Points of Ponderation…..Episode 5.21

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

 

 

 

 

When I was a teenager in the 80s there was a delicious candy bar called BarNone. It was thick…solid…and very chocolatey. There were chocolate wafers with chocolate cream and peanuts on top, all enveloped in chocolate. Their ad slogan was “Tame the Chocolate Beasty”. In 1992…for whatever reason…Hershey altered BarNone from one substantial bar to two smaller bars (and added caramel) in bright yellow packaging. It was good, but not as great as the original. Then in 1997 BarNone was discontinued altogether. Several years ago a company called Iconic Candy announced plans to revive BarNone, but they seemed to be all talk & no action so I gave up. Not so fast my friends!! Apparently, while we were all caught up in other things last year Iconic finally relaunched BarNone, a fact I only recently discovered. I promptly ordered a box on Amazon and while it isn’t a perfect facsimile (it’s a bit dry and needs more ganache & peanuts) it is close enough. If you liked BarNone back in the day you’ll be glad to know they’re out there again, which makes my world a wee bit better than it was just last week. Sometimes it really is the little things in life.

 

 

Weight Watchers changed their name to WW…but why?? Did somebody that gets paid a salary actually make that decision?? Hell, any idiot could do that job 🤷🏻‍♂️.

 

 

I ran across a blurb that said former child actress Marah Wilson (Mrs. Doubtfire, the Miracle on 34th St. remake) is a cousin of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro. Then I read that Wilson has disavowed her cousin because of his political views and the two “don’t interact”. How sad is that?? I grew up in an Italian-American family, and for us cousins are quite important. I don’t even share the same sociopolitical worldview as my own father, but I can’t imagine “disavowing” him or cutting off contact. I just find it kind of pathetic. Wilson hasn’t even been an actress for two decades yet she still has that Hollywood bubble mindset that believes anyone who doesn’t share their twisted outlook on life is evil & must be cancelled. I used to think that the one thing all performers (actors, singers, athletes, etc) have in common is enormous talent, but I’ve come to realize that most also share some level of mental illness.

 

 

Since Election Day gas prices have soared 18%, while the price of oil has rocketed almost 50%. I TOLD YOU SO!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

Speaking of actresses…

I’ve never watched The Mandalorian. It’s one of those shows I always thought I’d get around to checking out but haven’t, and when I’m being honest with myself I realize I never will. At any rate, some actress from the show recently got fired for right leaning social media posts. Apparently what really got people’s panties in a wad was comparing Nazis treatment of Jews with the modern day cancel culture wherein there seems to be a concerted effort to squash all traces of conservative opinion. I read her tweet and understood the analogy just fine…didn’t find it offensive at all. What’s more interesting is Disney absolutely proving the young lady’s point by firing her. Leftists really don’t get it. They are completely blind to their own insanity. It would be funny if it wasn’t so maddening.

Merry Movie Mayhem – A Dream Finale

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Best Narration

 The Nominees:

 

Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Boris Karloff (The Grinch)

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

 

Sam the Snowman (Rudolph)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Dog

The Nominees:

 

Snots (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

Snoopy (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Max (The Grinch)

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Best Santa Claus

The Nominees:

 

Higbee’s Santa (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Santa Claus (Rudolph)

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

 

Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Animated Character

The Nominees:

 

Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph)

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

 

Linus Van Pelt (Charlie Brown)

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

 

The Grinch (The Grinch)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:

 

Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter, IAWL)

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

 

Darren McGavin (The Old Man, A Christmas Story)

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

 

Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Duo

The Nominees:

 

Charlie Brown & Linus (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Clark Griswold & Cousin Eddie (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Best Villain

The Nominees:

 

Henry F. Potter (IAWL)

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

 

Scut Farkas (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Frank Shirley (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:

 

Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker, A Christmas Story)

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

 

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

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

 

Edie McClurg (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Inanimate Object

The Nominees:

 

The Leg Lamp (A Christmas Story)

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

 

The Sad Little Tree (Charlie Brown)

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

 

