Tag Archives: Christmas

The Greatest Films of Christmas #3 It’s a Wonderful Life

wonderful life.jpg“Remember no man is a failure who has friends.”

Besides the fact this movie has Capra’s usual bizarre caricature of rich people (anyone with Potter’s attitude and traits would not stay wealthy for very long let alone George Bailey’s entire life) this is a great film.

Long before cheap sci-fi took up the concept of the butterfly effect, this story asked how much do we affect the lives of those around us. And George Bailey seemed, even in his less happy moments, to always be a force for good in life.

If I really have to summarize the plot for you…well, that’s just sad. If you haven’t seen this movie go out and see it right now.

The point you are supposed to get out of this film is not only that life is precious and worth living, but that we all improve the world around us. Every little choice, when made with the right frame of mind, looking for the long term rather than the short term (as George did in trying to stop the run on his bank), thinking of others equal to how much you think of yourself, of standing up for what it right and opposing what we know to be wrong, and forgiving ourselves our mistakes when we are less than perfect—every little choice affects the lives of others in ways we can never see and with results we can never know. Now, the very lives of everyone in the town we live in probably doesn’t depend immediately on what choices we make…or at least we think it doesn’t…but does it need to be a whole city before we worry about our choices. What if the choices we make only affect a dozen, or half a dozen, or even only one other person (although I doubt any of us have such little impact)? Even if only one, think about the power that our choices have, think of how much we are worth if we can make the world better for only one other person.

Let me go off on my New Age tangents for a second. An often overlooked point of George Bailey’s life is how important his antagonist, the cartoonish Mr. Potter was. Without Potter George would have left Bedford Falls, he would have gone to college, probably been a mid-level architect, never married Mary, never been the person who fought to help those around him, never been the great man he was. Destiny put in his path a force that would bring out the best in him rather than let him steer toward the mediocrity of what is considered success by the standards of the hoi polloi. So next time you run across someone you really hate…ask yourself, have they been placed there to bring out something good in you…and are you letting that good portion come out?

On the other hand, while not a major point, I just need to point out that this movie perpetuates one of the worst spiritual lies of all time. It suggests that humans become angels when they die. I believe angels do exist, but in no religious or serious spiritual belief on Earth have angels ever been human.

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Best Films of Christmas #4 Love Actually

MV5BMTY4NjQ5NDc0Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNjk5NDM3._V1_SX640_SY720_.jpg“But for now, let me say – Without hope or agenda – Just because it’s Christmas – And at Christmas you tell the truth – To me, you are perfect – And my wasted heart will love you.”

Ignoring that there is probably someone for each of us whom at some point in our life we have wanted to do that card thing for someone we love with all our hearts who may not love us back for some valid reason or another…

As far a Christmas romance films go there is none better than this film. Panned by critics loved by real human beings who have some semblance of real taste. This movie isn’t just about romantic love, or the good feeling we experience at Christmas. This movie is about every kind of love. First Love, just sex, unrequited love, newlyweds, friendship, star crossed love, the love of parents for their children, for siblings, new love and even the darker side of love: lost opportunities and betrayal. Love. Not since Plato’s Symposium has there been a work this explicitly about love.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

And it is.

The scenes at the beginning and end of this film looking at the meetings of people at the airport is probably the sweetest and most touching moment of not just this film, but of any film, to a great deal because it’s real. It highlights how we tend to focus only on the negative in our lives, almost to the complete exclusion of the good in our lives…and this is the season to remember the good. And to remember that we are loved.

And learning about love is this movie’s central premise. That we need to “get the shit kicked out of us by love” should be a morning affirmation for each of us. The pain, the hurt, the suffering…it’s all worth it. It’s worth telling the person you love that you love them even if you know they can’t reciprocate. It’s worth risking your position and stature to go for the person you care for. And it’s certainly worth pissing off whatever fascist variant of the TSA the country you are in just to express how you feel. (Oh and it’s never worth betraying someone or not taking a chance. Never.) It’s worth crossing oceans “just in cases.”

