35+ Days of Christmas on WSAM

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Wednesday        11/21

4pm            Free Birds

6pm            Dutch

8pm            Home for the Holidays

10pm                   Scent of a Woman

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving Day       11/22

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

4pm            Holiday Inn

6pm            Grumpy Old Men

8pm            A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving     

8:30pm      Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

10:30pm    The Nightmare Before Christmas

 

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

 

 

 

Friday        11/23

4pm            Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Holiday Inn        

10pm                   Miracle on 34th St. (1947)

 

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

 

 

 

 

Saturday    11/24

Noon          The Year Without a Santa Claus

1pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

2pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

3pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

5pm                   Miracle on 34th Street (1994)       

7pm            Scrooge (1951)

9pm            Christmas with the Kranks

 

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

 

 

Sunday      11/25

Noon          The Star Wars Holiday Special

12:30pm    A Charlie Brown Christmas

1pm            All I Want for Christmas

3pm            Christmas Every Day

5pm            Four Christmases

7pm            Fred Claus

9pm            Frosty the Snowman

9:30pm      Scrooge (1951)

 

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

 

 

Monday     11/26

4pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

6pm            Scrooge (1951)

8pm            Trapped in Paradise

10pm                   Santa Claus: The Movie

 

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

 

 

Tuesday    11/27

4pm            Deck the Halls

6pm            The Santa Clause

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

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

 

 

Wednesday 11/28

4pm            Scrooge (1970)                                                 

6pm            Frosty the Snowman  

6:30pm      Disney’s A Christmas Carol

8:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas

9pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

9:30pm      The Lemon Drop Kid

 

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

 

 

 

Thursday 11/29

4pm            Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

5pm            The Star Wars Holiday Special    

6:30pm      The Lemon Drop Kid

8:30pm      A Christmas Carol (1938)

10:30pm    A Christmas Carol (1984)    

 

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

 

 

Friday 11/30

4pm            Mixed Nuts

6pm            Lethal Weapon

8pm            Die Hard

10pm                   Bad Santa

 

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

 

Saturday 12/1

Noon          Mickey’s Christmas Carol   

12:30pm    The Star Wars Holiday Special

2pm            Disney’s A Christmas Carol

4pm            It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

6pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

8pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

10pm                   Scrooge (1970) 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 12/2

Noon          The Muppet Christmas Carol

2pm            Jingle All the Way

4pm            Scrooge (1970)

5pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

7pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

9pm            The Ref    

 

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

 

 

 

Monday 12/3

4pm            Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

4:30pm      The Polar Express

6:30pm      Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

7:30pm      How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

8pm            Frosty the Snowman

8:30pm      Mickey’s Christmas Carol   

9pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

 

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

 

 

 

Tuesday 12/4

4pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

4:30pm      Rise of the Guardians

6:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas

7pm            The Santa Clause

9pm            Scrooged

 

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

 

Wednesday 12/5

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

6pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Ref

 

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

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/6

4pm            White Christmas

6pm            The Lemon Drop Kid

8pm            The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

10pm                   Scrooged 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/7

4pm            Arthur Christmas

6pm            Trapped in Paradise

8pm            The Ref

10pm                   Silent Night, Deadly Night

 

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

 

Saturday 12/8

Noon          The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

1pm            It’s a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

3pm            White Christmas

5pm            Santa Claus: The Movie

7pm            The Bishop’s Wife

9pm            Jingle All the Way

 

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

 

Sunday 12/9

Noon          Holiday Inn

2pm            White Christmas

4pm            Elf    

6pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

8pm            A Christmas Story

10pm                   Scrooged

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12/10

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

6pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

8pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

10pm                   Home Alone

 

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

 

 

 

 

Tuesday 12/11

4pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

5pm            The Ref

7pm            Elf

9pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12/12

4pm            The Polar Express     

6pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

8pm            A Christmas Story

10pm                   Home Alone

 

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

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/13

4pm            Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

6pm            A Christmas Story

8pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

10pm                   Elf    

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday 12/14

4pm            The Family Stone

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Die Hard   

10pm                   Lethal Weapon

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday 12/15

Noon          A Christmas Carol (1938)

2pm            Frosty the Snowman  

2:30pm      All I Want for Christmas

4:30pm      Christmas Every Day 

6:30pm      A Charlie Brown Christmas 

7pm            The Family Stone

9pm            Die Hard

 

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

 

 

 

Sunday 12/16

Noon          A Christmas Carol (1999)

2pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

3pm            A Christmas Carol (1938)

5pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

7pm            Mickey’s Christmas Carol

7:30pm      Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

8pm            Scrooge (1951)

10pm                   Scrooge (1970)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 12/17

4pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

6pm            Trapped in Paradise

8pm            Fred Claus

10pm                   Four Christmases

 

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

 

Tuesday 12/18

4pm            Christmas Every Day 

6pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

8pm            Frosty the Snowman

8:30pm      How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

9pm            Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

9:30pm      Scrooge (1951)

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday 12/19

4pm            The Polar Express

6pm            Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

7pm            Blackadder’s Christmas Carol

8pm            A Christmas Carol (1999)

10pm                   The Family Stone

 

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

 

 

 

 

Thursday 12/20

4pm            White Christmas

6pm            The Polar Express

8pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation       

10pm                   The Ref

 

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

 

 

 

Friday 12/21

4pm            The Muppet Christmas Carol       

6pm            Trading Places

8pm            Scrooged

10pm                   Santa Claus: The Movie

 

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

 

 

 

 

Saturday 12/22

Noon          Fred Claus

2pm            Santa Claus: The Movie

4pm            All I Want for Christmas

6pm            Disney’s A Christmas Carol

8pm            Home Alone

10pm                   Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 12/23

Noon          Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

1pm            The Year Without a Santa Claus

2pm            Home Alone      

4pm            Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

6pm            The Santa Clause

8pm            The Santa Clause 2: The Mrs. Clause

10pm                   The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Eve

Noon          Elf    

2pm            The Santa Clause

4pm                   Scrooged

5pm            National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

7pm            A Christmas Story

9pm            It’s a Wonderful Life

 

 

I heard the bells on Christmas Day

Their old familiar carols play

And wild & sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

Christmas Day

11am                   How the Grinch Stole Christmas! 

11:30am    A Charlie Brown Christmas

Noon           Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

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

2:30pm      A Christmas Carol (1938)

4:30pm      The Polar Express

6:30pm      White Christmas

8:30pm      Disney’s A Christmas Carol

 

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

 

Wednesday 12/26

Noon          Home Alone

2pm            Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

4pm            A Christmas Carol (1984)

6pm            Elf

8pm            A Christmas Story

 

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

 

Thursday, 12/27

Noon          Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July

1:30pm      Rudolph’s Shiny New Year

2:30pm      New Year’s Eve

4:30pm      When Harry Met Sally

6:30pm      Holiday Inn

8:30pm      Sleepless in Seattle

 

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

 

 

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem – A Dream Finale

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

Best Narration

 The Nominees:

 

Jean Shepherd (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Boris Karloff (The Grinch)

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

 

Sam the Snowman (Rudolph)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Dog

The Nominees:

 

Snots (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

Snoopy (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Max (The Grinch)

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Best Santa Claus

The Nominees:

 

Higbee’s Santa (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Santa Claus (Rudolph)

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

 

Kris Kringle (Miracle on 34th Street)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Animated Character

The Nominees:

 

Yukon Cornelius (Rudolph)

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

 

Linus Van Pelt (Charlie Brown)

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

 

The Grinch (The Grinch)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Supporting Actor

The Nominees:

 

Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter, IAWL)

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

 

Darren McGavin (The Old Man, A Christmas Story)

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

 

Randy Quaid (Cousin Eddie, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Duo

The Nominees:

 

Charlie Brown & Linus (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Clark Griswold & Cousin Eddie (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Best Villain

The Nominees:

 

Henry F. Potter (IAWL)

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

 

Scut Farkas (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Frank Shirley (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Supporting Actress

The Nominees:

 

Melinda Dillon (Mrs. Parker, A Christmas Story)

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

 

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

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

 

Edie McClurg (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Inanimate Object

The Nominees:

 

The Leg Lamp (A Christmas Story)

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

 

The Sad Little Tree (Charlie Brown)

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

 

The RV (Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Best Christmas Village

The Nominees:

 

Whoville (The Grinch)

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

 

Bedford Falls (IAWL)

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

 

Hohman, IN (A Christmas Story)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Director

The Nominees:

 

Bob Clark (A Christmas Story)

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

 

Frank Capra (IAWL)

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

 

John Hughes (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Song

The Nominees:

 

Christmas Time is Here (Charlie Brown)

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

 

Welcome Christmas (The Grinch)

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

 

Mess Around (Planes, Trains, & Automobiles)

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Best Actress

The Nominees:

 

Donna Reed (Mary Hatch Bailey, IAWL)

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

 

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

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

 

Beverly D’Angelo (Ellen Griswold, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

 

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

The Nominees:

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Best Actor

The Nominees:

 

Peter Billingsley (Ralphie Parker, A Christmas Story)

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

 

James Stewart (George Bailey, IAWL)

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

 

Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold, Christmas Vacation)

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem – The Sweet Sixteen (Part 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: Mistletoe (Round 2)

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

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

 Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

 

vs.

