvania Civil War historian named Philip Van Doren Stern. The Greatest Gift was not accepted for publication for whatever reason, so Stern simply included it in his annual Christmas card mailings. Someone on his Christmas card list must have liked the short story, because it was subsequently published in 1944. A film producer saw the story and it eventually ended up in the hands of director Frank Capra. IAWL was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, & Best Director. A clerical error prevented the copyright from being renewed in 1974, so due to it being in the public domain the movie became a popular late night staple during the holidays on local TV stations throughout the 70’s & 80’s until 1993 when the copyright was restored to Republic Pictures, who then licensed it to NBC in 1996. For the past two decades NBC had shown it only a couple of times every December (early in the month & again on Christmas Eve), but starting in 2016 USA Network (which is owned by NBC/Universal) added a few additional airings. Of course with streaming & other home video options none of that really matters anymore.

 

vs.

 

Love Actually

Released                                           11/14/03

Starring                                              Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth. Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley

Director                                              Richard Curtis (Four Weddings & a Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary)

Rotten Tomatoes                              63%

Personally I am more unconvinced of Love Actually’s claim to being a Christmas film than I am Die Hard, but I’m feeling generous. This is one of those movies…like New Year’s Eve, He’s Just Not That Into You, & Valentine’s Day…with a huge, very British, very talented ensemble cast involved in multiple stories that all seem to intersect by the end. There are those who love Love Actually, and maybe they are right. Perhaps I’m missing something or just being obtuse.

 

The Verdict:       It’s A Wonderful Life. Believe it or not there are people that hate IAWL. Some people say “How can a movie about suicide be a heartwarming Christmas classic??”. Others remember when it used to be on TV a bazillion times every December and still hold a grudge, even though a) that hasn’t been the case for over twenty years, & b) there are other movies these days that are shown just as much as or more than IAWL used to be and those same people love those other movies. I guess folks just like what they like, and I happen to adore IAWL. If it’s not your cup o’ tea we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Love Actually is a perfectly delightful film, but not only is it severely overmatched here, it’s also a movie that I just haven’t watched often at all & can take or leave.

 

 

 

 

The Polar Express                                

Released                                           11/10/04

Starring                                              Tom Hanks                                 

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

Zemeckis is back!! Actually this was his first foray into motion capture technology…and perhaps one of the earliest feature films utilizing it. The story is based on an award winning 1985 children’s book about a group of kids who ride a magical train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Tom Hanks plays a half dozen different characters. I’m totally into motion capture and think it’s cool, but I understand that others find the animation disturbing for whatever reason. I am far beyond the age of believing in Santa Claus, but I’ll be darned if this movie doesn’t make me REALLY want to believe once again.

 

vs.

 

Deck the Halls

Released                                           11/22/06

Starring                                              Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick

Director                                              John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              6%

The Rotten Tomatoes score seems harsh, but I get it. With a title borrowed from the beloved Christmas carol you’d expect this movie to be a bit more uplifting, but it’s not. The story follows two neighbors who end up going to war during the holiday season when one of them decides to put up an elaborate light display that “can be seen from space”. I have to assume that the plot is inspired by those shows you see on The Travel Channel this time of year called Crazy Christmas Lights or something like that, and I think those shows & those types of gaudy displays may have been inspired by National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Personally I prefer elegant & tasteful Christmas lights and can do without the rock music accompaniment, but to each their own. Anyway, in my opinion this movie isn’t as bad as the critics might indicate, if only because of the talented cast.

 

The Verdict:       The Polar Express. I adore this movie. It is the very definition of holiday magic. Wouldn’t we all like to retain that childlike wonder that allowed us to believe in something as enchanting as Santa Claus?? Of course we would. Deck the Halls is better than a rotten 6% rating…but not much better.

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles 

Released                                           11/25/87

Starring                                              John Candy, Steve Martin            

Director                                              John Hughes           (Mr. Mom, Sixteen Candles, Uncle Buck)

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Here we go…back to Thanksgiving. However I think this is probably superior to any other Thanksgiving movie or show. It’s actually a road trip/buddy comedy that happens to be set at Thanksgiving. I’m a huge John Hughes fan. He wrote/produced/directed so many wonderful films. And the pairing of Candy & Martin?? Inspired. Brilliant. Comedy gold. I only wish they would have made more movies together. Thanksgiving is a unique holiday that is difficult to besmirch with commercialism. People don’t want gifts or candy or flowers. It’s not an excuse to party or blow things up. All that most folks want on Thanksgiving is to be at home with loved ones and enjoy a nice meal. This movie captures that desire in such a subtle & funny way that it kind of sneaks up on you.

 

vs.

 

Arthur Christmas

Released                                           11/23/11

Starring                                              James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie

Director                                              Sarah Smith

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

A lot of the movies & shows you’re reading about here have been around for awhile…25 years, 35 years, 50 years, 75 years. This is one of the new kids on the block. It hasn’t had time to really ingratiate itself into our pop culture consciousness. It may or may not ever achieve that goal, but does merit inclusion in this exercise. Arthur is Santa’s youngest son, and he’s kind of the black sheep of the family. The North Pole is depicted as a high tech command center, Santa’s sleigh is the sort of ultramodern vehicle that NASA dreams about, & the annual Christmas Eve flight around the world is an intricate operation that’d make the U.S. military envious. The mantle of Santa Claus is passed from father to son, with the current titleholder, Malcolm, on the verge of retirement and his eldest, Steve, preparing to take the reins soon. But this particular Christmas Eve something goes awry and it’s up to Arthur, inept but resolute, to save the day. Arthur Christmas takes familiar territory and adds a futuristic spin, but instead of being cynical itself it is more of a fun commentary on Christmas cynicism.

 

The Verdict:       Planes, Trains, & Automobiles. I like Arthur Christmas well enough. It’s fresh, creative, & entertaining. But the competition is just too much. It has become almost as much of a Thanksgiving tradition as turkey, football, & the Macy’s Parade.

 

 

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Released                                           12/7/69

Starring                                              Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon          

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              60%

“Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, just one year after his Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer hit #1 on the charts. But it wasn’t until 1969 that CBS first broadcast the animated special based on the song. Nearly a half century later it is still a beloved annual tradition. While the song is a winter carol that has become tangentially associated with Christmas despite the holiday only being mentioned at the very end, saying “he waved goodbye saying ‘don’t you cry…I’ll be back on Christmas Day!’”, the special is set on Christmas Eve and features Santa Claus “resurrecting” Frosty after he’s been locked in a greenhouse by Professor Hinkle and melted.

 

 

vs.

 

The Family Stone

Released                                           12/16/05

Starring                                              Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams, Clare Danes

Director                                              Thomas Bezucha

Rotten Tomatoes                              52%

Dysfunctional family dramedy has become a common theme in holiday films. I really can’t relate because I’ve always gotten along with my family and look forward to visiting with them on holidays. At any rate, there are several subplots in The Family Stone, as everybody seems to have some kind of issue. They scream, they cry, they argue…but familial love wins in the end, as it should. The cast is phenomenal, from the sublime Diane Keaton & elegantly low-key Craig T. Nelson to the wittily charming Luke Wilson & radiant Rachel McAdams. The movie ends on a bit of a downer, which unfortunately impacts one’s lasting impression. The story stays with you for awhile, but not necessarily in a good way.

 

The Verdict:       Frosty. Come on…was there any doubt?? Look, I realize that Christmas can be very sad for many people, and Hollywood feels compelled to address that aspect. I get it…I really do. I will admit that…mostly because of the talented ensemble and nimble writing…The Family Stone has gotten its fair share of repeat views from me. However, at the end of the day I still choose for Christmas to be a joyous occasion despite the harsh realities of life. Maybe someday I’ll be the guy sitting alone in a dive bar on Christmas Eve nursing my whiskey and raging at the jolly masses while wondering why my life has gone so horribly wrong, but thankfully I’m not there yet. Frosty the Snowman is something I grew up with, and for a short time every December I get to bring my inner child out to play, which is awesome.

 

 

 

 

Holiday Inn                           

Released                                           8/4/42

Starring                                              Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire 

Director                                              Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee)

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

Did you know that the Holiday Inn chain of hotels got its name from this movie?? Well you do now!! Bing Crosby stars as a song & dance man who decides to escape the bright lights of New York and open a quaint Connecticut inn that will only be open on holidays. There is singing, dancing, romance, & hijinks, all centered around familiar celebrations on the calendar. Holiday Inn is mostly remembered for introducing the world to the song White Christmas, but there are memorable performances throughout. They don’t make movies like this anymore, which is a shame.

 

vs.

 

All I Want For Christmas

Released                                           11/8/91

Starring                                              Ethan Embry, Kevin Nealon, Thora Birch

Director                                              Robert Lieberman (D3: The Mighty Ducks)

Rotten Tomatoes                              0%

1991 will be forever be remembered by the masses as the year that launched the fabled career of actor Ethan Embry. And while he went on to star in cinematic masterpieces like Vegas Vacation, That Thing You Do, and Can’t Hardly Wait, it is this little holiday gem that might outlast everything else. The basic gist of the story is that two kids whose parents are divorced hatch a scheme on Christmas Eve to get them back together (spoiler alert: it works). For such an overlooked film the cast is actually quite stellar, including Thora Birch (who would go on to more notorious roles in American Beauty and…well…American Beauty is pretty much it), Leslie Nielsen as Santa Claus, SNL funnyman Kevin Nealon, & the legendary Lauren Bacall. All I Want For Christmas was a box office bomb that the critics didn’t like, but found new life for awhile popping up on television, which is where I first discovered it. It’s not a great movie, but it is delightful enough.

