Christmas Movies: Recommendations?

Our gang watched Scrooged last night, one of the two best renditions of A Christmas Carol ever filmed, the other being the Alistair Sim classic. Scrooged is quite dated—younger viewers won’t get the irony of the casting of Buddy Hackett (has-been), Jamie Farr (famous for precisely one TV role, in M*A*S*H), and John Houseman (ubiquitous at the time, but long gone). And the “Solid Gold Dancers” will make no sense at all, but they did then, sort of. There are a few bits of crude humour (Bill Murray insists on a clause in every contract that each of his movies has some gratuitous swearing and sniggering—no, just kidding), but not as many as you might think. In all, however, it is a pretty powerful, awfully hilarious rendition of this mostly secular fable of redemption. Murray pulls it off convincingly, and has a superb supporting cast to play off. Alfre Woodard in her “Bob Cratchit” role is luminous as always, and Carol Kane’s Christmas fairy is one of the funniest characters in all Christmas moviedom. I know I’ll catch hell for recommending a movie that has some wicked bits in it, but this one is really good.

A Christmas Story has entered the pantheon of Christmas classics. All I’ll say about it here is that (a) Darren McGavin is a distant relative of mine; (b) my sons think that his character is modeled on me, especially his mild, temperate disposition; and (c) Kari and I were among the 237 people who actually went to see this movie when it was first released in theatres. We’re glad our initial judgment—that it is touchingly nostalgic and surprisingly witty—has been shared by more and more people each year.

Finally, the “Santa Clause” movies. Number Three is a startlingly disappointing sequel. But the first two are a pleasure of the imagination and the funny bone. Tim Allen plays a surprisingly believable Santa Claus (good actors are scary people: would you actually want Tim Allen to be Santa Claus?), the costumes are splendid (the best use of red and green in any movie ever), and the family dynamics sit-com-ish but charming nonetheless.

Some of you will be dismayed that a theologian has recommended three movies that have almost no Christian content. Fair enough. What are your favourites and why?

0 Responses to “Christmas Movies: Recommendations?”

  1. mike swalm

    has to be the Muppet’s Christmas Carol for me, then Mickey’s Christmas Carol as a close second. I can’t get enough Chevy, so Christmas Vacation is part of the pantheon. And I have to see Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer at least once every Christmas…the cheesy stop-motion one with the creepy effeminate elf who wants to be a dentist.

    Merry Christmas.

  2. Paul Enns

    I’m with Dr. John on “Scrooged”. David Johanssen’s cabbie/ghost is my favorite and no one does “verge-of-breakdown” quite like Bill Murray.
    The next is “White Christmas”. It’s a classic, has the song and you get to hear Bing Crosby sing it. To the uninitiated, Bing is as square as it gets but this movie shows just how important he was for the “acceptance” of jazz music among white audiences. Just listen to the different versions of the song: Bing at the piano with Marjorie Reynolds and the finale. Bing takes lots of liberties with the melody and phrasing; not to mention his bebop whistling solo. Amazing!
    And finally, to steal from my brother-in-law, “Die Hard” – the first one. It takes place at Christmas, everyone’s at a big Christmas party, and it features Run-DMC’s “Christmas in Hollis”. And the ending is rather heart-warming, especially after all the carnage. Holiday fun for not quite the whole family.

    Merry Christmas John and everyone else.

  3. rmcbean

    The Fourth Wise Man, with Martin Sheen and Alan Arkin. Best Christmas movie ever, but its hard to find.

    Merry Christmas

  4. Gene

    “Scrooged” and “A Christmas Story”…both outstanding. I concur. I do enjoy your blog. Merry Christmas!

  5. John Stackhouse

    Sister reJoyce, do you mean the Jim Carrey version (which is pretty darned good–I can even enjoy watching Mr. Carrey, albeit under tons of latex, while I can hardly stand him in most other movies–“Bruce Almighty” being another terrific exception)? The straight-up Dr. Seuss animated version makes me cringe and then quietly leave the room . . .

    Brother Paul, I’m confused about the reference to “White Christmas.” I love it, too, but surely you mean Rosemary Clooney, not Marjorie Reynolds? Bing does have The Best Voice Ever.

    As for “Die Hard,” um, well, I confess that strikes me as being as Christmassy as “Family Man”–namely, not much! But I can’t begrudge you the choice of a movie that I have myself enjoyed more times than I should admit!