Now if only David Cameron could deliver a similar speech…

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Best Films of Christmas #5 An American Christmas Carol

dvdxmascarolamerAs I’ve said before I’m not a big fan of the Christmas Carol story. Why? Because it shows the naïve and twisted view of human nature and society that only a socialist like Dickens could come up with (Honestly, with a cast of hundreds I think the only character he ever wrote that I liked was Sydney Carton…and Dickens killed him).

So here we have a TV version of the Christmas Carol, staring the Fonz as our Scrooge set in early Depression East Coast America. What makes this so much better than the original?

First off it shows that the Scrooge mentality is just bad business, which it is. It shows that the mentality of foreclosing and miserly hoardings is not actually good capitalism but rather shortsighted foolishness. In the first few scenes his version of Bob Cratchit suggests he should invest in a granite quarry to help stimulate the local economy and given FDR’s new programs it won’t go under again like it did a few years ago. Our Scrooge, Ben Slade in this case, fires his employee…for making a good business suggestion. Yeah, this guy is a genius of finance. They also show that Slade’s mentor is partly responsible for driving him to his bad business habits in not encouraging him when he tried to bring innovation and modernization to his mentor…so you can see where he picked up his traits of looking at good business ideas and just dismissing them out of hand.

Its better because it shows him losing his love is what drove him away from people not vice versa which makes a lot more sense when one has an understanding of human nature. Also it shows him as having been an orphan which makes his desire for material security far more understandable (maybe not forgivable, but in the original story Scrooge is from a well off family but not loved, which psychologically makes little sense that he would become a miser being raised in such an environment).

Further Slade is not the preposterous exaggeration that Scrooge was. He does have feeling for others, going as far to give books to the local orphans (this is before the ghosts) to try and encourage them that they can make anything of their own lives (while not toys, it certainly doesn’t indicate the sociopath the original Scrooge was). This Scrooge may be a petty businessman and a short term thinker who is a stickler for rules and immediate payment…but he is not a complete sociopath.

And finally there is the ending. Rather than that bizarre original ending where Scrooge works his way into the Cratchit family (because that makes sense), Slade seeks to truly leave a mark and adopts a child from the orphanage he had once been saved from with the hope of not repeating the same mistakes that were made in his upbringing. Far more hopeful and far more tender.

Only one version of a Christmas Carol to go…

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The Best Films of Christmas #6 The Family Man

This unusual take on It’s A Wonderful Life’s look at how the world would be different without you. Jack Campbell (Nicholas Cage), the president of a powerful Wall Street firm, is actually quite content with his life. He has just about everything he ever wanted, he has a job he loves, he is admired and respected by his coworkers and friends, he even knows how to appreciate the small things like witty banter and snowfall, he has no debilitating psychological problems. He’s single, but he justifies it with, “I took the road less traveled.” But after he intervenes to save the lives of innocent people in a corner store hold up…he makes the mistake of telling the robber (who appears to be an angel in disguise, played by the always great Don Cheadle) that he doesn’t need anything, he has everything he wants. He wakes up to find what life would be like if he hadn’t become a powerful executive but instead had married his college sweetheart. Managing a tire store, kids, living in Jersey. A slight difference to his worth is that unlike George Bailey the world at large seemed to have gone exactly the same…except that part around him. Him, his wife, his kids, it’s those small things. The things that matter and actually make up a life.

Half the fun is watching him adjust to his new middle class life. His adorable daughter who is convinced this man who replaced her father is an alien made to look like her dad…but it’s okay because he can make chocolate milk and has promised to not plant stuff in her brain. And then there are all the mistakes that he makes out of ignorance of what he should know about his alternate life. But of course the main highlight is him falling in love with his wife all over again, and making her love him, not just the memory of who she thinks he is.

