The 30 Day Film Challenge – Part 2

“Film is one of three universal languages, along with mathematics & music.” – Frank Capra

 

 

My original intention was to post this a few days ago, but stuff happens…like having a big chunk of what I wrote disappear because evidently I forgot to save my work. When something like that happens I can become quite emo, and to be honest I just lost my desire to write for a few days. Anyway, I’m feeling a little better about life in general now, so let’s finish this thing up and move on to the next gig. If you have not perused Part 1 please do so, and as always I really would enjoy some feedback.

 

 

 

 

 

16     A film that is personal to you…

We Are Marshall

I graduated from Marshall University in Huntington, WV in the mid-1990s, and the tragic 1970 plane crash that killed the entire football team, coaching staff, and a number of parents & boosters is a tale well known to anyone who has ever lived or attended school there. A couple of years after the crash a beautiful fountain on the student center plaza was dedicated in memory of the 75 lives lost, and during my four+ years at MU I passed by that fountain every single day. Anyway, 2006’s We Are Marshall, though an imperfect film, does an admirable job of depicting the event & its aftermath, with the haunting performance of Matthew Fox (Party of Five, Lost) as assistant coach Red Dawson deserving kudos. If you dig We Are Marshall I would highly recommend a 2000 documentary called Ashes to Glory, which is a more factual and much more emotional rendition of the story.

 

 

 

17     Favorite film sequel…

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I really had to think long & hard about this one. Rarely do sequels even approach the greatness of the original. And what about trilogies & series?? Do I prefer the second, third, or fourth movie?? I generally think of such things as one entity and don’t go so far as to break down each film, although there are exceptions. Having said all of that, and while I still think the original 1983 National Lampoon’s Vacation is the best of the series, the particular niche that Christmas Vacation has carved out in the pop culture landscape is undeniable. Three decades after its theatrical run it is shown on television dozens of times each holiday season…and we still watch.

 

 

 

18     A film that stars your favorite actor/actress…

Joe Versus the Volcano and The Glenn Miller Story

First, I had to decide between Jimmy Stewart & Tom Hanks, but I’m taking the easy way out and not making that choice, Secondly, I have shown love to other films by both men already, so what I have chosen to do is give a shout out to two of their lesser known films. Glenn Miller was a real life big band leader in the 1930’s & 40’s and the composer of hits like Moonlight Serenade, Little Brown Jug, & In the Mood. While flying from a gig in the United Kingdom to Paris in December 1944 Miller’s plane disappeared over the English Channel. He was only 40 years old. James Stewart just so happened to be a Glenn Miller doppelganger, so when a biopic was produced in 1954 he was the ideal choice for the part. If you like Stewart or Miller you’ll love both after watching this movie, and you just might become a fan of big band music, as I did. Joe Versus the Volcano isn’t as well-regarded as other Hanks/Meg Ryan films, but I encourage everyone to give it a whirl. It’s a bit of a slog at the beginning, but if you can make it past those gloomy first few minutes what you’ll find is a story that contains a lot of symbolism and has much to say about life.

 

 

 

19     A film made by your favorite director…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I don’t generally have any director specific loyalties…I judge a film based on what I see on the screen, regardless of who is in front of or behind the camera. However, I am an 80’s kid, and that means I’ve seen just about everything that John Hughes wrote, produced, and/or directed. Christmas is usually the main focus of holiday entertainment, as it should be, but there is one really great film that focuses on Thanksgiving. It is the perfect mix of comedy & sentimentality, which is right in my wheelhouse. I wish Steve Martin & John Candy would’ve made more movies together, but then again I’m not sure there’s any way they could have topped their inaugural effort.

 

 

 

20     A film that changed your life…

It’s A Wonderful Life

I don’t remember when or why I watched IAWL for the first time, but during my childhood it was on television countless times on numerous channels at all hours so there were no shortage of opportunities to see it. The idea of a small town guy with big dreams who never quite escapes to fulfill them spoke to me from an early age, and at this point I suppose I’m sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. IAWL was actually marketed as a romantic comedy, but has become a Christmas classic. To say it changed my life may be a tad dramatic because I’m not one to assign such power to a movie, but it does mean a lot to me and has become an important part of my holiday tradition.

