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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Twelve Days Of Christmas Movies

Now that the Christmas weekend has officially begun,  I thought I'd take a break from my annual ritual of cuddling up on the sofa with my dog watching Christmas movies and share with you the holiday movies and TV specials I love.  There are others that I watch occasionally, these are the ones I watch every year.

I like to watch this early in the season because it begins on Thanksgiving Day at the Macy's Parade.  You may remember a big budget remake that John Hughes from the early 90s.  It is an atrocity.  Avoid at all cost.

This isn't really a Christmas movie but the Christmas sequence (Mame, having lost everything in the stock market crash takes a job as a sales girl at Macy's and is subsequently fired, but not before meeting a man that will change her life) is wonderful. Plus,  I will use any excuse to watch this wonderful movie whenever I can.  The Broadway musical version of this brought us the perennial song We Need A Little Christmas, unfortunately, the film version of the musical is unwatchable.

Again,  not really a Christmas movie,  but the Christmas Eve sequence with Judy Garland singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas to Margaret O'Brien is indelible.  And the rest of the movie is exquisite too.  I like to follow this with a viewing of the Christmas episode of Judy Garland's 1963 TV series. 

Why do they even bother to do new versions of Dickens' A Christmas Carol when the perfect Alistair Sim version exists and can never be bettered? That said, I do have an irrational fondness for the musical version with Albert Finney as Scrooge. Can't justify it, just do.

I still remember when the only way to see this movie was on scratchy, washed-out prints that would make your eyes bleed,  and were shown constantly, like five times a day every day for the entire month of December. I thought about that as I watched my pristine Blu-ray version the other day.  It has become fashionable to dismiss It's A Wonderful Life as corny and sentimental,  and maybe it is, but every once of sentiment is earned.

These three programs represent the golden age of the TV Christmas cartoon. You know how you can have lovely fond memories of something you saw as a child and then when you watch it again as an adult you get a sinking feeling because you can't believe that you ever thought it was good?  I never feel that way about these three shows.

One often reads that White Christmas (1954) is a remake of Holiday Inn (1942).  It's not, although both films share Bing Crosby, music by Irving Berlin, and  the song White Christmas.  Most critics will tell you that Holiday Inn is by far the better of the two. Maybe so, but my little secret is that I would much rather watch the big, splashy Technicolor, VistaVision White Christmas, despite its many flaws.  Neither film is all that Christmas-y, truth be told, but the moment in White Christmas when they open the barn doors to reveal that it's snowing outside gets me every time.

Overexposure has taken a bit of the bloom off of A Christmas Story for me, but it is still one of the funniest Christmas movies of all time.  For a caustically funny Christmas movie that you probably haven't seen, check out The Ref, the movie that puts the fun back into dysfunction.

These two light as a feather Christmastime farces are from the Warner Brothers studio at its 1940s peak. Also, Barbara Stanwyck! Bette Davis!

The Shop Around The Corner is a beautifully realized romantic comedy set in a small store in Budapest, and is a near perfect gem, beautifully acted by a cast led by Jimmy Stewart and Margaret SullavanIn The Good Old Summertime, starring Judy Garland and Van Johnson takes the same story, dumbs it down a bit, moves the action to a music store in early 20th century  Chicago,  and ups the Christmas quotient by about 20 notches. The resulting film has it's moments but is one of Judy's least interesting movies. And why would you call a movie that takes place almost entirely at Christmas In The Good Old Summertime?

Whit Stillman's chatty, ultra-low-budget comedy about young members of New York's haute bourgeoisie, (i.e. preppies) takes place in the weeks before and after Christmas, and although it's not about Christmas per se,  to me it totally captures the feeling of being on college winter break  and hanging around with all your old high school friends that you don't get to see the rest of the year. This is a love it or hate it kind of movie, but I kind of love it.

This isn't a Christmas movie, It's a New Year movie. Strike of midnight, giant wave hits ship, all Hell breaks loose... Hell upside down! Who can forget the sight of a handful of plucky survivors shimmying up an overturned Christmas tree.  There was a time in my childhood when I thought this was the most perfect movie imaginable, and let's face it, when I see Shelley Winters swimming underwater I still do.