For my Christmas blog, I’ve decided to do a top ten list—my ten favorite holiday movies. So, in no particular order, here they are, complete with links.
1. Three Godfathers: John Wayne in a Christmas movie? You betcha. This one was another of the Wayne/Ford works that stands the test of time. Here’s the description from Amazon: Fugitive bank robbers Robert (John Wayne), William (Harry Carey Jr.) and Pedro (Pedro Armendariz) stand at a desert grave. Caring for the newborn infant of the woman they just buried will ruin any chance of escape. But they won’t go back on their promise to her. They won’t abandon little Robert William Pedro. Director John Ford’s Western retelling of the Biblical Three Wise Men tale remains a scenic and thematic masterpiece. Ford adds color to his feature-film palette, capturing stunning vistas via cinematographer Winton Hoch, who would win two of his three Academy Awards for Ford films. Again, populist-minded Ford asserts that even men of dissolute character can follow that inner star of Bethlehem to their own redemption.
2. Die Hard: Let’s see, Bruce Willis as John McClaine, the iconic line of “Yippee kiyay, mother-f@^%#r,” and a younger Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. What wasn’t to like? From Amazon: This seminal 1988 thriller made Bruce Willis a star and established a new template for action stories: “Terrorists take over a (blank), and a lone hero, unknown to the villains, is trapped with them.” In Die Hard, those bad guys, led by the velvet-voiced Alan Rickman, assume control of a Los Angeles high-rise with Willis’s visiting New York cop inside. The attraction of the film has as much to do with the sight of a barefoot mortal running around the guts of a modern office tower as it has to do with the plentiful fight sequences and the bond the hero establishes with an LA beat cop. Bonnie Bedelia plays Willis’s wife, Hart Bochner is good as a brash hostage who tries negotiating his way to freedom, Alexander Godunov makes for a believable killer with lethal feet, and William Atherton is slimy as a busybody reporter. Exceptionally well directed by John McTiernan. –Tom Keogh
3. The Grinch Who Stole Christmas: Dr. Suess at his best. Narrated by Boris Karloff (yes, THAT Boris Karloff), this Christmas classic is a perennial favorite in my house, and the grand-daugther and I can often be found watching it any time of year. The songs are catchy—“You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch…” I mean, seriously, how much more of an insult can you hand anyone than to call them a toadstool sandwich with arsenic sauce?
4. It’s a Wonderful Life: Yes, George’s disbelief in Clarence can carry too far, but this is a lovely, happy movie full of uplifting messages. Every life touches so many others, in ways that we often never see. From Amazon: Now perhaps the most beloved American film, It’s a Wonderful Life was largely forgotten for years, due to a copyright quirk. Only in the late 1970s did it find its audience through repeated TV showings. Frank Capra’s masterwork deserves its status as a feel-good communal event, but it is also one of the most fascinating films in the American cinema, a multilayered work of Dickensian density. George Bailey (played superbly by James Stewart) grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls, dreaming dreams of adventure and travel, but circumstances conspire to keep him enslaved to his home turf. Frustrated by his life, and haunted by an impending scandal, George prepares to commit suicide on Christmas Eve. A heavenly messenger (Henry Travers) arrives to show him a vision: what the world would have been like if George had never been born. The sequence is a vivid depiction of the American Dream gone bad, and probably the wildest thing Capra ever shot (the director’s optimistic vision may have darkened during his experiences making military films in World War II). Capra’s triumph is to acknowledge the difficulties and disappointments of life, while affirming–in the teary-eyed final reel–his cherished values of friendship and individual achievement. It’s a Wonderful Life was not a big hit on its initial release, and it won no Oscars (Capra and Stewart were nominated); but it continues to weave a special magic. –Robert Horton
5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: Seriously, if you’ve never seen this, crawl out from under your rock and rent it. Santa is a bit of a tool (sorry, Santa, just calling them as I see them) in this classic and incredibly mean to Rudolph and his family, but as with so many other Christmas stories, there are excellent messages for kids of any age. Added bonus, Burl Ives narrating and singing.
6. The Little Drummer Boy: You may have to search to find this as it was originally recorded because the versions offered on Amazon are not the best quality. However, the story of Aaron, the little boy who refuses to smile after his parents are murdered and is taken in by three kings travelling to Bethlehem to give their gifts to the newborn king, is beautiful. When Aaron’s small lamb is struck by a Roman charioteer careening through the streets, Aaron offers up the only gift he can give to the newborn king. He plays his drum for him and Aaron’s small lamb is miraculously healed. I cry every time I watch this.