The RV (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Christmas Village

The Nominees:

 

Whoville (The Grinch)

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

 

Bedford Falls (IAWL)

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

 

Hohman, IN (A Christmas Story)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Director

The Nominees:

 

Bob Clark (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Frank Capra (IAWL)

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

 

John Hughes (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Song

The Nominees:

 

Christmas Time is Here (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Welcome Christmas (The Grinch)

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

 

Mess Around (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Best Actress

The Nominees:

 

Donna Reed (Mary Hatch Bailey, IAWL)

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

 

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

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

 

Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees:

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Best Actor

The Nominees:

 

Peter Billingsley (Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story)

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

 

James Stewart (George Bailey, IAWL)

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

 

Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem – The Sweet Sixteen (Part 2)

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

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation             vs.              Elf

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Home Alone                vs.              How the Grinch Stole Christmas        

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem: Candy Cane (Round 2)

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

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

vs.

 

Scrooge (1970)

Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Home Alone

Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

Robert De Niro turned down the role of Harry.

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

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

 

vs.

 

The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

 

Quotes

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Quotes

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

 

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Scrooged

Quotes

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Ref

Quotes

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

 

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A Christmas Carol (1938)

Quotes

I like Christmas! I LOVE Christmas! – Ebenezer Scrooge

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem: 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.

Merry Movie Mayhem: Candy Cane (Round 1)

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

 

 

 

 

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Released                                           5/2/47

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

Director                                              George Seaton (Airport)

Rotten Tomatoes                              94%

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

 

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Silent Night, Deadly Night

Released                                           11/9/84

Starring                                              no one you’ve ever heard of         

Director                                              Charles E. Sellier Jr.

Rotten Tomatoes                              31%

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

 

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

 

 

 

Home Alone

Released                                           11/16/90

Starring                                              Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern        

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              55%

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

 

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Mixed Nuts

Released                                           12/21/94

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

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              7%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Released                                           12/18/66

Starring                                              Boris Karloff, Thurl Ravenscroft   

Director                                              Chuck Jones

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

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

 

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Christmas Every Day

Released                                           12/1/96

Starring                                              Erik Von Detten, Robert Hays      

Director                                              Larry Peerce (The Other Side of the Mountain)

Rotten Tomatoes                              40% (a)

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

 

The Verdict:       The Grinch. Another easy decision.

 

 

 

The Ref    

Released                                           3/9/94

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

Director                                             Ted Demme  (Blow)

Rotten Tomatoes                              71%

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

 

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Fred Claus

Released                                           11/9/07

Starring                                              Vince Vaughn, Paul Giamatti, Elizabeth Banks           

Director                                              David Dobkin            (Wedding Crashers)

Rotten Tomatoes                              21%

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

 

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

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol (1938) 

Released                                           12/16/38                                                        

Starring                                              Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart

 

Director                                              Edwin L. Marin

Rotten Tomatoes                              100%

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

 

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Bad Santa

Released                                           11/26/03

Starring                                              Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Lauren Graham

Director                                              Terry Zwigoff

Rotten Tomatoes                              78%

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

 

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

 

 

 

Scrooged

Released                                           11/23/88

Starring                                              Bill Murray    

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              68%

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

 

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Love the Coopers

Released                                           11/13/15

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

Director                                              Jessie Nelson

Rotten Tomatoes                              19%

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

 

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

 

 

 

The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause        

Released                                           11/1/02

Starring                                              Tim Allen, Elizabeth Mitchell        

Director                                              Michael Lembeck

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%

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

 

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Home for the Holidays

Released                                           11/3/95

Starring                                              Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr. 

Director                                              Jodi Foster

Rotten Tomatoes                              62%

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

 

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

 

 

 

Scrooge (1970)         

Released                                           11/5/70

Starring                                              Albert Finney, Sir Alec Guinness

Director                                              Ronald Neame (The Poseidon Adventure)

Rotten Tomatoes                              75%

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

 

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Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/23/88

Starring                                              Rowan Atkinson, Robbie Coltrane          

Director                                              Richard Boden

Rotten Tomatoes                              84% (a)

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

 

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

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.

