VOLUME FOUR: MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MOVIES

(& A THANKSGIVING FILM TO BOOT!)

Ho, Ho, Holy, Moly! It’s the Holiday Season already! It seems like I was just decorating my yard for Halloween. Now hobgoblins give way to gobblers and gobs of “must see” holiday films. I love Christmas. Always have. I guess in that way I’m no different than 42 million other folks. The thing I dig the most is the tradition aspect. You know, all those goofy things I do now during the Christmas season because my parents did them when I was growing up. They’re important to me. Of course, my wife and I are creating some new traditions of our own, and passing the whole kit and caboodle onto our kids in hopes that someday, they will continue them with families of their own. For example, it is well known in the Cal household that CHRISTMAS DOES NOT OFFICIALLY BEGIN UNTIL THANKSGIVING DINNER IS FINISHED! Period. I don’t care what you see at the department stores. It ain’t Christmas until the end of Thanksgiving dinner. After that last swallow of Punkin’ Pie, though, all bets are off. My family really enjoys hopping into the car after Thanksgiving dinner at my parents house (actually my brother is hosting again this year with his wife at their house, it’s not Mom’s, but it’ll do!) and popping the Johnny Mathis Christmas CD into the player. From this point on, it’s full on, 24 -7, Christmas. We go home and begin another Cal family tradition, which is beginning to watch one in a succession of films that build to a crazy, Christmas crescendo. So, get your cracklin’ fire going, grab some chestnuts, and check out these holiday hits.

Now, these aren’t in any specific order except that there are certain films my family watches to begin and end the holiday viewing season. These never change. The other films fall into the middle sessions which are never in any particular order, just picked when the mood hits us.

THANKSGIVING MOVIE: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987) – Possibly the only Thanksgiving movie ever made. This is the film we start with, Thanksgiving night we all plop down and laugh our butts off at this hilarious John Hughes film. It really gets the season off to a good start.

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20.) Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – I’m never quite sure when to watch this one, Halloween or Christmas. I have decided over the years that it leans more heavily towards Christmas and so, that's when we watch it. When I saw this in the theater, I’ll be honest with you, I frigging hated it! The morose Danny Elfman songs just really dragged me down. But, time and the small screen seemed to have lessened the downer impact of the Elfman score, and now I really enjoy the film.

19.) Prancer (1989) – Much like One Magic Christmas, this film evokes the innocence of Middle America during the 60’s. It’s a sentimental roller coaster with some decent child acting and a fairly original plot. Don’t go near the sequel, its horrible!

18.) One Magic Christmas (1985) – Another “what if” film. This is a Disney movie that I really like. It has a schmaltzy premise and is a tear-jerker in parts, but the period atmosphere, and the acting, and the story are compelling and entertaining. Also it contains one of the best Santa’s workshop visualizations of any Christmas film.

17.) A Matter of Principle (1984) TV – I guarantee that most of you have never even heard of this film, much less seen it, but take my word for it, it’s a great Christmas story. Originally aired on the PBS series American Playhouse (one of my favorite shows ever! I’m so P.O.’d that its not on anymore. ) this film is totally funny, original and heartwarming. It has all the sure fire Christmas heartstring pullers in it. It stars Alan Arkin and Virginia Madsen in one of her first acting roles. (I’ve always had a crush on her, way before Candyman!)

16.) I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998) – Alright, I know what you’re thinkin’, a Jonathan Taylor Thomas film? Well, it’s actually a sweet lil’ picture. Yes, he does go out of his way to emulate his mentor, Tim Allen, but if you get past that point, the story and the acting are good. For a throw away Disney film, this one is pretty good.

15.) Home Alone (1990) – It’s sort of a Christmas movie, but not so much so that you can’t watch it early. So we do. I guess this habit started when the networks started showing it at Thanksgiving every year. We adopted the tradition and keep it going. This movie is just flat out hysterical. It’s a Looney Tunes Cartoon with real people, plain and simple. All the sequels suck eggnog, so forget ‘em, but the first one is a classic.

14.) The Family Man (2000) – Again, not really a strict Christmas film, this Nick Cage “what if” vehicle borrows heavily from its A Wonderful Life in its story of a guy who get a chance to see what life would be like if he had made different choices. It would have been a better movie if they would have dispensed with much of the unnecessary four letter words and sexual content. Not really a “young” family film, but okay for grown ups. I like Nick Cage so I excuse many of this films faults.

