100 Memorable Movie Characters – The Top 25

“A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theater admission, & the babysitter were worth it.”    –  Alfred Hitchcock

 

 

Y’all thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?? Waaaayyyyy back at the end of November we presented Part 4 of this series, and then everything just kind of stopped. We didn’t produce as much content during the holidays as usual, and The Sammy Awards were…canceled (for one year only). Then…as y’all are surely aware…the world was thrown into chaos due to the global coronavirus pandemic. And just as we were slowly beginning to emerge from all of that yours truly ran into some old familiar health issues. After a month in the hospital I am currently residing in an even more depressing place. I can think of no better way to pull myself out of the abyss than to reconnect with The Manoverse. For the sake of readability I have decided to break down the Top 25 into two segments. I don’t believe there will be many surprises, but I would love to hear some feedback. Are there any characters I left out?? Who is ranked too high?? Too low?? Keep in mind that I am an 80’s kid, so if you are a decade older or a decade younger some of my choices may not make much sense, but all in all I would stack my list up against any others out on the info superhighway. If you need to catch up or just give yourself a refresher on what we’ve done previously just go here, here, here, & here. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

25     Mickey Mouse (various films)

When we counted down our favorite cartoons a few years ago Mickey placed 10th. However, I feel like he also needs to be included here because he starred in well over 100 short films from 1928-53, as well as about a dozen full length movies. Those films not only introduced a plethora of additional Disney characters to the world (Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Pluto), but they served to etch Mickey into the pop culture consciousness of the first generations of moviegoers. His popularity has endured, and though he is no longer Disney’s biggest star (especially since they’ve expanded their footprint beyond animated movies) Mickey Mouse is still the company’s symbol and the character most associated with it. Three decades would pass between the initial wave of short films and Mickey’s comeback, and since then he has popped up occasionally, although he seems to be more of a television star these days, with any movies he’s in going direct to video.

 

 

 

24     Lt. John McClane (The Die Hard Series)

McClane makes the cut on a technicality. I said at the beginning that we weren’t including Christmas characters like Santa Claus, Ebenezer Scrooge, or George Bailey in this project because we already focused on them a few years ago. Lt. McClane ranked 10th on that particular countdown, but let us not forget that he has been the star of five Die Hard movies, with only the first one being a certified Christmas classic. And while the films that have followed don’t measure up to the original I believe they are good enough (especially the third…1995’s Die Hard With A Vengeance) for John McClane to be included here. I’m not sure it’s fair to call him an underdog, but he does seem to have a knack for finding himself in situations where the odds are stacked against him, and while most normal human beings would fold like a cheap suit under such duress he shines. McClane isn’t a superhero with any kind of special powers…he’s just a regular guy with incredible tenacity and a refreshing wit.

 

Quotes

“Yippie ki yay, motherfucker.”

 

 

23     Kirk, Spock, & Bones (The Star Trek Series)

When we counted down our 100 Memorable TV Characters back in 2018 Captain James T. Kirk & Mister Spock tied for 4th, with Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy ranked 24th. However, not only am I a bit more familiar with the Star Trek movies (six were produced featuring the original crew from 1979-91), but I think the dynamics changed a bit. Bones McCoy is even more endearing as a cranky old man. Captain Kirk balances getting older with his ever present fiery passion and the demands of an evolving Starfleet. Spock is infused with a skosh more humanity. The respect & admiration between the three is palpable and works well in balancing out the action sequences. I have enjoyed JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek films to a degree, but they feel like a poor imitation of the original.

 

Quotes

“I don’t like to lose. I don’t believe in the ‘No-Win’ scenario.” (Kirk)

“Are you out of your Vulcan mind? No human can tolerate the radiation that’s in there!” (Bones)

“I have been and ever shall be your friend.” (Spock)

“I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing.” (Kirk)

“It’s bad enough to be court-martialed and to have to spend the rest of our lives mining borite, but to have to go home in this Klingon flea trap!” (Bones)

“Live long and prosper.” (Spock)

“That’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word. You’ll find it in all the literature of the period.” (Kirk)

“This is insane! You’re proposing that we go backwards in time, pick up two humpback whales, bring them forwards in time, drop ’em off and hope they tell this probe what to go do with itself!” (Bones)

“Concentration is vital. You must be one with the rock.” (Spock)

“Forgive you? I ought to knock you on your goddamned ass.” (Kirk)

“Please Captain…not in front of the Klingons.” (Spock)

“God, I liked him better before he died.” (Bones)

“Damn it Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” (Kirk)

“The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.” (Bones)

“If I were human I believe my response would be…go to Hell.” (Spock)

“This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man has gone before.” (Kirk)

 

 

22     Sherlock Holmes (various films)

Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed on film more than any fictional character other than Dracula & Santa Claus, with the three of them trading the lead back & forth as more stories are produced. Going all the way back to silent films Holmes has starred in about four dozen movies, with the most famous probably being the 14 that were produced from 1939-46 with Basil Rathbone portraying the world’s foremost consulting detective. 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes is a fun adaptation, while I am not keen on the more recent Guy Ritchie films starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. I am a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original short stories & novellas, and don’t believe modern filmmakers do that great of a job in capturing the ambiance & general vibe of the author’s creation. Occasionally they sort of travel in the opposite direction and go for parody. In the case of 1988’s Without a Clue starring Michael Caine it works, while Holmes & Watson with Will Ferrell from a couple of years ago is an abject failure. If Holmes had been consistently portrayed in better movies thru the years it is likely he’d be ranked much higher in this countdown because I adore the character, but it seems like he is far better off on television than on the big screen. Or you could just read the books.

 

Quotes

“No magic, Watson. Pure and simple deduction.”

“The game is afoot!”

“Murder is an insidious thing, Watson. Once a man has dipped his fingers in blood, sooner or later he’ll feel the urge to kill again.”

“A great detective relies on perception, intelligence, and imagination.”

“At the moment I suspect no one and everyone.”

“You’ve a magnificent brain, Moriarty. I admire it. I admire it so much I’d like to present it pickled in alcohol to the London Medical Society.”

“There’s no doubt about it in my mind. Or perhaps I should say, in my imagination. For that’s where crimes are conceived and where they’re solved… in the imagination.”

 

 

 

21     The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)

I must admit that I have not read the 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West or seen the award winning musical based on that book. However, I grew up loving the 1939 classic, and also enjoyed a 2013 film called Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel that explores the origin stories of The Wizard, Glenda the Good Witch, & The Wicked Witch. In the prequel the witches are presented as three sisters: Glinda, Evanora, & Theodora, all daughters of the late King of Oz. Evanora is already evil when we meet her…she is the Wicked Witch of the East. It is Evanora who manipulates Theodora into believing that Oscar Diggs…the eventual Wizard of Oz…has screwed her over. Theodora is heartbroken since she has fallen for Oscar, but once she has been convinced of his bad intentions she is easily persuaded by Evanora to eat a magic apple to cure her sadness. Instead the apple turns Theodora into a hideously green witch that completes her transformation, which is really well done thanks to modern special effects. I’m one of those people who rather enjoys a good backstory in a prequel/sequel as long as it is well-written & makes sense. For example, I hate how the newest reboot in the Halloween series dismisses the idea of Michael Myers being Laurie Strode’s brother (a concept presented in 1981’s Halloween II) because I think that relationship made a lot of sense and was a cool twist. Theodora’s conversion into The Wicked Witch of the West is the most interesting part of an otherwise average (at best) movie. But of course it’d be almost impossible to live up to the standard of the original film, when nasty, bike riding, dog hating Almira Gulch becomes The Wicked Witch of the West during a really vivid dream (maybe). In 2003 The Wicked Witch of the West was 4th on the American Film Institute’s list of 50 Greatest Villains, and nearly a century after the movie’s theatrical release the character is still frightening children of all ages.

 

Quotes

“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”

“I’m melting! Melting!”

 

 

20     Captain Quint (Jaws)

Every sequel that followed Spielberg’s 1975 original failed in one way or another. There are a ton of reasons for those disappointments, but maybe one explanation could be the absence of Robert Shaw as shark hunter Quint. Before co-starring in Jaws Shaw had already been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1966, although her lost to Walter Matthau. Shaw had also found great fame & success after co-starring with Sean Connery in the second James Bond film From Russia with Love. He was reluctant to sign on for Jaws because he didn’t particularly care for Peter Benchley’s novel, but ultimately was persuaded to take the role and we’re all better off for that. Jaws is one of the few examples where the movie is exponentially better than the book, and Shaw’s performance is a key factor. Quint’s haunting speech about the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis might be one of the greatest monologues on film, and his death scene is epic.

 

Quotes

“Here lies the body of Mary Lee, died at the age of 103. For fifteen years she kept her virginity. Not a bad record for this vicinity.”

“I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish! Not like going down to the pond and chasing bluegills & tommycods. This shark, swallow ya whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back the tourists, that’ll put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant! I value my neck a lot more than $3000, Chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s too many captains on this island. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.”

“1100 men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about half an hour. A tiger, 13 footer – you know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. And the idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and he starts poundin’ & hollerin’ & screamin’. Sometimes the shark go away… sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into your eyes. Y’know, the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes after ya, he doesn’t seem to be livin’ until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white, and then… aww, then you hear that terrible, high-pitched screamin’, the ocean turns red, and in spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and… rip ya to pieces. You know, by the end of that first dawn, we lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I don’t know how many men. They averaged six an hour. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us. He was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later, a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know, that was the time I was most frightened – waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a life jacket again. So, 1100 men went in the water, 316 come out, and the sharks took the rest, June 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

 

 

19     Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Scent of a Woman)

Al Pacino has been nominated for nine Academy Awards, but his only win came as a result of portraying blind, angry, & suicidal retired Army officer Frank Slade. While The Godfather, Glengarry Glen Ross, and others might be better films, there’s little doubt that Slade is Pacino’s best performance. He carries an otherwise pedestrian movie on his back, chewing enough scenery along the way to feed a small village.

 

Quotes

“Women! What could you say? Who made ’em? God must have been a genius. The hair…they say the hair is everything, you know. Have you ever buried your nose in a mountain of curls…just wanted to go to sleep forever? Or lips… and when they touched, yours were like…that first swallow of wine after you just crossed the desert.”

“You got integrity Charlie. I don’t know whether to shoot you or adopt you.”

“I’m just gettin’ warmed up! I don’t know who went to this place, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell, whoever. Their spirit is dead; if they ever had one, it’s gone. You’re building a rat ship here, a vessel for sea-going snitches. And if you think you’re preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham! What kind of show are you guys puttin’ on here today? I mean, the only class in this act is sittin’ next to me. And I’m here to tell you, this boy’s soul is intact. It’s non-negotiable. You don’t know what out of order is Mr. Trask. I’d show you, but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fuckin’ blind. If I were the man I was five years ago, I’d take a FLAMETHROWER to this place! Out of order?! Who the hell you think you’re talking to?! I’ve been around, you know? There was a time I could see! And I have seen…boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off! But there is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that. You think you’re merely sending this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are executing his soul! And why? Because he’s not a “Baird man”. Baird men. You hurt this boy, you’re going to be Baird bums, the lot of ya.”

 

 

18     Inspector Clouseau (The Pink Panther Series)

When I was a kid The Pink Panther was an animated pitchman for insulation. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I discovered the film series starring Peter Sellers as a hopelessly inept French detective who obliviously wreaks havoc everywhere he goes. Sellers starred in a half dozen Panther movies, with Alan Arkin, Steve Martin, & Roger Moore taking on the role in other offerings that should be mostly ignored. By far the best of the lot is 1964’s A Shot in the Dark, which finds Clouseau investigating the murder of an elderly millionaire’s chauffeur. Sellers had a long & successful career that included multiple Academy Award nominations and Golden Globe wins, but his greatest legacy is Clouseau.

 

Quotes

“Facts! Nothing matters but the facts. Without them the science of criminal investigation is nothing more than a guessing game.”

I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.”

“We must accelerate out training program. You must learn to attack me whenever and wherever I least expect it. And you, you must give no quarter.

“You fool! You have broken my pointing stick! I have nothing to point with now!”

 

 

17     Harry Potter (The Harry Potter Series)

Millennials are freaking out right now because they think I’ve ranked their beloved cinematic hero way too low. Well, okay…you are entitled to your opinion. However, let me clarify a couple of things. First of all, I am slightly older, so I didn’t experience Potter-mania during my formative youth. It took me a few years to jump on the bandwagon and I was about 30 years old. Secondly, I don’t think the movies even approach the brilliance of the books. Having said that, there is no denying that The Boy Who Lived and the world that was created around him have had a huge impact on pop culture in the past two decades. When author JK Rowling signed a movie deal in 1999 a seven month search to cast the title role ended when producers discovered 11 year old Daniel Radcliffe, and it turned out to be a brilliant choice. It cannot be an easy task to bring a literary icon to life, especially for such a young kid. That’s a heavy responsibility. Fortunately Radcliffe was up to the challenge and an entire generation couldn’t imagine anyone else as Harry. Thru eight films over the course of a decade we watch him grow from a scared & confused young lad to a confident & brave teenager who ultimately defeats Lord Voldemort and saves the entire wizarding world. Contrary to some religious folks who stay away from Harry Potter and its sorcery I see a lot of very spiritual themes in the story, not the least of which is good triumphing over evil.

