Merry Christmas! As I sit in front of my television balling my eyes out in front of It’s a Wonderful Life, it occurs to me that I should document my favorite Christmas movies. This way, readers, whoever you may be, could possibly learn about films they have never seen. I am all for Christmas traditions, especially the making of new ones.
By the way, I found it difficult to limit this list to 10. Thus the plus 2.
I will give a brief and slightly personalized synopsis of each film just in case someone has not seen it.
12) Love Actually: This is a series of love stories set in intertwining vignettes throughout the city of London. There is the raunchy and aging pop star doing a Christmas cover of his own song, “Love is all around,” the little boy, (who, by the way is too cute to be real), who has a crush on the most popular boy in school, the Prime Minister who falls for his secretary even though she has large thighs (which is not exactly true), the business man who cheats on his wife even after she finds out, the artists who falls in love with his best friend’s wife, the horny Cockney who heads to the wonderful land of Wisconsin to find sex, the pornographic stand-ins who have perhaps the most innocent relationship in the whole film, and many others. You laugh. You cry. It moves you. Somewhat.
I actually only like parts of this movie. I feel I need to be in the mood to watch it. Some sections of the film are totally contrived. For instance, I don’t think anyone would believe for a second that Hugh Grant would be the prime minister. (This actually blatantly offends my father, but I think this has more to do with the fact that he hates Hugh Grant anyway for cheating on Elizabeth Hurly, whom my father fancies.) The film does have its moments, though. The scene where Hugh Grant dances disco around 10 Downing St. is pretty priceless. It is also freaking romantic when Colin Firth learns enough Portuguese so that he can, well, you will just have to watch and see for yourself.
11) Elf: This is one of those movies where you watch it the first time expecting it to be funny, feel disappointed afterwards, watch it again and realize it is a terrific film. The initial disappointment is probably attributed to the fact that the movie stars Will Ferrell, who you expect to come out in a tube top playing a cow bell. Needless to say, he does not do this. His elf costume is pretty spectacular, but it’s no tube top. Therefore, if you were looking to see Ferrell’s love handles, this is not the film for you. But, on the other hand, if you were looking for an adorable film about a man adopted by elves who comes to New York City to find his real father. Along the way he falls in love, eats lots of spaghetti with maple syrup, and improves everyone’s Christmas spirit. Positively charming.
You may be wondering why I put this movie so low on the list. The fact of the matter is that movies about Santa don’t actually get me in the Christmas mood. I don’t know why.
10) While You Were Sleeping: A chick-flick if ever there was one, but an excellent chick-flick I must say. Sandra Bullock stars as a woman living alone in Chicago working at a token booth on the El. From her station, she fantasizes about a certain man who daily passes through her booth. On Christmas day, she sees him being mugged. After he gets pushed from the train platform she jumps on the tracks and pulls him out of harm from an oncoming train. At the hospital, however, things get interesting. A nurse overhears her fantasizing about marrying the man in the coma, and then proceeds to introduce Bullock to the man’s family as his fiancée. The family, and a kooky Chicago family at that, is so overjoyed that Bullock is in their life that she completely misses the opportunity to tell them the truth. The movie gets even more interesting when Bullock meets the man’s younger brother, played by Bill Pullman, back when he was hunky.
This movie is adorable particularly because of all the characters in the family. Watch especially by the grandma, who is played by the same woman who played the mother in Mary Poppins.
9) Holiday Inn: A Holiday classic equipped with Bing Crosby’s dulcet tones and Fred Astaire’s flying feet and fireworks. Crosby’s character wants to retire from show business to lead a peaceful life on a farm. When he discovers that farming is ridiculously hard, he converts the farm into an inn open only on holidays. Fun and festive.
8) The Grinch and Rudolph: You may wonder why I put these at the same rank. The reason is because these two movies are on the same tape in my house. This, in turn, is because they were on TV one right after the other when my mom taped them in 1992. As I mentioned in a previous post, these movies are great on their own (The Grinch much more so than Rudolph, in my opinion), but it is the 1992 dated commercials that really are the kicker. Check out the awful sweaters and haircuts. They really compliment the Whoville Christmas Spirit and bring extra cheer to the island of Misfit toys.