Holiday Essentials with Your Humble Potentate of Profundity

It goes without saying that Christmas is…or atleast should be…all about the birth of our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ. It should also be christmas-lightsabout family, an attitude of giving, and a time of reflection & contemplation of life. However, I am not here to hop up on my soapbox (not today anyway) or proselytize (not that there is anything wrong with that). There are a lot of cool things about the holiday season, and since I do not have a spouse or children I tend to enjoy a lot of other peripheral traditions besides opening presents on Christmas morning. So these, in a nutshell, are the things that entertain me, make me a bit wistful, and help me fondly recall the idyllic childhood of my selective memory.

 

 

 

 

Santa Claus on the Biography Channel

I’ve railed against the stupefying mediocrity of television elsewhere here at The Manofesto, but I have to admit that amongst the plethora of nothingness that passes as “entertainment” on The Idiot Box there are occasionally some hidden gems. Whenever I am not watching a ballgame on TV I tend to gravitate toward more informational fare on Discovery, History, or The Science Channel. If only I’d have had that sort of intellectual curiosity 30 years ago. Ah well…c’est la vie. At any rate, A&E used to run this terrific show called Biography, which is exactly what it sounds like. A few years ago the show somehow got its own channel, which is probably overkill but what’re you gonna do?? At Christmas time they inevitably run a show about the jolly old elf himself…Saint Nicholas, Santa Claus, Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, etc. They explore the origins, the myths, and how our modern interpretation came to fruition. It’s educational, it’s fun, and it’s not a bad way to spend an hour or two.

 

 

Reading A Visit From St. Nicholas

Unfortunately I do not have children of my own and have begun to have very serious doubts about whether I ever will. If I did I would like to think that one of the final things I would do as they lay their little heads down to sleep on Christmas Eve is read this most beloved poem. As it is I still like to find it online and read it to myself. What a beautifully written story it is, with the power to make even middle-aged men feel like children once again.

 

 

Die Hard

Coming in at #9 on my list of Favorite Movies is the best action movie of all time and the world’s most unlikely Christmas film. It’s a terrific change of pace from the sentimentality and mawkish preachiness of typical holiday fare. Obviously I don’t shy away from all that sweetness & light…not at all. But sometimes it’s fun just to sit back and watch smartass Bruce Willis (at his very best) shoot things and blow stuff up.

 

 

Crazy Christmas Lights

lightsI am physically unable to put up a huge decorative display, and even if I could The Bachelor Palace is not really conducive to that sort of thing anyway. So I can get my fix a couple of ways. If the weather cooperates I can hop in the ol’ gasoline powered extended cab sleigh and traverse local neighborhoods where folks with that funky Christmas spirit have decorated the outside of their own homesteads. The swankier sections of town where the pretty people live are usually the mother lode of ornamental holiday nirvana. It’s not a bad way to spend a chilly December evening. The other, far lazier option is to just hang out on the couch and find The Travel Channel on your television. They frequently replay a couple of specials about people who go all out with their Christmas light presentations. Either way the soft glowing lights (I am partial to white lights) are an essential part of the holiday season.

 

 

Thanksgiving with The Macy’s Parade, Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, and NFL Football

This list is obviously more about Christmas, but sometimes I feel like Thanksgiving gets the short end of the holiday stick. In 21st Century America it is treated as nothing more than the kickoff to the commercialized Christmas season. I am not excessively offended by that, but I also think Thanksgiving deserves some love. It isn’t quite as special these days since my mother and grandparents are gone and I usually go out to eat alone instead of having the old fashioned family feast at home, but I do have my own little checklist for the big day. I still love to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, even if it does strike me as being a lot hokier now than when I was a kid. Being a huge football fan I appreciate the fact that there are always a couple of NFL games with the Dallas Cowboys & Detroit Lions facing off against various opponents and sometimes there is even a college game or two. And to top everything off I like to watch the 1987 Steve Martin/John Candy classic Planes, Trains, & Automobiles, which is the world’s best…and maybe only…Thanksgiving movie.