 

 

 

21     A film that you dozed off in…

Monty Python & The Holy Grail

I’m probably going to catch some flack, but I have to be honest. There was a little video store down the street from my college dorm, and I decided to rent this movie that I’d heard so much about but never seen. Obviously it was a less than thrilling experience. I just don’t enjoy British humor.

 

 

 

22     A film that made you angry…

The Big Wedding

When a movie stars Robin Williams & Robert DeNiro I don’t think it is out of line to have high expectations. Sadly, not only does this movie fall short, it is undoubtedly one of the worst I’ve ever seen. I have never left a theater before a film is over, but I came pretty close with this one. DeNiro continues to trash his legendary legacy, while the late great Williams made a string of forgettable flops in the decade before his untimely demise.

 

 

 

23     A film made by a director who is dead…

Rear Window

Again, I’m not married to any particular directors, as in I adore every movie they’ve ever made. On top of that I’m not really a Hitchcock kind of guy. However, he did make a few films I’ve enjoyed, and his work with my man Jimmy Stewart is quite good. Rear Window is interesting in that it is essentially shot from one perspective, that of main character Jeff Jefferies, a professional photographer sidelined with a broken leg. Jeff lives in a courtyard apartment and becomes kind of a voyeur, intently watching neighbors that he doesn’t really know and making up stories about them that may or may not be true. When he decides that one of those neighbors might have murdered his wife things become really interesting. Rear Window wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture, which, in hindsight, seems like a real crime.

 

 

 

24     A film you wish you saw in theaters…

Apollo 13 and Titanic

I pondered & debated with myself, but I just can’t choose. History shows that Apollo 13 was released in June 1995, which wasn’t a good time in my life, so I’m not surprised I didn’t make it to the local cineplex for a flick. However, I have seen it countless times in the ensuing years and count it among the best movies ever made. I cannot recall a specific reason why I didn’t head to the theater to watch Titanic, although I’m not one for massive crowds so perhaps that scared me off. But by now I have watched it numerous times. I have always opined that some movies really should be seen on the big screen, and with a gigantic ship sinking into the ocean & a huge rocket being launched into space I can only assume these would have been really cool films to see in a theater. Alas, I suppose my 55 inch smart TV will have to suffice.

 

 

 

25     A film you like that is not set in the current era…

The Godfather

I cannot believe we have made it this far without mentioning what I consider to be the best film ever produced. It is nearly flawless. Thankfully, since it is set in the 1940s & 50s The Godfather fits this category perfectly.

 

 

 

26     A film you like that is adapted from somewhere…

Forrest Gump

I have never read Winston Groom’s 1986 novel, and am inclined never to do so. It is my understanding that the film differs vastly from its source material, and since I think it’s a damn fine movie I’m not going to ruin it by reading the book. I am usually in the camp that believes that the book is almost always better than the movie, but there are exceptions and I’m just going to mark Forrest Gump as one of them.

 

 

 

27     A film that is visually striking to you…

Batman & Robin

I believe I have previously described Batman & Robin as “aurally & visually obnoxious…an assault on the senses”, and I stand by that assessment. However, there is no denying that it is visually striking, and in hindsight it is far from the worst movie ever made.

 

 

 

28     A film that made you feel uncomfortable…

Very Bad Things

Oh wow…let me tell you something folks…if you’ve never seen Very Bad Things you really should. It’s something everyone needs to experience just once. I say that because it’s not the kind of film for which repeat viewings are a thing. Once is enough, and it’ll be something you will remember…for better or worse…for the rest of your life. It seems like a harmless enough concept…a group of buddies go to Vegas for a bachelor party. And with an all-star cast including Jon Favreau, Daniel Stern, Jeremy Piven, Christian Slater, Cameron Diaz, & Jeanne Tripplehorn one would assume it to be a fairly mundane, mainstream cliché…but that hypothesis is way wrong. As a matter of fact everything about this movie is so wrong, but in the kind of way that one cannot avoid staring at in complete fascination.