And while we know he will finally learn what he was missing in not having a loving wife and a family we kind of do feel sorry for him that he has lost everything he has earned. Yes, because of the liberal media, we have an image of Wall Street execs as these heartless monsters who live to crush those below them. We all know when we stop to think logically that people on Wall Street are no better or worse than their middle and lower class counterparts (they have morons to geniuses, monsters to saints) but we seldom see the good depicted in the media. But it’s refreshing to see Jack Campbell depicted as not just human, but a good man, even before his switch. He knows people’s names and talks with them like equals, gives free advice, he even has an assistant whom he seems to encourage her to constantly insult him to keep him grounded…and, of course, moves to saves people’s lives when he is under no obligation. The movie has the great point that money isn’t evil nor a job unfulfilling…but even those are nothing compared to the joy of true love and a family.

This of course is the only good film ever made by director Bret Ratner…how such a terrible director created such a great movie, I’m not sure., but he did.

I know we could both go on with our lives and we’d both be fine, but I’ve seen what we could be like together. And I choose us.

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Best Films of Christmas #7 Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Amends

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Angel: Buffy, please. Just this once… let me be strong.
Buffy: Strong is fighting! It’s hard, and it’s painful, and it’s every day. It’s what we have to do. And we can do it together. But if you’re too much of a coward for that, then burn. If I can’t convince you that you belong in this world, then I don’t know what can. But do not expect me to watch. And don’t expect me to mourn for you, because…

Huh? Buffy? Christmas? Has the Conservative New Ager gone more insane than usual?

This episode was called “one of the most explicitly religious hours of television ever aired” by the entertainment editor of The Weekly Standard…so clearly I’m not the only Conservative who thinks this.

(There is a fascinating lack of YouTube clips to choose from so I will quote liberally here).

But why is it a Christmas story. Well, for starters it takes place on Christmas Eve. But a lot of TV shows have their cheesy, shallow, lip service Christmas episode…why does this one stand out. Well first of all because, like most Buffy episodes it’s not cheesy or shallow.

Shallow doesn’t usually include lines like:

Look, I’m weak. I’ve never been anything else. It’s not the demon in me that needs killing, Buffy. It’s the man. […]Am I a thing worth saving, huh? Am I a righteous man? The world wants me gone!
Buffy: What about me? I love you so much… And I tried to make you go away… I killed you and it didn’t help. And I hate it! I hate that it’s so hard… and that you can hurt me so much. I know everything that you did, because you did it to me. Oh, God! I wish that I wished you dead. I don’t. I can’t.

“You’re weak. Everybody is. Everybody fails. Maybe this evil did bring you back. But if it did it’s because it needs you. And that means that you can hurt it. Angel, you have the power to do real good. To make amends. But if you die now then all that you ever were was a monster. Angel please the sun is coming up.” “Just go.”

Angel, the vampire with a soul, taunted by a tarted up version of Satan, is tempted to lose his soul…Angel instead tries to kill himself by waiting for the sun on Christmas morning. Convinced the world is a better place without someone as flawed as him. The words of his beloved Buffy cannot convince him otherwise…and that’s where that quote I put at the beginning of this blog picks up. Because, in what may be the only sign in the Buffy universe that there is a benevolent God, a Christmas miracle occurs. A freak snowstorm blotting out the sun in a California beach town that had only been in the high 70’s the day before.

Why is this a Christmas story? Because the Christmas story is one about how each of us is worthy of redemption and can make amends. It’s a message that there is good in all of us, even when we ourselves might not see the good. And it is a story about the fact that God wants us to find that good in ourselves because he definitely believes in us. And that is shown in this episode which is probably the best episode (top 5 at bare minimum) of this wonderful TV show.

 

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Best Films of Christmas #8 Ben-Hur

“And I felt his voice take the sword out of my hand.”