 

 

A Holiday Inn & White Christmas Double Feature

I’m an old-fashioned guy, and no time of the year lends itself to kickin’ it old school better than Christmas. One of the things I could never do but would love to have the talent for is singing and dancing. I envy people who can entertain a crowd with song & dance, and that is what these two films are all about. The plots themselves are secondary to watching Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Rosemary Clooney, & Danny Kaye display their inimitable talents. It’s such a shame that films like these are not made or barely appreciated anymore. I have two teenage nephews and I’d be surprised if they’d watch either of these for longer than 10 minutes before wanting to play some inane video game or watch “reality” television. That’s fine…to each their own. As for me, I will anxiously await AMC’s showing of these two films, during which I will dim the lights, snuggle with Rocco under a warm blanket, and drink a mug of piping hot cocoa overflowing with marshmallows.

 

 

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

Rudolph & Frosty get all the love, but among the plethora of classic, Rankin-Bass produced, stop motion animated holiday specials this one deserves some props as well. Starring the voices of Mickey Rooney, Fred Astaire, & Keenan Wynn, it’s a unique Santa Claus origin story with one of the most memorably named villains ever, Mayor Burgermeister Meisterburger. It’s usually on ABC Family a few times.

 

 

 

Christmas on The Food Network

I am addicted to The Food Network. I can’t actually cook all that well myself, but I sure do get a kick out of watching pros who know their way around a kitchen whip up a plethora of edible delights that look quite tasty on TV. The holiday season provides folks like Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, Giada De Laurentiis, and Emeril Lagasse several weeks to wow the viewers with all kinds of festive ideas & recipes. Yummo!!

 

 

 

 

Made-for-Television Holiday Movies

We are all familiar with the big screen classics that debuted in the theaters decades ago and now grace our television screens each & Christmas season. However, there are a lot of other lesser known holiday films available for our viewing pleasure every year. Channels like Hallmark, ABC Family, and Lifetime (Television for Women) produce new made-for-TV flicks all the time and replay several that have evidently gotten good ratings. You won’t see many big stars, great production values, or even very good stories, but you’ll be entertained, maybe have a laugh or two, and possibly get your heart tugged on a bit.

 

 

Miracle on 34th St.

This is a fantastic way to kick off the holiday season!! The beginning of the film incorporates the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade into the story, so it is usually amongst the first Christmas movies I watch. It used to be on NBC immediately following the parade every year, but then they started showing a dog show instead. However, if my sources are correct then NBC is showing it on Thanksgiving this year again!! I know that most of us (unless there are young crumb crunchers out there with an odd addiction to The Manofesto) understand the truth about Santa Claus, but I also think that most of us retain…dare I say…an inner child that we love to bring out during the holidays. Even if we know the real deal with Santa there is something charming about the idea that he may actually exist.

 

 

 

Mannheim Steamroller & Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I love all sorts of music and I really enjoy Christmas carols. I have to give a shout out to my friend Greg and The Godfather of Conservatism Rush Limbaugh for introducing me to these two groups, both of which put a distinctive spin on traditional holiday tunes. They are each a unique mix of orchestral & progressive synthesized music, with TSO having more of a rock edge. Once one is familiar with their singular styles it becomes instantly recognizable when heard on the radio or the sound system at your local shopping center. Both groups have done tunes other than Christmas songs, but it is the latter for which they are best known & loved and that has become an integral part of my yuletide merriment.

 

 

Elf

The new kid on the block in the pantheon of beloved Christmas films is 2003’s Elf, starring Will Ferrell as an orphan who accidentally ends up in Santa’s bag on Christmas Eve and grows up at the North Pole think he is…you guessed it…an elf. He learns the truth and sets out to New York City to find his real father, who just happens to be a grumpy book publisher who is on Santa’s Naughty List. Ferrell is hysterically funny and nails the childlike vibe one may assume would mark an elven personality, and James Caan is the curmudgeonly Dad. This is one of Ferrell’s best roles, and it is amazing just how quickly Elf has taken its place amongst the annual holiday classics. I do have a concern about possible overexposure, because USA Network shows the film a lot starting even before Thanksgiving.

