Top Ten Holiday Movies

Bob Siegel Bob Siegel 8 Comments

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Written by Bob Siegel and published originally by Washington Times Communities. Used by Permission

San Diego, December 9, 2011 – Looking forward to curling up around the TV with loved ones to enjoy any one of those countless classic holiday films? Having trouble deciding which one to watch first? Well be of good cheer and keep the faith. Your ol’ pal Bob has carried the day. I’ll navigate you through that holiday section of the video store or Netflix site while avoiding the land mines and finishing with a bag of picks full of favorite flicks.

Before we get to the reviews themselves, I realize that the suspense here is just about killing you, so let’s cut right to the bone. First, my Top Ten List. Then, my explanations. Some of these will not surprise you at all. Others on the list are debatable indeed. Many will take issue with me. Just remember to be kind. It is the holiday season after all.

Bob’s Highly Recommended Top 10 Holiday Videos

1. It’s A Wonderful Life

2. Miracle on 34th Street

3. Scrooge (Musical Version)

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas

5. How The Grinch Stole Christmas

6. A Christmas Story

7. The Santa Clause

8. The Santa Clause 2

9. Jingle All the Way

10. Home Alone

Obvious Question One: Why did I not pick the favorite classic of many, White Christmas?

Although I can objectively admit that this was a well-made, spectacular production with a talented cast, personally I just didn’t like it very much. How’s that for blatant honesty?

A good musical to be sure, White Christmas simply doesn’t do anything for me over the holidays. Besides, the song, White Christmas is one of my least favorite Christmas carols. Not that it’s a bad song. The melody is actually quite nice and Bing Crosby sang this Irving Berlin composition as well as anyone possibly could. Still, the tune is overdone and plays on the radio far too frequently, often with jazzed up versions that mess with the tempo and change the melody line, massacring the piece altogether. This makes my Christmas a little less merry.

True, deadpan versions of the song are not the fault of the movie itself.  But what can I say? A bad taste has been left in my mouth. Sometimes a film can be good but is still not our own cup of tea.  If you love White Christmas, please realize that no harm is really being done here. After all, White Christmas is on everyone else’s movie list. But for me to place a film on my own sacred scroll, I must be able to actually enjoy the thing whether it was good or not.

Obvious Question Two: Do you have any favorites that did not make your Top Ten list?

Yes, Disney’s Babes in Toyland. It was delightful, brilliant, horrible and stupid, all at the same time. This means it’s good enough for me to personally enjoy but terrible enough to quarantine it from my Top Ten List. I’ll explain the good and the bad vibes of Babes in Toyland in Part Two.

Obvious Question Three: Do you have a list of the worst Christmas movies?

Oh yes!  Thank you for asking! Can you sense that I am salivating right now? However (and this is really important) although many awful holiday movies have been released, the few I personally hate are so bad, they deserve to be highlighted in isolation. Therefore, this will not be much of a list.

The absolute worst Christmas movie ever made was How The Grinch Stole Christmas. I refer to Ron Howard’s remake of the Dr. Seuss animated classic. You will notice that the original version made my Top Ten List. This means I feel as much admiration for the television classic as I feel contempt for the remake.

The other worst (and many will disagree with me) is Elf.

I will elaborate on both movies in tomorrow’s Part Two.

OK. I let the cat out of the bag. Now you know the favorites and the least-favorites of your ol’ pal Bob (as if this has been keeping you up at nights).

The reasons behind my Top Ten List:

NOTE: The more familiar the movie, the less I felt I needed to spend time explaining myself.

1-2. It’s A Wonderful Life/Miracle on 34th Street

I gave the number one spot to Wonderful Life but it’s really closer to a photo finish. Both movies deserve the status of “classic.” They are not only the best Christmas movies of all time; they are among the best movies of all time, period!  I’m not sure any comments are necessary for films that so obviously exist in the stratosphere, but I will make one observation about fantasy in general. When dealing with far-fetched stories such as Santa Claus or angels sending people into alternate time realities, the writing and acting becomes even more crucial. If we don’t accept the people, we do not believe in their fantastic tale either. Both movies were cleverly written and expertly performed by actors who breathed real life into the characters.

3. Scrooge (Musical Version)

Excellent acting and well written dialogue, true to the style of the original Dickens classic and filled out with pleasant musical numbers, which enhance, rather than take away from the story. The style of music and street choreography may remind you of the film musical, Oliver. Added dialogue includes a more detailed look at the many paupers who owe Scrooge money and the very clever twist of Scrooge finding himself in hell, (courtesy of the ghost of Christmas Future, of course).