 

 

 

29     A film that makes you want to fall in love…

When Harry Met Sally

I freely admit it…I am comfortable enough with my smoldering machismo to proclaim my affection for rom coms, and in the early 90s America’s Sweetheart was Meg Ryan. She made three awesome romantic comedies (Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle, & You’ve Got Mail) with Tom Hanks, who is the prototypical leading man for such films. However, I think When Harry Met Sally is probably the best of the genre. Billy Crystal is 14 years older than Ryan and early scenes depicting him as a recent college grad stretch the limits of credibility (he was 41 years old at the time), but the movie is funny, heartwarming, & a joy to watch. Near the end Crystal’s character says “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible”, and I would love to find that person and begin the rest of my life.

 

 

 

30     A film with your favorite ending…

Field of Dreams

I have opined on multiple occasions that “anyone who doesn’t shed a tear during the last 10 minutes of Field of Dreams doesn’t have a heart”. You see, it is so much more than a “sports movie”. It isn’t really about baseball at all. Field of Dreams is about regret & redemption, and the film’s conclusion packs an unexpected emotional punch, one that resonates even deeper three decades later than it did originally.

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 – A Dream Finale

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Best Narration

 The Nominees:

 

Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Boris Karloff (The Grinch)

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

 

Sam the Snowman (Rudolph)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Dog

The Nominees:

 

Snots (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

Snoopy (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Max (The Grinch)

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Best Santa Claus

The Nominees:

 

Higbee’s Santa (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Santa Claus (Rudolph)

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

 

Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Animated Character

The Nominees:

 

Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph)

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

 

Linus Van Pelt (Charlie Brown)

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

 

The Grinch (The Grinch)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:

 

Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter, IAWL)

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

 

Darren McGavin (The Old Man, A Christmas Story)

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

 

Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Duo

The Nominees:

 

Charlie Brown & Linus (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Clark Griswold & Cousin Eddie (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Best Villain

The Nominees:

 

Henry F. Potter (IAWL)

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

 

Scut Farkas (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Frank Shirley (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:

 

Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker, A Christmas Story)

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

 

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

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

 

Edie McClurg (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Inanimate Object

The Nominees:

 

The Leg Lamp (A Christmas Story)

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

 

The Sad Little Tree (Charlie Brown)

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

 

The RV (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Christmas Village

The Nominees:

 

Whoville (The Grinch)

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

 

Bedford Falls (IAWL)

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

 

Hohman, IN (A Christmas Story)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Director

The Nominees:

 

Bob Clark (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Frank Capra (IAWL)

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

 

John Hughes (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Song

The Nominees:

 

Christmas Time is Here (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Welcome Christmas (The Grinch)

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

 

Mess Around (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Best Actress

The Nominees:

 

Donna Reed (Mary Hatch Bailey, IAWL)

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

 

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

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

 

Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees:

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Best Actor

The Nominees:

 

Peter Billingsley (Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story)

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

 

James Stewart (George Bailey, IAWL)

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

 

Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem – The Sweet Sixteen (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life           vs.              Frosty the Snowman

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Polar Express              vs.              Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Story               vs.                        The Muppet Christmas Carol

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

 

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

 

 

 

White Christmas                           vs.                        A Charlie Brown Christmas

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

 

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

 

Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 2)

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

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life   

Quotes

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

vs.

 

The Lemon Drop Kid

Quotes

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

 

Factoids

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Polar Express

Quotes

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Christmas Carol (1984)

Quotes

 

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

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

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

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

Tact is a quality I despise. – Ebenezer Scrooge

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles              

Quotes

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

Those aren’t pillows! – Neal Page

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

 

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The Santa Clause

Quotes

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Quotes

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

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

I must get that hat back! – Professor Hinkle

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

 

 

 

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Holiday Inn

Quotes

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem: North Pole (Round 1)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life                             

Released                                           12/20/46

Starring                                              James Stewart, Donna Reed                                

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

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

 

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Love Actually

Released                                           11/14/03

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

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              63%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Polar Express                                

Released                                           11/10/04

Starring                                              Tom Hanks                                 

Director                                              Robert Zemeckis (Cast Away)

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

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

 

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Deck the Halls

Released                                           11/22/06

Starring                                              Danny DeVito, Matthew Broderick

Director                                              John Whitesell (Big Momma’s House 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              6%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Planes, Trains, & Automobiles 

Released                                           11/25/87

Starring                                              John Candy, Steve Martin            

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

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

 