 

The Verdict:       Holiday Inn. I am eternally indebted to my friend & brother The Owl for introducing me to this movie back in college. I pride myself on having good taste, and films like this display a level of class generally absent from the vast majority of modern entertainment. Would it even be possible to maintain a business that is open less than a dozen times per year?? I have no idea. But the concept sure does make a terrific foundation for this movie.

 

 

 

 

 

The Santa Clause

Released                                           11/11/94

Starring                                              Tim Allen                  

Director                                              John Pasquin (Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous)

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

There was a brief moment in 1994 when Tim Allen starred in the top rated show on TV (Home Improvement), authored the best-selling book in the country (Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man), & played Santa in the #1 film at the box office. The Santa Clause was the first of a (unplanned…I assume) trilogy, and is indisputably the best of the three movies. It is an origin story suggesting that Santa is a character inhabited by different men at different times. In this case Scott Calvin…a divorced toy executive who has consistently disillusioned his young son…inherits the job when the current Santa falls off his roof and I guess dies…a morbid fact that is mercifully glossed over. Scott & his boy Charlie deliver gifts around the world and spend a night at The North Pole, but the real fun begins the next day when the new Santa thinks it was all a dream…until he slowly begins to morph into The Jolly Old Elf over the next few months. I’m a fan of Santa Claus origin stories, and this is one of the best.

 

vs.

 

Mickey’s Christmas Carol                   

Released                               12/16/83

Starring                                   Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck                 

Director                                   Burny Mattinson (The Great Mouse Detective)

Rotten Tomatoes                            90% (a)

It’s difficult to tell the story of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol in a half hour, yet it’s been tried several times with varying degrees of success. Taken at face value the Mickey Mouse version is perfectly charming. Disney created the character of Scrooge McDuck in 1947 as a homage to Ebenezer Scrooge, and that tribute comes full circle in this show. Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit is perfect casting, and a few other cartoon favorites make an appearance (Jiminy Cricket, Daisy Dick, Goofy, The Three Little Pigs, Chip & Dale, Huey, Dewey, & Louie, Minnie Mouse). Television aficionados may be interested to know that Hal Smith (Otis Campbell from The Andy Griffith Show) and Alan Young (Wilbur from Mister Ed) provide the voices for Goofy/Jacob Marley and Scrooge McDuck / Ebenezer Scrooge, respectively.

 

The Verdict:       The Santa Clause. Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a great introduction to the story for small children, but at a running time of less than 30 minutes it only has time to hit the highlights, which is fine for short attention spans but not all that enticing to adults. There is also an issue with accessibility. I remember it being on TV when I was a kid, but I don’t think it has aired with any kind of regularity for a decade…maybe two. The Santa Clause instantly became a beloved classic twenty years ago. Sure it has some undertones emblematic of somber 90’s cynicism, but that is minimized in favor of Christmas magic. I love Santa origin stories, and though it has a modern spin at the beginning the outcome is decidedly vintage.

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Released                                           12/17/84

Starring                                              George C. Scott       

Director                                              Clive Donner            (The Thief of Baghdad)

Rotten Tomatoes                              74% (a)

I am a traditionalist in most aspects of life, and it has always been my belief that uniquely British characters from British novels should be portrayed by British actors in film adaptations. However, there are exceptions to most rules, and in this case I must admit that Virginia native George C. Scott is a worthy Ebenezer Scrooge. This version of Carol was a made-for-television production that aired on CBS here in America, but it was released in theaters in Britain and certainly has a big screen vibe. Like just about every other adaptation it takes certain liberties with the novel, adding & subtracting little things, but none are deal breakers. If you’re channel surfing and need your Scrooge fix you could definitely do worse.

 

 

vs.

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Released                                           11/18/94

Starring                                              Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins

Director                                              Les Mayfield (Encino Man, Flubber)

Rotten Tomatoes                              61%

There are no sacred cows in Hollywood. If they’ll remake Psycho, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and The Pink Panther then apparently all bets are off. This was clear way back in 1994 when a remake of the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street was released. The thing is…it’s not that bad. Macy’s didn’t want to be involved and Gimbel’s was already out of business, so two fictional department stores fill in, but other than that and a few other modern updates the essence of the story remains. Alas, while the underrated Elizabeth Perkins as the jaded mother is luminous, the film itself lacks the innocent magic of the original, replacing it with subtle 90’s era cynicism.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. I don’t HATE the Miracle remake and I don’t LOVE this version of Carol, but I am used to there being a plethora of A Christmas Carol adaptations and accept that each of them tries to put their own unique spin on the story. This one brings a lot of good stuff to the table. 1994 wasn’t the first time Miracle on 34th Street was remade, but the others were TV movies made in the 50’s & 70’s that are easily ignored. The 1994 movie can’t be ignored and I’m not suggesting it should be, but it just doesn’t measure up.

 

 

 

 

The Lemon Drop Kid

Released                                           3/8/51

Starring                                              Bob Hope

Director                                              Sidney Lanfield (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

Rotten Tomatoes                              73% (a)

My generation remembers Bob Hope as an aging comedian who frequently hosted variety show specials on NBC, including an annual show at Christmastime when he would introduce college football’s All-American Team, and also for regularly heading overseas to entertain American servicemen in places like Korea, Vietnam, & The Middle East. Hope always ended his shows with his signature song Thanks for the Memory, and the Christmas special traditionally featured him singing Silver Bells. But from the 1930’s thru the 60’s he was also a movie star, and Silver Bells became famous in part due to being sung in this film in which Hope plays a fast-talking racetrack hustler known as The Lemon Drop Kid because of his fondness for lemon drop candies. When The Kid inadvertently crosses a well-known gangster in Florida he is given until Christmas Eve to come up with the money he owes or else he’ll face…unpleasant…consequences. The Kid flees to New York, but when his gig as a street corner bell-ringing Santa Claus doesn’t work out he hatches a new scheme to raise donations for a phony old folks’ home. That plan is going alright until another mobster interferes. Hilarity & chaos ensue, but all’s well that ends well in a fun Christmas Eve climax.

 

vs.

 

 

Trading Places

Released                                           6/10/83

Starring                                              Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd

Director                                              John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              86%

I wanted to avoid crossover with this project and 80’s Movie Mania, which necessitated a few difficult decisions. At the end of the day that means Trading Places & Die Hard were saved for this competition, while Lethal Weapon was a part of 80’s Movie Mania. At any rate, Murphy & Aykroyd are both SNL alums who went on to bigtime movie stardom in the 1980’s. Their stars have since faded significantly, although they still pop up now & again (Aykroyd has gracefully transitioned into supporting roles, while Murphy still labors under the delusion that he’s relevant). Hot off the success of 48 Hrs. and just before the box office triumph of Beverly Hills Cop, Murphy took this role as a smartass homeless bum who basically switches lives with an erudite stockbroker at Christmastime as part of a social experiment/wager between two wealthy old geezers. The key is that the two guys are set up and not in on the joke. It is essentially a modern take on Mark Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince & the Pauper, and the two leading men really deliver. It is a smart, funny, well-written movie with an immensely satisfying conclusion.

 

The Verdict:       The Lemon Drop Kid. This is a tough call. It’s a great example of what exactly defines a Christmas movie…or not. Both are set at Christmastime. Neither story is dependent on Christmas as a factor in the plot…they both could be set at any other time of the year with few changes needed. However, I think the Christmas timeline plays a slightly bigger role in The Lemon Drop Kid, and we cannot overlook the fact that the movie introduced the world to what has become a very popular Christmas carol. There is an accessibility issue. The Lemon Drop Kid is never shown on television…not even on AMC or TCM, and it’s not available on streaming services. The only way I know to watch it is on YouTube, which is a shame. Trading Places is a great movie…one of the best of its era. But it just doesn’t jump into my mind when pondering Christmas movies.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 1)

Welcome back to Merry Movie Mayhem!! If you have not yet perused first round action in the Candy Cane and Eggnog divisions please follow the links to check it out.

Before we proceed further it may be worth considering what exactly makes a Christmas movie a Christmas movie, because there is legitimate dispute on the issue when it comes to certain films. Since I am the king of The Manoverse I make the rules here so it boils down to three things for me:

            *the film has to be set…mostly…during the holiday season

            *Christmas carols/songs must be part of the soundtrack, even if they’re just in the background

            *Christmas imagery…tree, lights, Santa Claus…needs to be present

Those are the biggies…the dealbreakers. After that it becomes a matter of opinion, and sometimes those opinions might not make sense to anyone else. Why is Die Hard a Christmas movie but Lethal Weapon isn’t?? Why does Mixed Nuts make the cut but Batman Returns does not?? Edward Scissorhands isn’t but Love Actually is?? I don’t put a lot of stock in the whole idea of “if you set the film’s storyline at any other time of year other than Christmas it wouldn’t change the plot”, because that is such a broad notion. The opposite could be just as true. If George Clooney & Brad Pitt were robbing Vegas casinos on Christmas Eve would that make Ocean’s Eleven a Christmas movie?? I think it might. If Doc Brown & Marty McFly had used their time machine to visit Christmases past & yet to come would that qualify Back to the Future as a Christmas film?? Perhaps. In the grand scheme of things I believe that most people know a Christmas movie when they see it, right?? As always I value the opinions of The Manoverse and welcome your feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation           

Released                                           12/1/89

Starring                                              Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid                       

Director                                              Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon, Diabolique)

Rotten Tomatoes                              64%

I never would have dreamed 28 years ago that Christmas Vacation would become the holiday entertainment juggernaut that it has evolved into, especially in the past decade. It is one of about a half dozen Christmas movies that is shown almost daily from Thanksgiving clear thru New Year’s, and oftentimes I see it popping up at other times of the year (usually as part of a Vacation marathon). I’m sure I don’t have to review the plot. Everyone has seen Christmas Vacation. Many people love it, some folks hate it. Either way, no one can deny its staying power.