 

Quotes

“He was their friend, and he betrayed them. HE WAS THEIR FRIEND! I hope he finds me cause when he does I’m gonna be ready! When he does, I’m gonna kill him!”

“I didn’t put my name in that cup. I don’t want eternal glory.”

“Working hard is important. But there is something that matters even more…believing in yourself. Think of it this way; every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now: students. If they can do it, why not us?”

 

 

16     Ferris Bueller (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

Movies & TV shows set in high school are a tried & true entertainment staple, and frequently feature a character who is popular with everyone except the principal, is enviably cool & charming, thumbs their nose at authority, and gets away with all sorts of hijinks. However, I submit to you that every other character in that mold is a poor imitation of Chicago’s own Ferris Bueller, who takes his girlfriend Sloane & morose best pal Cameron on the ultimate Senior Skip Day, all while his clueless parents think he’s at home sick in bed. The only people who are onto the young scalawag are his cynical sister Jeannie and Ed Rooney, the hapless principal. Ferris Bueller, as embodied by young Matthew Broderick, isn’t particularly cool or sexy, like the stereotypical jock you see in too many movies. He isn’t the formulaic nerd. Neither his popularity with students nor the reasons for Rooney’s disdain are explored deeply because it doesn’t matter…we take those things at face value and just enjoy the kind of innocent adventure we all wish we could have had when we were that age.

 

Quotes

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

 

 

 

15     Khan Noonien Singh (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

Khan first appeared on a Season 1 episode of TOS called “Space Seed”, during which The Enterprise stumbles upon a ship full of Earthlings in suspended animation. Khan is a genetically engineered superhuman with evil intentions, but his plan is foiled by Captain Kirk and he is exiled on a remote planet. Fifteen years later Khan & Kirk battled on the big screen in what most believe to be the best Trek film. In between actor Ricardo Montalban had moved on to his most famous role as Mr. Roarke on ABC’s Fantasy Island from 1980-85, but Trekkies everywhere are glad he revisited the role of Khan. The odd combination of Khan’s superior strength & warrior mentality and Montalban’s suave Mexican accent, as well as his fondness for quoting Moby Dick, serve to make the character that much more memorable,

 

Quotes

“Ceti Alpha VI exploded six months after we were left here. The shock shifted the orbit of this planet, and everything was laid waste. Admiral Kirk never bothered to check on our progress! It was only the fact of my genetically-engineered intellect that allowed us to survive.”

“I’ve done far worse than kill you. I’ve hurt you, and I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her…marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet, buried alive.”

“He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”

 

 

14     Don Vito Corleone (The Godfather & The Godfather Part II)

One of the more interesting bits of Academy Awards trivia is that Don Corleone is one of only two characters that won awards for different actors. Marlon Brando won Best Actor in 1972 for the original Godfather, while Robert DeNiro won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as young Vito in the 1974 sequel (Heath Ledger &  Joaquin Phoenix.achieved similar acclaim portraying The Joker). Brando was the top choice of the novel’s author Mario Puzo to portray Don Corleone, although the film studio preferred Ernest Borgnine, George C. Scott, Orson Welles, or Anthony Quinn (thank God Puzo prevailed). Brando famously stuck cotton balls in his cheeks and put shoe polish in his hair to darken it, which is the kind of small quirk that helps a character stand out. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are both nearly flawless films, with Brando & DeNiro’s interpretations of Vito Corleone a huge reason why

 

Quotes

“Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first? We’ve known each other many years, but this is the first time you ever came to me for counsel or for help. I can’t remember the last time that you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is godmother to your only child. But let’s be frank here. You never wanted my friendship and you were afraid to be in my debt. You found paradise in America, you had a good trade. You made a good living, the police protected you, and there were courts of law. You didn’t need a friend like me. But, now you come to me, and you say: “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder for money. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, then that scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.”

“Someday…and that day may never come…I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”

“I want no inquiries made. I want no acts of vengeance. I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the Five Families. This war stops now.”

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

“I want you to use all your powers, and all your skills. I don’t want his mother to see him this way. Look how they massacred my boy.”

“I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be friendly very long if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they regard as a harmless vice. But drugs is a dirty business.”

“I spent my whole life trying not to be careless. Women & children can afford to be careless, but not men.”

“Tattaglia’s a pimp. He never could’ve outfought Santino, but I didn’t know until this day that it was Barzini all along.”

“I never wanted this for you. I worked my whole life…I don’t apologize…to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all of those big shots. I don’t apologize. That’s my life, but I thought that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone. Something. There wasn’t enough time, Michael. Wasn’t enough time.”

“I have a sentimental weakness for my children, and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen.”

 

 

13     Dracula & Frankenstein (various films)

I don’t have children and don’t pay all that much attention to Halloween or trick-or-treat, but I know that trends in costumes vary annually based on who’s in the news and what pop culture is offering. However, I’m willing to bet that Dracula & Frankenstein still sell their fair share of costumes each year no matter what the most popular characters du jour happen to be. Both novels are fantastic, and if you are so inclined I always encourage people to read them. Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, while Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897. Most probably have a general idea of what the stories are about so I’ll spare you a rehash. Dracula has appeared in atleast 200 movies since the 1920’s, everything from straightforward adaptations of the book to comedic parodies like 1979’s Love at First Bite to animated fare. My favorites are the 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, which is fairly mild in comparison to modern horror films, and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (they meet Dracula too), which is the kind of comedic scary entertainment I gravitate toward every October. Frankenstein has been featured in dozens of films since the Silent Era, with my favorites being the 1931 Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, the aforementioned Abbott & Costello spoof, and Mel Brooks’ 1974 hilarious classic Young Frankenstein.

 

Quotes

“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” (Dracula)

“You are too late. My blood now flows through her veins. She will live through the centuries to come, as I have lived.” (Dracula)

“To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious! There are far worse things awaiting man than death.” (Dracula)

“For as long as I can remember, people have hated me. They looked at my face and my body and they ran away in horror. In my loneliness I decided that if I could not inspire love, which was my deepest hope, I would instead cause fear. I live because this poor, half-crazed genius has given me life. He alone held an image of me as something beautiful. And then, when it would have been easy enough to stay out of danger, he used his own body as a guinea pig to give me a calmer brain and a somewhat more sophisticated way of expressing myself.” (Frankenstein)

 

 

12     Han Solo, Princess Leia, & Luke Skywalker (The Star Wars Trilogy)

I know, I know…it’s a cop-out to tie these three. Guilty as charged. Having said that, I don’t see any way around it. If the prequels & sequels taught us anything it’s that we needed this trio…all three of them…together. They each bring something a little different to the table, and it takes all of them to bring peace to a galaxy far far away. It’s a damn shame that the idiots at Disney squandered an opportunity to bring them together again, and now that chance is lost forever.

 

Quotes

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” (Princess Leia)

“It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.” (Han Solo)

“I’ll never turn to the dark side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” (Luke Skywalker)

“Somebody has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, flyboy.” (Princess Leia)

“Never tell me the odds!” (Han Solo)

“I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” (Luke Skywalker)

“You know, sometimes I amaze even myself.” (Han Solo)

 

 

11     Willy Wonka (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory)

Author Roald Dahl published Charlie & the Chocolate Factory in 1964, with the film adaptation arriving less than a decade later. Dahl helped write the screenplay but didn’t like the finished product for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons can be found in the title. The movie focuses much more on Wonka than it does the book’s main protagonist, 11 year old Charlie Bucket. One can only guess why such a change was made, but one factor may have been the casting of Gene Wilder, a known entity who had been nominated for an Oscar just a couple of years before. Wilder portrays Wonka in such a way that the viewer isn’t quite sure what to think. Is he crazy, or harmlessly eccentric?? Is he clueless, or does he know exactly what he’s doing?? We concede that he’s a bit odd, but we like him anyway, and that’s important. Characters like Willie Wonka are tricky, especially thru the prism of modern sensibilities when we’re taught to be somewhat wary of certain types of weirdos, but Wilder pulls it off. It’s a shame Dahl was so displeased with the film because it prevented the sequel…Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator…from being made, and it would’ve been cool to see Gene Wilder get a second opportunity to bring Willy Wonka to life.

 

Quotes

“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Want to change the world… there’s nothing to it.”

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

 

 

 

Stay tuned for the Top 10…coming…soon-ish.

35+ Days of Christmas on WSAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Wednesday        11/21

4pm            Free Birds

6pm            Dutch

8pm            Home for the Holidays

10pm                   Scent of a Woman

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Day       11/22

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

4pm            Holiday Inn

6pm            Grumpy Old Men

8pm            A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving     

8:30pm      Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

10:30pm    The Nightmare Before Christmas

 

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

 

 

 

Friday        11/23

4pm            Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Holiday Inn        

10pm                   Miracle on 34th St. (1947)

 

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

 

 

 

 

Saturday    11/24

Noon          The Year Without a Santa Claus

1pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

2pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

3pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

5pm                   Miracle on 34th Street (1994)       

7pm            Scrooge (1951)

9pm            Christmas with the Kranks

 

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

 

 

Sunday      11/25

Noon          The Star Wars Holiday Special

12:30pm    A Charlie Brown Christmas

1pm            All I Want for Christmas

3pm            Christmas Every Day

5pm            Four Christmases

7pm            Fred Claus

9pm            Frosty the Snowman

9:30pm      Scrooge (1951)

 

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

 

 

Monday     11/26

4pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

6pm            Scrooge (1951)

8pm            Trapped in Paradise

10pm                   Santa Claus: The Movie

 

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

 

 

Tuesday    11/27

4pm            Deck the Halls

6pm            The Santa Clause

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

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

 

 

Wednesday 11/28

4pm            Scrooge (1970)                                                 

6pm            Frosty the Snowman  

6:30pm      Disney’s A Christmas Carol

8:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas

9pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

9:30pm      The Lemon Drop Kid

 

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

 

 

 

Thursday 11/29

4pm            Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

5pm            The Star Wars Holiday Special    

6:30pm      The Lemon Drop Kid

8:30pm      A Christmas Carol (1938)

10:30pm    A Christmas Carol (1984)    

 

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

 

 

Friday 11/30

4pm            Mixed Nuts

6pm            Lethal Weapon

8pm            Die Hard

10pm                   Bad Santa

 

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

 

Saturday 12/1

Noon          Mickey’s Christmas Carol   

12:30pm    The Star Wars Holiday Special

2pm            Disney’s A Christmas Carol

4pm            It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

6pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

8pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

10pm                   Scrooge (1970) 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 12/2

Noon          The Muppet Christmas Carol

2pm            Jingle All the Way

4pm            Scrooge (1970)

5pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

7pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

9pm            The Ref    

 

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

 

 

 

Monday 12/3

4pm            Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

4:30pm      The Polar Express

6:30pm      Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

7:30pm      How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

8pm            Frosty the Snowman

8:30pm      Mickey’s Christmas Carol   

9pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

 

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

 

 

 

Tuesday 12/4

4pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

4:30pm      Rise of the Guardians

6:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas

7pm            The Santa Clause

9pm            Scrooged

 

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

 

Wednesday 12/5

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

6pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Ref

 

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

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/6

4pm            White Christmas

6pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

8pm            The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

10pm                   Scrooged 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/7

4pm            Arthur Christmas

6pm            Trapped in Paradise

8pm            The Ref

10pm                   Silent Night, Deadly Night

 

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

 

Saturday 12/8

Noon          The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

1pm            It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

3pm            White Christmas

5pm            Santa Claus: The Movie

7pm            The Bishop’s Wife

9pm            Jingle All the Way

 

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

 

Sunday 12/9

Noon          Holiday Inn

2pm            White Christmas

4pm            Elf    

6pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

8pm            A Christmas Story

10pm                   Scrooged

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12/10

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

6pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

8pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

10pm                   Home Alone

 

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

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 12/11

4pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

5pm            The Ref

7pm            Elf

9pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12/12

4pm            The Polar Express     

6pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

8pm            A Christmas Story

10pm                   Home Alone

 

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

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/13

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

6pm            A Christmas Story

8pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

10pm                   Elf    

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/14

4pm            The Family Stone

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Die Hard   

10pm                   Lethal Weapon

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 12/15

Noon          A Christmas Carol (1938)

2pm            Frosty the Snowman  

2:30pm      All I Want for Christmas

4:30pm      Christmas Every Day 

6:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas 

7pm            The Family Stone

9pm            Die Hard

 

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

 

 

 

Sunday 12/16

Noon          A Christmas Carol (1999)

2pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

3pm            A Christmas Carol (1938)

5pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

7pm            Mickey’s Christmas Carol

7:30pm      Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

8pm            Scrooge (1951)

10pm                   Scrooge (1970)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12/17

4pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

6pm            Trapped in Paradise

8pm            Fred Claus

10pm                   Four Christmases

 

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

 

Tuesday 12/18

4pm            Christmas Every Day 

6pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

8pm            Frosty the Snowman

8:30pm      How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

9pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

9:30pm      Scrooge (1951)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12/19

4pm            The Polar Express

6pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

7pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

8pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

10pm                   The Family Stone

 

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

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/20

4pm            White Christmas

6pm            The Polar Express

8pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation       

10pm                   The Ref

 

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

 

 

 

Friday 12/21

4pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Scrooged

10pm                   Santa Claus: The Movie

 

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

 

 

 

 