 

 

Christmas Unwrapped on The History Channel

Okay, so I am kind of a nerd. I love history, and I love Christmas, so this is a perfect marriage of the two. It explores the origins of the holiday, various symbols like the Christmas tree, and how the celebration has evolved over the centuries from a strictly holy day to 18th century rabble rousing to the modern bent toward consumerism. There is a lot of interesting input from a variety of experts in history, religion, and folklore, and it is all narrated by the soothing voice of newsman Harry Smith. I don’t mind being educated at the same time as I am being entertained. Your mileage may vary.

 

 

Home Alone & Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

MacCaulay Caulkin seems to have followed the same path as a lot of child stars…overnight fame at a very young age, followed by years of personal & legal issues that were tabloid fodder for the jaded, voyeuristic masses, and eventually relative obscurity. However, for just a little while each holiday season he is simply that precocious and insufferably cute little boy that was inadvertently ditched by his family (twice) and left to fend for himself at Christmas time. The original came in at #12 on my Favorite Movies list, while the sequel ranked #37. I fondly recall watching the original when it first started airing on television in the early 90’s with my oldest nephew (who is now in college). We laughed so hard at the cartoon violence when little Kevin is “defending his house” against bumbling burglars Harry & Marv that tears were streaming down our faces. I don’t laugh quite as much now, but these two films are still virtual comfort food. The second isn’t quite as good as the first, but the two still need to be connected and viewed, preferably together.

 

 

The Ref

If one checks The Vault and peruses my Top 100 Favorite Movies series it becomes obvious that I adore Christmas films. I believe somewhere around a dozen made the cut. Checking in at #28 is The Ref, an overlooked 1994 offering starring Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary. The story revolves around a thief who takes a bickering couple hostage on Christmas Eve and regrets it tremendously since they and their crazy family drive him nuts. For some reason The Ref has never quite entered the well-known pantheon of traditional holiday movies, but I have adored it since the first time I rented the video over 15 years ago. It’s rather difficult to find on TV but well worth the rental.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Peanut Butter Balls, Peanut Butter Fudge, Hot Chocolate, Wassail, Eggnog, & Pita Piata

Let’s face it…food is an important part of the Christmas season. Even the most steadfast of dieters throw their weight loss goals aside for the holidays. And depending on cultural influences and what our families prepared when we were kids, we all have our particular favorites. Chocolate chip cookies are great any time of year, but when I was young both my mother and her mother always made a huge batch right after Thanksgiving, enough to last until New Year’s, so chocolate chip cookies always remind me of Christmas. My grandmother also always made a big ol’ turn of fudge and peanut butter balls as well. On my Dad’s side of the family I was introduced to pita piata, and Italian dessert that is basically a nut roll containing brandy soaked raisins amongst a host of other tasty ingredients. Pita piata is native to the small village of San Giovanni i Fiore in Calabria, Italy, where my great grandparents immigrated from at the turn of the 20th century. As far as beverages go, who doesn’t like hot chocolate?? And what drink is as identified with Christmas as eggnog?? You may have also heard the old Christmas carol Here We Come A Wassailing. There is actually a beverage called wassail, and the best way I can describe it is that it tastes like liquid apple pie. We usually enjoy some wassail after the folks from church trek through my small hometown caroling.

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Firmly entrenched as one of America’s favorite holiday classics is 1989’s third offering in the adventures of the wacky Griswold clan, led by the bumbling stumbling Chevy Chase himself. It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two decades since this one originally hit theaters. As I said when I rated Christmas Vacation #6 on my Favorite Movies list, this isn’t high art. It’s mindless entertainment & harmless fun, and it’s something I look forward to every year.

