Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My Favorite Christmas Movies

So anyone who has read this blog knows that I love Christmas entertainment.  There are so many different Christmas movies that I decided instead of listing all of them I would just focus on my favorites.  A lot of the ones that usually get mentioned on these lists are just not really my thing.  I like It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Scrooged and Elf well enough but not enough that I have a need to watch them every year.  There are movies that are related to Christmas I decided to leave off of the list such as While You Were Sleeping, Iron Man 3, Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe and Disney's TV version of Annie.  I do like Die Hard, Gremlins, Ice Harvest and Batman Returns but they are a little more cynical and dark than I am looking for at this time of year.  There are plenty other Christmas movies I like such as Rise of the Guardians, MGM's 1938 version of A Christmas Carol, Love Actually and Joyeux Noel.  But when it comes down to it these are the ten I have the strongest connection to.  I don't watch all of them every year, but some I do.

10. Home Alone (1990)
This is a great physical comedy, the gags are energetic and creative.  What makes this stand out amidst its many lesser imitators is that it has heart and many great performances.  Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are great adversaries, Macualy Culkin gives one of the best child performances in any film, and Catherine O'Hara is very underrated in her sincere yet funny portrayal of a dedicated mother.  I did not grow up watching this a lot and don't have it memorized, but I do like it quite a bit.

9. Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
I did not grow up with this one and don't see it as an edgy cartoon like many others do.  But this is a really good movie.  Creatively designed, well directed by Henry Selick, and features great songs from Danny Elfman.  Many people like this movie for how dark it is, but it really works because of the sincerity.  Jack is a likable character whose struggle with his love and fascination of Christmas is really relatable.  I don't hold it to the incredibly high status that many do, but I do really like it. 

8. Nutcracker: The Motion Picture (1986)
I discovered this on Netflix this year and was surprised by how how much I loved it.  This is a pretty straight forward adaptation of the ballet that features the utilizes some appropriate special effects.  Director Carol Ballard makes the ballet cinematic without losing the theatrical qualities.  This movie features designs from Maurice Sendak that are really fantastic.  I will definitely watch this again next year.

7. The Nativity Story (2006)
There are very few adaptations of the birth of Jesus that seem to stick.  That is most likely because the Bible is not just a storybook, but there is an emotional connection and portraying something that deals with Faith is difficult.  This is something that people feel and dramatizing it is bound to be different than what people picture the story.  However as far as Bible movies go this is a very good one.  Keshia Castle-Hughes and Oscar Isaac play Mary and Joseph as very relatable.  The movie does a great job focusing on Joseph, the birth of John the Baptist and the Three Kings are a fun characters.  This movie did not do well in theatres or with critics and has not found a popular home on television.  But for people who want to be reminded of the Birth of Christ at Christmas this is the best movie to see. 

6. Babes in Toyland (1961)
I am surprised that Disney has not done more with this movie.  It is not the best loved, but it is a colorful musical comedy that is fun to watch at this time of year.  I really have fun with this old fashioned movie.  The set and costumes are very bright, colorful and fantastic.  Ray Bolger and Ed Wynn are perfect hams and I always enjoy Annette Funicello's unique voice.  I Just Can't Do the Sum and Castle in Spain are highlights which are creatively choreographed and feature some good old fashioned special effects.  The stop-motion animation is also very well done and adds to the fantasy feeling of this fun musical.

5. Borrowed Hearts: A Holiday Romance (1997)
I know that TV Christmas movies are cheaply made, manipulative and corny, but this is my guilty pleasure.  Is it great cinema?  No, but it doesn't have to be.  Eric McCormack and Roma Downey have great chemistry and Hector Elizondo is always good.  This movie goes straight for the heartstrings and it always gets me.  I don't care if you don't like this movie, I really love it.

4. Arthur Christmas (2011)
I have been raving about this movie for the last few years, it was an absolute surprise.  This is a comedy about Santa's dysfunctional family and features some of the most insightful family dynamics I have ever seen.  This movie features four members of the Santa Claus legacy who all have their own understandable motives.  Grand-Santa wants to prove he is still worth something, the current Santa Claus can't give up being loved, Steve Claus is practical in wanting to make Christmas work and Arthur is a dreamer that wants to help others.  They all want to be Santa, but come to the conclusion that to kids it doesn't matter who holds a title because the intangibles mean so much more.  Look this up, I really hope this starts picking up in popularity.

3. Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Easily one of the best adaptations of Dickens story, and one of the few to work at a feature length.  Michael Caine is an ideal Scrooge and the Muppets are all perfectly cast.  Kermit, Statler and Waldorf, Sam the Eagle, Gonzo and Fozzie all excel in their respective roles.  The original character of The Ghost of Christmas Present is my favorite version of the character and one of the most jovial creations in all of film.  The songs are good enough to stand on their own as Christmas standards and the movie does not shy away from the dramatic elements of the story.  It is still very funny with bits such as Sam the Eagle correcting himself in calling hard work, "the British way."  My favorite line is when two-time Academy Award winner Sir Michael Caine reminisces about, "Fozziwig's rubber chicken factory."