Saturday 12/22

Noon          Fred Claus

2pm            Santa Claus: The Movie

4pm            All I Want for Christmas

6pm            Disney’s A Christmas Carol

8pm            Home Alone

10pm                   Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 12/23

Noon          Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

1pm            The Year Without a Santa Claus

2pm            Home Alone      

4pm            Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

6pm            The Santa Clause

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Eve

Noon          Elf    

2pm            The Santa Clause

4pm                   Scrooged

5pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

7pm            A Christmas Story

9pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

 

 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild & sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

Christmas Day

11am                   How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

11:30am    A Charlie Brown Christmas

Noon           Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

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

2:30pm      A Christmas Carol (1938)

4:30pm      The Polar Express

6:30pm      White Christmas

8:30pm      Disney’s A Christmas Carol

 

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

 

Wednesday 12/26

Noon          Home Alone

2pm            Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

4pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

6pm            Elf

8pm            A Christmas Story

 

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

 

Thursday, 12/27

Noon          Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

1:30pm      Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

2:30pm      New Year’s Eve

4:30pm      When Harry Met Sally

6:30pm      Holiday Inn

8:30pm      Sleepless in Seattle

 

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

 

 

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 2)

Less than a year ago…right after Christmas…I commented on Freeform’s 25 Days of Christmas, and this year they are having the same issues. With streaming options the entire Christmas movie watching process has evolved, but for those who don’t have a streaming player and anyone of a certain age who is used to watching their holiday favorites thru mindless channel surfing Freeform’s month long “event” has become problematic. I’m not a television executive and know nothing about the ins & outs of ownership and rights fees and all that jazz. Freeform is owned by Disney so obviously they’re going to air films produced under that banner. I get it. However, as massive of an entity as that company is one would think they’d have access to a wider selection of movies. Not only do they spend too much time showing Frozen, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, & the Harry Potter franchise, none of which are Christmas movies, but the Christmas movies they do show are the same few over & over. As a fan part of me doesn’t mind because I love those particular Christmas movies, but as a couch potato & semi-creative person I yearn for the powers-that-be to do better. If I were in charge of the process the event would span 4pm-midnight (approximately) every night, meaning there’d be room for four movies each evening, or maybe just a couple of feature films and then a few animated specials. And it’d be my goal to not repeat a film or special more than 3 or 4 times. Math isn’t my thing, but off the top of my head it seems like that’d mean I’d need the rights to maybe three dozen Christmas movies & specials, which shouldn’t be that much of a challenge for the folks at Disney. The 25 Days of Christmas has been a thing since the mid-90’s and has survived multiple rebrandings of the TV channel itself, but I sense weariness from fans who look forward to the holiday season and Freeform’s contribution to it. Anyway, if you need to go back and catch up on second round action in the North Pole and Eggnog divisions please follow the links to do so. When you’re up to speed come back here and enjoy Round 2 in the Mistletoe Division.

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

 Quotes

Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny f^&#@ing Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white a$$ down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of a$$holes this side of the nuthouse. – Clark Griswold

Hurry up, Clark. I’m freezing my baguettes off. – Grandpa Art

You couldn’t hear a dump truck driving through a nitroglycerin plant. – Uncle Louis

They had to replace my metal plate with a plastic one. Every time Catherine would rev up the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour. – Cousin Eddie

I don’t know what to say, except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery. – Ellen Griswold

 

Factoids

The movie is based on John Hughes’ short story Christmas ’59, the second vacation story to be published in National Lampoon (the first was Vacation ’58, which was the basis for National Lampoon’s Vacation).

Mae Questel, who portrays Aunt Bethany, was the original voice of Betty Boop.

When Clark and Cousin Eddie are talking in the living room, they are drinking egg nog out of Walley World mugs. Walley World was the destination of the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation.

The scene where the cat bites on the Christmas lights cord and gets electrocuted was nearly cut from the movie. Prior to the first test screening, the studio executives wanted the scene taken out, fearing that it might offend some viewers, but Producer Matty Simmons begged them to leave the scene in, and they eventually gave in to his request. After the first test screening, the test audience scored the cat electrocution scene as their number one favorite scene throughout the entire movie.

The house in which the Griswolds’ neighbors, Todd and Margo, live, is the same house where the Murtaugh family lived in all four Lethal Weapon movies.

 

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Trapped in Paradise

Quotes

“Alvin, if we’re going in circles, I’m going to break your neck”…”We’re not. I took four lefts, just like the map said.”…”Four lefts is a circle you idiot!” – Bill & Alvin Firpo

In the Firpo family, the man with half a brain is king. – Bill Firpo

“I’m tellin’ ya, if I had a gun on me right now I’d go in there and take over that place.”…”Bill, you wouldn’t be angry if I were to tell you there might be guns in the trunk.” – Bill & Dave Firpo

 

Factoids

Dana Carvey loosely based his character’s speaking style on a young Mickey Rourke.

Jon Lovitz claimed that the cast hated making the movie so much they took to calling it Trapped in Bullshit.

 

The Verdict:       Christmas Vacation. I’m a little concerned that Vacation is heading down the old IAWL path, wherein it is on television so much each holiday season that a backlash is inevitable. But for now the masses still seem to love it, yours truly included. Trapped in Paradise is special to me for a couple of very personal reasons, but I can be objective enough to admit that it’s not a great movie.

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Quotes

Now you know how Santa uses these flying reindeer to pull his sleigh. You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen. But do you recall the most famous reindeer of all? – Sam the Snowman

A toy is never truly happy until it is loved by a child. – King Moonracer

Someday I’d like to be a dentist. We need one up here. I’ve been studying. It’s fascinating; you’ve no idea. Molars and bicuspids and incisors. – Hermey the Elf

How do you like that? Even among misfits you’re a misfit. – Yukon Cornelius

You’d better go home with your folks. From now on, gang, we won’t let Rudolph join in any reindeer games! Right? – Comet

 

Factoids

When Yukon Cornelius throws his pick axe into the ground and takes it out and licks it, he’s checking neither for gold nor silver. The original concept for the special stated that Yukon was in fact searching for the elusive peppermint mine, which he found eventually.

The song Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was a seasonal standard long before it was used in the film. It was written in 1939 & its popularity skyrocketed in 1947 with Gene Autry’s recording.

When the film was first released in 1964 the technology of using an articulated metal armature inside the figures was considered so amazing that TV Guide devoted four pages to the story. They failed to mention that the “new” technology had been pioneered 31 years before, most prominently inside the gorilla King Kong.

Yukon Cornelius’ sled dogs include a cocker spaniel, a poodle, a Saint Bernard, a collie, and a dachshund.

 

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Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Quotes

There is nothing on this earth more terrifying to me than a life doomed to poverty. – Ebenezer Scrooge

There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say, Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round…apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that…as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time…the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it! – Fred

 

Factoids

In the Cratchit home, there is a portrait of the story’s author, Charles Dickens, hanging by the fireplace.

During the opening credits, as we fly through the old London city roof tops, one can see the second London Bridge. In 843 it was just 12 years old and remained in London for another 124 years before it was dismantled and sold to an American in 1967. It can now be seen spanning Bridgewater Channel in Lake Havasu City, AZ.

Scrooge falls at least eighteen times throughout the film. This may be a reference to Scrooge being humbled before his fellow man, the fact that he falls from high places, as well as low ones. His final fall is from the rail at the back of the carriage on Christmas day. This fall seems to hurt him least of all, since his heart and spirit have been “lightened” by the spirit’s visits.

Between Scrooge leaving Marley’ s corpse and Scrooge going to his counting house there is a scene where servants and cooks are preparing a banquet for the mayor of London. This is directly taken from the novel where Dickens mentions a banquet being prepared for the mayor and his subjects. The only other film adaption that shows this is the 1935 version starring Seymour Hicks.

After sending the prize turkey on to Bob Cratchit’s house, Scrooge grabs onto the back of a carriage and hangs on for a ride down the street, waving to people. Many viewers saw this as a nod to one of Robert Zemeckis’ previous works, Back to the Future. However, when asked about it in an interview, Zemeckis said that had not occurred to him but reasoned it was a subconscious image.

Scrooge’s “future tombstone” says he was born in 1786 meaning Scrooge was 57 years old in the present and 50 years old when Marley died in 1836.

Scrooge doesn’t go to Cratchit’s house on Christmas Day after the encounter with the three spirits. Scrooge visits his nephew and has Christmas dinner with him, his wife, and their friends, followed by Scrooge giving Cratchit a raise the next day at work, keeping true to the book.

 

The Verdict:       Rudolph. Opinions seem divided on Disney’s version of Carol. Some people still haven’t embraced motion capture, though I think it is utilized beautifully in this movie. One can see noticeable improvements in the technology when comparing Carol to The Polar Express, which was produced just five years earlier. Some people aren’t big Jim Carrey fans. I count myself among that group, but won’t deny his talent and the fact that it is a perfect complement for this film. Some people think this version of Carol is a little too dark and…raucous. I understand that perspective but don’t have any issue with it myself. Having said all of that, Rudolph is…well, it’s Rudolph. It is the greatest achievement of the Rankin-Bass team, and has been a Christmas tradition for over a half century.

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Quotes

My time with you is at an end, Ebenezer Scrooge. Will you profit from what I’ve shown you of the good in most men’s hearts? – The Spirit of Christmas Present

A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. It is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. – Charity Collector

Can you forgive a pig-headed old fool with no eyes to see with and no ears to hear with all these years? – Ebenezer Scrooge

As your business prospered, Ebenezer Scrooge, a golden idol took possession of your heart. – The Spirit of Christmas Past

We Spirits of Christmas do not live only one day of our year. We live the whole three-hundred and sixty-five. So is it true of the Child born in Bethlehem. He does not live in men’s hearts one day of the year, but in all days of the year. You have chosen not to seek Him in your heart. Therefore, you will come with me and seek Him in the hearts of men of good will. – The Spirit of Christmas Present

 

Factoids

The song that Mr. Jorkin whistles after offering Scrooge a job is The Lincolnshire Poacher, wherein a poacher sings how much he loves unlawfully entering property and trapping game there. Poaching also refers to the practice of hiring an employee away from a competitor, which is what Jorkin is doing with Scrooge.

Although the word Scrooge means a stingy person now, in Charles Dickens’s time the word was a slang term meaning “to squeeze.”

This is the only film adaptation of A Christmas Carol that omits Scrooge’s famous line “If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled in his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart”.

Changes to the screenplay from the Charles Dickens novella were made, mostly in the Christmas Past sequence. Among these changes are: reversing the birth order of Scrooge and his sister, so as to add that Scrooge’s mother died giving birth to him…creating a character named Mr. Jorkin, who does not appear in the book…flashbacks of several incidents in Scrooge’s past (e.g. his sister’s death, meeting Jacob Marley, taking over Fezziwig’s warehouse, & Marley’s death) which do not appear in the book.

Just after Marley dies the Ghost of Christmas Past calls Scrooge a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, covetous old sinner”, which is how Charles Dickens describes Scrooge in the novel.

 

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A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Quotes

One of the greatest traditions we have is the Thanksgiving Day football game. And the biggest, most important tradition of all is the kicking off of the football. – Lucy Van Pelt

Why should I give thanks on Thanksgiving? What have I got to be thankful for? All it does is make more work for us at school. Do you know what we have to do? We have to write an essay. – Sally Brown

What blockhead cooked all this? What kind of Thanksgiving dinner is this? Where’s the turkey, Chuck? Don’t you know anything about Thanksgiving dinners? Where’s the mashed potatoes, where’s the cranberry sauce, where’s the pumpkin pie? – Peppermint Patty

Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that’s what they mean by “Thanksgiving”, Charlie Brown. – Marcie

 

Factoids

Peppermint Patty and Marcie are voiced by male actors.

Lee Mendelson always objected to the ending where Snoopy serves Woodstock a piece of turkey, because it made him seem like a cannibal. But it was kept in at the suggestion of Charles M. Schulz and Bill Melendez.

 

The Verdict:       Scrooge. Sorry Charlie…your Thanksgiving just doesn’t measure up to a couple of other Peanuts specials. I think that by the time Thanksgiving was produced in 1973 the children whose voices had been used in earlier specials had grown up so different actors were used. And though Vince Guaraldi once again composed the music it isn’t quite as enchanting as other tunes he’d done. This version of A Christmas Carol starring Alistair Sim is consistently praised as being amongst the best.

 

 

Die Hard

Quotes

They’ll spend a month sifting through the rubble and by the time they figure out what went wrong we’ll be sitting on a beach earning twenty percent. – Hans Gruber

I’m Agent Johnson, this is Special Agent Johnson. No relation. – FBI Agent Johnson

Yippee-ki-ya mother%^*@#$! – John McClane

When you steal $600 you can just disappear. When you steal 600 million they will find you…unless they think you’re already dead. – Hans Gruber

 

Factoids

The scene in which Gruber and McClane meet was inserted into the script after Alan Rickman was found to be proficient at mimicking American accents. The filmmakers had been looking for a way to have the two characters meet prior to the climax and capitalized on Rickman’s talent. It was was unrehearsed to create a greater feeling of spontaneity between the two actors.

Roger Ebert was one the few critics to give Die Hard a negative review. The main reason he did was because he hated the character Chief Dwayne Robinson. He said the character was unnecessary, useless, dumb, and prevented the movie from working.

