No question, Christmas was my favorite holiday during my youth. What is not to love about a treasure trove of carefully wrapped gifts sitting underneath a Douglas Fir Christmas tree, peppered with blinking lights and dozens of handmade ornaments made from past art classes, right? My family was not particularly religious, but we thought of the holiday as a blessing, a rare glimpse of warmth during a long, blustery Upstate New York winter.
Today, as a bachelor, I admit that – these days - Christmas is not too much more than a small, pleasant diversion. With 330 days of sunshine a year, Dec. 25 is not a needed glimmer of comfort, but instead, a day off and a nice excuse to visit a crowded cineplex to watch three new movies back-to-back-to-back. I would not exactly claim that “Bah! Humbug!” frequents my vocabulary, but I am less celebratory of the day than most Americans.
Having said that, my favorite Christmas movies will probably not differ too much from yours, but I certainly had to pull down some cobwebs to jog my memory. It’s been a while. Perhaps I will watch some of these on Christmas Day 2017, but – quite frankly - I’d love to see “I, Tonya” again and catch “All the Money in the World” and even “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” in busy movie theatres.
5. “Scrooged” (1988) – This updated take on “A Christmas Carol” features Bill Murray as Frank Cross, a miserable television executive whose station is broadcasting a live showing of the aforementioned famed story on Christmas Eve. Frank’s selfish, unapologetic persona rubs everyone the wrong way, and for his bad energy-efforts, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future visit him in an attempt to change his ways. No, this is not the most regal version of “A Christmas Carol”, but Murray’s sardonic humor is fun to watch. Shades of his “Saturday Night Live” lounge singer act nicely appear in the third act, and Carol Kane’s take on the Ghost of Christmas Present is priceless too.
4. “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) – Sure, “A Christmas Carol” has been repurposed about 1,000,006 times (See # 5), but not like this. Director Brian Henson spins a charming version of the story - Muppet-style - in his feature film debut. Henson perfectly casts Michael Caine as Scrooge, and the talented actor faces the Muppet-ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. For good measure, his old business partners Jacob and Robert Marley are played by those cranky old men from the theatre balcony, Waldorf and Statler. Much of the fun is anticipating which Muppets will play the famous Dickens characters, so I will not give away any more secrets. If you have young kids, this movie should be their first experience with “A Christmas Carol”, but there is a very good chance that you will enjoy it even more.
3. “Bad Santa” (2003) – Department store Santas have been inadvertently scaring little children for years. Well, it’s probably due to their long grey beards, but I digress. On the other hand, children and adults of all ages should feel apprehensive of Willie (Billy Bob Thornton), who is one of the very worst Santas in recorded history. This belligerent thief with massive drinking and manners problems, uses his Kris Kringle alter ego as a cover to perform larcenies. When he is not arguing with his business partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), and a dim kid who follows him around, Willie forms a romantic relationship with Sue (Lauren Graham) who possess a Santa fetish. This Rated-R comedy is not for kids, but this film proudly features one of Thornton’s most memorable roles and 91 minutes of offensive hilarity.
2. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) – Frank Capra’s classic is not exactly a Christmas movie, but since its long-standing holiday season run on television and, of course, the picture’s ending, this wonderful Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed vehicle fits the bill. All-around good guy George Bailey (Stewart) always plays by the rules, but due to a simple mistake by his Uncle Billy, the family’s loan company faces dire consequences. George contemplates suicide, but an angel named Clarence cleverly attempts to change his mind. Led by Stewart’s and Reed’s earnest performances and Capra’s hand in capturing the beauty of everyday moments, “It’s a Wonderful Life” blooms with humanity and good feelings. The dance/swimming pool scene is a perfect example of a hundred smile-inducing moments.
1. “A Christmas Story” (1983) – Mother and Old Man Parker (Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin) make every attempt to deliver a warm, memorable Christmas for their kids, Ralphie and Randy, but director Bob Clark’s film breaks many holiday movie rules that existed at that time, because their efforts were also laced with daily dysfunction. Designed warts and all, the picture paints a comedic and relatable winter wonderland, complete with Randy’s obnoxious snowsuit, an impatient department store elf, the infamous leg lamp, and much, much more. This particular critic saw “A Christmas Story” in a movie theatre in 1983, and looking back 34 years, one can easily see that its style paved the way for countless TV series and films, like “Malcom in the Middle” (2000 – 2006) and the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.