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Arthur Christmas

Released                                           11/23/11

Starring                                              James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie

Director                                              Sarah Smith

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman         

Released                                           12/7/69

Starring                                              Jimmy Durante, Jackie Vernon          

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              60%

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

 

 

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The Family Stone

Released                                           12/16/05

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

Director                                              Thomas Bezucha

Rotten Tomatoes                              52%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Holiday Inn                           

Released                                           8/4/42

Starring                                              Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire 

Director                                              Mark Sandrich (Top Hat, The Gay Divorcee)

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

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

 

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All I Want For Christmas

Released                                           11/8/91

Starring                                              Ethan Embry, Kevin Nealon, Thora Birch

Director                                              Robert Lieberman (D3: The Mighty Ducks)

Rotten Tomatoes                              0%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Santa Clause

Released                                           11/11/94

Starring                                              Tim Allen                  

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

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

 

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Mickey’s Christmas Carol                   

Released                               12/16/83

Starring                                   Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck                 

Director                                   Burny Mattinson (The Great Mouse Detective)

Rotten Tomatoes                            90% (a)

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1984)

Released                                           12/17/84

Starring                                              George C. Scott       

Director                                              Clive Donner            (The Thief of Baghdad)

Rotten Tomatoes                              74% (a)

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

 

 

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Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

Released                                           11/18/94

Starring                                              Richard Attenborough, Dylan McDermott, Elizabeth Perkins

Director                                              Les Mayfield (Encino Man, Flubber)

Rotten Tomatoes                              61%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

The Lemon Drop Kid

Released                                           3/8/51

Starring                                              Bob Hope

Director                                              Sidney Lanfield (The Hound of the Baskervilles)

Rotten Tomatoes                              73% (a)

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

 

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Trading Places

Released                                           6/10/83

Starring                                              Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd

Director                                              John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              86%

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

 

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

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!!

 

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.

100 Favorite Movies – The Complete List

As a coda to the Top 100 Favorite Movies series this is the complete list. All commentaries on each particular movie can be found in the vault. Once again thanks for reading!!

 

 

1       The Godfather

“I’m with you now. I’m with you.”

 

2       Forrest Gump

“Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?”…”I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”

 

3       Field of Dreams 

“You know we just don’t recognize the most significant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, well, there’ll be other days. I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”

 

4       It’s a Wonderful Life

“Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole.”

 

5       A Christmas Story

“Frah-gee-lay. It must be Italian!”…”I think that says ‘fragile’ honey.”…”Oh, yeah.”

6    National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

“You want to hurry this up, Clark? I’m freezing my baguettes off.”

 

7       Apollo 13

“Failure is not an option.”

 

8       The Star Wars Trilogy

“May The Force be with you.”

 

9       Die Hard

“Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!”

 

10     The Godfather Part II

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

 

11     The Passion of the Christ

“Take this and drink. This is My blood, spilled for you and for many. Do this in memory of Me.”

 

12     Home Alone

“He’s a kid. Kids are stupid.”

 

13     National Lampoon’s Vacation

“This is a damn fine automobile if you want my honest opinion. I owe it to myself to tell you that if you’re taking the tribe cross-country this is the automobile you should be using, the Wagon Queen Family Truckster. You think you hate it now, but wait ‘til you drive it.”

 

14     Planes, Trains, & Automobiles

“Those aren’t PILLOWS!!”

 

15     Office Space

“Ever since I started working, every single day of my life has been worse than the day before it. So that means that every single day that you see me, that’s on the worst day of my life.”

 

16     The Polar Express

“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell. But as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Though I have grown old, the bell still rings for me. As it does for all who truly believe.”

 

17     Bull Durham

“Man that ball got outta here in a hurry. I mean anything travels that far oughta have a damn stewardess on it, don’t you think?”

 

18     Dead Poets Society

“They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

 

19     The Fugitive

“I’m either lying or I’m gonna shoot you, what do you think?”

 

20     Grease

“Tell me ’bout it…Stud”

 

21     Casablanca

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

 

22     Jaws

“The thing about a shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes.”

 

23     A Christmas Carol

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business.”

 

24     Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

“To the last, I will grapple with thee! From Hell’s heart, I stab at thee! For hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!”