In a street scene, a gas station sign shows the price per gallon as 74 cents.

Only a couple of the actors who played the German terrorists were actually German and only a couple more could speak broken German. The actors were cast for their menacing appearances rather than their nationality. 9 of the 12 were over 6 feet tall.

Bruce Willis was shooting Moonlighting concurrently. He would shoot the television series during the day and then come to the Fox lot in the evening to work on the film.

Near the end of the film Hans Gruber mocks John McClane by saying that the conflict wouldn’t end like an American Western with “Grace Kelly riding off into the sunset with John Wayne”. McClane corrects him and says he means Gary Cooper. The film referenced is High Noon, another action movie about a lone hero having to defeat a large group of enemies while being vastly outnumbered.

 

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Elf

Quotes

I’m the worst toymaker in the world! I’m a cotton-headed ninny-muggins. – Buddy the Elf

You stink. You smell like beef and cheese, you don`t smell like Santa. – Buddy the Elf

We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup. – Buddy the Elf

This place reminds me of Santa’s workshop. Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me. – Buddy the Elf

 

Factoids

Will Ferrell suffered from headaches throughout filming due to actually eating so much sugary food on camera.

Elf was turned into a Broadway musical that premiered in November 2010 and ran through January 2011.

The elf Ming Ming, who appears briefly in the beginning of the film, is played by Peter Billingsley, who starred as Ralphie Parker in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story.

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Quotes

I’m Willy Krueger and I’m custodian over at the Beck Apartments, but, but you know that, don’t you. You know that. I guess nobody here can see me or hear me except you. I didn’t bring a gift, but I guess that’s not important. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. As long as I can remember you’ve been right by my side. I’ll never forget when you walked with me right in those first few hours after I lost Martha. I’ve always been able to count on you, when I felt dark inside. You were right there, right, every time, right there. Even when I didn’t feel good about myself, I knew that you cared for me enough, and that made me feel better. I love you. You’re my closest, my finest friend. And that means that I can hold my head high, wherever I go. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. – Willy Krueger

 

Factoids

James Stewart approached the scene where Mr. Kreuger talks to the infant Jesus very seriously. Before filming this scene, he told the producer Michael McLean, “I’ve got only one of these in me. Everyone who doesn’t need to be here, get them out. Tell them I want this to go well. I can do other takes, but this will be the right one. There will only be one.” After the scene was finished, McLean asked the cameraman, “Did you get it?” “I hope so,” was the reply, “because I was crying.”

Stewart accepted the role because he believed it would promote the true meaning of Christmas. He said that Christmas “has come to be connected with Santa Claus, gifts, lights, decorations, & trees. We may be guilty of forgetting that Christmas is really the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.”

The scene where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir starts clapping and gives Willy Krueger a standing ovation was the actual reaction of the Choir to James Stewart’s directing. It was a total surprise and completely unscripted.

 

The Verdict:       Elf. We arrived at a Triple Threat Match due to a first round tie. As much as I love Mr. Krueger’s Christmas one cannot escape the fact that it is never aired anywhere on television and isn’t available on any streaming service. That’s a huge issue. When YouTube is my only option to watch a movie I cannot in good conscience advance it further in this competition. For those who may be wondering, please don’t let the fact that Krueger was produced by The Mormon Church prevent you from checking it out…there is no objectionable ideology presented in the story at all. It’s the end of the road for Die Hard as well. The debate about its worthiness as a Christmas movie is cheeky fun, and I will always defend my opinion. However, detractors make some valid points and there really are much more Christmasy movies out there. As with Christmas Vacation I am a bit apprehensive about overexposure of Elf (I’m looking at you specifically Freeform), but at present it is still generally considered to be lighthearted & palatable pleasure for the entire family, and how many things can one say that about these days??

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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

Top 25 Fictional Christmas Characters…..Part Deux

Welcome back!! If you have not taken the time to peruse Part 1 please do so now. Take your time…I’ll wait right here.

 

In the meantime, allow me a moment of reflection…

christmas2A year ago I languished in a hospital during Thanksgiving, Christmas, & New Year’s. I missed practically everything except watching Christmas movies on television. This project was in the works way before all of that, so the two events aren’t connected. Being able to go out & about this year…to have the privilege of breaking bread with my family on Thanksgiving…to be able to buy gifts for family & friends…to see all of the beautiful lights in the neighborhoods…to hear a jazz ensemble play a lovely rendition of Silent Night…to see the big beautiful tree at church & put up a much more humble tree in my own place…to enjoy hot chocolate & fireworks at a local community Christmas celebration…to be able to eat goodies & participate in a Secret Santa exchange with co-workers…to be able to spend the upcoming carolers2Christmas Eve with extended family…to be able to sing Christmas carols with church family on a crisp early December evening & worship in God’s house on Christmas Day…all fill my heart with immense joy, and really, shouldn’t that be part of the goal during the holiday season??

 

Okay, so now that you’re all caught up let’s finish with the second half of the countdown. Adeste Fideles.

 

 

 

 

 

12     Charlie Brown / Bob Cratchit

charlie_brown_xmas_treeI see these two as kindred spirits…overlooked, taken advantage of, & pushed around by those who don’t appreciate their gentle souls. Charlie Brown, of course, is the perpetual 8 year old boy who is the centerpiece of Charles Shulz’s long running Peanuts comic strip. Chuck is a prototypical yet resolute lovable loser. In the 1965 classic special A Charlie Brown Christmas he is down in the dumps and just can’t find the Christmas spirit. With a little help from his friends (especially Linus) Charlie Brown eventually gets in the holiday groove just in time to save a sad little Christmas tree. Cratchit is similarly downtrodden…abused by his boss, lacking sufficient funds to comfortably provide for his bobcratchitlarge family, & facing the inevitable death of his ill son. Yet, much like Charlie Brown, Bob Cratchit is determined to overcome negative circumstances and enjoy Christmas. I’m sure I am not the only person who almost always roots for the little guy, and Charlie Brown & Bob Cratchit are the two ultimate underdogs of the holiday season.

 

 

11     The Island of Misfit Toys

My friend The Owl & I often refer to ourselves as inhabitants of The Island of Misfit Toys…not cool enough, rich enough, sexy enough, or  misfittoysunprincipled enough to fit in with The Pretty People in modern day America. The reference comes from the 1964 stop motion special Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, during which Rudolph and his friends Yukon Cornelius & Hermie the Elf happen upon an island populated by toys that don’t quite meet societal expectations. There’s Charlie-in-the-Box, a polka-dotted elephant, a train with square wheels, a water pistol that squirts jelly, a bird that swims, the cowboy that rides an ostrich, & an airplane that can’t fly…among others. The island is ruled by King Moonracer (another fantastic name), a winged lion whose most fervent wish is that Santa Claus will visit the island and find loving homes for these defective & unwanted toys. These characters are a fascinating & subversive bit of social commentary, appreciated by adults but explained on a level that can be understood by children. In 2001 a sequel called Rudolph & The Island of Misfit Toys was produced for the home video market, but I have yet to check it out. Maybe someday.

 

 

10     Cousin Eddie / John McClane

cousineddieWe begin the Top 10 with an unavoidable tie. This is kind of a funny stalemate since these two couldn’t possibly be more different. We first meet Cousin Eddie in 1983’s Vacation, where he & his wife, along with a sizeable brood of offspring, make a brief but memorable appearance as Ellen Griswold’s uncultured, dirt poor relatives in Kansas. The character was so hilarious that he was brought back to play a bigger role in 1989’s Christmas Vacation. Practically every scene & line of dialogue involving Cousin Eddie in Christmas Vacation has become a classic, and many agree that he steals the show. He was given his own spinoff film in 2003 called Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, a poorly conceived made-for-TV movie that has been mostly blocked out of the collective memory of Vacation fans everywhere. On the opposite end of the spectrum is John McClane, a tough NY City police detective whose wife has fractured their marriage to move across the country and become dieharda corporate mover & shaker. McClane comes to Los Angeles to visit the wife & kids in 1988’s Die Hard, during which terrorists take over the company Christmas party leaving the lone wolf cop to singlehandedly save the day. He is a wonderful combination of gritty, determined, vulnerable, smart, & funny, and needless to say he ultimately gets the job done. Multiple sequels have been produced with varying degrees of success, but John McClane has never been cooler than in the original.

 

 

9       Ralphie Parker

We all remember those Christmases when we were little kids and desperately wanted Santa Claus to bring us that one special toy. My perception is that nowadays ralphiechildren don’t really appreciate that struggle because they’re mostly a bunch of spoiled brats that get everything handed to them on a silver platter. That may or may not be painting with a broad brush. I don’t have any offspring (that I am aware of) so I really don’t know. At any rate, 1983’s A Christmas Story tells just such a tale of a 9 year old boy in 1940’s rural Indiana whose singular mission is to receive a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The problem is that everyone…his mother, his teacher, even Jolly Old St. Nick himself…keeps telling him it’s a bad idea because “you’ll shoot your eye out”. Ralphie is such a great character because he isn’t extraordinary. He isn’t cool. He isn’t especially bright or tough or funny. Ralphie is Everykid. He is you and me and everyone else when we were children…just hanging out with his buddies, putting up with his little brother, enduring school, facing off with a bully, & taking orders from Mom & Dad. It warms our cockles when he gets his BB gun, and we feel bad for him when he does in fact shoot his eye out (kind of). Anyone who has ever been young can identify with Ralphie Parker.

 

 

8       Henry F. Potter

The richest & meanest man in Bedford Falls!! Mr. Potter is clearly a riff on a Dickens character that we’ll get to soon enough. We don’t know how he became wealthy, potterbut we know that he owns most of the town, has no family, and everybody fears him. He is a cold-hearted tycoon in direct contrast to generous business owner Peter Bailey, who is driven to an early grave due to constantly battling Potter. It is interesting to note that, while most films have the villain either receive a long overdue comeuppance or see the light & seek redemption, It’s A Wonderful Life does neither with Mr. Potter, a fact hilariously lampooned on a fabulous 1986 episode of Saturday Night Live.

 

 

7       Clark Griswold

How can anyone not love Clark Griswold?? He’s a devoted husband & father who just wants to do right by his family, whether that means taking them on a cross clarkwcountry trek to an awesome amusement park or providing them with a memorable old-fashioned Christmas. In 1989’s Christmas Vacation he invites the grandparents and an elderly aunt & uncle to enjoy the yuletide at the family abode (a cousin & his family show up uninvited as well), and as usual things get hilariously chaotic. Clark has a lot in common with Charlie Brown & Linus Van Pelt in that he doesn’t get much respect from others. He’s a bit of a dunderhead, although his job as a food scientist would seem to indicate that he is book smart. I know many don’t really enjoy Chevy Chase’s shtick, but it really works as Clark Griswold.

 

 

6       The Old Man

What is his first name?? We’re never told!! It’s a small idiosyncrasy that just endears the character to us even more. 1983’s A Christmas Story is presumably about 9 oldmanyear old Ralphie and his quest to receive a Red Ryder BB Gun on Christmas morning. However, it is my opinion that his cantankerous father steals the show. There is The Old Man’s ongoing dislike of the neighbor’s dogs. His battle with the broken furnace. His love for turkey. His negotiating skills that come in handy at the tree lot. His ability to quickly change a fuse or a flat tire. And of course his love of puzzles that nets him a major award in the form of a lovely leg lamp. The Old Man seems a bit long in the tooth to have such young children (Darren McGavin was 60 years old at the time), but it works and I believe it to be an oddly significant element of the character’s appeal. The clincher is the fact that (spoiler alert) it is The Old Man who ultimately gets Ralphie the BB gun for Christmas, emphasizing the point that, despite his gruff exterior & salty language, he is a good father and a decent guy.

 

 

5       Macy’s Kris Kringle

The second Santa Claus in our countdown is the real deal. Well…kind of. In the 1947 classic (B&W!! – avoid the colorized version) Miracle on 34th Street Mr. Kringle is kkringlea kindhearted old man who becomes the Santa Claus at New York’s famed Macy’s Department Store for their beloved Thanksgiving parade and throughout the Christmas season. He teams up with an idealistic attorney to convince a jaded Mom & her strangely articulate young daughter to lighten up and believe in magic. He also flips the retail industry on its ear by happily sending folks to other stores that might have what Macy’s doesn’t or are selling it at a better price. Oh, by the way…Kringle may or may not be THE Santa Claus, a matter that is decided in a court of law, which makes Miracle a film about a half century ahead of its time.

 

 

4       The Grinch

It is a testament to the lasting impact of Dr. Seuss’ 1966 animated classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas that the term grinch has become grinch2part of the common lexicon, denoting anyone who doesn’t embrace all the Christmas craziness…lights, music, movies, shopping, & general merriment…that people like me adore. However, THE Grinch takes it a whole lot further than the modern day grinches that you & I encounter. He actually creeps into Whoville…a nice little village full of cheery, loveable folks…and steals everything on Christmas Eve. He steals their presents. He steals their stockings. He steals their Christmas trees. He even steals all their food. But Dr. Seuss is a sneaky one, and tucked into this innocuous cartoon is a subtle morality play suggesting that Christmas is about more than just stuff. Once the delightful little Whos begin singing on Christmas morning despite what The Grinch did to them he quickly learns the lesson and is converted. And really, who doesn’t enjoy a good redemption story??