 

vs.

 

Eight Crazy Nights

Released                                           11/27/02

Starring                                              Adam Sandler                                 

Director                                              Seth Kearsley

Rotten Tomatoes                       12%

Adam Sandler made this mess right around the time that his career had plateaued and was beginning to approach the abyss on the other side. I’m not Jewish, but to my knowledge Hanukkah films are rare. This is an animated story wherein Sandler gives voice to Davey Stone, a thirtysomething malcontent with an alcohol problem & a rap sheet. After Davey’s latest arrest he is sentenced to community service under the guidance of an elderly referee for a youth basketball league. The rest of the film focuses on the relationship between Davey & the old guy, which has its ups & downs. This is about the least heartwarming holiday film of all time, making slasher flicks about Santa Claus look like after school specials.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. Come on now…was there ever any doubt?? I think two hours of infomercials would be more entertaining than Eight Crazy Nights, and probably have just as much to do with Hanukkah. Believe it or not Sandler has done worse…but he’s also produced much better, funnier, & more memorable films. Meanwhile, Christmas Vacation is a certified classic that just seems to get better with age.

 

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Released                                           12/6/64

Starring                                              Burl Ives                               

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                         92%

An advertising copywriter for Montgomery Ward named Bob May created Rudolph in 1939. Montgomery Ward had been buying and giving away coloring books for Christmas every year and it was decided that creating their own book would save money and be a nice goodwill gesture. The oddball reindeer became the star of that coloring book (with accompanying poem). May’s sister just happened to be married to Johnny Marks, a songwriter whose hits would eventually include Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree and A Holly Jolly Christmas. But in 1949 Marks’ career hadn’t gotten off the ground yet (no pun intended) and he adapted May’s poem into a song, which was then recorded by “The Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry. The song was a smash hit, and just over 15 years later an animated special was produced and began to air annually on NBC. It shifted over to CBS in 1972 and has now been a beloved Christmas tradition for a half century.

 

vs.

 

Shrek the Halls

Released                                           11/28/07

Starring                                              Mike Meyers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas

Director                                              Gary Trousdale (Rocky & Bullwinkle, Beauty and the Beast)

Rotten Tomatoes                              63% (a)

In comparison Shrek has only been a holiday tradition for about a decade, and calling it a tradition is being quite generous. Of course a quartet of movies spanning from 2001 to 2010 introduced us to the big green ogre & his quirky pals Donkey & Puss-in-Boots (a fifth film is rumored to be in the works), and he’s even made it to Broadway. The Christmas special has Shrek learning about Christmas so he can celebrate properly with his wife & children. Unfortunately all of his plans turn into chaos thanks to the well-meaning interference of his friends.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph.    I have absolutely nothing against Shrek. The movies are solidly entertaining, and the Christmas special is just dandy. Perhaps kids growing up right now will feel about it in 35 years the way that I feel about Rudolph, Hermie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, et al. But for me Shrek is the newbie that I have no attachment to whatsoever, while Rudolph is a HUGE part of the whole Christmas zeitgeist.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Released                                           10/31/51

Starring                                              Alistair Sim                 

Director                                              Brian Desmond Hurst

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

Charles Dickens’ novella has been adapted for the big screen countless times, with several of those versions being part of this competition. And while you will find varying opinions of many of those movies there is almost unanimous agreement that the 1951 film starring Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is…at the very least…one of the best. I can’t say that it’s a faithful rendering of the book, as there are several plot points that are either expanded upon or entirely fabricated for the film. However, I don’t mind these changes all that much, especially since the film does capture the solemn tone of the book quite effectively.

 

vs.

 

It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Released                                           11/29/02

Starring                                              Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, David Arquette, Joan Cusack    

Director                                              Kirk Thatcher

Rotten Tomatoes                              90%

Be careful not to confuse this film with The Muppet Christmas Carol. This was a made-for-TV movie that originally aired on NBC, and it is basically a Muppet send-up of It’s A Wonderful Life. Kermit is despondent at the prospect of losing his beloved theater, so various characters show him what life would be like if he’d never existed. There are several human actors involved, including Mel Brooks, David Arquette, Willam H. Macy, the cast of Scrubs (which was a semi-popular NBC show at the time), Snoop Dogg, & Kelly Ripa. That’s way way way too much humanity for a Muppet movie. IAWL has been ripped off too many times to even fathom, and this is far from the worst tribute to a great film. However, it’s not even the best Muppet Christmas film!!

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge.    Neither is an original idea. Both are based on other works. Scrooge just happens to be a far better adaptation of its source material.

 

 

 

 

Die Hard

Released                                           7/15/88

Starring                                              Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman

Director                                              John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October, Last Action Hero)

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Here we go!! Yes…I do consider Die Hard a Christmas movie. NYPD Detective John McClane comes to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve to see his estranged wife at her company Christmas party. Winter Wonderland & Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! are part of the soundtrack. At one point a dead terrorist shows up with a Santa hat & the words “Ho Ho Ho” written on his shirt. Case closed my friends. Oh, and it also happens to be a great action flick, and that’s coming from a guy who doesn’t particularly like action flicks.

 

vs.

 

The Year Without A Santa Claus

Released                                           12/10/74

Starring                                              Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              83% (a)

Hey, we’re all entitled to a bad day & the occasional foul mood, right?? Even Santa Claus isn’t always so jolly. In this stop motion animated classic from the prolific folks at Rankin-Bass ol’ Saint Nick is under the weather and isn’t sure anyone really believes in him anymore anyway, so he decides to skip the whole ordeal. Mrs. Claus helps the cause by playing two evil brothers…Heat Miser & Snow Miser (who both apparently control the weather)…against one another (with an assist from Mother Nature). Long story short…all’s well that ends well and Santa goes forth with his annual gift giving. You might have a hard time finding it on television in comparison to other Rankin-Bass classics, but Freeform (or whatever they’re calling that channel this week) usually has it on at some point.

 

The Verdict:       Die Hard. This is a tough call. The debate about Die Hard’s worthiness as a Christmas film is legit, and though I obviously come down on the pro side that doesn’t mean I don’t understand the veracity of the argument. Conversely, TYWASC is indisputably a Christmas classic, but I’m not sure that it has held up well thru the decades. To be honest I don’t even recall it being that important of a viewing tradition in my childhood, and as an adult I can take it or leave it.

 

 

 

Elf    

Released                                           11/7/03

Starring                                              Will Ferrell, James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel

Director                                              Jon Favreau (Iron Man)

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

Will Ferrell has to be considered one of the Top 5 alumni whose career was launched on Saturday Night Live, and that is mostly due to the staying power of Elf. As much as one might enjoy watching Talladega Nights, Old School, Step Brothers, Wedding Crashers, or Blades of Glory none of those films has achieved the pop culture significance or made the kind of sustained entertainment impact that Elf has in the past 15 years. Buddy the Elf is the role Ferrell was born to play, and its popularity will probably outlive him.

 

vs.

 

Santa Claus: The Movie

Released                                           11/27/85

Starring                                              Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston

Director                                              Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

I can imagine the pitch to the studio back in the mid-80’s…”Santa…as an action fantasy!!”. It may help you wrap your head around the concept and understand why this film is what it is to know that it was produced by the same guys who produced the Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve and directed by the man who helmed Jaws 2. The Movie tells a…unique…Santa Claus origin story, and weaves in subplots involving an industrious elf and an evil toy manufacturer. The cast…Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, Burgess Meredith, among others…is solid, but the movie as a whole is largely style over substance.

 

The Verdict:       Elf.    In the three decades since its release Santa Claus: The Movie hasn’t really become a cherished holiday tradition. Oh sure, it has its fans…but there doesn’t seem to be that many of them. And it hasn’t gotten a lot of airtime on TV over the years. I understand that technology has transformed the world and that virtually anything that has ever been produced can be watched with the push of a few buttons, but please understand that I’m an old school child of the 80’s and repeat viewings to me entail using my remote to flip thru the channels and catch whatever is on. Elf almost immediately took its place as a Christmas classic when it hit theaters a decade & a half ago, and its stature as lighthearted family fun has only grown in the ensuing years.

