Tag Archives: Christmas Movies

Best Films of Christmas #15 Remember the Night


In the word of screenwriter Preston Sturges, “Love reformed her and corrupted him.”

Remember the Night is an often forgotten Christmas film, which is a shame as movies with Barbara Stanwyck are always great (in fact this is the first of three on the list).

Now since I’m going to bet no one knows the plotline to this film (as opposed to just about all the other films on this list which we know almost by heart) I’m going to reveal some spoilers.  The movie follows Stanwyck’s character Lee Leander, a thief who is caught stealing an expensive diamond necklace only a few days before Christmas.  Enter Fred MacMurray’s character John Sargent, New York City Assistant D.A.   Knowing that a jury won’t convict her only a couple of days before Christmas he gets the trial postponed until after the New Year so that he can get a conviction.  While clever he is not heartless and asks the local (and rather shifty) bail bondsman to bail her out so that she can be out of prison.  Said bail bondsman, thinking that Sargent has more lascivious reasons than just Christmas charity, brings her to Sargent’s apartment after baling her out.  Sargent, who is just desperate to just leave for his mother’s home in Ohio, convinces Lee that he has no intention of taking advantage of her, but he decides she deserves a good meal before he leaves.  At dinner he finds out that she has no where to stay other than prison…except her mother’s in Ohio.  By now you can see the trip to Ohio they will both take, how her mother doesn’t want to have anything do with her and how our beautiful thief ends up spending Christmas with her prosecutor and his family.  Each step in this story is motivated by Sargent’s desire to show a good and charitable Christmas spirit (except for that desire to convict her).

It should come as the exact opposite of a surprise that it just happened one night that these two fall in love.

Besides the obvious fact that this movie takes place at Christmas, it is a Christmas film because it is about seeing the best in everyone, about forgiveness and about redemption.  In this film everyone behaves in a way that is directed to show the best within us and that no one is beyond hope.

(Am I the only one who feels that as movies have gotten worse over the decades, trailers have gotten consistently better?)
(And my conservative beliefs are soothed by the fact that the only truly vicious people are shown to be government agents who wished to nickel and dime people with unjust regulations and a low class welfare recipient.)

I’m not going to say this is the most original story of all time (although it being made in 1940 does kind of make it more original than it may seem).

All in all a great Chirstmas film.

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Greatest Films of Christmas #20 The Bells of St. Mary’s

“It isn’t what we acquire in life, is it? It’s what we give.”

Again this movie is a Christmas film by only a tenuous string. That string would be the most adorable nativity play in the history of film.

This is film of friendship and battle of wills of a priest, Father O’Malley (Bing Crosby), and nun, Sister Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), who share responsibilities for running a rundown Catholic school.

The movie has its good points…

It has what may be the first video of cats doing stupid and funny things (foreseeing the creation of YouTube 60 years after the movie was made) (skip to 8:30 on the YouTube clip).

Then there is the scene where Sister Mary Benedict is teaching a young pupil how to box. Seeing a nun teach someone how to hit a person is all too entertaining…

One of the reasons this is a wonderful Christmas film even though only about 5 minutes of the movie are dedicated to Christmas is that it deals with the concept of charity. A main plot point is the drive to get a rich businessman played by Henry Travers (you might know him better as the world’s second most inept angel*, Clarence, who, yes, will be making an appearance later in this list) to give his brand new building to replace the aging facilities of St. Mary’s. There are long discussions of the personal benefits of charity. That it brings you health and happiness, that it makes life worth living (and it may be tax deductable….okay maybe the rich businessman isn’t a complete saint, but he’s still a nice guy).

And of course this situation with the greedy millionaire giving a building to the church also deals with how faith and prayer can move mountains…in this case the faith and prayer of the sisters of St. Mary’s

And it also deals with how we can never get along with people, disagree with them on every point, and still be good friends and respect one another because we, as human beings, have the capacity to see beyond our differences and see the character and goodness of a person. Even if they’re a bit of your opponent and borderline enemy.

*The most inept Angel can be found in Christopher Moore’s book The Stupidest Angel: A heartwarming tale of Christmas terror (which again has that weird crossover of Christmas and Halloween, can someone please explain this phenomenon to me) and Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal the second one may be the funniest book EVER written)…and I put this discussion here and not on the Wonderful Life discussion because that one will a much longer blog.

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The Best Movies of Christmas– #21 The Nightmare Before Christmas

“And in my bones I feel the warmth that’s coming from inside.”