 

 

3       Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

In his beloved 1823 poem A Visit from St. Nicholas author Clement Clark Moore mentions Santa’s eight reindeer…Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, rudolphDonner, & Blitzen. It wasn’t until a century later, when ad writer Robert May was assigned to come up with something special for Montgomery Ward’s 1939 holiday campaign, that a ninth member of the team was added. May’s creation is an outcast, a reindeer born with an anomalous glowing red nose who is teased & excluded by his peers…until his “handicap” becomes quite useful one very foggy Christmas Eve. It just so happens that May’s brother-in-law was a struggling songwriter named Johnny Marks, and he was inspired to write a tune about Rudolph a decade after the original story was published. That song was recorded by famous “singing cowboy” Gene Autry and became a #1 hit single. Fifteen years later Rankin-Bass produced the classic animated TV special that we still enjoy annually. It’s been quite a ride for ol’ Rudy, and he remains a huge part of the secular Christmas mythos, one that every child loves and adults wistfully embrace.

 

 

2       George Bailey

James Stewart has been my favorite actor for many years, and while I enjoy his work in classics like Harvey, Rear Window, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, & Vertigo, george-baileyit is his role in the beloved 1946 Christmas favorite It’s A Wonderful Life that first made me love Jimmy. I fondly recall watching IAWL at all hours of the day & night numerous times during the Christmas seasons of my youth (NBC killed that awesomeness about two decades ago). George Bailey is a smart guy with big dreams, but we watch with empathy as one thing after another prevents George from “shaking the dust” of his hometown of Bedford Falls to go out and “see the world”. George gets married, has a few kids, & keeps his late father’s business afloat, all while being a trusted friend & hero to family & neighbors and battling the dastardly Mr. Potter. George is a 20th century version of Bob Cratchit, but unlike Bob, who seems to be truly happy despite dire circumstances, George is despondent in the midst of what most would consider a rather decent situation. He’s living the life he was forced to live, not the life that he had planned on living…a plight to which many can relate. It takes a little help from Heaven to help George see the light, to make him understand that he’s got it pretty good. Does that invalidate his dreams?? No, of course not. It just means that life happens, and we can either wallow in despair & victimhood, or we can choose happiness and look at the glass as half full. It isn’t necessarily a traditional Christmas message, but it’s an important one. George Bailey is a small reflection of many folks, and he is a reminder to look forward, enjoy the moment, & take nothing for granted.

 

 

1       Ebenezer Scrooge

I am going to contradict myself. I mentioned in Part 1 that it’d be too easy to just give the top spot in this list to Santa Claus and that instead I prefer to look at the scrooge1various depictions of that character in pop culture individually. We could do the same with Scrooge, but I think he is a little bit different. First of all I don’t believe Scrooge is quite as ubiquitous as Santa. And secondly, despite his numerous appearances in movies & on TV portrayed by a multitude of actors, Ebenezer Scrooge is essentially always the character that Charles Dickens created…a bitter, affluent old man who seemingly hates people in general and has a specific loathing for Christmas. He first appears in the 1843 novella A Christmas Carol, and in the century & a half since has been brought to life by dozens of performers in various incarnations. Much like the term grinch the name scrooge has become popular nomenclature not only for anyone who doesn’t like Christmas, but also for people who are rather stingy & selfish with their money. Yet if that were all there was to Ebenezer Scrooge it is unlikely that A Christmas Carol would have become such a beloved book let alone adapted into other entertainment, and the character certainly wouldn’t have topped these rankings. Two other things stand out about Scrooge. First, we see what ultimately led to his descent into acrimony & greediness. It is hinted that he had a somewhat lonely childhood with an uncaring & possibly abusive father. His cherished younger sister Fan died as a young woman. Though it isn’t really examined thoroughly in the book we understand that Scrooge develops such anxiety about being poor that he skews in the extreme opposite direction…an obsession with being wealthy. This preoccupation leads to the love of his life…a fiancée named Belle…ending their relationship and is in stark contrast to Bob Cratchit who is poor but happy & loved. Because of these things we don’t completely hate Scrooge…we feel sorry for him. Second & most importantly, we witness Scrooge’s redemption. The Ghosts help him see the error of his ways and it is mentioned that afterward he “became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew” and that “he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge”. Once again, we love redemption stories, mostly because human beings have an innate understanding of our shortcomings and our need for salvation. It isn’t Scrooge’s hostility or greed that has helped him stand the test of time as a treasured character of Christmas…it is his humanity.

Top 25 Fictional Christmas Characters…..Part 1

christbookY’all know how much I love Christmas. To be honest I thought that I had said pretty much everything that could be said about it over the years, but then some new ideas began percolating (I’ve already got something big planned for 2017). I’m obviously a movie buff, and Christmas films were a prominent chunk of my 100 Favorite Movies series a few years ago. So I began pondering what exactly makes these movies great. Sure the holiday subject matter and related accoutrements are important, but a good movie, TV show, or book has to have awesome characters, right?? Christmastime is bursting with memorable characters on film, in literature, & various other media. Many are meant to entertain children, but not all. Several have found life in multiple platforms…songs, cartoons, novels, etc. Who are these characters?? Why do we love them?? What allows them to endure and remain such an integral part of our beloved Christmas season?? I don’t have all christtvthe answers, but as always I do have plenty of opinions. Sit back, dim the lights, put on some soft Christmas music, sip a warm beverage, & enjoy a trip down an evergreen & snowflake tinged memory lane. Feliz Navidad.

 

 

 

 

25     Charles Dickens

No, I do not mean the famous 19th century British author. Well…not really. In the 1992 classic The Muppet Christmas Carol long-beaked, squeaky-voiced Gonzo the dickensGreat portrays Dickens and narrates the action alongside his pal Rizzo the Rat (playing himself). It is a unique yet unexpectedly faithful telling of the well-known story, and “Dickens”’ narration is an amusing & effective technique.

 

 

24     Hans Gruber

We usually associate Christmas with warmth, goodness, and positive, life affirming values. However, every hero needs a villain to create obstacles so that those good gruberthings can be appreciated even more. Gruber is the German thief who dares to hold up an office Christmas party to steal hundreds of millions of dollars in bond certificates in 1988’s Die Hard. He and his group of terrorist thugs ultimately lose to someone we’ll discuss a bit later, but Gruber nevertheless has become one of the most unforgettable characters in the history of holiday cinema.

 

 

23     Scott Calvin

It would be easy to just hand Santa Claus the top spot in this countdown. However, Santa has been presented in so many platforms and his tale told in such a variety of scways that I think we have to look at each of them individually. In 1994’s The Santa Clause we meet Scott Calvin as a middle-aged marketing executive for a toy company who is also the divorced father of a young son that’d much rather spend Christmas with his mother & stepfather, a well-meaning windbag psychiatrist. It’s a very 90’s origin story. The current Santa Claus falls off Scott’s roof on Christmas Eve, Scott & his son Charlie end up at The North Pole, and Mr. Calvin becomes the new Santa Claus. There are two sequels, but both lack the magic of the original.

 

 

22     The Wet/Sticky Bandits

While Hans Gruber is a villain in the traditional sense, the two inept thieves in 1990’s Home Alone and 1992’s Home Alone 2: Lost in New York are comic bad guys wetbanditswhose foolishness and eventual comeuppance are played for laughs. I am somewhat surprised that they never got their own standalone film.

 

 

21     Burgermeister Meisterburger

What a great name!! For those who may be unaware, burgomaster is a 19th century term for “master of the town”, aka the mayor. In the 1970  meisterstop motion animated classic Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town he is the evil force that rules Sombertown (another great name) and has banned toys (and we think our politicians focus on the wrong things). Town is a…unique…Santa Claus origin story, but what makes it truly memorable is this awesome bad guy. I mean really…outlawing toys…how mean is that?!?!?!??

 

 

20     Yukon Cornelius

There are several memorable characters in the 1964 animated classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but the brash & bombastic prospector whose mission is to corneliusstrike it rich by finding silver and/or gold cannot be ignored. The dude packs heat and has a handlebar mustache for God’s sake!! Very cool. You just know he’s sporting a bunch of tattoos underneath that LL Bean catalog he’s wearing. I’d love to see a Yukon Cornelius spinoff special.

 

 

19     Mrs. Claus

Santa’s wife is kind of interesting to ponder. She’s usually lurking in the background…but she’s almost always there. In the 2002 sequel The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. mrsclausClause it is even suggested that her role is so vital that Scott Calvin can’t continue being The Jolly Old Elf unless he finds a bride. Mrs. Claus is typically portrayed as a white-haired grandmotherly type who bakes Christmas goodies, is a maternal figure toward the elves, and is a strong & devoted partner to her husband.

 

 

18     The Ghosts

There are four ghosts in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: Christmas Past, Christmas Present, Christmases Yet to Come, & Jacob Marley. All play brief but vital roles in  marleydriving the action forward. Without these ghosts providing the framework there is no story…atleast not one that makes sense.

 

 

17     Kevin McCallister

He’s precocious. He’s kind of a brat. His family is the worst. But when the chips are down this kid is brave & resourceful while standing up to criminals kevintrying to rob his house (and in the second film trying to burglarize a charitable toy store). Yes the thieves are idiots and yes Kevin could have just called the cops (he ordered a pizza so the phones WERE working), but don’t overthink Home Alone or its sequel because illusions will be shattered. Just enjoy the fantasy of a nerdy little kid kickin’ ass & takin’ names.

 

 

16     Buddy the Elf / Hermie the Elf

buddySanta’s elves are a vital part of the secular Christmas mythos. They are usually portrayed as a non-descript group of little people hard at work making decidedly old-fashioned toys, but there are exceptions. Will Ferrell brings to life a comically childlike elf named Buddy, who as a baby ended up in Santa’s bag on Christmas Eve and was raised at The North Pole. Of course Buddy isn’t really an elf and eventually he makes the trek to New York City to find his biological father. Hilarity ensues. 2003’s Elf has quickly taken its rightful place on the roster of classic holiday entertainment that we enjoy annually and probably will for years to come. Another elf that achieved that iconic status decades ago is Hermie, a hermie1character from the legendary 1964 stop-motion animated TV special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Hermie is the rare elf who doesn’t enjoy crafting toys. His true passion is dentistry. He ends up uniting with fellow misfits Rudolph & Yukon Cornelius on quite the adventure. I’ve always thought that Hermie vaguely resembles late night talk show host Conan O’Brien.

 

 

15     Linus Van Pelt

Linus is one of Charles Schultz’s most fascinating creations. He’s amongst the youngest of the Peanuts gang, his immaturity symbolized by the fact that he still totes linusvanpeltaround a security blanket and often sucks his thumb. He also believes in a magical creature known as The Great Pumpkin, something for which even his peers that totally buy the whole Santa Claus thing make fun of him. However, Linus is also sweet & sincere (as opposed to the cynicism of many of the other characters) and oftentimes acts as the thoughtful, virtuous voice of reason. For our purposes he makes the cut because of one simple yet profoundly elegant moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas when he reads the scriptural story of Jesus’ birth from the book of Luke. It is a scene that, even in the 1960’s, Schulz had to fight for, and thank God he did.

 

 

14     Frosty the Snowman

“Happy Birthday!!” With those words the creature with eyes made of coal, a button nose, & wearing a silk hat came to life. The tune on which the 1969 animated TV frostyspecial is based is not actually a Christmas carol, but rather a winter song like Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland, & Let It Snow that has somehow become inextricably linked to the holiday. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without singing that catchy melody or watching Frosty & little Karen hop on a train to The North Pole.

 

 

13     Clarence Oddbody, AS2

I’m not really sure I believe in guardian angels, but it is kind of a neat concept. Clarence is a second class angel, a 293 year old clockmaker who has been in Heaven for clarenceover 200 of those years and still hasn’t earned his wings. I’m not sure what privileges first class angels have that aren’t available to guys like Clarence, and it isn’t made clear what exactly one must do to be awarded wings, but I suppose it’s sort of like receiving a Boy Scouts merit badge. Anyway, Clarence, a naïve, somewhat inept being, is given the task of saving suicidal George Bailey’s life in 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life, one of our most treasured holiday classics. Clarence is almost a live action version of Linus Van Pelt…benevolent, unassuming, and undeniably affable. He’s a breath of fresh air amongst a group of characters that are a mix of arrogant (Mr. Potter), bitter (George Bailey), drunk (Uncle Billy), & just plain mean (Nick the bartender). And most importantly he gets the job done, saving Bailey’s life and finally ascending to the higher class of angels. Maybe he gets access to a jacuzzi and double frequent flyer miles now?? I don’t know.

 

 

 

This feels like an appropriate place take a break. Stay tuned for Part 2…coming soon!!

 

Points of Ponderation…..Episode 8.15

A semi-regular attempt to address some of life’s minutiae that might otherwise be overlooked…..

 

 

 

 

Perhaps I spoke too soon about Donald Trump. The Donald has now taken to bashing former President George W. Bush about W9/11 and bragging that, had President Trump been in charge on that awful day 14 years ago, it wouldn’t have happened. Sorry dude…you’ve stepped over the line this time. Was W. a perfect President?? Of course not. But I’ve got some news for y’all: none of them have been perfect. Not even Washington, Lincoln, FDR, JFK, or Reagan. I have long opined that history will judge George W. Bush much more fairly than he has been evaluated in the short term by the horrendous drive-by media and the idiotic Hollywood elite. Trump is completely misinterpreting a mistrust of Jeb Bush and the underlying desire to step away from a been-there-done-that Bush Dynasty. Many Republicans like & respect George W. Bush despite his flaws and attacking him is not a strategery that Trump should embrace.