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving                    

Released                                           11/20/73

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                       73% (a)

More than three dozen animated television specials starring Charles Schultz’s comic strip characters from Peanuts have been produced from the 1960’s until just a few years ago. Several have been centered on holidays (there’s even one about Arbor Day), which makes sense because Schultz was a very devout man. This Thanksgiving story finds Peppermint Patty, Marcie, & Franklin inviting themselves over to Charlie Brown’s place for the holiday, and ol’ Chuck being too timid to tell them that he & his family will be heading out to Grandma’s house. Linus, Snoopy, & Woodstock are recruited to help, and when the kids all sit down at a ping pong table in the back yard they are served a hilarious meal of toast, pretzels, popcorn, jelly beans, & an ice cream sundae, which totally sounds like my diet. Luckily Grandma (unseen, as all adults are in Peanuts) invites all the children to her house for real food, while Snoopy & Woodstock stay behind and have their own feast.

 

vs.

 

Jingle All the Way

Released                                           11/22/96

Starring                                              Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman

Director                                              Brian Levant (Beethoven, A Christmas Story 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

The commercialism of Christmas has been a popular subplot for holiday films thru the years, and this one might be among the best at capturing the pathetic retail frenzy. Schwarzenegger stars as a busy, somewhat neglectful Dad (as many fathers are in Christmas movies) who waits until the last minute to find the toy that his son really wants to find under the tree. Every Christmas season has THE toy, right?? Cabbage Patch Kids, Rubik’s Cube, Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo, Furby, Xbox, Playstation. Parents spend time, energy, & money to get their child what every kid wants that particular year, only to see it collecting dust before spring arrives. At any rate, in this film that toy is a super hero action figure called Turbo Man. Dad quickly develops a rivalry with a weird mailman who is desperately seeking the same item. Meanwhile, a smarmy neighbor (the late Phil Hartman at his slimy best) has his eyes on Mom and successfully drives a wedge into the marriage. The whole movie crescendos to a really fun conclusion, and overall it’s a better film after you watch it a few times than one might think from a first impression.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. There are better Peanuts specials, and Jingle All the Way is a better movie than you may remember. However, while we all recognize the commercialization of Christmas as a bad thing I think an entire movie focused on it is a bit too cynical. Schwarzenegger can be funny (Twins is pretty good), but he is miscast here and would have benefitted from a better foil than Sinbad. Peanuts is what it is…and that’s why we’ve loved it for decades.

 

 

 

 

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Released                                           11/6/09

Starring                                              Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (the Back to the Future trilogy, Forrest Gump, Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%   

Although I’m not really sure what a director does when helming an animated film, I am a huge Zemeckis fan and was thrilled far in advance when I found out he’d be making a new version of the Dickens classic using performance capture technology. Jim Carrey’s shtick wore thin two decades ago, but his talent is undeniable and put to good use in an animated format that allows him to portray multiple characters. This is a fairly faithful interpretation of the source material, and technology allows scenes & characters to be depicted in fresh, distinctive, & inspired ways. Some are critical of the film’s dark tone, and Zemeckis probably does go overboard & have a little too much fun with the toys at his disposal, but one must remember that the book is rather macabre. Don’t blame the director for not caving into the temptation to make a more palatable “family friendly” adaptation…it’s been done.

 

vs.

 

Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Released                                           12/21/80

Starring                                              James Stewart

Director                                              Kieth Merrill

Rotten Tomatoes                              No Score Available

The legendary Jimmy Stewart’s career had peaked long before he ever made this little gem, although he would do a few more projects in the following decade. If you’ve never seen Mr. Krueger’s Christmas you are far from alone. It was produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and broadcast on NBC just a few days before Christmas 1980. Since then it is impossible to find on television and isn’t even available for streaming. The only avenue available to watch it…to my knowledge…is YouTube. It is a half hour in length and tells the story of Willie Krueger, an elderly janitor who lives in the basement apartment of the building that he takes care of. Willie is a lonely widower whose only companion is a cat named George, and he fills the void with Walter Mitty-esque fantasies. On this Christmas Eve Willie’s imagination has him conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, wearing finer threads than he can afford in real life, enjoying a delightful sleigh ride, welcoming carolers into a much nicer abode than he actually lives in, decorating a grander tree than the little tabletop one he has, & talking to Jesus as he lays in the manger at the Nativity. You might notice that in all of these dreams except the last one Willie, as opposed to his actual life, is surrounded by people who respect & appreciate him. While he is talking to Jesus he is, as in life, invisible to others…but in the presence of Christ there is no loneliness. This short film makes such a profound impact on multiple levels that it’s a shame it isn’t shown somewhere on television during the Christmas season.

 

The Verdict:       It’s a tie!! I’m sorry. It was never my intention to cop out in such a manner at any point in this competition, but I just can’t choose between these two. I like Zemeckis, love A Christmas Carol, & am smitten with motion capture animation. Some find the technology a bit creepy and believe its use in A Christmas Carol is too dark & scary, but I think the combination is fantastic. Mr. Krueger’s Christmas is difficult to find and repeat viewings are few, but its story is so delicately effectual that it must not be overlooked. Jimmy Stewart still had it even at 72 years old!! If you’ve never seen Mr. Krueger’s Christmas please set aside some time to find it online. Trust me…you won’t regret it.

 

 

 

 

Trapped in Paradise          

Released                                           12/2/94

Starring                                              Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey

Director                                              George Gallo (The Whole Ten Yards)

Rotten Tomatoes                              10%

I have to give Nicolas Cage credit. There’s no way to typecast or pigeonhole him as an actor because he’s done a little bit of everything…comedy, action, drama, rom-coms. With films on his resume like Raising Arizona & Honeymoon in Vegas it can’t be said that he’s not funny. Yet having said that he feels…out of place…in this movie. The story follows three dimwitted brothers who head to a small Pennsylvania township (think modern day Mayberry) to rob a bank. Everything that can go wrong does go wrong and the trio is unable to make their escape, all while they are being treated warmly by the pleasant, unsuspecting citizens. I’m not a fan of Jon Lovitz, and Dana Carey is inexplicably annoying…but somehow it all works, atleast for me.

 

vs.

 

Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/18/62

Starring                                              Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam

Director                                              Abe Levitow

Rotten Tomatoes                              67% (a)

Quincy Magoo dates all the way back to the 1950’s when he starred in animated shorts that would precede feature films. Eventually he’d make his way onto television, and in the 90’s there was even a live action movie starring Leslie Nielsen. However, the most enduring legacy of Mr. Magoo is his take on Dickens, a fairly authentic telling of the story, or atleast as faithful as a less-than-an-hour long cartoon can be. I seem to recall this particular special being an annual thing when I was a kid, but in the past 25-ish years airings have been hit & miss, and I believe it is often heavily edited to allow for more commercials.

 

The Verdict:       Trapped in Paradise. I feel like I’m betraying my 80’s kid roots. Is Trapped in Paradise a good movie?? Not really. However, for reasons that I have alluded to on a few occasions it holds a special place in my heart, despite its shortcomings. I cannot get behind Magoo a) because repeat viewings have been scant (it’s hardly a Christmas tradition), & b) airings are usually edited significantly. I’m sure the original, full length show can be streamed, and maybe someday that’ll be the norm, but right now I’m still old school and want my Christmas movies & specials to be available the way they always were…thru mindless channel surfing.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Eggnog (Round 1)

Welcome back to the continuation of Round 1 of Merry Movie Mayhem. If you have not yet checked out the exciting competition from the Candy Cane Division please be sure to do so. Today we focus on the Eggnog Division and a wide-ranging group of entertaining holiday stories. I hope everyone in The Manoverse has gotten their Christmas shopping started and are keeping warm while the temperatures are frigid & the snow flies outside. Here in West Virginia it has been unseasonably pleasant with no sign of snow, although I’m sure that’ll change soon enough. Stay safe, have fun, & never forget the reason for the season, that being the celebration of the glorious birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story

Released                               11/18/83

Starring                                  Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon

Director                                  Bob Clark (Black Christmas, Porky’s, Rhinestone, Turk 182)

Rotten Tomatoes                  89%

A young boy in 1940s Indiana desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas, but his mother, teacher, & even Santa Claus himself all seem to be deadset against the idea. When A Christmas Story hit theaters in 1983 it wasn’t that successful. As a matter of fact it was released before Thanksgiving and quietly disappeared before the holiday it is named for even rolled around on the calendar. Three decades later, thanks in large part to a 24 hour television marathon that has become a Christmas Eve/Day tradition, it is adored by almost everyone who likes Christmas movies. I have ran into a few detractors here & there, but the marathon has been going strong for about 20 years, which seems to indicate that any negativity is negligible.

 

vs.

 

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Released                               11/14/64

Starring                                  Pia Zadora

Director                                  Nicholas Webster

Rotten Tomatoes                  25%

Regularly considered one of the worst Christmas films ever produced, SCCTM became a “so bad you’ve got to see it” classic after being featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 90’s, thirty years after its initial release. The plot involves Martians kidnapping Santa Claus so he can help their children loosen up & have some fun, which is exactly as terrible as it sounds. I suppose Christmas film aficionados ought to see it atleast once “just because”, but it really is an hour & a half of your life that could be better spent doing literally almost anything else.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Story. I’m tempted to say that this isn’t a fair matchup, but I can’t imagine that Martians would fare well against any competition, so it may as well go down against what has to be considered one of the heavy favorites.

