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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Break away from the boring: exceptional X-Mas movies

Published: December 9, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc., Top Stories

’Twas the month before Christmas, when all through the land, more Christmas movies were airing than even I could withstand.

In the month before Christmas, every channel on television pulls out their Christmas movies and plays them again and again until you become quite sick of them. There are a lot of Christmas movies out there, most of them pretty awful—ahem, ahem, ABC Family, I am looking at you. But, of course, there are some really great Christmas movies out there, too.

Here is my list of the top five Christmas movies.

But before we get there, when people discuss their favorite Christmas movies, the first two usually to come up are 1946’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” and 1947’s “Miracle on 34th Street.” Now don’t get me wrong, these are good movies. But they have been done to death. “Miracle on 34th Street” is a sweet movie that gives us all a chance to see a very young Natalie Wood but, nevertheless, it is not in my top five. As for “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I have two issues: First, nearly every show has done an episode based off of this movie. While this should not affect the original, it does. I cannot watch it without thinking of all the tacky rip-offs (or homages as I am sure they call them) that clog our televisions. Second, (SPOILER) Potter gets away with stealing all that money. I know it’s Christmas and that Jesus was all about forgiveness but this is a movie; I expect my villain to get his comeuppance.

So, without further ado, my top five Christmas movies:

“A Christmas Story,” director Bob Clark’s 1983 classic, sets the gold standard for Christmas movies. The story, set in the 1940s, revolves around Ralphie, a young boy who wants nothing more for Christmas than an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. “A Christmas Story” is at times funny and at times sweet—but mostly funny. This movie has everything, from a kid accidentally dropping the F-bomb in front of his dad to another kid freezing his tongue to a pole, from the worst possible Christmas gift (if you’ve seen the movie, you know to what I am referring) to bizarre fantasy sequences.

My family does not celebrate Christmas but it has become our Christmas tradition to watch this movie—all day. Thanks to TBS, that is possible. Starting at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and going until 8 p.m. Christmas Day, TBS has an “A Christmas Story” marathon in which they show the movie again and again for 24-straight hours. It is fantastic. It has gotten to the point that I can miss the first hour, see the middle half-hour, then catch the first 20 minutes, then see the last 15 minutes, then the middle hour, so on and so on, until by the end of Christmas I have seen that entire movie. It’s great.

Also, “A Christmas Story” shall forever live in glory for having the repeated line: “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

Another classic Christmas story is Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” There are so many movie versions of this but the best by far is 1988’s “Scrooged” from director Richard Donner. “Scrooged” follows the basic format of “A Christmas Carol” but does so in the wackiest, zaniest way possible. Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross, a veritable scrooge, who is the worst person. He fires Bobcat Goldthwaite on Christmas Eve. He refuses Alfre Woodard a raise even though she is a widow raising five kids. Three spirits come to abuse him (physically, in the case of the Ghost of Christmas Present) and show him the errors of his ways.

While this movie keeps you laughing almost constantly, there are some truly sweet moments that shine through and that may have you reaching for a tissue box. As with “A Christmas Carol,” the main character needs to be shown a dismal past, present and future in order to affect him. “Scrooged” does this exceptionally well and is able to break up the comedy effectively without making the viewers feel that the movie has switched gears.

The only thing “Scrooged” is missing is Judge Reinhold; luckily the next movie on this list did not make that mistake.

Disney’s 1994 feel-good Christmas movie “The Santa Clause,” directed by John Pasquin, gets me every time. I honestly just love this movie; also, it is worth noting that this movie is appropriate for the entire family, which not all the movies on this list are. “The Santa Clause” taught me as a young child that if one is to scare Santa and make him fall off the roof, one must assume the responsibility, title and girth of Santa. Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) does this admirably.

While this movie has some funny moments, its true power comes from its heart. Scott Calvin is struggling to find a place in his child’s life after his ex-wife remarries—remarries Judge Reinhold. This movie is about family, believing and the magic of Christmas. It sounds sappy—and it is—but that is not a detractor.
Also, in order to maintain journalistic integrity, I feel I should disclose that the head elf at the North Pole is played by David Krumholtz. I used to have a huge crush on him.

Director Jon Favreau’s 2003 comedy “Elf” is also pretty sappy at points but holds its own through its comedy. “Elf” follows Buddy (Will Ferrell), who works in Santa’s workshop, on his trip from the North Pole, where he does not really fit in because he is not an elf, to New York, where he meets his father. This movie could have been incredibly stupid, as is the case with most Will Ferrell movies. But, as usual, Will Ferrell salvages it with his adorable innocence. He is the only giant in Hollywood that could have played this role; him walking down a New York street eating discarded gum off of a railing makes me both cringe and laugh every time.

This movie’s main strength is its stellar cast; “Elf” stars Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Mary Steenburgen and Zooey Deschanel. The actors play off of each other perfectly and add a sense of belief to the disbelief.
Also, this movie gave me one of my favorite things to say: “He’s an angry elf.”

2003 was a good year for movies; not only did “Elf” come out but so did the final movie on this list.

“Bad Santa,” directed by Terry Zwigoff, is the most obscene Christmas movie imaginable. “Bad Santa” follows a mall Santa/safecracker-thief (Billy Bob Thornton) as he gives in to his depression, alcoholism and penchant for kinky sex. He expropriates the house of an elderly woman (Cloris Leachman); verbally abuses third-grader Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly); and has terribly inappropriate sex with a Jewish bartender (Lauren Graham). Despite being one of the most un-Christmas-like movies ever, this is one of the best Christmas movies.

While most of the movie is Santa pissing on himself, falling down drunk and having sex in the mall’s changing rooms, the movie does have heart, a must for Christmas movies. Of course, the heart is rather small and was only added to the movie after original test audiences complained. Still, see this movie. And, whatever you do, watch it on a channel that will not cut scenes or bleep out the curse words. They curse every other word; you will miss half the movie.

Also, this was John Ritter’s last film role before he died and he does a phenomenal job.

So, before you sit down with your family to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street” for the hundredth time, try one of these, if not all of them. I promise that you will not be sorry. I look forward to being home at Christmas time and re-watching these movies with my family as we eat our Chinese food and debate which kinds of Christmas lights are the prettiest.