Wednesday, December 24, 2014

MY TOP FIVE: Christmas Movies

For some people, Christmas is all about enjoying food with family, carols, maybe even some time enjoying the holiday cantata at church. But for me, it's always been a time to hunker down in pajamas, last minute present wrapping laid out on the floor, and my favorite Christmas flicks marathoning on the on TV screen—with my family sitting 'round, of course.

In celebration of this joyous holiday, I wanted to share my TOP FIVE Christmas Movies with you all. While there are more obscure ones out there (Mixed Nuts, anyone?), these are the ones that have stuck with me over the years, solidifying their place as the tops in my all-time fav list.

5.  It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

I'm watching this one as I type. Boy, is this movie so much more than most people remember. The life of small-towner with big dreams, George Bailey, as told through the eyes of his guardian angel... or rather, his prospective guardian angel. Christmas is at the movie's heart, but it goes far beyond the holiday. Most viewers remember this movie as the "What if I'd never been born?" fantasy scenario--but that is only the last couple of scenes of this epic story (one that is has legitimately been paid homage countless times on film and TV.)

This is my Dad's favorite Christmas movie, and for good reason. It challenges everyone to remember what the true meaning of Christmas is—not about presents and about what we can buy for our kids... but what we have to offer the world, and how we can sacrifice for others. What always struck me most was that sometimes those sacrifices aren't so easy to make. None of us are saints. In fact, sacrifices can truly do a number on our spirit, and that's what George's story tells us. That is, until we remember that when we are there for others, they may just come through for us. One of the best scenes doesn't have to do with Christmas at all: George tries to keep those investors of his Building & Loan from jumping ship by handing out loans from his own wedding fund. Brings tears to my eyes every time!

The one film on this list that I believe every single person should see before they die. And Donna Reed might just be the greatest wife in cinema history. (oh, fun fact! It's going to show up on the AFI Top 100 list at #20!)

4.  While You Were Sleeping (1995)

What good is Christmas without a little romance sprinkled in? My favorite movie, holiday or not, during my middle school years was the Sandra Bullock flick, While You Were Sleeping. The nineties premise found toll-taker and lonely dreamer, Lucy, crushing on her dream man, Peter (played by the eyebrow-tastic Peter Gallagher.) Peter gets knocked unconscious near her toll at the train tracks and badda-bing! Lucy claims to be his fiancee to see him through to the hospital. Of course, his family latches onto the idea and envelopes her into the family in the midst of their Christmas celebrations and Peter's lingering coma.

I always connected with the scene where Lucy decorates her tree with only the company of her kitty-cat. A stereotypical portrayal of future spinsterhood, sure, but Bullock is so incredible and heart-warming, it manages to surpass the cliche. Her optimism was infectious, and I loved that her expectations of true love were challenged, and this might be one of two movies where I can actually stand Bill Pullman. He's just so adorable! By the end of this movie, we really all wish we could gift Lucy a trip to Florence.

3.  A Christmas Story (1983)

It's not Christmas without A Christmas Story. It plays 24 hours straight during the holiday on channels like TNT and TBS, but despite the overkill, it is one of the best representations of Christmas through the eyes of a child. A child who is just like us and dreams of getting only one gift on Christmas morning. In the case of Ralphie Parker, it's a Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model BB gun, and despite the constant reminder that he will "shoot his eye out," he is never deterred.

The movie was shot in the early 80's, and tells of a time in pre-WWII America. It was shot in Cleveland, OH, and astonishingly, this city looks eerily the same. There are scenes that are so iconic, they exist beyond the confines of the movie itself. Ralphie in the pink bunny suit. The leg lamp ("It's a major award!") Flick getting his tongue stuck to the flag pole (which scared me so much as a little kid, I hid behind a wall for the rest of the movie.) And of course, the most epic utterance of the word "Fuuuuuuu....dge." But he didn't say "fudge."

While it doesn't top my list of Christmas' best, it just might be the most memorable. And I love every second of it.

2.  A Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

While I was putting this list together, I even surprised myself by putting this one so high on the list. But there is a magic to the original Miracle on 34th Street that can't be beat. Little Natalie Wood plays Susan Walker, a girl too grown up for her own britches. Raised by her mother, Doris, who taught her to live in reality, no matter how lackluster it was. Doris is an exec at Macy's and when the holidays come around, she hires a man to be Santa Claus who claims to be the real thing. Of course, Miss Susan will be the first to tell you how ridiculous this old man really is.

Incredible Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment where all of letters written to Santa are brought straight into the courtroom and entered in as admissible evidence in his "I swear I'm not crazy" trial. Totally brilliant, totally 1940's cinema magic. And don't even get me started on the scene where the Dutch orphan who doesn't speak English gets placed on Santa's lap! It could melt the heart of any non-believer.

The remake from 1994 is also wonderful, and has some fun twists on this classic (i.e. instead of a little Dutch girl, it's a little Deaf girl. ♥) As far as I'm concerned, you're looking at a flawless Christmas two-fer.

1.  The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)

The only Christmas movie I'll ever need. Also, the best re-telling of Charles Dickens' classic, A Christmas Carol, that there ever was. The Muppets have been always been wedged into adaptations of novels or musicals or what-have-you, but this one is really a perfect fit. The use of Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat as narrators, Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Fozzie Bear as Fozziewig (originally Fuzziwig, I mean, how much more on point can you get??)... and then there's Michael Caine. A man so talented, he played the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, wailing at or prancing around with these puppets, without the merest of irony. 

I listened to the CD soundtrack for this movie on repeat all year round. Every song is brilliant, particularly the "One More Sleep 'Till Christmas" and "Thankful Heart" tracks. Even the orchestrations for the Ghost of Christmas Future still gives me chills... It all comes together and tells a simple story that truly revolves around the night of Christmas Eve.

This movie is short and sweet, and has a little bit of everything. I believe that there isn't a single person who would be disagreeable if you popped this movie on TV for Christmas. I know it's what I'll be watching.

So that's it! Care to share your holiday favorites?

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