 

 

 

 

White Christmas                                              

Released                               10/14/54

Starring                                  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen

Director                                  Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood)

Rotten Tomatoes                  76%

 

Two WWII Army buddies become a successful song & dance act. They meet up with two sisters in the same business. The foursome heads to Vermont to put on a Christmas show at a cozy country inn that just happens to be owned & operated by the guys’ former commanding officer. Romance, hijinks, and…most importantly…plenty of singing & dancing ensue. White Christmas was conceived mostly to cash in on the success of the wonderful song, first introduced by Crosby twelve years earlier in the film Holiday Inn (which featured romance, hijinks, singing, & dancing at a cozy Connecticut country inn), and whether one views it as sort of corny or wistful reminiscence of a bygone era probably depends on your age and perception of what entertainment should be. I think it is really interesting that the same man directed both White Christmas and Casablanca.

 

vs.

 

 

Serendipity

Released                               10/5/01

Starring                                  John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale

Director                                  Peter Chelsom (Hannah Montana: The Movie)

Rotten Tomatoes                  58%

I love rom-coms, and when you combine that genre with a Christmas film you theoretically should have a winner. The story involves two people who meet each other while Christmas shopping and hit it off, spending a delightful evening together in New York City. They don’t exchange contact information and leave it up to fate as to whether or not they’ll meet again. In a film like this the conclusion is inevitable, but the journey is what’s important, and Serendipity has its charms. John Cusack is an underrated actor that has had a sneaky good career, and this is his wheelhouse.

 

The Verdict:       White Christmas. Now THIS is an unfair matchup. Serendipity would win against many other films in this competition. It is a perfectly enjoyable movie with engaging actors in the two lead roles. But White Christmas…a rom-com before rom-coms were cool…is a masterpiece that is a must watch in my house every December, and on the random occasions when it’s on TV at other times of the year I’ll put aside anything I’m doing if at all possible and watch.

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas                          

Released                                           12/9/65

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus Van Pelt

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

Charles Schulz began writing the Peanuts comic strip in 1950, providing over 2000 newspapers with more than 18,000 strips for a half century. Numerous animated Peanuts television specials were produced over the years, with A Charlie Brown Christmas being the first and probably the best. The story centers on Charlie Brown’s struggle to find the holiday spirit, with pals like Lucy, Snoopy, & his little sister Sally being absolutely no help at all. It is sweet, guileless Linus, in one of the more elegantly profound moments in TV history, who finally explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas.

 

vs.

 

 

Christmas with the Kranks

Released                                           11/24/04

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Jamie Lee Curtis

Director                                              Joe Roth

Rotten Tomatoes                              5%

Tim Allen hit a home run…mostly…with his Santa Clause trilogy, so it is logical that he would return to the land of Christmas movies seeking further success. Unfortunately it doesn’t quite work. Allen & former Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis star as Luther & Nora, a middle aged couple whose daughter has joined the Peace Corps. They decide to skip all the usual Christmas hubbub & expense and spend their money on a Caribbean cruise. Things don’t go as planned though, thanks in large part to a group of neighbors who are way too creepy & intrusive. The movie is based on a John Grisham novel called Skipping Christmas. I’ve never read it and doubt I ever will. It is difficult for me to wrap my head around a Grisham book being as bad as this movie.

 

The Verdict:       Charlie Brown. Peanuts is a heartwarming classic, while Kranks is a sardonic & sad commentary on what the masses deem entertaining these days.

 

 

 

The Muppet Christmas Carol    

Released                                           12/11/92

Starring                                              Kermit the Frog, Michael Caine, The Great Gonzo

Director                                              Brian Henson

Rotten Tomatoes                              69%

I tend to favor more traditional adaptations of the beloved Dickens novella, but there have been a couple of unique versions that really work. This is an unusual yet surprisingly authentic interpretation, with Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. Those of us of a certain age who grew up with The Muppets as an integral part of our childhood can’t help but get a kick out of it.

 

vs.

 

Four Christmases

Released                                           11/26/08

Starring                                              Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon

Director                                              Seth Gordon (Horrible Bosses, Identity Thief)

Rotten Tomatoes                              25%

Countless movies & TV shows have embraced…even celebrated…the evolving definition of “family” due to contemporary issues like divorce and the…fluid…characterization of marriage. Hollywood likes to be hip & cool like that. Here we have Vince Vaughn & Reese Witherspoon as a couple whose failure to successfully skip town for Christmas means that they are forced to visit all four of their divorced parents for the holiday, with each part of these families being dysfunctional. The movie isn’t without its charms, mostly because of the appealing charisma of the two leads, but despite a star studded supporting cast (Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, Robert Duvall, Jon Voight, Jon Favreau, Kristin Chenoweth) it just falls flat.

 

The Verdict:       The Muppets. I like Vince Vaughn, and I know family chaos is a favorite holiday film trope, but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to be laughing. The Muppet Christmas Carol puts a new spin on a classic that is fun for kids of all ages…even the grown up ones.

 

 

 

 

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Released                                           11/20/92

Starring                                              Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern

Director                                              Chris Columbus (Mrs. Doubtfire, Night at the Museum)

Rotten Tomatoes                              24%

After the monster success of Home Alone a sequel was inevitable, and honestly the set up isn’t that far-fetched (or atleast it wasn’t in the pre-9/11 era). Lost in New York finds little Kevin…a bit older & wiser than in the original yet still a bemused child…all alone in The Big Apple while his family has jetted off to Florida. There he runs into his old adversaries The Sticky…nee Wet…Bandits, and must stop them from robbing a toy store on Christmas Eve. The subplots aren’t as engaging as in the first film, but the follow-up does actually work to a surprisingly entertaining degree.

 

vs.

 

Free Birds

Released                                           11/1/13

Starring                                              Owen Wilson, Amy Poehler, Woody Harrelson

Director                                              Jimmy Hayward (Horton Hears a Who!)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

I’ve become a fan of animated feature films in recent years, although the quality is admittedly inconsistent. Free Birds is a time travel yarn about two turkeys going back to 1621 in an effort to prevent their brethren from ever becoming the traditional main course for Thanksgiving. It’s a fun story, but hasn’t had the…stickiness…of other holiday movies. I saw it once at the theater and have never watched it again.

 

The Verdict:       Lost in New York. It may not retain all the magic of its predecessor, but the second Home Alone film is more than adequate entertainment. Repeat viewings are a big part of what makes these holiday classics so special, and in the few years since its initial release Free Birds has shown no signs of becoming the kind of film we’ll still be watching in a decade or two or three.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Released                                           12/14/70

Starring                                              Fred Astaire, Mickey Rooney

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              81% (a)

1934 saw the release of a song that has been messing with the fragile psyches of young children ever since. Whether one considers telling kids that Santa “sees when you are sleeping & knows when you’re awake” a little creepy or an effective Jedi mind trick is a matter of personal opinion, but it’s a tune that has long since become an ingrained part of secular Christmas tradition. A few decades later Rankin-Bass borrowed the title for this charming origin story explaining how everyone’s favorite jolly old elf came to exist, including his battles with the surly Burgermeister Meisterburger and romance with schoolteacher Jessica, the future Mrs. Claus. Town might get a bit lost in the shuffle amidst the abundance of animated holiday specials, and its outdated “technology” certainly seems quaint nowadays, but they still show it on TV every single year, so that says a lot.

 

vs.

 

 The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

Released                                           11/3/06

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Martin Short

Director                                              Michael Lembeck

Rotten Tomatoes                              15%

The third leg of the Santa Clause trilogy finds Scott Calvin, aka Santa, expecting a baby with Mrs. Claus, dealing with the in-laws, & battling Jack Frost for control of the North Pole. The cast is amiable & talented, but they just don’t have good material from the screenwriters. Escape Clause is a little too…manic…for my taste and isn’t nearly as good as its two predecessors.

 

The Verdict:       Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. Despite the ample talent of its cast and a premise that isn’t that terrible The Escape Clause tries to pack too much zaniness into one movie. Conversely, Town presents a low-key, entertaining, & delightfully plausible Santa Claus origin story.

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1999)                         

Released                                           12/5/99

Starring                                              Patrick Stewart

Director                                              David Jones

Rotten Tomatoes                              no score

It isn’t a feature film. It isn’t animated. It isn’t modernized. 1999’s made-for-TV presentation of A Christmas Carol is a straightforward, somber, mostly faithful telling of the tale…just as Dickens would have wanted. The attraction here is Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Stewart had finished his run as Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation a few years earlier, and has mostly escaped being typecast in the years since. TNT still shows this version of Carol a few times each December, and I recommend giving it a whirl.

 

vs.

 

 

Rise of the Guardians

Released                                           11/21/12

Starring                                              Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Isla Fisher, Hugh Jackman

Director                                              Peter Ramsey

Rotten Tomatoes                              73%

What happens when a few of childhood’s most cherished characters team up to save the world?? Guardians presents Santa Claus, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, & The Sandman as a group of ass kicking superheroes who recruit Jack Frost to help them stop The Boogeyman from ruining childhood…or something like that. For those that are paying attention there is a bit of almost profound social commentary about childhood, dreams, fear, & feeling invisible, but it doesn’t feel preachy. Guardians hasn’t latched onto the pop culture consciousness in the years following its release, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth watching.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. This is actually a tough decision. It’s not the best Carol adaptation, but it does remain faithful to the book and it does have Patrick Stewart. That’s enough for me.

 

 

 

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

Released                                           12/8/74

Starring                                              Joel Grey, George Gobel

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              no score

A century & a half after the poem from which it borrows its title was written came this animated tale about an anthropomorphic mouse who ticks off Santa Claus by publishing a letter stating that the townspeople don’t believe in him anymore. An idea is hatched to placate ol’ Kris Kringle by having the clock in the town square play him a tune on Christmas Eve. Chaos ensues. The story has very little…if anything…to do with the beloved poem.