This is a great film in it’s own right, and the only film on this list to depict the nativity. That alone should establish its credentials as a Christmas film…but there are of course some other reasons why it should be considered a Christmas film. One of the magi as a main character, love, redemption, forgiveness and peace on earth to men of goodwill. And my favorite depiction of Christ, one where a director is not arrogant or foolish enough to try and depict him or his words by a direct shot but only trying to show his affect on those around him … (my second favorite film depiction would be the one where the Captain of the Enterprise portrayed him…but it’s a distant second.)

But this is just a great movie. Wyler shows skill that most directors could only dream of. A battle of wills in the rowing scene which could have been tedious but thanks to good direction, acting and music turns it into one of the more tense and enthralling scenes in film history. Several moments that will always make me cry …and of course the greatest action sequence in the history of film: the chariot race.

If you are not versed in classic film I will give you a really quick run down. Judean nobleman Judah Ben-Hur is betrayed by his childhood friend the Roman Tribune Messala and condemned to a Roman slave galley. He prays to God, quite sacrilegiously, that he is allowed to live to have his vengeance. God seems to constantly grant his prayer (sometimes by convenient chance, sometimes by direct intervention on the few times that Ben-Hur happens to run into Jesus). His quest for vengeance against the man who wronged him eventually and quite unintentionally turns into a path to redemption and religious conversion.

I’ve heard people critique the acting ability of Charlton Heston, for those who do I suggest they watch this movie carefully. A sense of betrayal conveyed in a slight hand gesture. A sense of peace in a look. And redemption in only a change in facial expression.

Oh, by the way, never read the book. I have seldom encountered a book as god-awfully boring as Lew Wallace’s tedious work. It’s only a few hundred pages but the pace at which it progresses would make you think it was a Russian novel.

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Greatest Films of Christmas #10 Michael

michael.jpg“I’m not that kind of angel.”

A Christmas story of an angel who fights, swears, drinks, smokes, fornicates. And he’s not too hot on suffering fools either. And he eats enough sugar at one meal to cause an army to develop Type II diabetes. But he smells like cookies….and he wants everybody to be as happy as life will allow.

Such is the improbably tale of Michael. I forever have mixed feelings over this movie…because I actually believe in the Archangel Michael, I pray for his help on a near daily basis…and I just don’t see him being such a worthless, though lovable, lout. But I have to assume that any divine being has a good sense of humor so I don’t worry too much.

“It’s a difficult case—to give a man back his heart.”

It is the story of Michael (played by John Travolta …it works for the movie) who comes back to redeem two characters Frank Quinlan (William Hurt) and Dorothy Winters (Andie MacDowell) who both work for a supermarket tabloid. Both have become cynical and cold and lost their desire to live life and love. And over the course of a long car trip to Chicago filled with a battle with a bull, the world’s largest ball of twine, the world’s largest non-stick frying pan, a few misdemeanors he shows them that they can embrace their hearts again.

It’s a Christmas story for several reasons. First off it takes place at Christmas. Snow, angels, Santa, elves, Christmas trees. All the trappings. And for the deeper reasons as well, for the fact that this is a story of love and of redemption—of learning that your guardian angel is always there for you even when you don’t see it.

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Greatest Films of Christmas #11 Christmas in Connecticut

Another great Barbara Stanwyck film. And like Meet John Doe it’s based on a newspaper woman who writes a phony column. In this case Stanwyck is Elizabeth Lane where she writes a weekly column, Smart Housekeeping, about good housekeeping based on her Connecticut farm life, child-rearing based on her experience with raising her newborn, and quality cooking based on the meals she lays out for her husband every night. Only one problem to this. She lives in a New York City high-rise; she hates farms, has no husband or child, and couldn’t cook to save her life. Other than those little things it’s a great column.