 

Trapped in Paradise

Quotes

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

 

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Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Quotes

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Quotes

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

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

Quotes

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

Peppermint Patty and Marcie are voiced by male actors.

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

 

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

 

 

Die Hard

Quotes

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Elf

Quotes

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

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

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

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Quotes

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

 

Factoids

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

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

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

 

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

Merry Movie Mayhem: Mistletoe (Round 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation           

Released                                           12/1/89

Starring                                              Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid                       

Director                                              Jeremiah Chechik (Benny & Joon, Diabolique)

Rotten Tomatoes                              64%

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

 

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Eight Crazy Nights

Released                                           11/27/02

Starring                                              Adam Sandler                                 

Director                                              Seth Kearsley

Rotten Tomatoes                       12%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Released                                           12/6/64

Starring                                              Burl Ives                               

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                         92%

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

 

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Shrek the Halls

Released                                           11/28/07

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

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              63% (a)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Scrooge (1951)

Released                                           10/31/51

Starring                                              Alistair Sim                 

Director                                              Brian Desmond Hurst

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

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

 

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It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie

Released                                           11/29/02

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

Director                                              Kirk Thatcher

Rotten Tomatoes                              90%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Die Hard

Released                                           7/15/88

Starring                                              Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              92%

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

 

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The Year Without A Santa Claus

Released                                           12/10/74

Starring                                              Mickey Rooney, Dick Shawn

Director                                              Rankin/Bass

Rotten Tomatoes                              83% (a)

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

 

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

 

 

 

Elf    

Released                                           11/7/03

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

Director                                              Jon Favreau (Iron Man)

Rotten Tomatoes                              84%

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

 

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Santa Claus: The Movie

Released                                           11/27/85

Starring                                              Dudley Moore, John Lithgow, David Huddleston

Director                                              Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving                    

Released                                           11/20/73

Starring                                              Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Peppermint Patty

Director                                              Bill Melendez

Rotten Tomatoes                       73% (a)

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

 

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Jingle All the Way

Released                                           11/22/96

Starring                                              Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sinbad, Rita Wilson, Phil Hartman

Director                                              Brian Levant (Beethoven, A Christmas Story 2)

Rotten Tomatoes                              17%

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Released                                           11/6/09

Starring                                              Jim Carrey, Gary Oldman

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

Rotten Tomatoes                              54%   

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

 

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Mr. Krueger’s Christmas

Released                                           12/21/80

Starring                                              James Stewart

Director                                              Kieth Merrill

Rotten Tomatoes                              No Score Available

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

Trapped in Paradise          

Released                                           12/2/94

Starring                                              Nicolas Cage, Jon Lovitz, Dana Carvey

Director                                              George Gallo (The Whole Ten Yards)

Rotten Tomatoes                              10%

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

 

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Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol

Released                                           12/18/62

Starring                                              Jim Backus, Morey Amsterdam

Director                                              Abe Levitow

Rotten Tomatoes                              67% (a)

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

 

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

Top 25 Fictional Christmas Characters…..Part Deux

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

 

In the meantime, allow me a moment of reflection…

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

12     Charlie Brown / Bob Cratchit

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

 

 

11     The Island of Misfit Toys

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

 

 

10     Cousin Eddie / John McClane

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

 

 

9       Ralphie Parker

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

 

 

8       Henry F. Potter

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

 

 

7       Clark Griswold

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

 

 

6       The Old Man

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

 

 

5       Macy’s Kris Kringle

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

 

 

4       The Grinch

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

 

 

3       Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

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

 

 

2       George Bailey

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

 

 

1       Ebenezer Scrooge

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

Top 25 Fictional Christmas Characters…..Part 1

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

 

 

 

 

25     Charles Dickens

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

 

 

24     Hans Gruber

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

 

 

23     Scott Calvin

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

 

 

22     The Wet/Sticky Bandits

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

 

 

21     Burgermeister Meisterburger

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

 

 

20     Yukon Cornelius

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

 

 

19     Mrs. Claus

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

 

 

18     The Ghosts

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

 