 

vs.

 

Prancer

Released                                           11/17/89

Starring                                              Sam Elliott, Cloris Leachman, Abe Vigoda

Director                                              John D. Hancock (Bang the Drum Slowly)

Rotten Tomatoes                              67%

Anytime you can get Sam Elliott, Abe Vigoda, & Cloris Leachman in the same cast I’m intrigued. The story is about a little girl who befriends a reindeer that she believes is one of Santa’s famous flock. Drama ensues. Honestly, Prancer is a bit of a downer in comparison to other holiday entertainment. I feel like the story had possibilities but is dragged down by poor directing & cinematography.

 

The Verdict:       Serendipity. Wait…what?!??? What just happened?? Well, this is my concept and I make the rules, so I’m calling an audible and giving a wildcard victory to Serendipity. I can count on one hand the number of times in almost 30 years that I’ve watched Prancer. I just find it visually unappealing and tedious on a variety of levels. TTNBC is pleasant enough, but amongst all of the greatness that Rankin-Bass produced it just doesn’t measure up. It isn’t easy to find on television, and if I miss it I don’t really notice or care. You’re welcome John Cusack.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Candy Cane (Round 1)

Welcome to Round 1 of Merry Movie Mayhem!! Over the next few weeks we will be looking at 64 of the most notable holiday films & TV specials. Obviously Christmas is the focus of this particular genre, but there have been some prominent stories told about Thanksgiving & Hanukkah, so I am including them as well to round out the field. Most of what you’ll see here is pretty familiar…stuff you’ve watched on TV every November & December your whole life. While that may be an indictment of modern creativity, it is also a testament to the enduring affection that fans have for quality entertainment that soothes the soul, tickles the funny bone, & warms our cockles in a season that encompasses a range of emotions from joy to sorrow to wistful nostalgia. Don’t hesitate to leave feedback. The statements & decisions you’ll see here reflect my preferences & sensibilities, but sometimes I’m wrong. I would love to know what The Manoverse enjoys, so share your thoughts!! We’ll kick off the competition with the Candy Cane Division. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Released                                           5/2/47

Starring                                              Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, Natalie Wood           

Director                                              George Seaton (Airport)

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

A cynical retail executive & her precocious daughter befriend the department store Santa that Mom hired. It turns out that Kris Kringle believes he is the REAL Santa Claus, a claim that lands him in court, where he is defended by a lawyer who is also smitten with the jaded Mom.

 

vs.

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Released                                           11/9/84

Starring                                              no one you’ve ever heard of         

Director                                              Charles E. Sellier Jr.

Rotten Tomatoes                              31%

Holidays have been horror movie fodder for decades, with deranged serial killers stalking their prey on Halloween, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, et al. Christmas hasn’t escaped, though the sacred nature of the occasion makes such a film a tricky proposition. This campy classic finds a young boy witnessing the murder of his parents by a thief dressed as Santa Claus. After growing up in a harsh orphanage the youngster becomes a homicidal maniac when he gets a job as a department store Santa. There were a few sequels made in which the younger brother also becomes a psycho Santa, but I’ve only seen bits & pieces of a couple of them. I remember the original mainly because our church youth group once watched it at a gathering at Christmastime. Wrap your head around that.

 

The Verdict:       Miracle on 34th Street. Easy decision. I’m not really a horror movie guy, but even if I was it’s difficult to overlook the awesomeness of Miracle.

 

 

 

Home Alone

Released                                           11/16/90

Starring                                              Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern        

Director                                              Chris Columbus (Only the Lonely, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

A mischievous child is accidentally left behind in Chicago while his family jets off to a holiday getaway in Paris. The boy is then faced with having to defend his house on Christmas Eve against two inept crooks who are looting the entire neighborhood while everyone is out of town. There was a sequel made a couple of years later that is pretty good and will be a part of this project, and then a couple of other “sequels” that may retain the title but have none of the magic of their predecessors.

 

vs.

 

Mixed Nuts

Released                                           12/21/94

Starring                                              Steve Martin, Madeline Kahn, Rita Wilson, Adam Sandler    

Director                                              Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail)

Rotten Tomatoes                              7%

An all-star cast makes this blip on the pop culture radar somewhat memorable. The story revolves around employees of a suicide hotline that’s about to go under right at Christmastime. There are a lot of interconnecting storylines in a madcap adventure that…on paper…should work, especially given the amount of talent involved. Unfortunately it’s a hot mess and has appeared on various Worst Movies Ever lists.

 

The Verdict:       Home Alone. A no-brainer. I assume I’m not alone in adoring the work of many of those involved with Mixed Nuts, but all of those ingredients thrown together inexplicably results in something that I suppose has fans somewhere, but they are surely few & far between. Conversely, Home Alone has become a beloved Christmas tradition.

 

 

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Released                                           12/18/66

Starring                                              Boris Karloff, Thurl Ravenscroft   

Director                                              Chuck Jones

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

Dr. Seuss wrote Grinch in 1957, and a decade later it was turned into a 30 minute animated special featuring the voice talents of horror icon Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscoft, known better as the original voice of Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger. The story is about a bitter cave dwelling creature who hates Christmas and decides to “steal” it from the delightfully optimistic & cheerful villagers in Whoville. We’ve been watching The Grinch every holiday season for over a half century, and it is adored by multiple generations. A live action film was made in 2000 starring Jim Carey as the titular character, and while I am aware that it has its fans I do not count myself among them. I’ll stick with the treasured original.

 

vs.

 

Christmas Every Day

Released                                           12/1/96

Starring                                              Erik Von Detten, Robert Hays      

Director                                              Larry Peerce (The Other Side of the Mountain)

Rotten Tomatoes                              40% (a)

This was a made-for-television film shown on The Family Channel (aka ABC Family, now known as Freeform). I’m not typically a fan of made-for-TV movies. The production values are usually subpar and the writing isn’t always that good. Hallmark shows a ton of Christmas films every December that are mildly entertaining but ultimately forgettable, and Freeform, thru its many incarnations, has made contributions to the sub-genre. This movie is one of the few examples of such entertainment that has tickled my fancy and remains on my radar. The story revolves around a bratty teenage boy who relives the same Christmas over & over until he gets it right. Essentially it is a Christmas version of Groundhog Day, sans the talent of Billy Murray & Harold Ramis. I’m not sure why I like it, but I do.

 

The Verdict:       The Grinch. Another easy decision.

 

 

 

The Ref    

Released                                           3/9/94

Starring                                             Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Glynis Johns           

Director                                             Ted Demme  (Blow)

Rotten Tomatoes                              71%

A thief on the run on Christmas Eve kidnaps a bickering couple and hides in their house while cops comb the town looking for him. Things are further complicated when the couple’s delinquent son comes home from military school and the dysfunctional extended family drops by for dinner. Kevin Spacey is phenomenal in almost everything he does, and standup comic turned actor Denis Leary is perfectly cast as the acerbic criminal. In contrast to Mixed Nuts the cast of The Ref takes an otherwise pedestrian script and spins it into comic gold.

 

vs.

 

Fred Claus

Released                                           11/9/07

Starring                                              Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks           

Director                                              David Dobkin            (Wedding Crashers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              21%

Vince Vaughn stars as Fred, the slacker brother of Santa. When Fred runs into money problems his brother agrees to bail him out only if he pops up to the North Pole to help during the Christmas rush. Hilarity ensues. The conceit here is that Santa, because he is a saint, has been able to make his family ageless, so there is a time travel element that is sort of cool though sadly glossed over. Paul Giamatti is one of my favorite actors, and he puts a unique spin on a character that has been portrayed numerous ways in countless movies. Vaughn plays the same loveable loser that he portrays in almost all of his films, but that’s alright because it’s a formula that seems to work for him. Critics despise Fred Claus, and it didn’t do that great at the box office, but it is a pleasant enough diversion on a cold winter’s night.

 

The Verdict:       The Ref. There is a really funny scene in Fred Claus involving Frank Stallone, Roger Clinton, & Stephen Baldwin, all guys with brothers more famous than them. Outside of that Fred Claus is a rom-com wannabe that just doesn’t stick to one’s ribs, although it isn’t nearly as terrible as you might have heard. The charms of Vaughn & Giamatti are considerable, though not quite enough to make the movie anything close to memorable. Conversely, The Ref is an underrated gem that deserves to be shown on TV a plethora of times every December, but it’s never quite achieved that level of popularity.

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1938) 

Released                                           12/16/38                                                        

Starring                                              Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart

 

Director                                              Edwin L. Marin

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

There is no shortage of A Christmas Carol adaptations out there, and we’re going to be discussing several of them. The 1938 version is a jovial take on Dickens’ novella that omits some of the more macabre aspects of the story and takes other liberties in altering or expanding the plot. I’m not a huge fan of needlessly changing a book’s narrative for the film, but I must admit that this one works.

 

vs.