 

25     The Lethal Weapon Series

“I’m too old for this shit.”

 

26     The Blues Brothers

“We’re on a mission from God.”

 

27     Ocean’s Eleven

“You’d need at least a dozen guys doing a combination of cons. Off the top of my head, I’d say you’re looking at a Boesky, a Jim Brown, a Miss Daisy, two Jethros and a Leon Spinks, not to mention the biggest Ella Fitzgerald ever.”

 

28     The Ref

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

 

29     Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

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

 

30     Rocky

“I was nobody. But that don’t matter either, you know? ‘Cause I was thinkin’, it really don’t matter if I lose this fight.  ‘Cause all I wanna do is go the distance. If I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I’m still standin’, I’m gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren’t just another bum from the neighborhood.”

 

31     The Perfect Storm
“She’s not gonna let us out.”

 

32     The Back to the Future Trilogy

“And that’s when you came up with the idea for the Flux Capacitor, which is what makes time travel possible.”

33     Titanic

“God Himself could not sink this ship.”

 

34     A Shot in the Dark

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

 

35     Scent of a Woman

“There is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that.”

 

36     Halloween

“I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.”

 

37     Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

“There’s nobody dumb enough to knock off a toy store on Christmas Eve.”

 

38     Best in Show

“We have so much in common, we both love soup and snow peas, we love the outdoors, and talking and not talking. We could not talk or talk forever and still find things to not talk about.”

 

39     The Shawshank Redemption

“Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

 

40     Cast  Away

“I’ll be right back.”

 

41     Jerry Maguire

“You had me at ‘Hello’.”

 

42     Rear Window

“We’ve become a race of Peeping Toms. What people ought to do is get outside their own house and look in for a change. Yes sir. How’s that for a bit of homespun philosophy?”

 

43     Mrs. Doubtfire

“He was quite fond of the drink. It was the drink that killed him…”How awful, he was an alcoholic?”…”No, he was hit by a Guinness truck, so it was quite literally the drink that killed him.”

 

44     Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

“Computer! Computer? Hello, computer.”…”Just use the keyboard.”…”Keyboard. How quaint.”

 

45     Sleepless in Seattle

“Shall we??”

 

46     When Harry Met Sally

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

 

47     Elf

“This place reminds me of Santa’s workshop. Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.”

 

48     You’ve Got Mail

“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are, can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self.”

 

49     Miracle on 34th Street

“Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”

 

50     Little Miss Sunshine

“Nietzsche? So you stopped talking because of Friedrich Nietzsche? Far out.”

 

51     Father of the Bride I & II

“He’s like you, Dad! Except he’s brilliant.”

 

52     Die Hard with a Vengeance

“Look around man. All the cops are into something. It’s Christmas, you could steal City Hall.”

 

53     Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

“You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”

 

54     Swingers

“Vegas baby! Vegas!!”

 

55     Saturday Night Fever

“You know how many times someone told me I was good in my life? Two! Twice! Two times! This raise today, and dancing…dancin’ at the disco!”

 

56     Batman

“You ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

 

57     This Is Spinal Tap

“It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

 

58     American Beauty

“I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.”

 

59     Vertigo

“I have acrophobia which gives me vertigo and I get dizzy. Boy, what a moment to find out I had it!”

 

60     Hoosiers

“You know, a basketball hero around here is treated like a god. How can he ever find out what he can really do? I don’t want this to be the high point of his life. I’ve seen them, the real sad ones. They sit around the rest of their lives talking about the glory days when they were seventeen years old.”

 

61     Silence of the Lambs

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.”

 

62     Meet the Parents

“Shut your pie hole and listen to me when I say that I am finished with the checking-of-the-bags conversation!”

 

63     Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

“You think I’m licked. You all think I’m licked. Well, I’m not licked, and I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause.”

 

64     Raging Bull

“I’m gonna win. There’s no way I’m goin’ down. I don’t go down for nobody.”

 

65     Airplane!

“Surely you can’t be serious?”…”I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

 

66     The Frat Pack 3 Pak (Anchorman, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Wedding Crashers)

“Stay classy San Diego”

 

67     Ocean’s Thirteen

“He owns all of the air south of Beijing…”The air?”…”Let me put it to you this way – try building something taller than three stories in the Tiangjin province, and see if his name comes up.”

