Monday, January 08, 2007

147. Rating Game Redux 2: Christmas Cavalcade:
On the 14th Day of Christmas ...

The following annotated lists were originally submitted to our local paper. The Best Holiday Movies appeared as a simple list with other contributors'; the Worst Holiday Movies list was not, I believe, ever published--I'm not always sure, since I do not read them in the paper, but just email them off. It's an odd arrangement, one that I only appreciate when, for instance, I'm at the bank drive-thru and the cashier recognizes me from my picture in the paper, or when I hear second-hand from my wife that someone likes the picks. Hence, "sheer egoism"--as Orwell puts it, listing the motives for writing--is satisfied without my poring over the actual printed version, scrap-booking it for those long winter nights or whatever.

In any case, here are my favorite ones, with notes added for this version:

It's a Wonderful Life As I wrote last year, the top of the heap: familiar and scary, heartwarming and edgy. A strange brew, suitable for sipping before the crackling fire--even if you don't have one.

A Christmas Story A close second (the others are not in any particular order), with enough repeated viewings by now that one can sing along, as it were, from verse to verse.

Miracle on 34th St. (1947 version) No better Santa than Edmund Gwenn. And Natalie Wood scowls perfectly, until the truth of Christmas sets her free. The movie doesn't talk down to her, but convinces in joyful increments.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (TV version) Dr. Suess' signature style (crowded twirls and precarious topographies) filtered through Chuck Jones' signature style (perched silhouettes and delicate eyelashes), with Boris Karloff adding just the right note of semi-campy bah-humbug-ness.

A Charlie Brown Christmas Like A Christmas Story's permeating Jean Shepherd references, this one is packed with in-jokes for fans of Schulz--and with some true-blue late-'60s "commercialism"-bashing, plus some straightforward religion in the middle.

Holiday Inn Its race-consciousness is typically confused--Bing Crosby's black housekeeper profit-shares in the Holiday Inn while Bing does Lincoln's Birthday in blackface--but the Christmas and New Year's segments are postcard-perfect evocations of middle-class ideals. A nostalgia-piece set to (gratifyingly familiar) music.

Joyeux Noel A new favorite from 2005. Recounting the moment when Scottish, French and German soldiers emerged from their respective foxholes to spend Christmas together--and then catch hell for it later from their respective superiors--this movie allows you to wallow guilt-free in poignancy and aching sentiment--because it all happened, and one can let life break one's heart with joy and pity every once in a while. At least once a year.

A Christmas Carol (1951) Like Miracle on 34th St.'s Gwenn, this version soars with its lead. Alastair Sim's Scrooge is a sight to behold: He giggles--in both despair and uncontained glee--with such force that I cannot help giggling along with him, feeling my own feet hanging on the constant brink of Scrooge's losses. Sim makes Scrooge not an anomaly but ourselves, as ready to blame the past to excuse our present--and ruin our future. And just as ready, one hopes, to share our way out of doom.

The Nightmare Before Christmas OK, so it's just as much--maybe more--a Halloween movie (my middle daughter did watch it October 31). But just when I'm ready to suffocate beneath Christmas fluff, Tim Burton and Henry Selick toss a shrunken head in our laps, until ho-ho-ho and boo! sound happily alike.

The Homecoming I have not seen this for many years, but you wouldn't even be interested in this kind of list if you didn't agree with me that the Waltons knew how to be, well, the Waltons. And this Waltons' Christmas is as good as the '70s '30s-craze gets.

The paper also asked for the 3 Worst Holiday Movies. I avoided most recent big-budget ones for the true non-believers:

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) Almost too easy: goofy B-movie camp? Don't get your hopes up. It's a generally flat, slightly queasy attempt at a "spoof." Pia Zadora’s film debut, if that matters any more.

Eight Crazy Nights (2002) Punch-Drunk Love is Adam Sandler's best movie because it offers reasons to feel sorry for someone so damaged all he can manage is contempt, which is what Sandler seems to feel for his audience. Why else would he insist we share his obsession with anything that can be spewed out of bodily orifices, including heartless words? Somewhere in this sticky mess is Hanukah, the poor thing.

It Happened One Christmas (1977) Not a charitable pick, because it really isn't a "bad" movie, just a redundant one. Marlo Thomas' charms aside, there is no need to re-make It's a Wonderful Life, one of the best Holiday movies of all time. But that's for another list. [See above.]

I am now finished with painfully long-gone holidays. And please believe me: I'm happier about it than you are.

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