 

Bad Santa

Released                                           11/26/03

Starring                                              Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham

Director                                              Terry Zwigoff

Rotten Tomatoes                              78%

Department store Santas provide a convenient jumping off point for Christmas movies, and this one puts a…unique…spin on that particular element. Reflecting a 21st century move toward defining vulgarity as funny, the Santa Claus here is a hard-drinking, profanity spewing horndog who also happens to be a thief. He & his partner-in-crime, a “little person” who can conveniently portray Santa’s elf, are using the holiday season to case a shopping mall that they plan to rob on Christmas Eve. Things get complicated when Santa gets a girlfriend and befriends a strange young boy. Critics…surprisingly…really like the film and Billy Bob Thornton was even nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance. I know there are those that absolutely love Bad Santa and laugh hysterically at every F-Bomb. I don’t consider myself a prude by any stretch, but I do try to be a Godly man and also pride myself on having a somewhat sophisticated entertainment palate. This movie is targeted toward teenagers & 20-somethings with a serious case of arrested development. A sequel was made in 2016, and it’s equally as….ehhhh…let’s just be nice and say neither film really frosts my cupcake.

 

The Verdict:       A Christmas Carol. This is purely a personal choice for me. If you love Bad Santa I won’t judge you, and if you dislike this particular version of A Christmas Carol I completely understand & might even agree with some of your reasoning. That being said, if I’m flipping thru the channels on a lazy Saturday in December and both of these movies are on TV I know which one I’d choose to watch.

 

 

 

Scrooged

Released                                           11/23/88

Starring                                              Bill Murray    

Director                                              Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies, the Lethal Weapon franchise)

Rotten Tomatoes                              68%

I was a little late to the party when it comes to Scrooged, having not ever watched it until atleast a decade & a half after its release. It is a modern, strange, yet oddly faithful retelling of the Dickens tale, with Bill Murray as a greedy television executive who is verbally abusive to his employees and still pines for a lost love. It has become a cult classic that’s not necessarily thought of as being on the same level as other holiday favorites, but three decades after its release it is still shown on television annually and seems to have grown in reputation in the past several years.

 

vs.

 

Love the Coopers

Released                                           11/13/15

Starring                                              Marisa Tomei, John Goodman, Ed Helms, Diane Keaton

Director                                              Jessie Nelson

Rotten Tomatoes                              19%

There seems to be a growing trend in the holiday movie genre of putting together a large cast of well-known and highly regarded performers in a story that usually revolves around family angst. I get along great with my nuclear family as well as other relatives like aunts, uncles, & cousins, so I can’t really relate to such anxiety. Our Christmas gatherings are normally quite pleasant. However, I assume such dysfunction does actually exist. Love the Coopers is a newer entry into the mix, and though I really like the actors involved, at the end of the day it is a completely forgettable movie that I’m not sure I’d bother to watch again unless I was really bored.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooged. Citizens of The Manoverse will recall that I consider repeat viewings an essential indicator of a good film. If it’s being shown on television years after its initial theatrical run and if I’m still being entertained by it after I’ve seen it dozens of times then somebody somewhere did something right. Scrooged fits that description…the competition does not.

 

 

 

The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause        

Released                                           11/1/02

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell        

Director                                              Michael Lembeck

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%

All three of Tim Allen’s Santa Clause movies are included in Merry Movie Mayhem, and I feel like this one gets shortchanged. You may have noticed that the original film and the third entry in the trilogy show up on TV often enough, but this second film is frequently skipped over. I read somewhere that the notion that Santa must find a wife to keep his job is considered by some to be old-fashioned or even misogynistic, which is utterly ridiculous logic. Elizabeth Mitchell, known by some for her work on the television show Lost, is radiant & enchanting. The biggest issue with The Mrs. Clause is that it came out eight years after its predecessor, which was probably 4 or 5 years too late.

 

vs.

 

Home for the Holidays

Released                                           11/3/95

Starring                                              Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr. 

Director                                              Jodi Foster

Rotten Tomatoes                              62%

Dysfunctional family dramedy isn’t reserved for Christmas…families gather on Thanksgiving too. Another highly regarded ensemble cast is involved, which means that critics praised the film upon its release. It even has a well-known director, a rarity for the genre. I’m pretty sure Robert Downey Jr. was whacked out on cocaine throughout the film, and I find his manic display distracting. Two decades after its theatrical run I don’t feel like Home has really aged well, although it still pops up on TV occasionally around Thanksgiving.

 

The Verdict:       The Santa Clause 2. This matchup would likely generate a spirited debate among film buffs. Home for the Holidays certainly has the stronger cast and is admittedly well-written, but I’ve just never been able to embrace it. Conversely, there are those that consider The Mrs. Clause to be the weakest entry of that trilogy, and it does seem to get shafted as far as being shown on television, yet I find it completely charming.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1970)         

Released                                           11/5/70

Starring                                              Albert Finney, Sir Alec Guinness

Director                                              Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure)

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

I generally prefer movies that stay true to the books they are based on, but I understand that when a story like A Christmas Carol is remade over & over people want to try something new and distinctive to stand out from the crowd. This version of Carol is a musical that is actually more faithful to the novella than one would think. It is a testament to the acting ability of Albert Finney that he was only 34 years old when he portrayed the elderly Ebenezer Scrooge, and he was rewarded with a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

 

vs.

 

Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/23/88

Starring                                              Rowan Atkinson, Robbie Coltrane          

Director                                              Richard Boden

Rotten Tomatoes                              84% (a)

You probably haven’t seen it and may not have even heard of it. Blackadder is the titular character of a British television series that aired on the BBC in the 1980’s, with comedian Rowan Atkinson starring as Edmund Blackadder, an opportunistic descendant of an unspecified royal family. In this Christmas special Blackadder, in contrast to the traditional portrayal of Scrooge, is “the nicest man in England”, with the twist being that the ghost (there is only one…portrayed by Robbie Coltrane, better known today as Rubeus Hagrid in the Harry Potter films) who visits him on Christmas Eve showing Blackadder that “bad guys have all the fun”, resulting in him waking up bitter, disillusioned, & meanspirited. I am not a huge fan of British humor, but Atkinson is hilarious and this bizarro world take on the familiar story is unexpected fun.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge. This is a tough one, but I lean toward Scrooge a) due to its award winning pedigree, and b) because Blackadder is tough to find if you’re not really searching for it. Scrooge has shown up on American Movie Classics (or maybe it’s Turner Classic Movies) with some regularity over the years.

Merry Movie Mayhem: An Introduction

A big chunk of 2016 here at The Manofesto was dedicated to 80’s Movie Mania, a competition honoring the best in 1980’s cinema that was ultimately won by The Blues Brothers. In the process of completing that project an idea came to me that it might be fun to do the same kind of tournament with Christmas films, and so we shall.

 

Merry Movie Mayhem will differ from its predecessor in that it will move much faster. The goal is to complete the project by Christmas Eve. That gives us less than a month to discuss & appreciate 64 films & TV specials. Yes, that’s right…I am making this an all-inclusive battle royale comprised of Christmas movies, animated television specials, & even a few nods to Thanksgiving and Hanukkah. It just feels like the right thing to do.

 

Each film or show has been placed into one of four divisions: Candy Cane, Eggnog, Mistletoe, & North Pole. Choosing the entrants for this tournament was a tougher task than I’d imagined. Probably ¾ of the choices were obvious, but others…not so much. However I don’t think the final pool leaves considerable room for debate. That being said, if I have left out one of your favorites please let me know. I always enjoy feedback from The Manoverse.

 

In the first round I have included, when possible, the film’s ranking on Rotten Tomatoes. Unless otherwise noted this is a cumulative score received from critics, with 60-100% being “fresh”, and 59% or below being “rotten”. In some cases, particularly with animated television specials, no Rotten Tomatoes score is available, and in a few instances there are no critical reviews but an audience score is given. I don’t pay too much attention to these scores because oftentimes critics can be somewhat highbrow and not at all in touch with what most folks enjoy, but they are a useful tool in some situations. Also, I have included the name of the director, but what I find interesting is that not a lot of bigtime film raconteurs have helmed holiday themed films. These movies that so many of us love don’t seem to be all that respected by the Hollywood literati. Perhaps it is indicative of a general Godlessness, or maybe, because of preconceived notions of what a Christmas movie should be, creative “geniuses” find the parameters stifling. Whatever the case may be, with few exceptions the general achievements…or lack thereof…of the director outside of the film being discussed has very little bearing on the outcome.

 

Before we dive in I will give you a sneak peek at the contenders. Merry Movie Mayhem includes:

*16 takes on the Santa Claus mythos

*11 different adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

*13 entrants that were made in the 80’s, 13 produced in the 90’s, 15 made before I was even a gleam in my Daddy’s eye, & a surprising 20 that have come out in the 21st century (which, to be fair, now encompasses nearly two decades)

*19 films or specials that utilize animation

 

I adore Christmas movies, and since you’re here reading this I assume you do as well. So, let us spend this holiday season on a journey together…a quest to pay respect to and express admiration for films & specials that have stood the test of time, with the ultimate goal of narrowing the field and crowning one winner as the merriest movie of them all. Adeste Fideles. Feliz Navidad. Buon Natale. And God bless us…everyone.

 

100 Favorite Movies…..46-50

Bon Jovi declared “We’re halfway there…we’re livin’ on a prayer”. Kenny Loggins asked us to “Meet me halfway, across the sky”. You get the point…we’re half done with this countdown and, in golf parlance, making the turn. Now, it’s not that the first 50 movies I’ve written about are irrelevant. I like them or they wouldn’t be on the list. But now we’re getting serious. The cream rises to the top and this process is starting to get creamy. I will try to avoid becoming too verbose and gushing over these next 50 films…but I cannot guarantee I will be able to comply with that edict. You’re going to see a lot of comedies and Christmas movies from here on in, so I hope you enjoy those as much as I do. And as always, feedback is always appreciated.