SIDE NOTE: I do not let a Christmas go by anymore without watching this movie. Although most professional reviews praised the acting and gave obligatory kudos to the Dickens story itself, I was disappointed to see many critics unhappy with the songs (composed by Leslie Bricusse who also did Willy Wonka) Some labeled the music as “bad to mediocre” and I couldn’t disagree more. If you have read such reviews, do yourself a favor and ignore them. Oh certainly, in any musical there will be one or two pieces that you could have done without, but most of the score is excellent. From the extremely clever and fun number, “Thank You Very Much” to the sweet melodic “Happiness”, Scrooge, the Musical should take its place with the greats and perhaps will someday. Remember, there was a time when It’s A Wonderful Life was considered a flop too.

4. A Charlie Brown Christmas

Come on! It’s Charlie Brown!  Need we say more?

5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Please do not confuse this annual, animated television gem with that Milk Dud Jim Carrey gave us under the direction of Ron Howard. Dr. Seuss was a genius. As for Dr. Howard? Well, he’s normally a decent director but if any genius lurks inside, it hibernated as he marched to the parade of remakes. Never mind. My critique for Ron Howard’s version comes up later. For now, try to pretend that movie was never produced and instead make sure you never let a Christmas pass without seeing the real story. It is as fun as it is charming.

6. A Christmas Story

Not as heartwarming as some of the others, but for over three decades now, people have absolutely loved it. Set in the forties, the story nevertheless looks and feels quite familiar to anyone who remembers what it was like to grow up with a typical mom, a temperamental dad, and a generic bully. By the way, am I alone in this or is Ralphie just about the funniest looking kid ever to show his little mug on the screen? He’s perfect for the part. The adult narrations blended with Ralphie’s dopey expressions were undoubtedly an inspiration for television’s The Wonder Years.

7. The Santa Clause

A unique idea and fresh take on the Santa Claus legend. This time, we learn that Santa Claus is actually the title of an office to be filled. When one Santa dies, another takes his place. The movie would not have worked without the subtle but piercing wit of Tim Allen. His timing and facial mannerisms are priceless.

8. The Santa Clause 2

Normally I hate sequels with a passion. This movie was an exception and for a very important reason; There really was a new story to tell! The producers (for a change) chose not to retread Movie One. As a matter of fact, although its predecessor was a good movie, The Santa Clause 2 is a GREAT MOVIE! I ranked it after One only because the originality of the premise owes everything to the first chapter.

Elizabeth Mitchell (known today for her intriguing roles on Lost and V) was very convincing as a stuffy, but three-dimensional High School principal who falls in love with Tim Allen.  Who would have thought that in the midst of talking animals, plastic giant toy villains and flying sleighs, a movie could be so convincingly romantic?  This is another verification to what I said above: If we believe the actors, we believe the entire film.

Oh yes. While we are on the subject, I guess I should say something about The Santa Claus 3. It was as bad as 2 was good, everything one fears in a cookie cutter sequel and much, much more. How’s this for an original premise? Santa works too hard and doesn’t spend enough time with his wife! Wow! Where oh where have we ever witnessed a fresh angle like that?  The North Pole is also visited by his in-laws, and (hold on to your seats) they don’t get along! (Oh, my sides!)

This pathetic send up includes a lame attempt to mix the It’s A Wonderful Life theme with Chris Kringle. Supposing Scott Calvin had never become Santa Claus? Just how depressing would life be up in the North Pole?  The blend worked about as well as juicy, sirloin steak with peanut butter. The only bright spot is Martin Short, hilarious as the evil Jack Frost who wants to replace Santa Claus. I won’t say Short saved the movie. Not even Jesus Himself could save this movie. But Short does get a good deal of screen time, so this may be worth watching…ONCE. Still, all in all, it stinks like one of those funky animals inhabiting the rebel ice planet Hoth; you know, like the one Han Solo thought smelled bad on the outside until he opened it up with a Light Saber.

9. Jingle All the Way

I can’t call Schwarzenegger a bad actor any more. After all, he fooled us into thinking he was a Republican when he ran for Governor, a genuine Academy Award caliber performance.