 

17     Kevin McCallister

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

 

 

16     Buddy the Elf / Hermie the Elf

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

 

 

15     Linus Van Pelt

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

 

 

14     Frosty the Snowman

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

 

 

13     Clarence Oddbody, AS2

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

 

 

 

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

 

A Weekend Christmas Movie Marathon

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

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

 

wreath

 

 

 

Friday

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Saturday

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Sunday

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Top 25 Christmas Carols…The Top 10

Be sure to read Part 1 to get numbers 11-25 on this list. And now…from the home office in the beautiful, snow covered hills of northcentral West Virginia…The Manofesto’s Top 10 Christmas Carols:

 

 


10 Winter Wonderland / Jingle Bells

Ok, so The Top 10 is going to have slightly more than 10 songs. Hey, if the Big 10 conference can get away with having 11 football teams then why should I be forced to stay within arbitrary boundaries?? Anyway, as we move into the upper echelon you will find that the ubiquitous quotient increases exponentially. In other words, now we’re getting to the songs that you sing while caroling and hear on the radio several times per day this time of year. That kind of repetitiveness would serve to drive many of us nuts most of the time, but personally my love for Christmas carols is such that I not only can endure hearing the same song a half dozen times a day for a few weeks, but I actually embrace it.

Jingle Bells is yet another “winter carol”, meaning it’s not actually a Christmas song. Seriously…listen to the lyrics. It never references Jesus, Santa, trees, decorations, gifts, or anything else even remotely associated with Christmas. What it does do is make schlepping around outside in bitter cold and snow sound like fun, which I suppose it would be in a horse drawn sled as opposed to a two ton motor vehicle with hundreds of bad drivers surrounding you and endangering your life. All of us, from the smallest child to the greyest head have probably sung Jingle Bells thousands of times. It’s a happy, upbeat song and that’s a good thing.

Winter Wonderland was written in a sanitarium. I bet you didn’t know that. But it’s not as bad as it sounds. In the 1930’s, when the song was written, sanitariums weren’t places for mental patients…they were simply long term care hospitals, commonly used for folks with tuberculosis. Anyway, another example of a winter song that was not specifically written in reference to Christmas, Winter Wonderland also makes looking outside and realizing that it’s cold and there’s a ton of snow on the ground seem like a positive thing. It describes snow as “glistening” and “a beautiful sight”. The words conspire, frolic, and Eskimo are utilized as well, and that’s impressive and unique. FYI, because I am here not only to entertain but to educate, Parson Brown would have been a preacher. I kind of like that term. Maybe I’ll start calling my minister Parson Rod.

 

 

9 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer / Frosty the Snowman

I realize I am in my late 30’s heading downhill toward 40. But darn it, I am fully in touch with my inner child and proud of it. Evidence that these two songs are the top two children’s’ Christmas songs can be found on your television, where two animated specials featuring Frosty and Rudolph have been annual traditions for over 40 years. Rudolph may be the second example in history where commerce and holiday wonder converged successfully not only on the balance sheet but in the hearts of the American public (leave me a comment on what you think was the first and we’ll see if we’re on the same wavelength). “The most famous reindeer of all” was created by an ad executive for Montgomery Ward department store in 1939. The character grew from that man’s story into the song written by Johnny Marks and recorded by Gene Autry in 1949 into the famous Rankin/Bass animated special first shown on television in 1964. Frosty was likely created in an effort to ride the wave of success brought on by Rudolph, but that’s okay. If one thinks of it as a sequel atleast it’s a good sequel and not something awful like Jaws: The Revenge or Staying Alive. It’s also another game effort to make cold, snowy weather seem pleasant. The Autry version of Rudolph is still the best, but a very close second is a swingin’ cover by Dean Martin, in which he refers to the titular character as Rudy the Red-Beaked Reindeer. How cool is that?? I personally still like the Jimmy Durante version of Frosty used for the television special better than any cover I’ve ever heard.

 

 

8 Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls continues the tradition of taking a tune (in this case a Welsh song written in the 16th century) and then creating appropriate lyrics for it a few hundred years later. A few random notes must be made about the song. “Gay apparel” meant a whole different thing when the words were written and has nothing to do with cross dressing or anything else in relation to sexual preferences. Jolly and merry are both used in the song, another example of painting a picture and telling us exactly how we, ideally, should feel during the Christmas season. And finally, as anyone who has watched the perennial holiday classic A Christmas Story can verify, Deck the Halls is the opening theme music as played by an unknown (atleast to me) but quite lovely brass ensemble. I love to hear this song sung by a choir or a group of carolers, and if it’s going to be played orchestrally it should be played in an old fashioned way, not too jazzed up with modern instruments and stylizations. One should be able to hear the trumpet, the trombone, and the saxophone.

