Saturday, December 17, 2011

Top Ten Christmas Movies

It’s that time of year when AMC has “White Christmas” on a constant loop, which might account for the fact that I believe that movie has a running time of about 28 hours. But it made me think -- if I ran a movie channel, which Ten Christmas movies would I put into rotation this time of year? (Sadly, not on the list is The Hebrew Hammer -- mostly because I haven’t seen it, so I couldn’t consider it.) Without further ado, the Top Ten Christmas movies.

10. The Ref. 1994. Starring Dennis Leary, Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey.

This movie could have been better. It should have been better. And yet, it still contains enough despair, enmity, sarcasm, dysfunction and general shittiness to make the cut. This was back before Dennis Leary annoyed me with those ubiquitous Ford commercials, 'natch.
"From now on, the only person who gets to yell is me. Why? Because I have a gun. People with guns get to do whatever they want. Married people without guns - for instance - you - DO NOT get to yell. Why? NO GUNS! No guns, no yelling. See? Simple little equation."

9. Scrooged. 1988. Starring Bill Murray, Carol Kane, and David Johansen.

It’s a weakness -- a weakness I have for Bill Murray. Also for Carol Kane. And for the New York Dolls. [Do yourself a favor and check out that embedded link.] So there ya go. And I love the original Dickens tale, but I’m not a fan of any of the movie versions. They play up Tiny Tim (the weak link of A Christmas Carol, in my opinion) and don't spend enough time on the specters (not Phil Spector, mind you.) Which is why this modern, American take, with Bill Murray, Carol Kane and David Johansen is my favorite telling of this timeless story.
"Let's face it, Frank. Garden slugs got more out of life than you."

8. The Bishop’s Wife. 1947. Starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven.

What can I say? I also have a weakness for Cary Grant. And do you know why I have a weakness for Cary Grant? Because I have eyes. [Sadly, there are no Christmas/Sports movies on this list -- but Young and Grant do go ice-skating in this movie.] It's a little sentimental, it's a little sappy, it's even a wee cornball -- hey Cary Grant plays an angel named Dudley -- it's just so sweet that I get suckered in every time.
“Ah, I am at my most serious when I am joking.”

7.  Frozen River. 2008. Starring Melissa Leo.

Uplifting? Um, not so much. But c’mon. How much Christmasy treacle can one person really handle? Sometimes you need to get down and dirty and just flat out depressed. If this story of two working-poor, desperate single-mothers getting drawn into the world of smuggling humans across the border via the frozen water of the St. Lawrence River a couple of days before Christmas doesn't depress you, then you should really have yourself checked out by a psychiatric professional.

Great quotes? Again, not so much. But you can escape the forced phony cheer of Christmas for a couple of hours. Sneak out on the family with a bottle of your favorite hooch (and your favorite cousin) and pop this into Netflix.

6.  A Christmas Story. 1983. Starring Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin.

Yeah, I know it’s on television like all the damned time. But the relationships between Ralphie and his parents always make me laugh. And if nothing else, this movie is worth watching just for the lamp.
“Get the glue.”
“We’re out of glue.”
“You used up all the glue on purpose!”

5.  The Bells of St. Mary’s. 1947. Starring Ingrid Bergman and Bing Crosby.

I have a soft spot for nuns, having been educated by the Sisters of St. Joseph from K-12. Some amazing women, they were. It’s predictable, it’s hokey, it’s full of Christmas miracles and people doing the right thing, nuns teaching youngins' to box, and, last but not least, it’s got Ingrid Bergman (Ingrid Berman! for the love of god) as Sr. Mary Benedict. And yet, I love it.
“If we don't fail sometimes, our successes don't mean anything. You must be strong.”

4.  Bad Santa. 2003. Starring Billy Bob Thornton, John Ritter and Bernie Mac.

Not for the kiddies. It’s rude, it’s obnoxious, it's raunchy and it's disgusting; it doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Yet it is hilarious. 'Bad Santa' is to Christmas movies what 'The Hangover' is to buddy movies. [Also, neither Bernie Mac nor John Ritter lived too much longer after making this. If I were Billy Bob Thornton, I'd be on the lookout for falling safes.]

Too many great quotes to choose from:
“How much lettuce do you want?”
“I boned a lot of fat chicks in my day, sure. But as far back as I remember, I never fornicated anybody.”
“F*ck me, Santa! F*ck me, Santa! F*ck me, Santa.”

3.  Christmas in Connecticut. 1945. Starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Syndey Greenstreet.

And now we get into the old-timey movies, which, admittedly, are my favorite. But let me say -- Sydney Greenstreet -- Sydney Effing Greenstreet!? What the hell is Sydney Greenstreet doing in a fluffy, fun Christmas movie? Ah, it just makes it all the better to have the arch-villian from 'The Maltese Falcon' show up here. With Christmas charm and screwball sensibilities, Stanwyck and S.Z. Sakall as Felix Bassenak (the real cook behind her dinner), play off each other beautifully.
“Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink.”

2.  The Man Who Came to Dinner.  1942. Starring Bette Davis, Monty Wooley, Ann Sheridan and, wait for it … Jimmy Durante!

Though few stars ever burned as brightly as Davis, this is Monty Wooley's show, as well as the scene stealing Durante. Wooley ends up staying in a small town (in Ohio, I think) and kinda, sorta ruins their Christmas with his larger than life persona. He's a complete panic. 'The Man Who Came to Dinner' is light on the Christmas and big on the silliness and frivolity.
“My great aunt Jennifer ate a whole box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be 102 and when she'd be dead three days she looked better than you do now!"

1.  It’s a Wonderful Life. 1946. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore.

I had to put it there. I still love this movie after all this time, with Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart singing 'Buffalo Girls', Clarence and George making their way through the dystopic Bedford Falls, Lionel Barrymore seething with greed and hubris, and Frank Capra's heart. Regardless of the fact that I'm curmudgeonly and cranky and dystopic myself, there's still something in me that loves Capra movies and his world-view, evident clearly in this movie (as well as 'Meet John Doe,' ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington’ and ‘Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.') All evidence to the contrary, I love that Capra keeps asserting, time and again, that the little guy  sometimes does triumph, that fame and fortune and power are false gods, ultimately empty and unsatisfying, that there are big victories in small moments, that there is real dignity to living a good life. This movie has never been more timely than it is right now, as the gap between rich and poor grows exponentially every day and the middle class is MIA. Fight the power, Mr. Capra. Fight the power.

Somewhere, deep down in my heart, I still believe that the George Baileys of the world are what makes life worth living. If that makes me a sucker, well, so be it.
“You... you said... what'd you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they're so old and broken down that they... Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr. Potter, that this rabble you're talking about... they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath? Anyway, my father didn't think so. People were human beings to him. But to you, a warped, frustrated old man, they're cattle. Well in my book, my father died a much richer man than you'll ever be!”

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