 

 

 

Reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

There is no shortage of movie adaptations of Dickens’ tale about mean old Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve and shown the error of his ways. There are a few classic B&W films from the mid-20th century, a “motion capture” animated feature starring Jim Carrey made just a couple years ago, loose interpretations like Bill Murray’s Scrooged or the popular cartoon Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and a particularly well done 90’s TV movie starring Star Trek:TNG’s Patrick Stewart. All of these are perfectly delightful. However, might I suggest the following: On some chilly December evening, take Dickens’ novella off the bookshelf, settle down into a comfortable chair or couch, and read the book!! Last year I discovered a wonderful trick to enhance the experience. The Bachelor Palace doesn’t have a fireplace, but somewhere on the television there is a wonderful channel that is nothing but an endless loop of a roaring, crackling, very peaceful fire. So now I dim the lights (except for what I am going to use to read by), grab a warm beverage, burrow myself under a blanket, and read A Christmas Carol in front of a 40 inch high definition fireplace.

 

 

The Polar Express

While Home Alone has fond memories that I associate with my oldest nephew, The Polar Express hearkens a memory connected to my younger nephew. He was about 7 years old when the movie hit theaters and I decided to take him to see it. I think I was much more enthralled than he was to be honest. 7 year olds have a bit of an issue sitting still for almost two hours. At any rate, I fell in love with this film and my fondness has only grown in the ensuing years. The Polar Express was really the first movie that brought motion capture technology to the forefront, and it is so unique and so different that one is left with an indelible imprint on the brain. It also allows for things like Tom Hanks portraying half dozen different characters, which is pretty cool. When ranking The Polar Express #16 on my Favorite Movies list I referred to it as “whimsical, magical, and hauntingly beautiful” and said that it embodied the indefinable Christmas spirit.  A few years ago I was spending some post-surgery time in my 2nd “skilled” nursing facility in less than 2 years. It was in late November/early December, and after a kind soul hooked me up with a very small television one of the first things I was able to watch was The Polar Express. This particular period of time was amongst the saddest, most depressing of my entire life, and I will always be forever grateful that this fantastic movie helped pull me from the abyss.

 

 

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Not too long ago I read a really interesting biography of Charles Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts comic strip. I was never really a comic book fan, but I always enjoyed the comics in the Sunday paper, and felt a certain kinship with loveable loser Charlie Brown. It wasn’t until I read the Schultz book that I realized all the ups & downs and insecurities in his life and how much they influenced his work, and really began to understand why I always liked Charlie Brown. Several classic animated TV specials were made based on Peanuts, including A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, but at Christmas time there isn’t anything much cooler than A Charlie Brown Christmas. The story has Charlie Brown having a problem finding the Christmas spirit, the main issue being one that isn’t uncommon in Christmas stories…the overt commercialization of the holiday. Eventually he finds what he is looking for with the help of his blanket toting pal Linus, whose simple rendition of the biblical Christmas story found in Luke 2:8-14 is awesome since we live in such a PC world where every effort is made to appease Islam while spitting all over Christianity. Even back in the 60’s when the special was made corporate TV types wanted Schultz to remove the Bible passage, but he absolutely refused. After reading the aforementioned biography and knowing how devout Schultz was I understand why he took such a strong stance, and I have the utmost respect for the man because of it. As with other classic specials that have aired annually for decades, A Charlie Brown Christmas obviously resonates with the viewing public, and it is certainly an important part of my Christmas season.

 

 

The 24/7 Christmas Carol Radio Station

I love Christmas carols. I never ever get tired of them during the holiday season. In the archives here at The Manofesto you can find a two part ditty where I rank my all-time favorite carols. I think there are basically about two dozen carols, but they’ve all been covered by so many artists in every imaginable music genre that it seems like there are hundreds of them. At any rate, the day after Thanksgiving one of the local rock stations on my radio dial begins playing nothing but Christmas music 24 hours/day, and I think it is marvelous. I am sure stations nationwide do something similar. I really only listen to the radio when I am in my truck, and since I don’t travel all that much and have a short commute to work maybe that explains why I don’t tire of the endless caroling. It always kind of makes me sad when the station goes back to playing crappy pop music immediately after midnight on Christmas night.

