Tuesday, December 9, 2008

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Catch-Up, Part Deux


Every year gives us a deluge of holiday movies. Last year, we got Vince Vaughn in Fred Claus (yuck), Queen Latifah in The Perfect Holiday (oh dear) and Loretta Devine in This Christmas. This year gives us Vince Vaughn in Four Christmases, Alfred Molina in Nothing Like the Holidays, and Mathieu Amalric in A Christmas Tale. And, of course, this made me give some serious thought to all the Christmas movies that offer us such joy and entertainment. The Christmas movies that enable us all to gather around as a family and just...glow.

Here, then, are my Top Ten Christmas Films Until I See More. If you haven't seen some of these, immediately rent them. If there are any you can recommend, pass the word along! I love a good Christmas movie!

10. This Christmas

My favorite holiday combined with my favorite subgenre, the ensemble flick. This Christmas is one of those Family Gathering flicks: everyone gathers together, dysfunction junction, madcap hilarity. But where The Family Stone uses Christmas as a reason to verbally and psychologically abuse Sarah Jessica Parker, This Christmas is actually about some family togetherness. And cat-fighting. And sex jokes involving Santa suits and vibrators. It's a fun time, for sure!

9. Batman Returns

As will be further demonstrated, Tim Burton has a strange love affair with Christmas. The same for action franchises, with Die Hard being the best example. Batman Returns successfully combines Christmas, creepiness and Catwoman. Some of the best sequences directly incorporate the holiday: the bats flying from the tree. The Christmas-lighting ceremony leading to a kidnapping. Christopher Walken's Christmas party. Danny DeVito's Penguin is one for nightmares.

8. Black Christmas (2006)

I know it's blasphemy to love this remake of the cult 70s slasher flick. But see, I've never seen the original, and this is just outrageous. Seriously: the murderer makes Christmas cookies from the flesh of his mother, and eats them. Andrea Martin calls Mary Elizabeth Winstead a "spoiled little bitch". People's eyes are plucked out and swallowed. There are two murderers, and you know the whole time, but the film treats it like a surprise. How much fun can a slasher flick possibly be?

7. On Her Majesty's Secret Service

A James Bond Christmas movie? But it happened, oh yes! Blofeld ingeniously uses the holiday to send his "patients" off to their homes, unsuspectingly carrying deadly viruses along with them! In the meantime, Bond is chased through a Christmas fair, makes plans for New Year's with Tracy di Vicenzo, and sneaks some kisses 'neath the mistletoe. Christmas is all about the Spirit of Giving, and Bond complies many, many times over.

6. Edward Scissorhands

My mother and I once disagreed on this one. She insisted that this is not a Christmas movie, just one that has Christmas in it. Ah, I argued, but every Christmas it snows for her. This gloomy fairy tale is a beautiful portrait of the purity of love. Like snow! The Ice Dance stands out, of course, as one of the most beautiful sequences of cinema ever. And Vincent Price's big Christmas scene...wow. Too much.

5. 8 Women

True, Christmas is used more as a backdrop, but the idea of putting murder and cat-fights alongside Noel celebrations is delicious. The eight women of the title are the chief suspects in the murder of the family patriarch. The twists and turns come quickly and surprisingly. And, my goodness, it looks like the most cozy Christmas ever! Snow, 1950s, France, Catherine Deneuve; what a recipe for Christmas awesome!

4. A Christmas Story

One of the standards. So full of quotable lines. "Not a finger!" "Only I didn't say fudge. I said the word." "Flick? Flick who?" "Oh! The theme I've been waiting for all my life. Listen to this sentence: 'A Red Ryder BB gun with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time.' Poetry. Sheer poetry, Ralph! An A+!" "You'll shoot your eye out, kid." Completely relatable, because we've all been disappointed when we didn't get the gift we wanted most that year. And we all thought our parents would be sorry for punishing us. Great family memories with this one, as we watch it for the 24-hour block every year.

3. Love Actually

Oh, man. I love ensembles, I love Christmas, and I love England. This movie delivers. Emma Thompson was nominated at the BAFTAs for her touching portrayal of a housewife trying to keep her Spirit despite the wandering eye of her husband. Bill Nighy won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of rehabilitated former rock God Billy Mack, hoping for a comeback with a Christmas version of the Troggs' "Love is All Around". There are so many great storylines here, whether it be the Best Man in love with his best friend's new wife, the cuckolded author falling for his Portugese housekeeper, or the Prime Minister with his adorable new secretary. It's precious, and the final sequence is what Christmas movies are all about: EPIC WIN.

2. Scrooge (1951)

Alaistir Sim is the Scrooge. But I think I love this movie most for the memories it holds. It was family tradition to watch this every Christmas Eve. One year, we went to bed prematurely. The girls didn't want to watch it, and the house was asleep. But I woke up at one, wandered into the living room, and there was my dad, watching it by himself. He was determined to keep the tradition alive. And I sat with him, and we watched it together. It was a beautiful thing.

1. Miracle on 34th Street

The Oscar-winning film that convinced me that, yes, Walter, there is a Santa Claus. It's a magical story about a department store Santa that may be the real thing! Who can forget that memorable quote: "Look Doris, someday you're going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn't work. And when you do, don't overlook those lovely intangibles. You'll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile." Poetry. Something to live by. It's a movie that will make you sit up on Christmas Eve and listen for the noise on the roof that makes you go:

'Zat You, Santa Claus?

Gifts I'm preparing for some Christmas sharing
But I pause because
Hanging my stocking I can hear a knocking
'Zat you, Santa Claus?

Sure is dark out, ain't the slightest spark out
'Pon my slackened jaw
Who's there? Who is it stopping for a visit
'Zat you, Santa Claus?

Are you bringing a present for me
Something pleasantly pleasant for me
That is just what I've been waiting for
Would you mind slipping it under the door?

Cold winds are howling, or could that be growling
My legs feel like straws
My my oh me my, kindly would you reply
'Zat you, Santa Claus?

Hanging the stocking, I can hear a knocking
'Zat you, Santa Claus?
I say, who's there, who is it, are you stopping for a visit
'Zat you, Santa Claus?

Oh there, Santa, you gave me a scare
Now stop teasing cause I know you're there
We don't believe in no goblins today
But I can't explain why I'm shaking that way

Bet I can see ol' Santa in the keyhole
I'll get to the cause
One peek and I'll try there, oh-oh, there's an eye there
'Zat you, Santa Claus?

Please, please, pity my knees
Say that's you, Santa Claus!

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