Anyway, this movie is so nutty and so zany, and so outrageous and so impossible, and so unbelievable, IT ACTUALLY WORKS, bad acting and all! Just seeing one hundred crooked Santas (led by Jim Belushi) dog pile on top of Arnold makes the whole outing worth it. It’s also fun to watch the Governater being laughed at by two smug store clerks who treat him like an imbecile, simply because he didn’t know it was too late to buy a Turbo Man for his son.

“Where have you been? Turbo Man is only the hottest action toy ever! Duh!”

At this point, Schwarzenegger grabs them both by the collar, lifts them into the air and says, “Where’s your Christmas spirit?”

Full of repeat watchability, I laugh out loud every single time!

10. Home Alone

I do love this movie, even though it was very overrated when it first came out. Would you be amazed to learn this was once the highest grossing film of all time? The premise is also far-fetched and difficult to swallow, but Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern brighten things up as the film’s bumbling villains. Normally I do not care for slapstick but it works well here. Also, (at the expense of sounding like a sentimental mush pot), I cannot watch the old man reconcile with his family without getting teary eyed. I know! I know! I sound like George Costanza on Seinfeld!

John Williams wrote a beautiful score, which helps us forget the obvious elephant in the room: Macaulay Culkin cannot act!

No matter. Everyone else in the movie is quite good.  Even Culkin is effective in one scene, walking through his lonely neighborhood, looking earnestly through decorated windows, watching families gather for Christmas Eve and feeling left out, as we listen to the modern but worthy Williams carol, Somewhere In My Memory.

It’s ironic that this review follows Jingle All the Way. Schwarzenegger, by comparison to Culkin, comes across like Laurence Olivier. Still worth watching every year!

P.S. As I type right now on my laptop, the coffee shop is playing Christmas music. I am listening to Barbara Streisand’s version of Jingle Bells and it is reminding me of something painful: Although I do not have a Top Ten List of Worst Christmas Songs, this one would be absolutely, positively on the very highest pinnacle. Indeed, it could not possibly be higher. I actually like Babs as a singer and I even own a few of her CDs. But her version of Jingle Bells? Oh…Let’s see….How about if I just mercifully drop the subject?

For reviews of other holiday movies, the worst and the mediocre, see Part Two coming up in San Diego Rostra.

Bob Siegel is a Christian apologist who also has a theater background. In addition to his theology education, he graduated San Jose State University with a B.A. in Theater Arts and has written over 14 original plays, including the award winning, Eternal Reach.

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Comments 8

  1. Thank you for this thorough and excellent discussion.

    In the most compelling scene of “It’s a Wonderful
    Life”, Jimmy Stewart”s character is permitted to see
    what his home town would look like if Stewart had
    NEVER LIVED.

    He witnesses a wide-open corrupt ugly city dominated
    by criminals, something out of Dante’s Inferno. Most
    heart-breaking he literally bumps into the woman who
    is his wife (Donna Reed). She is miserably unhappy,
    and does not recognize Jimmy Stewart’s character.

    Humbled, Stewart realizes he DID make a difference and
    should stop feeling sorry for himself. He is then allowed
    to return to his real, and wonderful life.

    Everyone who has ever seen this Film wonders, “Has
    MY life made a difference, and has that difference helped
    my family, friends and community?” That is a cathartic
    process, and it is the essential genius of this Film.

  2. Two of those horrible Tim Allen movies but no mention of Die Hard, one of the ultimate Christmas films? Balderdash, I say.

  3. Post
    Author

    Die Hard is an action movie. Just because it takes place at Christmas time, that doesn’t make it a Christmas movie. With that kind of logic, Eyes Wide Shut should be labeled a Christmas movie too.

  4. Post
    Author

    Perhaps, But Mark Bubien, a film critic who comes on my radio show often really listed Eyes Wide Shut as a Christmas movie. Full Metal Jacket too. He was serious. So you never know:)

  5. I, and many friends, seriously consider Die Hard to be a Christmas movie.

    Yes, it has action elements. But it also contains the serious interpersonal elements of a father on the outs, seeking redemption with his wife and children. The kind of redemption the Christmas and holiday spirit bring.

    He’s challenged by a gauntlet of bad guy terrorists (Namely Hans Gruber. the Grinch of this story) before he can finally get home and re-earn the love of his wife and kids. Whom he’d blown it with earlier due to work and boozing.

    If that’s not a feel good Christmas tale I don’t know what is.

  6. Post
    Author

    Fair enough. To each his own. Just as long as they don’t start selling Christmas ornaments that look like a Bruce Willis action figure.

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