13.) Ernest Saves Christmas (1988) – C’mon, who doesn’t love Jim Varney? He pioneered the resurgence of the childlike adult character. Way before wannabe Adam Sandler! Corny? You bet. But that’s why we love it.

12.) A Christmas Carol (1984) TV – Over the years I have chosen this George C. Scott version of the classic tale over the Alistair Sim version. They are basically identical, but G.C. Scott is the consummate Scrooge in this faithful telling of the Charles Dickens tale. Plus it’s in color, and in a Christmas film that adds a lot of punch.

11.) Scrooge (1970) – No better musical Christmas tale exists! The score, the characters, the scenery, the acting is all top notch. Albert Finney is superb as Scrooge; make sure you get the “uncut” version which includes the scene where Scrooge experiences Hell.

10.) Scrooged (1988) – Bill Murray at his over the top best. Romantic, sentimental, dramatic and funny. This Christmas Carol retake is a classic.

9.) Jingle All the Way (1996) – Now this movie is fun on a number of levels, but certainly the best feature is “Aw-nold” playing a regular schmuck dad who forgets to get a special gift for his son. Great performance by Phil Hartman and a hilarious cameo by Jim Belushi add to the fun in this latter day holiday favorite.

8.) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) – Always a bedtime story at the Cal Christmas house, I was skeptical when this film came out. In fact, I didn’t see it until last year (2002) when it came out on DVD and I bought it. The good news is that it is an easily watchable film. Fairly faithful to the beloved Dr. Seuss book and over the top acted by Jim Carrey, the only low point is the obligatory pop-song drop in by Faith Hill.

7.) The Santa Clause (1994) – Clearly one of the best of the “new” breed of Christmas film, Tim Allen is fun and funny. The story is good, the acting adequate and the overall feel screams Christmas!

5. & 6.) Miracle on 34th Street (1947 & 1994) – If you read last month’s column, (and I strongly recommend that you do!) you know where I stand on remakes. But I have to admit that over the years I have grown to appreciate the John Hughes remake of this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love the original and will watch it whenever I have the chance, but this color, updated telling is sort of charming in its own way. Check it out; I think you’ll like it.

4.) White Christmas (1954) – I know musicals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but, hey…Bing and Danny in a Holiday funfest? How can you not love this film? Totally 50’s Hollywood, schmaltz, gags, pratfalls, there all here AND in spectacular Technicolor!!

3.) National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) – At the Cal house, this is always screened on Christmas Eve – Eve. It’s a must see for us, and no matter how many times we see it, we still laugh in all the right places. Randy Quaid is a riot and Chevy Chase is actually endearing as the long suffering Clark Griswold who just wants to host an old fashioned family Christmas.

2.) A Christmas Story (1983) – Simply, the best Christmas movie ever made. We watch this as the first film of a double feature on Christmas Eve.

1.) Its A Wonderful Life (1946) – Simply, the best Christmas “be thankful for what you got” movie ever made. If you don’t watch this during the holidays than you’re not having as good a Christmas as you should.

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Hopefully the new film Elf will prove to be an addition to my holiday lineup. Haven’t seen it yet but the family is already planning on it. So many of the “new” Christmas films are, well, they suck. Some films that pander to the holiday viewer are just trash. In other words, you may want to consider plucking out your own eyes before viewing films like:

Santa Clause: The Movie
The Santa Clause II
Prancer II

Some Awful Film with Leslie Nielson, I think it’s called Santa Who?

And of course there are must see animated Christmas Classics that we never miss. Here’s a short list of some of the Cal Family Favorites:

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
Rudolph’s Shiny New Year
Santa Claus is Coming to Town
Charlie Browns Christmas
Ren & Stimpy Have Yourself a Stinky Little Christmas
Frosty the Snowman

Twas the Night Before Christmas
And possibly the most beautiful Christmas cartoon ever made, The Snowman

So, lil’ children. I hope these gems will help to brighten you holiday season, they always seen to do the trick for me and mine. Hope you get all that you wish for, and some happy surprises that you never thought of. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and best wishes for the New Year.

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