I’ll be honest I can’t figure out why there is such a crossover of Christmas and Halloween films, but there is. When looking for films for the top Halloween films there is a disturbing number of horror movies that take place at Christmas and there is a bizarre number of Christmas stories with horror elements (think about it, the most famous Christmas story is the story of a guy being haunted by ghosts). I’m at a bit of a loss to explain why this is. However, the fact remains that there is this odd Venn diagram between Christmas and Halloween films, and as such I should probably admit it with at least one of the films on this list. And so we go to The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Why this film? I mean, I personally only need to see it once a decade (if that). But it mainly gets on the list because it seems to be the most in line with the spirit of wonder and happiness. For all of its flaws (and I will understand perfectly if Burton’s love for unusual animation isn’t your thing) it seems to understand Christmas better than Halloween. Just the song “What’s This” when Jack discovers Christmas Town alone allows us to look at all the small parts of Christmas—the lights, the snow, the mistletoe, the food, which we may all do but only in a mechanical way, that’s the way we’ve always done it–with a new found wonder. It allows you to find the wonder of all those elements we have long since forgotten.

And in some ways, and I realize I may be pushing it with this, but Jack’s problems with his own holiday of Halloween, finding it dull and repetitive and pointless is the problem many of us find as we grow up. We stop looking at all holidays (okay most of them, there was never wonder in the communist tripe that was Labor Day) with the wonder that they should have. And it’s utterly refreshing to see, how if we let it, the Christmas season can brighten even the darkest recesses of our lives.

And, I think this ties into one of the more subtle themes of this story that Christmas offers us a chance to see the best in ourselves and what we like most about ourselves. Who we really are: the best and most lovable within us that make us happy with ourselves. Which is in part what Christmas is all about, a new beginning in life even if your life stays the same–a promise of new beginnings and wonder. And it this new found wonder at his own life that Jack finds because he discovered Christmas.

That, more than any other reason is why this is a good Christmas film.

Jack discovers his first snowflake

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Best Films of Christmas #22 Holiday Inn


I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten, and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I’m dreaming of a White Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

This barely qualifies as a Christmas film but it begins on Christmas and ends on Christmas so that barely is what gets it on this list. (Besides the only other holiday it spends any length of time on is Independence Day, and as it shows FDR in that sequence, a vicious anti-Semite who stood for everything this country is opposed to, there will be none of this movie on Independence Day…).

One of the most important reasons that this movie makes it onto the list is that it includes the song “White Christmas.” In fact this is the first movie to ever include that song. Most importantly the plot line isn’t as hackneyed as White Christmas.

And of course there are the truly great dance numbers from Fred Astaire (although the Washington’s Birthday dance is just painful to watch but it serves a plot point).

Otherwise there is a sweet love story mixed with the understanding that life is to be lived and those wonderful moments we call holidays relished and enjoyed.

But back to the primary reason this movie makes it onto the list, White Christmas. Ever since this movie came out, this song has rightfully been a standard of the holiday. It calls for us to recapture the joy of Christmas that we had when were young “like the ones I used to know.” It’s about sharing the Christmas joy through cards and wishes for a merry Christmas to everyone you know, it’s about maintaining connection with other humans which seems to be easiest at Christmas. And it is because of this movie that we have this song. Whatever its flaws this alone makes it a great Christmas film.

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The Best Films of Christmas #23 Die Hard

die_hard_christmas.jpg“’Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except… the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.”

Remember when I said it’s really hard to find 24 good Christmas movies…yeah, really hard. But unlike the bottom of this list, Die Hard is wonderfully entertaining and does, for better or worse, show some of the better aspects of Christmas (if you use a REALLY loose definition).

After all there is the joy of opening your presents…okay it might be after you have broken into a vault to steal what’s in it, but it’s such a fun scene watching our villains open their Christmas present.   And Theo does say “Merry Christmas.”

There are miracles. “It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time for miracles…” Just not in the form you usually expect to see them. “You ask for a miracle I give you the FBI.”

There’s even an interesting rendition of “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”

But also because in addition to the crisp and delightful action which we seldom see anymore, Hollywood having become obsessed with the evil that is the shaky-cam, this movie is just one witty joke after another. Every time you watch there is new set of jokes (the SWAT team member not being able to handle a rose thorn, the terrorist who looks around before he steals a candy bar, and the great line “I’m Agent Johnson, this is Special Agent Johnson. No relation.”). There are a myriad of jokes and moments of wit that are conveyed sometimes only by a well-timed look.  If only we could go back to this instead of CGI nonsense.

This movie makes the list because there are some people who feel that any movie that even occurs at Christmas should be considered a Christmas film no matter how much the theme of the film differs from that of the actual holiday (although you could argue that our hero is acting out of love for his wife…but to say that’s a central theme is a bit of a stretch). And for that group of films there is probably no movie more entertaining than Die Hard.

And as an added bonus for the few liberals who read this blog, they blow up the NewsCorp building in this movie.

“If this is their idea of Christmas, I’ve got to see New Years.”

“Yippie kay yay..xmas-die-hard.jpg.”

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