 

 

7 Sleigh Ride

Sleigh Ride is the Christmas carol equivalent of Boise State or TCU…one doesn’t really expect to see it highly ranked but that lack of respect doesn’t make it any less worthy. Sleigh Ride is a winter carol not especially written for Christmas and has a lot of similarities both in structure and lyrical content with Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland. The inaugural version was recorded by The Boston Pops in 1949, and they probably still do it best, though I am torn between their purely instrumental adaptation and those with words, such as Mel Torme and Harry Connick Jr. My best advice is to learn the words…which speak of friends, wintry fairy lands, a wonderland of snow, being nice & rosy and comfy cozy, a fireplace, watching chestnuts pop, coffee & pumpkin pie, and Currier & Ives…then sing along to the Boston Pops rendition.

 

 

6 Jingle Bell Rock / Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

The connection here is obvious…rock. Rock n’ roll swept the nation into a frenzy in the 1950’s, and these carols came along during the latter part of that decade. Both tunes are more what we would today call rockabilly or southern rock, which is probably why I like them so much. I’m a huge fan of bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stray Cats, and ZZ Top, all of whom fall into that genre to some degree. Even Elvis Presley was really a rockabilly artist. Anyway, both of these songs are just a swingin’ good time. As Dick Clark might say, “they have a good beat, and they’re easy to dance to…I give them both a 10”. The original Bobby Helms version of Jingle Bell Rock is still the best, although The Brian Setzer Orchestra did a nice cover. The song is the opening theme for the original Lethal Weapon (one of the best action and Christmas movies of all time) played just before a girl jumps off the top of a high rise apartment building into the roof of a parked car. Brenda Lee did the best and most well known version of Rockin’, and no other cover really stands out as particularly notable. When I hear it I always think of the scene in Home Alone when the bumbling crooks come by what they think is an empty house only to see a happenin’ party going down, a party that is really only MacCaulay Culkin’s Kevin manipulating a bunch of inanimate objects (including a cardboard Michael Jordan).

 

 

5 Silent Night

Earlier I made reference to sitting in a candlelit church at midnight on Christmas Eve singing softly. This is the second tune which fits that motif. Silent Night is a German carol written in the early 19th century by two Austrians. Supposedly the church organ was broken so the two men wrote the song specifically to be played on the guitar. That seems appropriate. Minimalism is the key when it comes to Silent Night. It doesn’t need to be loud, boisterous, or modern in any way. It needs to be simple, almost meditative. I find it perfectly acceptable to sing acapella, but also with just a single instrument, be it guitar, piano, saxophone, or trumpet. The words are quite possibly the most beautiful and eloquent description of the night Jesus was born ever written. I don’t think it is humanly possible for anyone with even an ounce of faith to not have something stir within them when they hear this song. Give me 24 hours with an atheist and an endless loop of Silent Night and I just might be able to accomplish something wonderful.

 

 

4 White Christmas

Here we go again with trying to make snow sound positive!! The question I have as a person who hates snow is…why do I get sucked in EVERY time?? Written in 1940 by famed composer Irving Berlin (who also wrote God Bless America, Steppin’ Out with My Baby, There’s No Business Like Show usiness and hundreds of other songs), White Christmas was made famous by Bing Crosby, who sang it in the movie Holiday Inn. The song itself inspired another movie (though not a sequel) starring Crosby…you can guess the title. The lyrics provide a perfect mix of wistful nostalgia and old fashioned romantic charm. It’s actually a pretty simple tune, with only two different stanzas that are just repeated. It is the most popular Christmas carol in the world and some say it is the most popular song in history, Christmas or otherwise. Because money grubbing bean counters didn’t really start tracking such things until a decade or so after the song was released no one really knows for sure, but it’s a nice thought. It is certainly influential. Ask yourself this…have you ever hoped, even slightly, for a white Christmas?? Yes, you have…everybody has. The question, again, is why?? Why are we so hell bent on trekking around to various relatives’ houses on Christmas Day in bitter cold and on icy roads?? It makes no logical sense. Christmas would be much easier and more convenient if it were 60 degrees and sunny. But…it just wouldn’t be…right. I blame this song on that kind of insanity being ingrained in to us…this wonderful, beautiful, powerfully expressive song. Because of its popularity dozens…probably hundreds…of artists have covered it. Almost any singer, band, orchestra, or other assorted musical performer who has ever produced a Christmas album puts White Christmas on the playlist. But really, there is only one rendition that is worthy, and that is Crosby’s. That man could sing. Christmas simply isn’t Christmas without White Christmas, and we’re all the better for it.