7. Miracle on 34th Street: From Amazon: Delightful Christmas fantasy of a charming old man who believes he is Santa Claus, and the wonderful change he brings to the people around him. This perennial holiday classic is on many short-lists of the all-time great Christmas movies. The film just oozes with warm-hearted humor. Very young Natalie Wood sparkles as Susan, who learns to stop being so grown up, and enjoy childhood, with all its wide-eyed wonder. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle, and lives the role. He totally connects with the kiddies who visit “Santa” at Macy’s department store. The brief scene with the little Dutch refugee girl is a definite emotional high point in this movie. The combined reaction of relief and wonder in the child’s face as she visits Santa and finds he speaks her language is memorable. Gene Lockhart as the harried judge, and William Frawley as his street-wise political advisor provide the needed comic relief to keep the court-room segments from becoming too overwhelmed by lawyers and their tactics. Even Jack Albertson shows up as an ingenious postal clerk who helps Kringle solve his legal problem. The on-location scenes filmed on the streets of New York assist the viewer in suspending disbelief. An enthusiastic cast, crisp direction by George Seaton, a sentimental holiday message, and great humor make this movie a solid holiday treat for the entire family.
8. A Christmas Carol: This remake with George C. Scott (Patton) as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is incredible. It is one of the best versions and telling of the tale. From Amazon: George C. Scott gives one of the greatest performances I have ever seen an actor give; he truly becomes Ebenezer Scrooge to the fullest degree possible. Scott can say more with just the slightest hint of a facial movement than many actors can say during the course of an entire movie. All of the performers here are excellent, bringing to life adored characters such as Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim, and Scrooge’s nephew Fred. All four spirits are remarkable, none more so than Scrooge’s old partner Jacob Marley; having Marley’s jaw drop after untying the burial cloth holding his mouth closed is an important aspect of the story and certainly does make an impression on the viewer. This is just one example of the moviemakers’ faithfulness to Charles Dickens’ original story; another would be the inclusion of the two miserable children, Ignorance and Want, beneath the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present. This timeless tale works extremely well on its own, but the unsurpassed acting skills of Scott make it almost more than real. The change wrought in him during the course of the night, as he changes from a man of crass materialism and unkindness to a repentant soul pleading for a chance to change his ways, is powerfully presented and really touches the viewer emotionally. The simple happiness revealed in the lives of Bob Cratchit and others are as heart-warming as the forgotten mistakes and pains of a younger Scrooge are agonizing.
9. The Bishop’s Wife: From Amazon: No classic holiday collection should be without this joyous tale. It stars a divine Cary Grant, a lovely Loretta Young, and a “doubting” David Niven. As Christmas approaches, Bishop Henry Broughm is feeling the pressure of raising money to build a Cathedral. The money is out there, a wealthy woman has volunteered to contribute what’s needed to complete the task. But…there’s a catch….it must be done her way…and Henry must decide whether to accept and put his principles aside or decline and have no Cathedral. He is so preoccupied with this problem that Julia, his wife feels she is losing him. Henry prays for guidance…and it arrives…in the form of one dapper angel…”Dudley”. Dudley has got his work cut out for him with this assignment. Henry is a tough case. But along the way of trying to enlighten the Bishop of the joys of life(not to mention all the hungry people the money could feed),Dudley, played by Cary Grant touches the lives of all those around him. Most of the women are simply in awe of his presence, an aging history scholar(played impeccably by Monty Woolley)finds a renewed zest for life and even a cynical cab driver is reformed by the mere presence of Dudley. But can Dudley get through to Henry in time to restore his wonderful marriage to Julia?….Can even an Angel resist the charms of Loretta Young? You’ll be smiling all the way through this touching, classic Christmas story finding out.
The supporting cast are legends in their own rights, as well.
The supporting cast are legends in their own rights, as well.
10. The Polar Express: From Amazon: Destined to become a holiday perennial, The Polar Express also heralded a brave new world of all-digital filmmaking. Critics and audiences were divided between those who hailed it as an instant classic that captures the visual splendor and evocative innocence of Chris Van Allsburg’s popular children’s book, and those who felt that the innovative use of “performance capture”–to accurately translate live performances into all-digital characters–was an eerie and not-quite-lifelike distraction from the story’s epic-scale North Pole adventure. In any case it’s a benign, kind-hearted celebration of the yuletide spirit, especially for kids who have almost grown out of their need to believe in Santa Claus. Tom Hanks is the nominal “star” who performs five different computer-generated characters, but it’s the visuals that steal this show, as director Robert Zemeckis indulges his tireless pursuit of technological innovation. No matter how you respond to the many wonders on display, it’s clear that The Polar Express represents a significant milestone in the digital revolution of cinema. If it also fills you with the joy of Christmas (in spite of its Nuremberg-like rally of frantic elves), so much the better. –Jeff Shannon
Any of your holiday favorites I’ve missed? Let me know…and in the meantime, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may all the blessings of the season be yours.