But enter a problem. The paper has just been bought out by millionaire Alexander Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet in what may be the only likable character he ever played) and Yardley has his own problem. He has been asked by a nurse to give a Navy sailor in her care a Christmas dinner experience with his favorite food columnist Elizabeth Lane. Given that this is in the middle of WWII and patriotism is at its highest, and this particular sailor nearly died after spending weeks at sea without any food (hence his love of a food column). Lane and her editor who have always had an agreement about the false nature of her column are at a loss…they can fess up that there is no home in Connecticut and get fired or…or…or….Lane can take up the marriage offer of a friend who has been asking for years, and who just so happens to have a farm in Connecticut…and they’ll bring along her friend Felix (the man who has written all the recipes for her column) so that they can cover up the fact that she can’t cook. Oh and they get a baby for the day—don’t ask—to make the charade complete.
It should come as no shock that this is a romantic comedy. It’s not particularly deep but it wonderfully tugs at the heart strings.
I can’t exactly say that beyond love it has much to actually do with any theme of Christmas….but I love this movie too much to care.

I also love this as it shows a kind-hearted rich person (and it just feels strange to see Sidney Greenstreet as someone who is jolly and friendly and not sleazy in the least). Greenstreet’s Yardley is jovial and lovable and friendly and caring. Just as I’m sure many of the 1% are.
It’s not a deep movie, but it’s a fun one and I highly recommend it if you haven’t seen it.

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Best Films of Christmas #12 Miracle on 34th Street

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“Maybe he’s only a little crazy, like painters or composers, or some of those men in Washington.”

I don’t know how “little crazy” applies to “those men in Washington” but Kris Kringle certainly isn’t crazy.

Almost from the beginning we love the old man who notices little things like how toy reindeer are ordered. And we’re not entirely sure of whether he’s not crazy or the real thing. We want to believe…but it’s a hard pill to swallow.

But then he starts the genius that is putting customer happiness above immediate profit and sending people where they can actually get what they want…which in turn leads to actually making more profit. I’m perpetually dumbfounded that this did not become standard policy for stores after this movie came out, it seems to me that it would work…after all a lot of places are showing what the prices on certain items are at competitors (even if they undercut the price)…why shouldn’t stocked items be similar.

But the great salesmanship isn’t my favorite part of the movie. Nor is seeing the only time in history where a branch of the federal government ever acted with intelligence and wisdom (in real life the post office would probably have just shot some random people). Or that when the D.A.’s son is on the witness stand. Or not (okay can we just admit this movie has a lot of great scenes and move on)… And it’s not even when Natalie Wood gets her dream house. My favorite part is when at Macy’s Kris talks to the Dutch girl who has just emigrated from war ravaged Europe. I don’t know where the writer/director found the actress who plays the Dutch girl but the face she makes when he begins talking to her in Dutch perfectly encapsulates all the joy children have at Christmas (and I think the actress playing the mother really is on the verge of crying). It’s a beautiful scene.

And again I’m struck with how different the art of the trailer was back then…

I realized I had yet to include the honorable mentions, so now is as good a time as any.

3 Godfathers: John Wayne as one of the Three Wise Men directed by John Ford. That’s about as Christmassy as it gets, what with the bank heist and death of two wise men and all…but it’s still a good movie.

While you were Sleeping: more happens around New Years than Christmas, but still an excellent Christmas time movie.

Serendipity: It begins and ends at Christmas other than that it has nothing to do with Christmas. But this story of destiny taking a strong hand in the lives of two star-crossed lovers appeals to the New Ager in me.

We’re No Angels: A Christmas movie, in the South Pacific, that’s a comedy starring Humphrey Bogart. No I’m not on any kind of hallucinogens; they actually made a movie with that improbable plot as a set up. And it has a murderous snake. Don’t ask me to explain…just go see it.

The Ref: Thematically this has nothing to do with Christmas, even if the whole movie takes place on Christmas Eve. But I love witty, dark and dry comedy.

Same reason for Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

And I actually have never been a fan of Meet Me in St. Louis as a whole…but you can’t deny how wonderful a song “Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is.

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The Best Films of Christmas #13 Meet John Doe

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“Why can’t that spirit, that warm Christmas spirit, last all year long?”