    I’ll look for “The Fourth Wise Man,” Martin Sheen fan as I am. (There’s an actor who didn’t get his due until late, via “The West Wing.”)

  6. Kasey

    I am going by the question “what are your favorite movies at Christmas?” Having raised our children already and looking back at what we all found celebratory and comforting yearly, we watched the classics “Miracle On 34th Street,” “Holiday Inn” over “White Christmas” which was the original vehicle for the song of the same name. Included in the four was Frank Capra’s, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” and Walt Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp.” All have Christmas mixed into the story somehow and each year the boys would pick out their favorites to be viewed on Christmas Eve (after church of course) and eat savory meats, cheese and crackers before getting a new pair of P.J.’s and then heading off to bed with visions of more than sugar plums dancing through their heads. Now that their childhoods have been left behind we still pick at least one of those four films to start with but you all have added some possibilities for future gatherings. Thanks and Merry Christmas from the snow bound Washington state.the sugar plums running through their heads.

  7. jasongoode

    The Apartment. One of the Great Movies. Not a pure Christmas story at all, but key elements occur of the holidays. Go rent this movie. You won’t be disappointed. It’s a lovely romantic comedy starring Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine.

    In Bruges. The best movie of thes year, in my opinion. Again, not particular Christmacy story, but Christmas is the backdrop to two hitmen hiding out in Belgium after a hit goes wrong. This film is so much more than a classic hitman buddy movie. It’s wonderfully layered on a number of theological levels and was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who was the first playwright since Shakespeare to have four plays running simultaneously in London’s West End.

    It’s a Wonderful Life. When you really think about it, this isn’t a pure Christmacy movie either. We watched again last night and it just gets better and better. It’s unconventional in terms of plot (Clarence doesn’t show up until well over half way through the movie). But it’s so well directed and Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are pitch perfect.

    Stalag 17. It was this Billy Wilder prisoner of war comedy that was later turned into Hogan’s Heros (which is NOT a good representation of how good the original is). Set at Christmas, William Holden turns in an Oscar winning performance as a guy who’s wrongly accused of spying on his cabin mates. Not a ‘Christmacy’ type film either, but a fantastic movie with Christmas as the backdrop.

    Joyeux Noel. The true story of when German, French and Scottish soldiers had a truce on the battlefield of WWI to celebrate Christmas together. It would be a great film if it wasn’t so propoganishly anti-church at the end (you’ll see what I mean). That said, it’s still a good film.

    Driving Miss Daisy. OK, this isn’t Christmacy at all. But there’s an on going joke about how Daisy’s son keeps celebrating Christmas so they seem less Jewish to their neighbours. And Daisy and Hoke’s friendship starts to to blossom when she buys him a gift at Christmas. I confess, I’m definitely cheating with this one, but I adore this little film that made it big.

    And one more: The Man Who Planted Trees.
    I think what makes It’s A Wonderful Life such a Christmas classic (beside the small references to Christmas) is that it’s a story that affirms what it means to do ‘good work’. At Christmas we begin to re-evaluate how the past year went and, often being with family, our minds become more focused on what’s really important. The Man Who Planted Trees is a thirty minute animated film that was made in the 1980s. It’s a profound story about what it means to do truly divine work and because of that would perhaps fit as a Christmacy type film for the family to enjoy.

    You can rent it on video at a few select video stores (Videomatica in Vancouver) , or you can see it online in its entirety:

    Merry Christmas, everyone!

  8. David Morris

    White Christmas — The Grinch (the original classic) — Charlie Brown Christmas

  9. Paul Enns

    My mistake entirely. I was actually thinking of “Holiday Inn” which features the first film appearance of the song “White Christmas”. Thanks for your keen eye.

  10. Paul McClure

    My favorite Christmas movie for a long time was Home Alone, but it has been replaced more recently by Elf, starring Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel. Bob Newhart and James Caan also have significant roles. Though both comedies are clearly secular (but how many Christmastime movies aren’t), these movies each follow a positive theme of a dysfunctional family being made whole again. Check ’em out, if you haven’t already.

    Merry Christmas Professor Stackhouse, and to all a good night!

  11. Ched

    My wife has always been partial to “Home Alone,” and “While you were Sleeping.”

    Though, we both share a violent aversion to “A Christmas Story,” but we couldn’t tell you why.


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