 

50 Little Miss Sunshine

At the outset of this series I shared a bit about my thinking when deciding on the Top 100, and one of the things I said I take into consideration is longevity. People who say that their all time favorite movie is one that was just in the theater a year or two ago annoy me tremendously. However, there are exceptions to every rule, and this is about as close to an exception as we’ll get. Little Miss Sunshine was released in 2006 and stars Abigail Breslin, Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear, and Steve Carell. Not exactly an all star cast, especially when one considers that at the time Carell was just hitting his stride with The 40 Year Old Virgin and The Office was a fairly new television show. However, a good movie should be based on good writing and not just the pop culture It Factor of its cast. After all, Will Smith is still considered one of the biggest movie stars in the world and hasn’t been in anything worth a damn for about a decade. Sunshine is a unique take on the road trip genre, made popular by such fare as Smokey & The Bandit, Rain Man, Tommy Boy, Sideways, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, and National Lampoon’s Vacation ( two of which we’ll be giving some love to at some point along this path).  A 9 year old girl fascinated by beauty pageants receives an opportunity to compete in one herself. The family treks 800 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Southern California in an old Volkswagen van, and as per usual in road trip flicks, the adventure isn’t boring. Along for the ride is Dad, a down-on-his-luck motivational speaker who says things like “sarcasm is the refuge of losers”…Uncle Frank, a gay Proust scholar who recently attempted suicide…brother Dwayne, a teenager who gets inspiration from Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence until he can successfully become a pilot…and Grandpa, who was kicked out of the old folks’ home for snorting heroine. Now before any action has taken place or a word of dialogue is spoken, one can see tremendous potential just from those undeniably singular characters. The glue holding it all together is the Mom, a comparatively sane person. I won’t spoil the fun for those who may have thus far overlooked Little Miss Sunshine, but let me say two things. First, Alan Arkin won a well deserved Oscar for his foul mouthed yet relatively brief role as the grandfather. His character makes this movie hands down. I am not sure why his real life son Adam Arkin was not cast as the Dad…it would have been perfect. The other note that needs mentioning is the ending. I suppose it’s not too big of a spoiler to say that, despite all the difficulties along the way the family does make it to the pageant just in the nick of time. Once there it quickly becomes apparent that the little girl is way out of her league, a plain Jane novice amongst little grizzled veterans with layers of makeup, fake eyelashes, and swimsuits the parents should be arrested for allowing them to wear.  But she gets on stage and does her thing, and it is one of the funniest scenes you will see on film. You won’t see it coming, but you won’t forget it once you’ve watched.

 

49 Miracle on 34th Street

Every December our televisions are polluted with Christmas movies, and I love every second. Channels like Hallmark and ABC Family introduce new made-for-TV flicks each year, and some of them are halfway entertaining. The big studios usually come up with one or two holiday themed films, with fairly recent examples being stuff like Bad Santa, Christmas with the Kranks, Deck the Halls, and Four Christmases. Sometimes these are okay, but rarely do they have a real impact or any sustainable staying power. They entertain for a couple hours but ultimately are completely forgettable. But there are a handful of films that have become classics…Christmas traditions almost as important as twinkle lights, eggnog, and mistletoe. You’ll see several of those on this list, and one of the oldest is Miracle on 34th Street. Made in 1947, in a post-war era that wanted feel good stories and laughter, it’s the story of a department store Santa who is put on trial to prove whether or not he is real. In a bit of prescient marketing, the film opens with Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which is now thought of as the official kickoff to the Christmas season. Santa charms most of his co-workers, but he sets his sights on a skeptical single Mom and her unbelieving, precocious young daughter. No details are ever given as to why Mom is single or the reasons for her cynicism, but one can assume that she was hurt badly by a man. Santa is joined by a friendly lawyer who has a thing for Mom, which comes in handy when Ol’ Saint Nick runs up against the legal system. I am quite sure that anyone over the age of 30 has seen Miracle on 34th Street. I do worry that younger generations may not fully embrace its greatness since it isn’t shown on TV as much these days. Not that long ago it was shown on NBC immediately following the Macy’s parade, which seemed appropriate. Now NBC airs a dog show. Movie channels like AMC and TCM still show Miracle, but not as much as one may think. In 1994 a remake was made, and it isn’t bad as far as remakes go. Macy’s refused to participate and Gimbel’s was already out of business, so two fictional stores are substituted. Other small changes are made to the plot, but overall it stays fairly faithful to the original and is rather likeable. Still though, it is almost always my stance that the original is better than a remake and I hope that in this case we never stop watching the 1947 classic…in black and white. There is a colorized version, but colorization of black and white films is just so wrong, plus they usually give me a headache.

 

48 You’ve Got Mail

Bogey and Bacall… Hepburn and Tracy…Astaire and Rogers. Classic screen pairings are exceptional. The chemistry has to be just right, and it cannot be forced or planned…the magic just happens. It is my personal opinion that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are one of those magical duos. 1998’s You’ve Got Mail was their third movie together, and is kind of a remake of the 1940 Jimmy Stewart vehicle The Shop Around the Corner. I wouldn’t consider it a true remake, as it is significantly updated to include modern technology…e-mail and chat rooms play a key role and the title itself is borrowed from AOL’s well known welcome to customers signing in to their account. But the basic premise is still there…two lonely people anonymously corresponding and falling in love in the process, all while they are totally unaware that they know each other in real life. This update folds in the concept of competing bookstores, which is likely a big factor in its likeability for me. Greg Kinnear, Parker Posey, Jean Stapleton, and John Randolph have amusing supporting roles, and that is a key ingredient in any great film. Like any tasty recipe the flavors have to maintain a delicate balance. You’ve Got Mail seems to pop up on television a lot, and I must confess that I will generally watch unless I am really busy, which is rare. Further Hanks/Ryan pairings seem unlikely…they are both getting older and Meg Ryan has paid a few too many visits to her friendly neighborhood Botox provider…but we shall savor the goodness they’ve provided for us for many years to come.

 

47 Elf

While Miracle on 34th Street has long been a bona fide Christmas classic, there are a few films that are growing into that role. One of those up and comers is 2003’s Elf, starring Will Ferrell. Ferrell seems to be one of those actors that you either love or hate…there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground amongst fans. That is largely a function of his sophomoric humor and childlike performances. But that irreverent immaturity works perfectly in this movie. As the story goes, an orphaned baby crawls into Santa’s sack on Christmas Eve and ends up living at the North Pole. After three decades of being raised as an elf, Buddy faces the harsh reality that he is actually not one at all and sets off… passing “through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then through the Lincoln Tunnel”…for New York City to find his real Dad, a book publisher who is on Santa’s Naughty List. It’s a fun twist on the standard fish-out-of-water tale, as Buddy’s innocent elfish behavior befuddles those around him while at the same time making us, the audience, crack up laughing. Buddy does things like chew old gum that people have stuck under tables, eat pasta covered in syrup, and burst into a diner with the moniker “World’s Best Cup of Coffee” congratulating them enthusiastically on their accomplishment. He eventually finds his crusty Dad, played by James Caan, and somehow stumbles into Gimbel’s (which was actually defunct by 2003, but we won’t quibble) where he is mistaken for an employee. He eventually gets fired after hysterically attacking a faux Santa (“You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don’t smell like Santa.”), but not before becoming enamored with the lovely Jovie, with whom he develops a relationship. The climax involves the real Santa, Christmas caroling in Central Park, and Buddy’s family & friends uniting to save Christmas. It’s all very silly, very harmless, and a lot of fun. I don’t think it is farfetched to assume that Elf will undoubtedly take its rightful place alongside A Christmas Carol, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and others in the pantheon of beloved holiday films…if it hasn’t already.

 

46 When Harry Met Sally

I am not afraid to admit that I, as a man, like romantic comedies. I would much rather see two people go about the meandering yet fun process of falling in love than watch a bunch of pointless explosions, shootings, and car chases. All that stuff can be entertaining on occasion, but I generally prefer something with an actual storyline. When Harry Met Sally is the gold standard of rom-coms, as they are known. It is the one that every film of its ilk is compared to. Released in 1989, the story covers about a decade and a half and stars Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, who tackle the question “can men and women be just friends?”. While the pairing of Ryan and Crystal doesn’t have quite the enchanting luster of Ryan and Tom Hanks, the two do have a certain quirky chemistry. For guys like me seeing a schlub like Crystal charm his way into the life of a babe like Ryan (pre-Botox addiction) is encouraging even if it is fake and in no way reflects how the world works in reality. Our two lovebirds meet in college and instantly hate each other. This part of the film is the weakest only because it is laughable to see a 40 year old Crystal portray a character half his age, but the interaction and dialogue is so fun and snappy that one can forgive the infraction. As the relationship between Harry and Sally grows so does the film grow on the viewer as things progress. Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby provide amiable support as the obligatory best friends, and the music, done mostly by an at the time unknown Harry Connick Jr. seals the deal. The deli scene…you know what I’m talking about – “I’ll have what she’s having”…is legendary and just another memorable moment that makes the movie great.