It’s kind of a Christmas film, it talks about Christmas a lot…it’s more an anti-fascist film (which in 1940—and 2011—is a relevant issue)…although I’m not a fan of Capra’s preference for socialism, not that there is any difference between the two systems other than PR (Capra’s understanding of politics was infantile at best, but after all I’m talk about a man who adds a scene into Lost Horizon that praises pacifism and appeasement as the only way for society to move forward…which for a movie made in 1937 comes off as first rate thinking…I wonder how that policy would have turned out if put into practice?)

After being fired from her job at a paper Barbara Stanwyck writes a fake letter about someone so upset with the state of the world during the depression that he will jump off city hall at Christmas in protest, signed John Doe…just when printed it will embarrass the idiot who didn’t check before publishing.  But rather than embarrassing them, it generates a massive amount of interest…so much that the paper has to hire Stanwyck back to make sure she keeps her mouth shut…and the paper decides to hire a man to pretend to be John Doe.  Enter Gary Cooper.

Now the paper that is running this story is led by a wealthy businessman who Capra has an American stand-in for Hitler/Tojo/Mussolini/ Franco.  And as they publish Gary Cooper’s picture they publish it next to an article protesting the sorry state of the world.  Capra is clever enough to put it with sometimes valid complaints but he chooses the same complaints that Hitler and Goebbels used to gain populist support in Germany:

Against businesses owning politicians, against entitlement programs not providing enough, against there not being enough free health care to the poor, that the rich had too much, that they’re not paying their fair share (I know Capra chose this list of complaints because it’s what the Nazi’s used…but it sounds very familiar, I just can’t place it, I’ll have to let it Occupy my thought for a while and maybe I’ll realize where I’ve heard this list before) until mobs of people join in protest.  Anyway let’s leave the politics behind because they quickly become a secondary theme.

In trying to get away from the pessimism of the initial campaign Stanwyck writes a speech for Cooper that deals with the positive in life.  And when drafts that rely on meaningless platitudes don’t work (although in reality just uttering meaningless phrases tends to work for a while)she decides to write a speech about caring for each other and helping each other and seeing the best in ourselves and others…and uses as its key point that this behavior is evident at Christmas.

(Notice how there is no mention of government in this speech).

The movie continues with Cooper’s character realizing he is being used for something evil.  He ends up feeling that the only way to prove that the words he said in that speech were true is by fulfilling the original John Doe letter by jumping off the building.  At the last minute he is talked out of it by Stanwyck telling him that he can recover his faith and credibility:

Please don’t give up. We’ll start all over again. Just you and I. It isn’t too late. The John Doe movement isn’t dead yet. You see, John, it isn’t dead or they wouldn’t be here. It’s alive in them. They kept it alive by being afraid. That’s why they came up here. Oh, darling!… We can start clean now. Just you and I. It’ll grow John, and it’ll grow big because it’ll be honest this time. Oh, John, if it’s worth dying for, it’s worth living for. Oh please, John… You wanna be honest, don’t ya? Well, you don’t have to die to keep the John Doe ideal alive. Someone already died for that once. The first John Doe. And he’s kept that ideal alive for nearly 2,000 years. It was He who kept it alive in them. And He’ll go on keeping it alive for ever and always – for every John Doe movement these men kill, a new one will be born. That’s why those bells are ringing, John. They’re calling to us, not to give up but to keep on fighting, to keep on pitching. Oh, don’t you see darling? This is no time to give up.

Honestly this movie has a lot more flaws than most on this list (the heavy handed politics borders on farce at times, but I’ll admit Capra had an enemy to deal with where subtlety was not called for).   But if you ignore those weaker aspects of the movie and focus on Stanwyck and Cooper it is a very moving and powerful tale.

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Best Films of Christmas #15 Remember the Night

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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 #17 Edward Scissorhands

 

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“Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it.”

Yes, it’s a little odd to have a movie that is equal parts Frankenstein and Hunchback of Notre Dame on a Christmas movie list…but like I said, there’s this odd crossover of Halloween and Christmas in movies…and this movie is simply too touching to be in the Halloween list (oh admit it, you cry when watching Winnona Ryder dance in the snow too).

