Apologies to the Monty Python troop for plagiarizing the title, but rather than talk about the Astros, today’s post will be Christmas themed. So without further adieu and whether you are interested or not, here are Dan P’s Top 10 Christmas movies of all time with a bonus of 10 more honorable mentions.
#1 It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). It is a wonderful story with a wonderful twist to it. But what makes the movie is a Tour de Force performance by my favorite all-time actor, Jimmy Stewart. Rarely will you ever see an actor cover the whole spectrum of emotions in a role from happiness to anger, from total despair through cynicism to total joy? Frederick March won the Oscar for a top turn in The Best Years of Our Lives, but Jimmy Stewart was robbed.
#2 Christmas Vacation (1989). Sure it can be a little heavy-handed with over the top slapstick humor, but this is the first movie we slap on the DVD player every Christmas season and then proceed to recite our favorite lines before they pop up in the movie. Great ensemble cast with Chevy Chase, cute as a button Beverly D’Angelo, goofy Randy Quaid and the grandparents – E.G. Marshall, Diane Ladd, John Randolph and Doris Roberts. Do you recognize Chevy’s son Johnny Galecki, who played Leonard on Big Bang Theory? This one’s for every dad who struggled to have a top-notch Christmas for his dysfunctional family.
#3 A Christmas Story (1983). Though we did not all grow up in 1940 Indiana, most of us had a Christmas where we wanted something special and suffered the angst of possibly not getting it. Filled with memorable, nostalgic scenes, the standout players are Darren McGavin as the dad who can string quasi-obscenities that don’t have to be bleeped out and the narration by Jean Shepherd, who wrote the stories on which the movie is based. If Shepherd’s voice sounds familiar, perhaps you have heard him as the main narrator and character at Disney World’s Carousel of Progress.
#4 A Christmas Carol (1951). There are many versions of the Christmas Carol, but one of the most definitive was this English version starring Alastair Sim. Known mostly for his comedic roles in the UK, he brings all facets of Ebenezer Scrooge to life from nasty to joyfully goofy. The cast is filled with terrific English character actors and the story though well known to most is well told here.
#5 Home Alone (1990). One of the greatest times I’ve had in my life was going to see this movie in the theater with 20 family members. We were rolling in the aisles and perhaps it is a statement on us humans that we were rolling in the aisles over the pain and suffering of other human beings. McCauley Caulkin is perfectly cast as the brat who grows up a bit and who could make better “Wet Bandits” than Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern? Like #2 above, the script was by the late, great John Hughes.
#6 Miracle on 34th St. (1947). A very clever and modern tale for the 1940’s that deals with a single mom and driven career woman (Maureen O’Hara) who has become cynical and has passed that cynicism on to her precocious child (Natalie Wood). This is all challenged when Edmund Gwynn enters the story as the real Santa Claus or someone who at least believes he is the real Santa Claus. A classic movie to the very end.
#7 Elf (2007). Will Ferrell can be what we might call an acquired taste, but the story of the orphaned boy raised as an elf, who goes in search of his real father (the curmudgeonly James Caan) is a lot of fun. With good turns from Bob Newhart as his surrogate father elf, Ed Asner as Santa and Mary Steenburgen as his step-mom along with a young Zooey Deschanel as the love interest.
#8 The House Without a Christmas Tree (1972). OK, this is a TV movie, but it is an excellent one starring Lisa Lucas as an only child who wants to bring Christmas back into the house. Jason Robards is spot-on as her melancholy father, who has not recovered from the loss of his wife. Mildred Natwick as the grandmother we all wished we had and Kathryn Walker as the teacher we wished our kids and grandkids had are both excellent in this teleplay. Note: This was the first in a series of four movies starring the same folks, followed by The Thanksgiving Treasure, The Easter Promise and Addie and the King of Hearts.
#9 The Family Stone (2005). This one will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m a sucker for movies about family dysfunction having been a veteran of many wars. A terrific cast fills out the family and significant others with Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Dylan McDermott, Sara Jessica Parker, Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Clare Danes. There is humor, drama, sadness and some very uncomfortable conversations especially for the outsider, Parker, but as Beverly D’Angleo said in movie #2 “…it’s Christmas and we are all in misery.”
#10 Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962). An animated TV show, that fits the movie genre for me due to its length (almost an hour) and makes the top 10 list due to the music. Jim Backus does a good reading as Mr. Magoo playing Scrooge and you may recognize Jack Cassidy (Bob Cratchit), who was most famous as the father of David and Shaun Cassidy, but the music makes this special…special. The score is by Broadway veterans Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, who also collaborated on Funny Girl, and really drives the story. Styne also did the music for other plays such as Gypsy, while Merrill is best known for writing hits in the 50’s, like “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” and “Honeycomb”.
The following in no particular order are 10 Honorable Mentions:
Jingle All the Way (1996). I know it is pretty lowly rated, but some of the humor, especially from Sinbad as the going postal postman and Phil Hartman as the smarmy divorced dad/neighbor are pretty enjoyable.
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). It is not a true “Christmas” movie as it follows the Smith family through the year leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair, but any film with Judy Garland comforting her little sister, Margaret O’Brien by singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas gets my Honorable Mention vote. Besides it is nice to see a functional family after all the “dys” above.
Home Alone 2 (1992). This was not as good as the original (this is not Godfather II), but it still had plenty of good laughs with even more severe human destruction. With the same cast as before, plus a pitch-perfect snobby concierge role by Tim Curry.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). This is a unique animated film. Is it a Christmas movie? Is it a Halloween movie? It is a bit of both and a feast for the eyes. It stars the voice talents of Chris Sarandon and Catherine O’Hara (from the movie right above this one). Jack Skellington’s singing voice is by Danny Elfman, who also composed the music for the movie as he has done for most of Tim Burton’s movies and famously, for The Simpsons.
The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992). Michael Caine was an inspired choice for playing Scrooge and then you add in all your favorite Muppet characters and this is a fun ride of a movie. Coming two years after Jim Henson’s untimely death, this movie was directed by his son, Brian.
The Santa Clause (1994). Be careful in life. If you accidentally kill off Santa you get to take his place. That is the basis for this silly movie starring Tim Allen and Judge Reinhold.
A Christmas Wish (2011). Yes, it is one of those “Hallmark” Christmas movies, but it is one with a lot of heart and a better story to it. Think “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” with a little less grit and no Kris Kristofferson. It stars Kristy Swanson and Edward Hermann and is a lot less sweet and more real than the normal Hallmark movies.
Love Actually (2003). This is not quite my cup of tea, but it is on the list because folks I know love it. It is from the folks who made Notting Hill, which is one of my favorites and carries a top-notch cast featuring Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy and Colin Firth.
Die Hard (1988). This is my son, Adam’s favorite Christmas movie and we manage to watch it each Christmas season. Hard to say whether Bruce Willis as the hero or Alan Rickman as the villain steals this show, but it is a heckuva ride. Rickman had worked in the English theater in his early career and he earned the role of terrorist Hans Gruber two days after moving to Hollywood.
Bad Santa (2003). Can a low life conman Santa find some better purpose in life? When you are as far down as Billy Bob Thornton is, that is a great question. With help from John Ritter, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham and Tony Cox this is the other side to Christmas…
So, anyway, that is the blog’s non-Astro feature for the holidays. Here is hoping all of you have a wonderful Christmas and a better New Year than 2020. How could it be worse?