 

 

3 The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire)

Let me get this off my chest right off the bat: I don’t really care for chestnuts. But look over the list so far…how many songs do I love that glorify snowy , cold, wintry weather all while I detest such conditions?? So who cares if I’d rather have a big ol’ hunk of chocolate cake than a bag of toasty chestnuts?? I have to admit though, Nat King Cole makes those chestnuts sound tasty. Written in 1944 during a heat wave by Mel Torme, the song began as a simple effort to “think cool”. I dig irony, and I dig descriptive. Several songs mentioned in this list paint a wonderful, cozy, fun, or nostalgic picture of the Christmas season, but none do it with the elegance and class of The Christmas Song. It talks about “yuletide carols being sung by a choir”, turkey, mistletoe, “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow”, Santa with his sleigh full of toys, and reindeer. It’s not a religious song, and it’s not a fun kids’ song…it’s sentimental without being sappy, lighthearted without being frivolous. The aforementioned Cole did the definitive version, and I tend not to stray far from it, though I do like Torme’s rendition alot. And as much as I hate to admit it, Kenny G does an exquisite instrumental on his saxophone. A piano and/or sax is essential for The Christmas Song, it’s just that kind of tune.

 

 

2 Blue Christmas

While White Christmas seems to get all the good PR, I give the nod to another color…blue. Country artist Ernest Tubb originally recorded the song in 1948, but a few years later The King (this time I mean Elvis, not Jesus) came along and the rest is history. I suppose Freud-types would love analyzing a single guy’s bromance with a Christmas carol about unrequited love, and that’s okay with me. It’s completely logical that a man in my situation would appreciate the subject matter, although there’s really no one that I am currently pining away for. Musically it’s a simple song, accompanied best on guitar. Elvis, despite his rockin’ reputation, was an exquisite singer with a sublime voice. I suppose that’s why no other cover quite lives up to his. There is one other version that I really like and it’s a bit off the beaten path. Some years ago a person calling themselves Seymour Swine did Blue Christmas as sung by Porky Pig. Folks, do yourself a favor…if you have not heard Blue Christmas by Porky Pig/Seymour Swine stop whatever you are doing and Google it right now. It is one of the funniest things I have ever heard in my life. I have never been able to find out the story behind Seymour Swine and have never heard any other songs by that artist. I think Blue Christmas may have been recorded live in a radio station or something, as one of the funniest things about it is the guys laughing in the background…it makes the song that much funnier. I don’t know of another Christmas carol that evokes such opposite emotions depending upon who is doing the singing. It’s quite the odd dichotomy.

 

 

1 O Holy Night

As bumbling burglar Marv says to his partner Harry in Home Alone 2: Lost In New York…”I’ve reached the top!”. O Holy Night completes the triumvirate of songs best enjoyed in a candlelit church on Christmas Eve. Written in the mid-19th century in France, it is an emotional account of the night Jesus was born. It refers to the “thrill of hope” as “the weary world rejoices”, a “world in sin and error pining”. It uses words like glorious, divine, beaming, and gleaming to describe that hope, the hope we have in our Savior, Jesus Christ. The song tells us exactly what Jesus is all about, that “He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger”, that “He taught us to love one another, His law is love and His gospel is peace”, and that “chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother, and in his name all oppression shall cease”. If you can’t get on fire for The Lord after reading those words there is something missing and you better get on your knees and search your soul! But…reading the words isn’t even a good substitute for hearing the song. When done right it is soft and tender before building into a powerful crescendo that fills the heart with emotion. Nat King Cole did a great cover in the 60’s, but he doesn’t have quite enough gas in the tank to pull off the climax as well as it should be done. For my money the best cover I’ve heard is probably Josh Groban’s from a few years ago. That dude has some pipes!! I am sure there are other good versions that I am not thinking of at the moment. At any rate, it’s a beautiful song that should be sung acapella or with very minimal instrumentation by a legitimately great singer, not someone who is good looking and can sing just enough to justify making a record (a description that unfortunately describes probably 75% of what you hear on the radio).

 

 

 

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. And God bless us everyone.