In this season of peace and rejoice, I thought I would highlight some perennial Christmas classics that band us together in the holiday spirit as well as the other clunkers that cause us to depressingly retreat to our corners.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – The perennial classic that people have embraced more and more with age. How can it now grow more timeless when it is about a man who realizes that the world would have been a much worse place without him? Realizing that gives us all something to aspire to in our lives.
A Christmas Story (1983) – There is no funnier or more accurate film that captures the child we were at one point when we had an unwavering fixation on receiving a particular gift and nothing else. It is even better because the gift he wants – a BB rifle – has every adult around him fearing it will destroy their peace if he shoots his eye out. And the movie stands above similar counterparts because it actually brings out the importance of family amidst the whirlwind of materialism.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – His friends may call him a "blockhead" and say he can’t decorate a Christmas tree right but actually Charlie Brown is one of the smartest in the Peanuts bunch for going through the pain of asking what Christmas is really all about. Perhaps my personal favorite holiday film (despite it being a TV special rather than a feature), if only for the climactic moment where Linus drops his security blanket and steps forward to tell whose birthday Christmas really is.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – In a way, this movie plays as an inside-out contrast to It’s a Wonderful Life because it is about an old man who is thought to be insane because he is willing to be the real Santa Claus and bring unusual and uncommon generosity to children. It also exposes the materialistic culture for all its bah-humbug worth while reminding us that we all need our childhood fantasies from time to time to carry through the stresses of life.
An Affair to Remember (1957) – This movie covers the romance field of Christmas and how frustrating it is not to spend it with the one you’re destined to be with. It is also the most emotional time (or entertaining fun) you will have in seeing what difficult contortions fate puts through these two lovers that we know should be together from the beginning.
A Christmas Carol (1951) – This one still stands as the best adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic with Alastair Sim giving an Ebenezer Scrooge with no cinematic equal. Being about how a cynic transforms into a better person, the story stands as one of the best kind of realist feel-good movies despite the fantastical elements that aid the hero.
The Recent Hits:
Catch Me If You Can (2002) – This is more of a caper but underneath is a story of a runaway whose closest encounters at Christmas time are his close-calls with his pursuer. It is a nice boot that the pursuer becomes like a parental figure for his young suspect and that builds to a movie that celebrates the hero’s brazenness over his criminal behavior.
Elf (2003) – Who thought the crazy comedian Will Ferrell could mold himself into an elf-like character? I certainly didn’t until I saw this movie that redirects Ferrell’s relentless antics into unassuming cheerfulness.
Love Actually (2003) – A movie that takes the feeling of being with the one you love for Christmas and multiplies it by eight. That builds to a joyous medley of heartfelt confessions of romantic feelings, unrequited or not, with a few disappointments along the way from seeing a few of them misguided or misdirected.
The Polar Express (2004) – Despite the unintentionally haunting look of motion-capture in general, Robert Zemeckis’ expanded cinematic telling of the children’s book survives the trappings and reinforces the need for children to behave well. It also perhaps presents Santa and his elves in a more organized fashion than any other film.
Love Affair (1994) – This movie is actually a remake of An Affair to Remember and, though not quite as good as the original, it stands on its own for the distinct ways it plays with destiny not only bringing these two lovers together but heartily approving of them. One is the lush cinematography that seems like a sneaky angel to unite these two lovers and the other is Katharine Hepburn, who plays the wise aunt through which the woman sees the true gentlemanly qualities of the man and truly loves rather than just likes him.
Jingle All the Way (1996) – Here is a movie that shows how being relentlessly materialistic is nothing more than plain idiotic. It looks like Schwarzenegger is trying to make his action-hero persona more accessible to kids by turning himself into a flying-toy action figure. Get the joke? I didn’t either.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) – In the world of movies that get you in the bah-humbug spirit, this one would reign supreme. Why? Because it makes the hideous creature effects of the Grinch outshine Dr. Seuss’ veiled social commentary, which proves that technical wizardry, when not needed, can detract from real insight.
All I Want for Christmas (1991) – How sad that a movie that tries to embrace family values is also so insipidly inane. We already know that the divorced parents should have never split. The children know it, the grandmother knows it, and the parents can’t deny it. So there is no conflict to worry about and there is no need for a movie about them.
Surviving Christmas (2004) – Wow, get the irony of this situation: a man who wants to literally buy back the childhood he missed. This one sounds like something out of Class 101 of self-destructing story premises. No wonder they released this sucker back in October so that people would forget about it by Christmas time.
Christmas with the Kranks (2004) – Talk about forcing the Christmas décor down people’s throats. I don’t know who got the idea that neighbors would gang up on you when you decided to skip Christmas, but if the world ever became as tyrannically bankrupt as this neighborhood, I would pack up my bags and choose to live in Mars.
So feel free to heed the recommendations and have a Merry Christmas!