 

68     The Greatest Show on Earth

“The circus is a massive machine whose very life depends on discipline and motion and speed. A mechanized army on wheels that rolls over any obstacle in its path, that meets calamity again and again, but always comes up smiling. A place where disaster and tragedy stalk the big top, haunt the backyard, and ride the circus train. Where death is constantly watching for one frayed rope, one weak link, or one trace of fear. A fierce, primitive fighting force that smashes relentlessly forward against impossible odds. That is the circus.”

 

69     The Shrek Trilogy

“Once upon a time, there was a lovely princess. But she had an enchantment upon her of a fearful sort, which could only be broken by true love’s first kiss.”

 

70     The Glenn Miller Story

“Maybe it’s good and maybe it ain’t, but it’s radical!”

 

71     The Patriot

“Before this war is over, I’m going to kill you.”

 

72     American Pie

“I got some scotch”…”Single malt?”…”Aged eighteen years. The way I like it.”

 

73     North by Northwest

“That’s funny, that plane’s dustin’ crops where there ain’t no crops.”

 

74     Glengarry Glen Ross

“Put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers only.”

 

75     Goodbye Mr. Chips

“I thought I heard you saying it was a pity… pity I never had any children. But you’re wrong. I have. Thousands of them. Thousands of them… and all boys.”

 

76     Twelve Angry Men

“We have a reasonable doubt, and that’s something that’s very valuable in our system.”

 

77     Rocky II

“Yo Adrian!! I did it!!”

 

78     The Godfather Part III

“Just when I thought I was out they pull me back in!!”

 

79     Saving Private Ryan

“James… earn this. Earn it.”

 

80     Big

“There are a million reasons for me to go home but there is only one reason for me to stay.”

 

81     Trapped in Paradise

“Hey! That’s Timmy’s sleigh!”

 

82     Top Gun

“I feel the need…the need for speed!!”

 

83     Dirty Dancing

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner!!”

 

84     Apocalypse Now

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for 12 hours. When it was all over, I walked up. We didn’t find one of ’em, not one stinkin’ dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like…victory.”

 

85     Brat Pack 3 Pak (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, St. Elmo’s Fire)

I always preferred to hang out with the outcasts, ’cause they were cooler; they had better taste in music, for one thing, I guess because they had more time to develop one with the lack of social interaction they had. – John Hughes

 

86     Tin Cup

“Sex and golf are the two things you can enjoy even if you’re not good at them.”

 

87     The Big Chill

“A long time ago we knew each other for a short period of time; you don’t know anything about me. It was easy back then. It’s not surprising our friendship could survive that. It’s only out there in the real world that it gets tough.”

 

88     Seabiscuit

“You don’t throw away your life just ’cause it’s banged up a little bit.”

 

89     The Wizard of Oz

“There’s no place like home.”

 

90     The Birdcage

“I’m the Vice President of the Coalition for Moral Order! My co-founder has just died in the bed of an underage black whore!”

 

91     Pride of the Yankees

“Is it three strikes, Doc?”…”You want it straight?”…”Yeah.”…”It’s three strikes.”

 

92     The Ten Commandments

“Let my people go!”

 

93     Honeymoon in Vegas

“We’re the Flying Elvises. Utah chapter.”

 

94     Hook

“Your children love you, they want to play with you. How long do you think that lasts? We have a few special years with our children, when they’re the ones that want us around. After that you’re going to be running after them for a bit of attention. It’s so fast Peter. Just a few years, and it’s over. And you are not being careful. And you are missing it.”

 

95     Uncle Buck

“I don’t have a college degree. I don’t even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they’re all good kids, until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they’re no good.”

 

96     School of Rock

“Dude, I service society by rocking, OK? I’m out there on the front lines liberating people with my music!”

 

97     Risky Business

“Every now and then say, ‘What the fuck.’ ‘What the fuck’ gives you freedom. Freedom brings opportunity. Opportunity makes your future.”

 

98     Fast Times at Ridgemont High

“All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.”

 

99     E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial

“E.T. phone home”

 

100   Caddyshack

“It’s in the HOLE!!”