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Frosty the Snowman

When something is shown annually on television for nearly 50 years then it has obviously made a significant impression on a whole heck of a lot of people. I am secure enough in my masculinity to proudly proclaim that I look forward to watching these two animated specials each Christmas season. Rudolph is based on the song of the same name, written in 1949 by Johnny Marks, who was inspired by his brother-in-law Robert May’s creation of Rudolph for a Montgomery Ward advertising campaign in 1939. The stop motion animated special began airing in 1964, and I’d venture to guess that the vast majority of the population has watched it hundreds of times. Cowboy Gene Autry recorded Frosty the Snowman in 1950, and after the success of the Rudolph animated special Rankin-Bass took Autry’s song and made it into another stop motion classic in 1969. I’m not quite as fond of Frosty as I am Rudolph because let’s face it…little Karen and Professor Hinkle can’t quite compete with Herbie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, and my favorites, The Island of Misfit Toys. However, both of these shows are absolute must-see-TV for me during the holidays.

 

 

 

Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas

The Grinch utilizes more traditional animation than Rudolph, Frosty, and The Polar Express, but that’s okay. Simplicity can be good too. I’ve always sort of wondered what kind of substances Dr. Seuss may have been imbibing, because I’ve never seen an amalgamation of prose & poetry quite like the turns of phrase that made him famous. The Grinch was first published in 1957, and this holiday classic first started airing in 1966. The Grinch is a character whose disdain for Christmas seems very similar to Charles Dickens’ creation Ebenezer Scrooge, and who is similarly redeemed by a sudden change of heart. I don’t know if Dr. Seuss was inspired by Dickens and just decided to simplify the story for children, but it’s an intriguing theory. There is a powerful moment near the end of the story when, despite The Grinch having stolen all their Christmas trees, presents, and even their food, The Whos down in Whoville arise on Christmas morning and still sing, or make a joyful noise, if you will. It’s such a simple yet potent reminder of what Christmas isn’t. I think we forget that sometimes and need to watch this little cartoon to be reminded.

 

 

24 Hours of A Christmas Story

The older I get the more I embrace the nostalgic impact of Christmas, because really, all of us enjoy feeling like a child again sometimes even if there is a tinge of sadness involved. Nothing embodies this wistfulness quite as well as 1983’s A Christmas Story. It is my #5 Favorite Movie and for most folks under a certain age maybe the most popular holiday movie of all time. In the late 90’s TBS/TNT (it goes back & forth) started running a 24 hour marathon from 8pm on Christmas Eve until 8pm Christmas night. What an awesome idea!! I usually catch parts of the first showing at my aunt’s house after eating our annual family fish fest, then maybe a little more after I get home from church before getting some zzz’s. On Christmas Day I catch glimpses here & there depending on where I am. And I always atleast try to watch the entire last showing, as it kind of puts a melancholy period at the end of what has been a wonderful, month long sentence.

 

 

It’s A Wonderful Life

As mentioned, for most people under a certain age…maybe 30 or 35…A Christmas Story is likely the most beloved holiday film. However, my generation grew up with various television stations showing It’s A Wonderful Life dozens of times during the yuletide season. This created one of two reactions. There was the inevitable backlash, with people beginning to hate the movie because of the endless airings (something that I see happening with atleast 2 or 3 other Christmas classics these days). Or there were people like me that came to love IAWL more & more each year. Unfortunately for us Lifers NBC “rescued” the movie from public domain back in 1993 so now we only get to see it twice a year…usually once in early December and then always on Christmas Eve. It is odd that a movie about suicide would become such a perennial Christmas favorite, but I think the central themes…friendship, family, and realizing that what you have and what your life is ain’t all that bad…really hits home with a lot of people. I know that this is a story that has always resonated deeply for me, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world this and every year.

 

 

 

 

100 Favorite Movies…..46-50

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


 

50 Little Miss Sunshine

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

 

49 Miracle on 34th Street

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

 

48 You’ve Got Mail

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

 

47 Elf

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

 

46 When Harry Met Sally

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