2. The Santa Clause (1994)
This is the one movie I have to make sure to watch every year.  I grew up with it and it was a standard well before the sequels came out.  Even though the sequels are horrendous and miss what makes this a classic they do not take anything away from the original.  Tim Allen proves himself as an actor as he is not just funny, but also somewhat heartbreaking as a single dad and as a loving Santa Claus.  Allen goes through a character arc and his relationship with his son is quite touching.  The supporting cast is great with Judge Reinhold, Wendy Crewson, several great child actors and David Krumholz as the best elf in all of cinema.  This movie is creative in its explanation of Santa, features a fun gimmick and great score.  A Christmas masterpiece that often gets overlooked.

1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Christmas movie masterpiece.  It has everything I want around Christmastime.  It is idealistic and creative.  It makes the case for Santa and you believe it, even if the logic does not work in real life the post office defense is a great twist for this movie.  This is not just a great Christmas movie, but it is a great movie.  Edmund Gwenn won an Oscar for his portrayal and I have even ranked him as the best screen Santa.  Santa has never been better and this is just a perfect Christmas movie.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

50 Best Christmas Specials (10-1)

10. Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Oatmeal!  The kid wants to name a snowman Oatmeal!  That is no name for a Snowman!  This is always fun, Frosty is extremely likable and childlike and the kids actually act like children.  The stakes are high enough for the story to work, but not too ridiculous.  This is one of my favorite Santas and the special never gets old.

9. A Christmas Carol (1971)
This short from legendary Richard Williams never gets its due, but it is one of the best adaptations of A Christmas Carol ever.  The animation is great and I love the style that makes it look like sketchy illustrations.  The entire short condenses the story into twenty minutes through some great time ellipses. This feels like A Christmas Carol from the perspective of Scrooge, you feel the emotions he is feeling.  This may be too scary for some children as Marley and Want and Need are appropriately horrific.  The profile of this needs to raise, it is a masterpiece.

8. Muppet Family Christmas (1987)
This is a loving tribute to the legacy of Jim Henson, who makes a well deserved cameo to close the special.  This is a crossover between The Muppets, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and Muppet Babies.  It is a rights nightmare, not only with the four franchises but also the many Christmas carols that are not in public domain.  Nonetheless it is one of the best outings of the Muppets who have great gags and some incredible musical numbers.  Look it up on YouTube, well worth your time.

7. The Snowman (1982)
This is much more subtle than most children's specials, there is no dialogue and it takes its time.  This feels like a picture book and it is not a bad thing.  The animation and the music elevate the material and it feels very artistic while still being enjoyable and accessible.  I don't think this has aired since the mid-nineties but it really should air again.  It is a different Christmas special, the kind we need more of.

6. Mickey's Good Deed (1932)
This is a short that you could not do with any other classic character.  Mickey, at his everyman best in the Great Depression, is struggling to get by but at least he still has Pluto.  He reluctantly sells Pluto to a rich family to bring Christmas to a poor family.  This Mickey is compassionate, regretful, scared, sad and joyful.  Of course it all turns out, but this short is not afraid to be sad.  A great drama and one of the best uses of Mickey Mouse.

5. Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978)
Perfect in every way.  Part of what is fun is that this shows its age.  Mr. Hooper is in it, Kermit lives on Sesame Street, and the sets look like the seventies.  It has a great opening at an ice rink and several great subplots.  Big Bird tries to find out if Santa is real, Bert and Ernie act out Gift of the Magi, and Cookie Monster struggles to get through writing Santa a letter.  There is an amazing gag when Cookie Monster finds out that he is supposed to leave Santa cookies.  This also features some of the best original Christmas songs.  Keep Christmas with You, I Hate Christmas, and especially True Blue Miracle hold up and are some of my favorites.

4. Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
This is my personal favorite Christmas special and I have it memorized.  Every Disney character is perfectly cast, even Goofy surprisingly as the damned Jacob Marley.  This cartoon makes the story entertaining and appropriate for children, while still embracing its frightening and sad qualities.  It distills the story perfectly to a comfortable running time and is just an absolutely perfect short.

3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Everything about this is iconic.  No matter how goofy it gets and unusual some of the animation looks it still works.  It is pleasant, fun, has a sweet story and great songs.  Everybody knows this special and it still holds up.   Rudolph, Hermie the Elf, Yukon Cornelius, Santa, Bumble and Sam the Snowman are all welcome around the holidays.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Seuss improves on his great book by writing the teleplay and songs for this.  Chuck Jones' animation complements Seuss' designs and is full of great gags.  The voice work of Thurl Ravenscroft, June Foray and of course Boris Karloff are all perfect.  This special gets across a timeless message while still remaining fun.

1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Last year comic book writer Dan Slott referred to this along with Citizen Kane as perfect works of art and he is right.  This special is funny, touching, surprising, features some of the best characterization ever written and it never gets old.  Charlie Brown is such an everyman and his struggles at Christmas are still relevant.  Linus' emotional telling of the Christmas story and its clear effect on Charlie Brown is one of the most effective ways to bring up the birth of Christ.  It is not heavy handed or judgmental, but it is sincere and memorable.  This is a masterpiece and the perfect thing to watch at Christmas.