7) Home Alone: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH! Macaulay Culkin may have turned into a pretty weird dude, but it doesn’t change the fact that Home Alone is still a fun movie. As my father puts it, he is such a “good kid.” By this, Dad doesn’t mean that Kevin is well behaved, but rather that he has good kid instincts. For instance, my dad is pleased when Kevin is disgusted by a picture of his older brother’s girlfriend, or when he rigs up his sled at the top of the stairs and angles it in order to make it down the stairs, out the door, down the front porch and into the yard. Dad also really likes the fact that all Kevin wants is his very own large cheese pizza.
6) Home Alone 2: Some may wonder why I not only put this as separate from Home Alone 1, but also why I ranked it higher. I think it is distinctly better. Though many of the same elements are present in both films, the second has the added bonus of Kevin checking himself into the Plaza Hotel. This is especially fun because Tim Curry plays the concierge—a phenomenal idiot trying to figure out how Kevin managed to get into one of the hotel’s finest suites. There is a great shot of him smiling like the Grinch when his computer tells him Kevin’s credit card was stolen. Another great scene in the Plaza is where Kevin lies in his own king-sized bed while room service prepares an enormous ice cream sundae for him bedside. The waiter asks, “Two scoops or three, sir?” to which Kevin responds, “Make it three, I’m not driving.” He then lies back on his massive pillow and sighs, “This is a vacation.”
5) Meet John Doe: This may be one that many people have not seen, and it is a real travesty if this is the case. Meet John Doe is the story of a newspaper woman, played by Barbara Stanwyck, who makes up a phony letter from a man planning to commit suicide on Christmas Eve in protest against the corruption in society. The letter creates such a ruckus that she and her editor decided to hire a bum to play the role of John Doe, the suicidal writer. The guy they pick is none other than Gary Cooper, whose wonderful face melts hearts like a microwave melts butter. A combination of that face and the high ideals he preaches stirs up the American public into a frenzy. John Doe Clubs appear across the nation. Neighbors treat each other better than they ever had before. Problem is, it was all phony from the beginning. Things turn particularly sour when greedy politicians get into the mix. The film culminates atop the city hall building on Christmas Eve, and it would be a crime to tell you what happens. Directed by Frank Capra with and all star cast with a fantastic Christmas message = recipe for awesome, and lots of joyful tears.
4) Christmas in Connecticut: It had been many years since I had seen this movie. This was not by choice, but rather because by the time I thought of it the movie had vanished off the shelves. Thanks to the power of Netflix, this year we were finally able to see it again, and the movie was even better than I remember it. Barbara Stanwyck stars, once again, as a newspaper woman. This time she is a columnist in a homemaking magazine writing about the joys of cooking in her Connecticut farm house with her baby cooing in the corner bassinette and her husband keeping her company. Once again, it is all a rouse, not a word of it is true. She gets into trouble, though, when her boss invites himself and a war hero over to her home for Christmas. She has to come up with something quick, and with the help of her adorable Uncle Felix telling her everything is hunky dunky, the movie turns into a splendid Christmas classic.
3) White Christmas: Bing is back and better than ever, crooning as nobody ever crooned before. Paired with the fun Danny Kaye who comes complete with matching pants, shoes and socks, the two hatch schemes to win the hearts of two blondes played by Vera Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, as well as show their appreciation for their retired Army General, and do it all in Pine Tree, Vermont.
The Man Who Came to Dinner: Based on the play of the same name by George Kauffman, and my favorite play I might add, this 1940’s rendition is positively splendid. Monty Wooly stars as a distinguished author with a sharp wit and a heck of a temper who gets invited to dinner in a middle class home in Ohio. Mr. Whiteside, Wooly, slips on the steps on the way into the house and the family needs to house the invalid for the remaining weeks before Christmas. The play/movie is full of fantastic lines. My favorite is this: The nurse walks in on Mr. Whiteside sneaking candy. “Oh you mustn’t eat candy Mr. Whiteside,” she says, “it’s very bad for you.” He responds thus: “My great Aunt Jennifer ate a box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be 102 and when she had been dead three days she looked better than you do now.”
It’s a Wonderful Life: This movie probably needs little explanation. I wondered to myself while making this list whether or not it justified the #1 spot. Who am I kidding? Of course it does.