Top 5 Christmas Movies
(Those that are not versions of “A Christmas Carol”)
One of the most powerful of the modern Christmas Traditions is the yearly dusting off of movies that feature an overt Christmas Season theme. Generally spiritual as opposed to religious, many modern Christmas Movies often employ storytelling motifs of tragedy, magic and redemption, all three usually visited upon some poor character that has “lost the Christmas Spirit.” Here is a humble, and by no means definitive, list of some of my favorite Films of Christmas. Feel free to add your own in the comments section!
5. Miracle on 34th Street(1947). Santa Claus is put on trial because of a sort of sanity clause, in this classic film. A young Natalie Wood holds her own on screen with Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn and John Payne. This is really the best film to start the season with, as the story itself begins on Thanksgiving Day. It was remade a few times: once in 1973 with Sebastian Cabot (Family Affair’s Mr. French) as a made-for-TV movie, and again in 1994 for the big screen, but neither of these can match the original. Why mess with perfection?
4. White Christmas(1954). Often undeservedly passed over by critics as the poor relation of the film Holiday Inn, this film is worthy of more attention. With Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen, a cast rounded out by some of the best character actors of the time, and wonderful songs by Irving Berlin (including the already famous title song), White Christmas is a treat for the eyes and ears, with a simple but effective story involving the once proud and still respected General Waverly, under whose command Crosby and Kaye meet and cement their song-and-dance partnership, who needs to be reminded that he is not forgotten. And a little snow would be helpful, too.
3. Joyeux Noel. The famous Christmas Truce of 1914 is reenacted in this terrific film from 2005. During the first year of WWI many of the troops, without ‘official’ permission, observed Christmas by climbing out of the trenches and sharing food, drink, songs, photos of loved-ones back home…with the enemy. The dead were buried, and in a few areas soccer matches were engaged in. Once back in their respective trenches many of the soldiers no longer felt much compulsion to shoot at their new friends. This film is an amalgam of many of the different stories that survived that event, and because of that it is taken to task by ‘war buffs’ for its authenticity. Those wishing a more factual study of the event are encouraged to read Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914 by Brown and Seaton. The movie features wonderful performances by the international cast and a terrific soundtrack with singing by Natalie Dessay, and Rolando Villazón. Joyeux Noel is a wonderful reminder of the power that the Christmas Spirit has to override the whims of Man and to bring out the species’ better nature.
2. A Christmas Story(1983). I have to be honest and admit that when this film was first released, the idea of a Christmas movie directed by the same man who did Porky’s left me with no enthusiasm to view his version of one of my favorite holidays, so I avoided it – despite a very good friend of mine insisting it was worth seeing. I ate my Christmas crow a few years later when A Christmas Story appeared on cable TV. It immediately became one of my favorite Christmas movies, and I never miss returning to it during the holidays (in fact it would be nearly impossible to miss since station TBS plays it for 24 hours every Christmas Day). Based on the book In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash by humorist and radio raconteur Jean Shepard, and narrated by his distinctive voice, the movie follows the travails of a post-war boomer child named Ralphie as he dodges neighborhood bullies, boredom at school and iron-clad grownup logic in his pursuit of the ultimate Christmas present. No doubt unintentionally, this movie also tacitly documents the shift in American society from Christmas as a humble, family celebration to the modern frenzy of consumerism that induces more stress and anxiety than laughs.
1.It’s A Wonderful Life(1946). Director/Producer/Co-writer Frank Capra took a thin, and rather dark, short story, The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, and from it created an iconic film of the Christmas Season. Through the first-rate cast – headed by Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed – we follow the life of George Baily as he grows from a brave, honest boy to a brave, honest man. The promise of a more glamorous and prosperous life elsewhere keeps George’s head in the clouds, while his self-sacrificing devotion to doing the right thing for those around him keeps his feet firmly rooted in tiny, unglamorous Bedford falls. A terrible tragedy befalls George on Christmas Eve (of course) and from the deepest well of his despair is brought forth a life-altering gift. Even though Christmas is represented in only the last third or so of the film, It’s a Wonderful Life, with its message of redemption and reminder of the truly important things in life, has become a Holiday tradition.