Tim Burton (who despite his prominence on these lists is not by a long shot my favorite director) has a way of showing that special hell that is suburbia…one of those ways is perhaps the most atrocious color scheme for painting houses you could ever imagine. And I could probably go for quite a long time on the darker side of this film with it rather vicious, though accurate, critique of the failings of human beings and society.

But this story is bookended by scenes of a grandmother telling her granddaughter why it always snows at Christmas…and amazingly enough these rather short moments are enough to wash away all the cynicism and darkness from the movie.

You don’t realize how important the first scene with town covered in snow is until the second time you’ve watched this film, but it is subtle beauty is outdone only by the scenes of Kim dancing in the snow (I miss good actress Ryder, can we return crazy lady Ryder and get the good actress back?)

And while the vast majority of the cast is a living embodiment of the worst in humanity, symbolic of a myriad of sins ranging from lust, envy, greed, apathy, and indifference.  But there are some bright spots.

Peg, unconditionally loving, not too bright, but a wonderful mother who sees the best in people, even when there is almost nothing there to see.

The nameless Cop, who like Edward is an outsider (it’s pretty clear that is was a conscious choice by Burton that this is the only non-white actor in the cast, even among extras in the background) and is one of the few who shows true concern for Edward, first in going above and beyond in looking out for him and being the only person to ask if he was going to be all right…and again when he tried to let him escape from the society he would not be all right in.

Who wants an angel on a tree when you can have…

Kim who in many ways is the only true human of the story. Not perfect, but capable of improvement. But not a caricature of a vice or virtue. She shows us that power of love and redemption being tied together.

And of course Edward. A Quasimodo who is shown the beauty and power of love who is able to dedicate his whole life to giving the woman he loves something she enjoyed.

This group shows us some very wonderful things about the beauty of the human soul and it’s potential.

And then there’s just something about Danny Elfman’s soundtrack. Usually Elfman is good, but this soundtrack, especially at those moment meant to pull at your heart, is great.

And that is why this is one of the greatest Christmas films…

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Greatest Films of Christmas #18 Mickey’s Christmas Carol

#18 Mickey’s Christmas Carol

 

“Remember Scrooge you fashioned these memories yourself”

Mickey’s Christmas Carol is about as close as you can come to a straight retelling to the original telling of Dickens story as I can tolerate.  Probably because (1) the characters are much more exaggerated as to not really be believable…not that the original Ebenezer Scrooge wasn’t an exaggeration of the worst caricature of robber barons, a man who enjoys that he “Rob[s] from the widows and swindled the poor” but because Dickens really believed the rich were like that and treated all of his rich characters in that preposterous socialist-fantasy way. (2) Because while it is a straight re-telling (sort of) the whole thing doesn’t last that long (a blessedly short 25 minutes) …And   (3)I love Disney too much to care about any flaws this story might have.  I don’t like the original story, as it has all of Dickens’ bleakest aspects, but there is now way to not love Mickey as Bob Cratchit, Goofy as the ghost of Marley,  and Donald Duck as Scrooges nephew Fred.

And even though Uncle Scrooge is villainous (charging 80% interest…which would make most loan sharks more friendly in setting their vig) he is not completely a victim of his circumstance, unlike the character in Dickens, but as Jiminy Cricket/ The ghost of Christmas past points out that he was the one responsible for creating his life.  (Free will was never a big thing for Dickens in any of his stories).  Also, unlike the original, this Scrooge doesn’t take much convincing.  Two minutes looking at Tiny Tim and he’s already utterly concerned for the boy’s well-being.  In the real story Scrooge is only finally convinced by the fires of hell.

Now there are a lot of good things that the entire Christmas Carol story has, and I’ll deal with them later when we come to other versions of the story in our countdown of great Christmas films.  For now I will just recommend the sweetness of this short little Disney masterpiece.

mickey1

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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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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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