 

 

head-scratch2It isn’t unusual for me to feel lonely in a crowded room. What is sad is that one of the places that I feel that way most often is…well no…I’m not going there. Forgive them Lord…they know not what they do.

 

 

McDonald’s you are nothing but a bunch of liars!! They spent all this time hyping “All Day Breakfast” but failed to mcmmention that the menu is limited. I stopped by my friendly neighborhood drive thru recently during the early evening hours. I was craving a simple Egg McMuffin. Well too bad for me!! Hey McD’s…do you realize that the Egg McMuffin is your signature breakfast item?? Why in the H#^% is it not part of the All Day Breakfast?!?!?!?? That’s insane!! The McGriddle…an admittedly unhealthy yet undeniably tasty option…is not available either. Essentially they are pushing their biscuit based items. I assume this is partly due to the fact that during normal breakfast hours most people with any sense are heading to Hardees or Tudor’s for biscuits. Bob Evans if they have time for a sit down meal. So now McDonald’s is trying to trick people into buying something we usually have no interest in simply because it is available past 10:30am. Sorry folks…I don’t care. I’ll just make time to get my Egg McMuffin earlier in the day. Thanks for playing.

 

 

With the release of the final trailer for Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens I expect that anticipation will crescendo over the next forceseveral weeks. Advanced ticket sales are already crashing websites. Some theaters will be showing a marathon of the entire series leading up to the release of the new film in mid-December. I might have been all over that idea two decades ago, but now spending 15 straight hours in a movie theater sounds like some sort of innovative sentence for a very serious misdemeanor. It is likely that I will take time to rewatch the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy in the days leading up to The Force Awakens launch, but I’ll do it in the comfort of my own home with a little help from Roku. Having said all that, the trailer looks good and does evoke certain emotions that take one back to childhood, when such trivial things as movies seemed so significant. I’m not sure I’ll be standing in line for the first midnight showing, but I’ll definitely hit the theater within a day or two of the film’s opening. I’m not going to analyze every frame of the trailer or parse every morsel of information out there about the production. I am not going to assume the movie will be terrible, but neither will I build it up in my mind to be the greatest thing EVER only to be disappointed. I’m just going to head to the local cineplex at some point when it is convenient, purchase a vat of cola & some popcorn, and enjoy a pleasant & entertaining experience. After all, isn’t that what movies are for??

 

 

I recently ate cooked spinach for the first time in…well, probably decades. And you know what?? I actually enjoyed it. I’ve heard spinachthat one’s palate changes every 7 years. I’m not sure that’s completely true, but maybe we all should be a bit more open to trying things that we didn’t used to like. One never knows how maturity & perspective may alter perception.

 

 

Rumor has it that a new Die Hard film is in the works. That, in & of itself, is fine by me even if mcclanethe last couple of sequels have been tepid & unworthy efforts. However, word on the street is that the latest installment will be a prequel, with just a cameo by Bruce Willis. That’s a terrible idea on so many levels. Willis’ Detective John McClane IS Die Hard. I can’t imagine how difficult it might be to find an actor up to the task of playing a young McClane. No one should have to endure the pressure of stepping into those shoes. The final Die Hard needs to be McClane’s retirement party…a perfect excuse to bring back all the supporting players from the previous films: Sgt. Al Powell, Capt. Lorenzo, Zeus Carver, Matt Ferrell, Argyle the limo driver, Det. Walter Cobb, and of course McClane’s wife Holly & his two grown children Lucy & Jack. Someone that McClane has ticked off in the past manages to hold his family & friends hostage and McClane has to save the day…again. That’s how Die Hard should end. A prequel will not work.

A Weekend Christmas Movie Marathon

It’s winter. It’s cold. There is snow on the ground. Sure you have stuff to do, but going outside and dealing with the real world justChristmas doesn’t sound all that appealing at the moment. Fortunately it is the holiday season…the happiest, jolliest, most heartwarming time of the year. Okay okay okay…I am probably wearing my rose colored glasses, but that is exactly what this is all about. We work hard all week to bring home the bacon and provide the necessities for ourselves and our families, so I think we deserve the best of what Christmastime has to offer instead of beating ourselves into oblivion, which means that instead of facing the hellish experience that is the local retail scene this time of year (trust me…online shopping is the way to go) you & I are going to have ourselves a good old-fashioned movie marathon. Nothing but commercial free Christmas movies & shows for an entire weekend. Heaven on Earth.

hottoddyNow in reality one would have to plan this activity well in advance with a rather large purchase of DVDs, a trip to Redbox, downloads from Netflix or Amazon Prime, or recording stuff on DVR/TiVo. For our purposes I will just imagine that this has already been taken care of and everything is readily available. The schedule is based on what I perceive as the average “real” life and there are a few rules. We will begin Friday evening after work by first getting comfie cozy & fixing some snacks. My definition of comfortable is a well-worn t-shirt that I’d never wear in public & an old pair of sweatpants. Sexy, huh?? Cozy means that Rocco & I are snuggled underneath a big ol’ comforter in front of the TV even though the heat in The Bachelor Palace is turned to an acceptable level. I sincerely wish I had a fireplace, but life isn’t perfect. The lights are out except for that which emanates from the television. What can I say?? I’m all about ambiance. The snack menu would ideally include hot chocolate (or eggnog) and other assorted junk food (chocolate chip cookies are my favorite). No adult goodiesbeverages for this humble Potentate of Profundity, although I am sure Dr. Seuss, Ralphie, Clark Griswold, & Hermie the Elf would all be hilarious in a whole new way if I was snockered on hooch. The marathon does end at an acceptable time each night because I am not 19 years old anymore and pulling an all-nighter no longer seems like all that much fun. I have learned to embrace the value of a good night’s sleep. And finally I will attend church on Sunday morning and get to bed at a decent hour that night, therefore Sunday isn’t as long of a day as Saturday. I still think we end up doing pretty well, with over 37 viewing hours and watching about two dozen movies & specials. I can’t think of a much better way to spend a weekend this time of year.

 

wreath

 

 

 

Friday

5:30pm      Miracle on 34th Street
We commence with this 1947 classic (in black & white!!) about a Macy’s Santa Claus who believes he is the real deal. The movie opens with the Macy’s 600full-miracle-on-34th-street-screenshotThanksgiving Day Parade, which of course has become the unofficial kickoff of the holiday season. For the love of God and all that is holy avoid the horrendous colorized version like MSNBC shuns truth & logic. There was a remake in 1994 and it’s…okay…but for our purposes we’ll stick with the original.

7:15pm      All I Want for Christmas
I guess this movie was in theaters in 1991, but I’m not sure anyone noticed. I first became aware of it several years later when it allchristmasbegan popping up on TV here & there. The story has nothing to do with the overplayed Mariah Carey song (nor the superb Vince Vance & the Valiants tune), but instead is a charming story about two kids trying to get their divorced parents back together on Christmas Eve.

8:45pm      Lethal Weapon
10:45pm    Die Hard
lethalweaponHey, Christmas movies don’t all have to be about Santa Claus, family hijinks, or anything heartwarming. I enthusiastically endorse Mel diehardGibson & Bruce Willis as two of the best Christmas gifts cinema has ever given the masses. And unlike most other insipid action flicks these films offer a good story, some humor, and yes…even uplifting family values. Plus gunfire, explosions, & car chases. I suppose we can’t leave those out completely.

1am        Mr. Krueger’s Christmas
I had to find a way to shoehorn this little gem in somehow. Jimmy Stewart may be well known for a certainmr-kruegers-christmas-1980b other Christmas film, but in 1980 he also starred as Willie Krueger, the type of lonely old man that society has a tendency to toss aside in their “golden years”. Willie works as a custodian in an apartment building and lives in the basement unit with his cat. He is somewhat of a Walter Mitty-esque character, imagining himself in various situations like conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and kneeling at the manger of the baby Jesus on that first Christmas night. Willie obviously craves human interaction & companionship but doesn’t seem to have much of it. This is only a half hour program but it packs a punch in those 30 minutes. You won’t find it on TV but it is easy enough to track down online and well worth the effort.

1:30am      Elf
We end our Friday night on a jovial, fun, and dare I say jolly note with this 2003 offering starring Will Ferrell as an orphan who grows up at The North ElfPole believing he is one of Santa’s elves. He learns the truth and sets out for NY City (passing through the seven levels of the Candy Cane Forest, the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, & then the Lincoln Tunnel) to find his curmudgeonly father, who just happens to be on The Naughty List. Hilarity ensues. A great way to wrap up the evening.

 

 

Saturday

8am          Frosty the Snowman
8:30am    Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
9am          Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer
10am        A Charlie Brown Christmas
10:30am Mickey’s Christmas Carol
11am       Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town
rudolph3Okay so I lied…we didn’t get much sleep last night. No worries. Buck up little trooper…we’ve got movies to watch!! At any rate, when I cbchristmaswas a kid Saturday mornings meant cartoons. So we will spend this morning watching a half dozen of the most beloved animated Christmas specials of all time. All of these programs have been repeated annually for several decades. A few stretch back to the 1960’s…before I was even born. The Whos down in Whoville, Yukon Cornelius, The Island of Misfit Toys, Burgermeister Meisterburger, evil magician Professor Hinkle…what awesome characters. I am so glad I grew up in grinchsantacominthe era that I did, and even happier that I can still enjoy these delightful stories. There are new specials for kids to enjoy nowadays…Prep & Landing, Shrek the Halls, Merry Madagascar, etc…but I firmly believe that a hundred years from now few of those will still be around while the classics that I love so much will remain.

12pm      Home Alone
1:45pm   Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
The older I get the more questions I have about these films. If the phones are out why is little Kevin able to order pizza?? Why is there a wheelchair in homealonethe McCallister basement?? After going thru all she has for three days why is milk the first thing Mrs. McCallister worries about when she gets home?? You mean everyone on the whole block went out of town for Christmas?? How long was Kevin working those mannequins & the cardboard Michael Jordan (because he had no idea when the crooks were coming back that night)?? Why can’t anyone but Kevin see what a jerk Buzz is?? Why doesn’t Kevin call the police before the Wet Bandits rob Duncan’s Toy Chest, since he knows what time they will be there?? Who thought it was a good idea to give Rob Schneider a job?? Nevertheless I still find both movies quite charming and required viewing during the holiday season. I acknowledge that the sequel isn’t as good as the original, but it is still good enough for these movies to be thought of as a package deal and to be viewed back-to-back in the course of this special weekend.

3:45pm   Holiday Inn
5:30pm   White Christmas
HInnI have to give a shoutout to my brother The Owl for introducing me to these delightful movies many years ago. They just don’t make ‘em like this White-Christmas-1954-christmas-movies-3176714-960-536anymore and that’s a crying shame. Bing Crosby was a multitalented guy that could sing, dance, & act. He does all three in these movies with a little help from Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, & others. Holiday Inn was made in 1942 and isn’t only a Christmas film but celebrates all of our American holidays. There is an infamous scene set during Lincoln’s Birthday (President’s Day used to be two separate holidays…Lincoln’s Birthday & Washington’s Birthday…until the mid-1980’s) in which Crosby and his lovely lady friend sing in black face. Even I…someone who views people that are perpetually offended & politically correct as silly and annoying…understand how that scene can be considered offensive. However, I disagree wholeheartedly with the modern propensity for television censorship. The movie was made during a different era and represents part of our history that shouldn’t be edited to protect peoples’ sensitive feelings. But I digress. Holiday Inn introduced the beloved song White Christmas, the popularity of which led to the second movie a dozen years later. These are both wonderful films, tributes to a bygone age when true talent & skill were recognized and appreciated.

7:30pm    Scrooged
I must confess that I didn’t see this film…made in 1988…until a few years ago. It just didn’t seem like my cup o’ tea and I’ve never found Bill Murray scroogedto be all that entertaining. Unlike some Saturday Night Live alumni who have carved out semi-successful & enjoyable movie careers I have always felt that Murray’s shtick was best when confined to brief comedy sketches and that when stretched out over an entire movie the act grows tiresome. However, though I can’t honestly say that Scrooged would be near the top of my list of favorite Christmas flicks, I do think it deserves a spot in our movie marathon. Murray receives a lot of support from a huge and rather eclectic cast…Bobcat Goldthwait, John Forsythe, John Houseman, Carol Kane, Robert Mitchum, Buddy Hackett, Jamie Farr, Lee Majors, Robert Goulet, Miles Davis, Buster Poindexter (just to name a few). Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton is in this movie…as Tiny Tim!! Wrap your head around that!! The final scene, featuring the 60’s hit song Put a Little Love in Your Heart, is classic. There are dozens of adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, but this is probably the goofiest and most unique. It is so out-of-the box that it actually works…much to my surprise.

9:15pm   National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Do any kind of substantial random survey these days asking folks about their favorite Christmas movie and I’ll bet you this third installment in the christmas-vacation-moose-mug-shot-glass-5adventures of the wacky Griswold clan (following 1983’s Vacation and 1985’s European Vacation) would get a good many votes. It gets a lot of play on TV each December, which I hope doesn’t lead to any kind of backlash. Chevy Chase’s post-SNL career pretty much boils down to Fletch and the Vacation series, with this being the best of the latter.

11pm      Viewer’s Choice – A Christmas Carol
It is at this point that I give the power to you…citizens of The Manoverse. There is no shortage of movie carolversions of Dickens’ tale. Some are old black & white films. Some are more recent. Some are animated. Some set the tale in modern times while others are more faithful to the source material. I have my preferences, which I plan on writing about soon. But for the purposes of this project I will leave it up to each individual to pick their favorite. No matter which one you choose it is a great way to end a long but enjoyable day. And maybe when you lay your head down and slip into a sweet & restful slumber you’ll be visited by spirits who will assist in transforming your life for the better.

 

 

Sunday

1pm        A Christmas Story
I trust that church was as awesome as it should be not only during this festive season but each & every week throughout the year. Now we are home acsand have changed back into our lazy clothes. We’re going to skip Sunday dinner today and do some more veggin’ out with festive beverages and snacks. I am well aware that TBS does a 24 hour marathon of this 1983 classic every Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. Most folks probably get their fill of it then. I am not most folks.

2:45pm  Trapped in Paradise
This would seem to be an odd inclusion in our little parade of epic Christmas goodness. You’ve probably never trappedheard of it and even I admit it’s not a very good movie. I have my own reasons for considering it special, but I honestly believe that if y’all give it a whirl you’ll like it too. It has shades of It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, & maybe a little Andy Griffith Show. Originally released in 1994, the story involves three not-so-bright brothers (Nicholas Cage, Dana Carvey, & Jon Lovitz) who rob a bank in a sleepy little Pennsylvania hamlet on Christmas Eve and then, for various reasons, are unable to get out of town. Trapped in Paradise has a brutal 10% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes along with some rather harsh reviews, but I don’t care. I like it and that’s what counts.

4:45pm   The Ref
Not only did the 1994 holiday season bring us Trapped in Paradise, but just a few months earlier we got this gem starring Denis Leary as a thief forced refto hold a bickering couple (and their wacky family) hostage on Christmas Eve. I don’t know why a Christmas film was released in March. It is very strange and maybe one reason why it is a vastly underappreciated movie even two decades later. Unlike many holiday classics it is rarely on TV in December, which is unfortunate. Trust me…if you haven’t seen The Ref you must correct that void in your life right now. Leary is hilarious and Kevin Spacey…in a comedic precursor to his Oscar winning role as a husband & father drowning in domestic misery in 1999’s American Beauty…takes the experience to a sublime higher strata. In contrast to Trapped in Paradise this film received a lot of good reviews and has a 70% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I concur.

6:30pm   The Santa Clause
I’m a sucker for Santa Claus origin stories, and though this movie doesn’t go back to St. Nick’s beginning it does postulate that Santa is a role that is clauseplayed by a never-ending parade of ordinary guys who just happen to be in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time…a fascinating concept. At the time of the film’s release Tim Allen was amongst the biggest television stars in the world due to his show Home Improvement. I like this movie much better than I ever liked that TV show. Two sequels were made in 2002 & 2006 (they probably waited a little too long) and both are alright I suppose. Feel free to watch the entire trilogy when time permits. However, for the purposes of this project I am including only the original. It is fun and has that magical glow that makes Christmas films special.

8:15pm   The Polar Express
I don’t know what else I can say about this movie that I haven’t previously said on multiple occasions. It is enchanting. Not long ago I was speaking with a former co-worker who has two small children and she told me that their family “doesn’t do Santa Claus” because she & her husband want their children to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. I admire the intent but disagree with the method and The Polar Express illustrates exactly why. I understand that there are many devout Christians who hate the idea that Santa, on some level, seems to have replaced Jesus as the center of the polarexpressholiday. However, let’s paint outside the lines just a bit. Those that do allow Santa Claus to be part of the Christmas celebration oftentimes concede to their kids that the guy at the mall or atop the fire truck in the parade isn’t the “real” Santa, that he works for the real Santa Claus who is busy up at The North Pole preparing for the big day. So, why can’t we…using similar logic…say that Santa is a friend of Jesus who is helping to spread His message and shining His light in the world?? The Polar Express has wonderful themes like friendship, faith, generosity, loyalty, innocence, & hope…ideals that Jesus would certainly approve of. In Matthew 14:19 Jesus says ““let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” In Matthew 18:3 Jesus says that “unless you become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven.” Santa Claus is a symbol of childhood that helps people of all ages regain a measure of purity & wonder, if only for a brief moment each December. I see nothing wrong with that. Your mileage may vary.


10pm      It’s A Wonderful Life
There is only one perfect way to wrap up this awesome weekend movie marathon…with the best Christmas film ever made (B&W!! Stay away from the colorized version!!). I have talked about IAWL here before so there’s not much left to say. It is such an oddity in so many ways. The idea originated as a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern, a Pennsylvania man who had authored several books about The Civil War. In 1943 Stern self-published The Greatest Gift and gave it to a couple hundred friends as a Christmas present. Who knew that it would evolve into a tradition that millions still enjoy each Christmas?? One of those who received the story was a Hollywood producer and the rest is history. IAWL was released in December 1946 but was IAWL_2marketed as a romantic comedy…not a Christmas film. It had good but not great reviews and though it was profitable it certainly wasn’t a blockbuster. It wasn’t until a few decades later when local TV stations began showing IAWL countless times…often very late at night…during the holiday season that it became a beloved classic. On the surface a story about a guy contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve seems like the unlikeliest of uplifting family movies, but there is something about it that just seems to speak to the masses. Maybe there is a part of all of us…at one time or another…that feels dissatisfied, unfulfilled, & overwhelmed. Maybe there is a part of many of us that has contemplated escape in some form, whether it be thru something as drastic as suicide or a less messy approach like divorce, relocation, or simply quitting our job. Maybe there is a part of most of us that has seen the dreams of our youth fall by the wayside to be replaced by a life that doesn’t seem to measure up to those big plans we once had. And hopefully the majority of us receive the message, whether it be thru a kindhearted guardian angel or some other outlet, that as long as we have a friend or two, a roof over our head & food to eat, and take advantage of the opportunity that God provides each day to do good and make a difference then life is mostly pretty darn great.

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Okay, so…that’s it. Have fun. Relax. It’s Christmas…delight in it!! And please let me know in the comments what changes you would make for you own custom Christmas Movie Marathon. How would you change the timing?? What films would you choose differently than me?? What kind of snacks would you munch on?? As Charles Dickens once said, “Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home.” I wish you peace & joy during this wonderful season and in all the days of your life.

The End of My Sambatical From Organized Religion – The New Hope

Please check out Part 1 & Part 2 or else you will be thoroughly confused. Thanks!!

I had said for several months, as church friends would interact with me online or I’d see them at family events and they would say they missed me & encourage me to come back, that I was bothered by the fact that the one person who I should be hearing from was the one person I hadn’t…the minister. He himself had taught our youth about the Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10) about 15 years ago at a lock-in when I was assisting with that particular ministry. The story had always struck a chord with me, and this past year I had felt kind of like a lost coin. The only difference was it seemed like no one was really looking for me, atleast not in the earnest, diligent way the woman in the parable searches for her drachma. Does this reflect poorly on my own insecurities and self-esteem?? Probably. But it was bigger than me. I feel like it is a microcosm of how the church as a whole operates in 21st century America. The machine keeps humming along and no one really notices when people go missing. There’s a scene in my favorite action flick Die Hard when one of the federal agents given the task of dealing with the crisis at hand says “I figure we take out the terrorists and lose 20-25% of the hostages tops”, with his partner replying “I can live with that”. That’s the church these days. The end justifies the means. It all seems a tad bit cool & detached. A lesson learned in The Godfather  – ”it’s not personal, it’s just business”. Maybe it’s just me, but when the line between the church & the mafia becomes blurred it is disturbing.

 

At any rate, my minister & I had a polite, pleasant conversation on that lazy Saturday. He needed me to sign some papers because I am still on the Board of Trustees and they are getting a loan for some upkeep on the church. Of course…business…The Machine…money. It never stops. He asked me to come back and I expressed some of my concerns. We didn’t dive in too deep, and really there was no need to. I’m not angry and I don’t hate anyone. The people in that congregation have been a part of my life for the vast majority of my existence. My Mom worshiped there, as did my grandmother and several aunts, uncles, & cousins. Its home and I’ve missed it. The fact is that the flaws within the church will be there whether I am or not. My mistake was in expecting the church to be accountable for things for which I need to take responsibility. I am responsible for feeding my body, so why should I assign others the task of feeding me spiritually?? Yes I know that that SHOULD be the first priority of the church, but when they fall short I can either throw a hissy fit about it or get busy doing it myself. I have spent the past year doing the former but now realize I need to do the latter. I have also made the mistake of getting too caught up in the busy work of the church at the expense of my own spiritual well-being. Again, that stuff will exist whether or not I am present. I am the one who allowed it to drag me down.

 

I spent the next few weeks in considerable ponderation of the situation. My ego felt as if returning would be admitting defeat and letting “them” win…a tacit admission that I had been wrong. After all, it isn’t like things were suddenly going to be markedly different. On the other hand, I realize…have always known…that no one in this little drama is really to blame. I don’t think there are people in my little country church or in any other church that set out to go down the wrong path. While I am smart (and cynical) enough to know that bad people with malevolent intentions certainly exist, I choose to believe that the vast majority of folks just do the best they can and try to make the wisest decisions possible. Mostly though, I finally really understand the difference between religion & faith, between being a churchgoer & having a relationship with Jesus Christ. I had always been under the impression that I comprehended that concept, but I guess one is never too old to keep on learning.

 

So now I am back. The sambatical is over. I am rested & renewed. I have returned to the weekly routine of Sunday school, worship, Bible study, committee meetings, and fundraisers. All those things have their merit and meet a need. I have always known that their place on the proverbial totem pole should be fairly low, but I now recognize that they do indeed have a place, atleast in my life. I am fully aware that selling hot dogs or building a picnic shelter or spending as much time drinking coffee & eating cookies as discussing scripture on Wednesday evening won’t get me or anyone else into Heaven. I know that going to church can only provide an outline and that it is up to me to pray, study, and build a relationship with Christ in order to write the full story. My expectations of myself have grown exponentially as I have lowered my expectations of others. All of us are human. We make mistakes. My pride & resentment have not represented me well, but they were things I needed to work through to grow. There is a reason for everything. This past year has been yet another time period I would probably change if given the opportunity, but then again maybe not. I still believe it is possible…maybe even advantageous…to experience Christ, to worship Him, to spread His good news, and to be a shining example of His teaching without chains. A church is still simply a building…land…stuff…money…business. It is easy to get caught up in the work, the responsibility, the politics…the humanity. It is easy to become insulated and not “make disciples of all the nations”. These are weaknesses which rob the modern church of its power & authority. However, I have made the decision to separate religion and faith, as I should have already been doing anyway. And I have decided that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive. Frustration with the business of the church need not rob me of my “blessed assurance”, and dedication to a more genuine relationship with The Lord does not preclude church attendance. The two should ideally intersect more often than not, but when they don’t then I need to assess the circumstances and react appropriately & rationally. The truth is that I have missed my friends. I’ve missed my family. I’ve missed those opportunities to gather together and attempt to do something good for the community or even just have some good old fashioned fellowship. None of that stuff has anything to do with my salvation or loving Jesus Christ, but I have come to appreciate their place in my life. Your mileage may vary & my conclusions may not jive with yours, and that’s okay. We all do what we gotta do, right?? Or maybe…just maybe…you recognize kernels of similarity between my story & yours. If so I hope my experience provides some insight, a pleasant read, and some fodder for your own ponderation.

 

100 Favorite Movies…..6-10

Finally. After over a year we have entered hallowed ground…The Top 10. This will be the last group of five, as I will give each of the top five movies their own entry. Part of me is actually a little sad that this series is almost over because I have had so much fun writing it and doing a self-examination of my own tastes. We’ll do it all again in one form or another in a few years, but until then enjoy the remaining entries, and as always thanks so much for visiting my little corner of this wonderful thing we like to call The Info Superhighway. Fear not, because I have much more to say on a variety of topics.

 

 

 


10 The Godfather Part II

As we have covered a few times in this series, sequels are often a very risky proposition. From a business perspective I understand why they are made, but from a creative standpoint and through the prism of the viewing public it is difficult to not fall into the trap of being lazy, repetitive, and uninspired. Too often we see sequels that are just retreads of the original…same stunts, same gags, same jokes, same effects. Or worse yet, the powers-that-be try to make a sequel where few of the original actors or characters remain and they are only borrowing a broad concept or theme with very loose ties to its predecessor. The Godfather Part II is not a victim of any of these issues. It is quite possibly the greatest sequel ever made. It was the first sequel to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, a feat that has only been matched once since with 2003’s third part of the epic Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Return of the King (movies that will likely make it onto this list next time around). Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel The Godfather is the source material for both the first and second movies in this trilogy and is a great read. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoyed the movies. However, this is a rare case where I must say that the greatness on film exceeds what one finds on the written page. Part II is fascinating, as it shows us two different stories at the same time. We follow Al Pacino‘s Don Michael Corleone as he moves the family business to the left coast in the 1950’s, making his home in Lake Tahoe while simultaneously trying to become a major player in Vegas, which of course mirrors the real life exploits of infamous gangster Bugsy Seagal. Meanwhile, in turn of the century Sicily we see little Vito Corleone‘s parents killed and his escape to Ellis Island. The adult Vito is then played by Robert DeNiro in a performance that won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the only time that two different actors (Marlon Brando got the nod for Best Actor in the original film) have received Academy Awards for the same role. Vito gets married, has a family, meets new pals Tessio & Clemenza, and quickly rises from small time NY City hood to nationally known, feared, and respected organized crime boss. Flash ahead to the 50’s and we see Michael’s attempt to bring his empire to Cuba, his double cross of rival gangster Hyman Roth and Roth’s henchman The Rosato Brothers, United States Senate hearings with Michael as the chief target that mirror the real life Kefauver investigation of the mob, and the revelation that Michael’s older but dimmer brother Fredo betrayed him which resulted in an assassination attempt and ultimately ends up with Michael having his own brother murdered. I love love love Al Pacino and this movie is neck & neck with Scent of a Woman as his best role. In the original Godfather film he shares the spotlight with Marlon Brando and James Caan, but here he goes toe to toe with DeNiro in what may be his best role as well. The supporting cast is superb, with Talia Shire, Robert Duval, and Diane Keaton returning from the first film and acting legend Lee Strasberg coming out of retirement to portray Hyman Roth. My favorite character though might be Frank Pentangeli, a Corleone family caporegime who replaces Clemenza, a development dictated by a dispute with the actor who played Clemenza. Frankie Five Angels is just tremendous…funny, ham-handed, erratic, and most of all unique. I am not sure Part II would have been quite as good with Clemenza as it ends up being with Pentageli. The flashback sequences with the younger Vito are done completely in Italian, a risky move by director Francis Ford Coppola that pays off. Emulating real events like the coup in Cuba, U.S. Senate hearings, and the mafia infiltration of Las Vegas is a nice touch. There are a significant number of people who rate the The Godfather Part II above its predecessor and say that it is the only sequel in movie history that is actually better than the first film. I can’t go that far for reasons which I will eventually explain. Nevertheless it is an extraordinary achievement and those responsible for it…Coppola, Puzo, Pacino, DeNiro, and many others…can be very proud of what they were able to accomplish. The story arc of the rise & fall of Michael Corleone is truly one of the most inspired ideas in cinema and has been endlessly entertaining for me and millions of others for over 35 years.

 

 


9 Die Hard

I know I have said it before but it bears repeating…I am not an action flick aficionado. Most anything starring Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Van Damme, Seagal, or Chuck Norris just doesn’t frost my cupcake. I have never seen a James Bond film in its entirety. Indiana Jones has never graced a screen big or small in my presence. But as with any rule there are exceptions, and this is the biggest one of them all. 1988’s Die Hard finds Bruce Willis starring as John McClane, a NY City cop whose marriage is on the rocks because his wife took a corporate gig in Los Angeles and now lives there with the kids, estranged from her husband. She invites him out to the Left Coast for Christmas to visit the children and maybe smooth things out. However, upon arriving at the wife’s company Christmas bash near the top of an unfinished skyscraper McClane finds himself the lone wolf fighting against a contingent of foreign terrorists who invade the party, kill the CEO, and hold everyone else hostage. The bad guys are unaware of McClane’s presence and even when he does make himself known he does not reveal that he has the skills to fight back. Soon enough the LAPD and the FBI are involved. There is lots of shooting and explosions, but thankfully they are accompanied by a good story and surprising levity for an action movie. I think maybe that’s why I like it…the humor sets Die Hard apart from others in the genre, who tend to take themselves too seriously. Don’t misunderstand…Die Hard is a serious movie about terrorism and one man’s battle to save the life of his beloved wife, but along the way we get airheaded FBI agents (agent Johnson and Special Agent Johnson), a limo driver that personifies the generation gap between himself and McClane, and the Dad from Family Matters, an 80’s sitcom best known for its nerdy star Urkel, who bonds with McClane over the two-way radio. We also get Hans Gruber, one of the most memorable villains in movie history. Gruber is portrayed by Alan Rickman, who is widely known today as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. But in 1988 he was an unknown who ended up creating such a great character. It is implied that Gruber is a ticked off German who has taken over Nakatomi Plaza for political reasons. However, we eventually learn that he is nothing more than a thief whose goal is to steal a half billion dollars worth of bonds, destroy the building making everyone think the terrorists perished as well, and escape with the loot. It is an ingenious plan, and Gruber seems to know everything that will happen. He especially knows the playbook of the police and the feds, who are portrayed as predictable buffoons. But what he and his men don’t plan on is the “fly in the ointment” named John McClane. Willis was a television star at the time, coming into our living rooms each week alongside Cybill Shepherd in the detective rom-com Moonlighting. He had done a few forgettable films, but it was Die Hard that made him a star and he has continued to ride the wave for over 20 years. Die Hard, in my opinion, is the gold standard of action movies. It has just the right mix of drama, action, humor, suspense, good writing, and excellent performances. It is not gratuitously bloody, and it is just plausible enough for the viewer to suspend disbelief and become engrossed in the story and characters. 1988 was, of course, long before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and for that I am thankful if only because Die Hard would likely never get made in a post-9/11 world. McClane has resurfaced in three sequels with plans for yet another, but those efforts have been hit & miss. I keep using the phrase “lightning in a bottle”, and it applies here as well. Countless films have borrowed elements of Die Hard in the last two decades, and I suppose imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But I have yet to stumble upon a knockoff that comes anywhere close to being as good as the original.

 

 


8 The Star Wars Trilogy

Yes, I know…I am kinda sorta cheating just one more time. In pondering the three original Star Wars movies…Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi…I just couldn’t find a sensible way to justify any type of separation. It is true that most fans of the trilogy will say that The Empire Strikes Back is the best of the three and that Return of the Jedi comes in third. But I cannot look at these three films as separate entities. The story is an arc with huge themes of good vs. evil, destiny, vengeance, justice, fear, anger vs. patience, self-sacrifice, and betrayal. There are elements of religion, philosophy, and mythology so intertwined yet so subtle that the films may be enjoyed as simple popcorn entertainment by some and appreciated on another level by those who like to ponder life with a deeper, more esoteric thought process. Writer/producer/director George Lucas was heavily influenced by a number of sources, including the Flash Gordon comic books and movies of the 1930’s, the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa, and Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero With A Thousand Faces. I am making the assumption that most adults have seen the trilogy and know the basic story, but…just in case…allow me to summarize. Star Wars and its sequels is the story of Luke Skywalker, a young man of meager means who is thrust into an ongoing adventure involving the battle between The Rebel Alliance, a resistance group that desires to restore The Republic, and The Empire, which is what has become of The Republic under the tyrannical rule of Emperor Palpatine. One must remember that this story was written and the movies made in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, so there are obvious parallels to The Cold War and the ongoing battle between The United States and The Soviet Union. Throughout the trilogy we are exposed to a plethora of memorable characters…Darth Vader, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Pricess Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2, CP30, Hans Solo, Jabba the Hutt, Lando Calrissian. I could go on and on. I have never been a big fan of westerns, but what Star Wars does is take many of the elements of the typical western and utilize them in a futuristic space motif. It is a concept brilliant beyond comprehension. Lucas has done some other notable films…The Indiana Jones Series, American Graffiti, Hook, Howard the Duck (well…okay…maybe that isn’t such a great example)…but his crowning achievement is most certainly The Star Wars Trilogy. Over 30 years since the story was first introduced to the public these three films are still among the world’s most popular. They pop up on television all the time and people like me, who have seen them dozens of times, still watch. Earlier this decade when Lucas was preparing to launch a new prequel trilogy…Episodes I, II, and III…the excitement and anticipation reached a fever pitch. People waited in line days in advance for tickets. Unfortunately the prequels did not live up to their predecessors, but honestly how could they?? They aren’t really bad films, especially the third, but there was no way they could possibly approach the greatness of the original trilogy. Every new generation that is introduced to The Star Wars Trilogy embraces it which is a testament to the timelessness and superb quality of the story. And make no mistake…it IS the story. Are there any truly special performances here?? Not really. The only acting that was ever critically recognized was Sir Alec Guinness’ Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in Episode IV: A New Hope, and even that was likely more a function of his legendary status. Most of the other actors involved have had middle-of-the-road, mildly successful careers but are still primarily known for their roles in the trilogy. The only exception is Harrison Ford, who over the course of the past three decades has become one of the biggest movie stars in the world. So one must conclude that the enduring appeal of these movies is the epic nature of the tale itself.

 

 


7 Apollo 13

This is what NFL scouts might call at quick riser, a movie that has improved its stock the most in the shortest amount of time. Released in 1995 and based on the true story of NASA’s 1970 “successful failure”, Apollo 13 is a film that I honestly didn’t pay that much attention to when it first came out. Looking back I have to assume that is due to the timing. June of 1995 was a bad month, one that I look back on almost daily as a negative turning point in my life. So I guess I was engrossed in my own drama and didn’t make it a priority to go to the theater and pay money to watch tragic events of others’ lives. But over the course of the past 10 years I have discovered its greatness and become familiar with the real life situation. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Paxton as astronauts whose planned mission to land on the moon goes horribly awry, Apollo 13 is just the sort of movie I can truly embrace. It is beautifully written, has understated, moving performances, and the direction by Ron Howard is magnificent. I don’t usually recognize the function of the director because honestly I am not familiar enough with what a director really does and what his/her role is in the final product. But here one can easily see that this story, in the hands of someone else…maybe James Cameron (Terminator, Titanic), Renny Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2), Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Gladiator), Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs), or God forbid as a Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer production (Bad Boys, Pearl Harbor)…would have been completely different and likely lacked the subtlety and class brought into the mix by Howard, aka Lil Opie Cunningham, who turns it into something better than a cookie cutter action flick. Two supporting performances, Ed Harris as flight director Gene Kranz and Kathleen Quinlan as astronaut wife Marilyn Lovell, were nominated for Academy Awards. The film itself was nominated for Best Picture and Howard for Best Director. Somehow all four of these awards went to others. Braveheart won Best Picture and its director, Mel Gibson, won that award. Kevin Spacey was Best Supporting Actor for his role as Keyser Soze/Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects. And Mira Sorvino was Best Supporting Actress in some movie no one remembers. I suppose many may disagree, but it is my contention that Apollo 13 was robbed and should have won atleast 3 of these 4 awards. Harris’ performance is especially exceptional and cemented his status as one of Hollywood’s most underappreciated actors. Various television stations show Apollo 13 quite often, and I almost always stop whatever I am doing to watch, which in my mind is the mark of a really good movie. There is a scene near the end of the film where the fate of the astronauts is in question for about 3 minutes. This plays out in real time and is very dramatic. Since this is a true story I know what happens, and even if it wasn’t a true story I have seen it enough times that I know how everything plays out…yet every single time I watch I get goosebumps and am on the edge of my seat. Now THAT is a great movie.

 

 


6 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

This is an oddity simply because it is the third movie in a series, and while traditionally the third movie in a series is better than the second (which is usually a poorly written, hastily produced money grab in response to the public’s love of the original) it is unusual that it would outrank the first. I suppose on most lists the tradition would hold true here, as the vast majority of folks would likely opine that 1983’s Vacation, where we first meet The Griswold Clan, is the best in the series. But by now loyal readers know of my fierce passion for Christmas movies, and that is why Christmas Vacation ranks higher than its parent film, which is 13th on this list. Clark, Ellen, Rusty, and Audrey don’t actually go anywhere this time. They stay home to host a good old-fashioned Christmas for the extended family, which includes Clark’s parents, Ellen’s parents, and the elderly Uncle Lewis & Aunt Bethany, though their exact relationship is never explained. Showing up unexpectedly is cousin Catherine and her redneck husband Eddie, along with two of their small children. Fans of the Vacation series will recall that Catherine & Eddie and their brood make a memorable appearance in the original, and Eddie turns out to be the big star of this film. There is too much goodness for me to go into detail here, but suffice to say that Clark proves himself to be as big of a buffoon as usual, all the grandparents are nuts in that special grandparent way, and Eddie’s antics are the icing on the cake. Virtually every scene in this move has become legendary, from the oversized Christmas tree that Clark stubbornly determines is going in the living room, to Eddie cleaning out his RV’s toilet in his bathrobe, to the 25,000 lights with which Clark adorns the house. As a matter of fact, every December channels like HGTV and The Travel Channel have shows featuring wacky, over-the-top, gaudy Christmas light displays from across the country, and I’d be curious to know whether those kinds of garish exhibits were always around or if Christmas Vacation was the impetus for an odd new holiday tradition. I remember the first time I ever saw this movie, and there is a scene where Clark crashes a saucer sled oiled up with some sort of food varnish that he supposedly invented straight into a WalMart. At the time we did not have a WalMart in my hometown and it was just becoming a big deal. I remember thinking “Man, I wish we had a WalMart”. I laugh at that thought now since WalMart has become such a ubiquitous part of every day life. At any rate, Christmas Vacation has quickly become part of the pantheon of great Christmas movies, one of the half-dozen or so that everyone watches annually. It isn’t high art and it isn’t supposed to be. It is fairly innocuous entertainment, and that’s just fine by me.