White-Christmas-1954-15
Sisters …
Sisters …
There were never such devoted sisters
Never had to have a chaperone “No, sir”
I’m there to keep my eye on her …

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I’m a total sucker for chick flicks. 

So I should be one gloriously happy dude at this time of year.

Most Christmas movies tend to fall into the chick flick category, right?

Have you noticed that the Christmas movie racket has gone into overdrive apeshit production?

Old-time comedienne Lucille Ball, in her classic chocolate assembly line sketch wouldn’t be able to keep up with the output of Christmas moviemaking these days … it just might be a syndicate run by Harlequin. The plethora of made-for-TV-Christmas movies has snowballed out of control.

Even my tender girly-boy heart finds most of the Christmas movie scenarios just too cheesy, syrupy, sickly sweet.

Of course I don’t hate all Christmas movies. As a matter of fact I love a lot of them.

Formulas are everything in making a Christmas movie … heart strings must be tugged in just the right way.

A great Christmas movie must have a solid character(s), conflict that moves the story along, and deepset emotions that help us identify with the characters.

What we want is a big EMOTIONAL drive, heartfelt connection to the characters, and a sweet dollop of breath-releasing catharsis at the finish line.

elf

And truly, to have a memorable Christmas flick, it must contain at least one of the following scenarios (I’ve given examples with each scenario):

  1. Workaholic Character – A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE WALTON’S – The Homecoming
  2. Someone Wants To Shut Something Down – IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS
  3. Somebody Dead Or Is Dying – PRANCER
  4. Someone Straight Up Is Santa Claus – THE SANTA CLAUSE, MIRACLE ON 34th STREET
  5. Someone Is or Becomes Unemployed – NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION, ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS
  6. Someone Has To Repeat Christmas – A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
  7. Someone MUST Find Love Via Christmas – ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, WHITE CHRISTMAS, JUST FRIENDS
  8. Car Accident – ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS
  9. A Wacky Mixup – ELF, HOME ALONE
  10. And no matter what, make sure it’s snowing during the climactic scene, which takes place on Christmas Eve.

Sure, I can watch Christmas movies to have my heart twisted until tears spring from my eyes, but really I watch them for the simple pleasure of smiling at the end – of going on a journey with a glorious sunset trailing off into the sea.

So, less than two weeks out, here’s a list of my holiday favourites, followed by a couple of films often mentioned on TOP 10 lists that had a lot of potential but left me disappointed:

Anne of Green Gables (1985) – not a Christmas movie at all, but I first saw it with my little kids years ago at Christmastime, and so it leaves me with a warm Christmas-y feeling. A wonderful iconic Canadian story highlighted by an amazingly precocious Megan Follows as Anne. The beating heart of the story is the theme music by Hagood Hardy that brings a welling of tears to my eyes in its first few bars every time.
anne-of-green-gables
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One Magic Christmas (1985) – a quirky Christmas film warmed by charming performances by Mary Steenburgen and Harry Dean Stanton as Gideon, the guardian angel. The film dives into darker, more realistic themes than you get in most Christmas movies, strange for a Disney flick. The ultimate message of the film is heartening and poignant – even for those who may have long-since stopped believing in Santa and magic.

White Christmas (1954) – the standard by which Christmas movies really should be made. It’s fluffy as all hell but who cares. Snow, romance, classic songs sung by classic voices (Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney), dancing and a just-syrupy-enough finish.

Elf (2003) – goofy and innovative with a Will Ferrell ELF character that is slapstick but not over-the-top crazy. I wish they had worked out a better “Santa” ending in Central Park, but there’s enough charm and humour to make it a keeper.

Prancer (1989) – a somewhat dark film that somehow pulls it off because of a real reindeer and a farm girl that nurses the wounded animal  she believes is Santa’s PRANCER, hoping to bring it back to health in time for Christmas. Filled with earnestness and heartache and hope. If your Christmas is too much take and not enough give, I prescribe hot chocolate, some hot popcorn, and a viewing of Prancer.

National Lampoon’€™s Christmas Vacation (1989) – a zany piece that makes me want to laugh in spite of myself. Poor Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), just can’t get anything right – something I often identify with –  and does such ridiculous things that we all identify from our own worst moments that we won’t even admit to ourselves.
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Home Alone (1990) – an unbelievable storyline of an 8 year-old accidentally left behind from a family trip to Europe. It carries us smiling along with its wit and humour, some touching moments with a lonely neighbour and a madcap finale that could only happen in a movie. Great fun.

It’€™s a Wonderful Life (1946) – a cranky and charming Jimmy Stewart classic with an oddball angel Clarence that takes Stewart on a trip into a world where he was never born. Stewart gives a wonderful performance of a difficult character. A character all of us are familiar with … a person looking to find himself/herself and the struggle for finding what it is in life you really want to do. George Bailey teaches us the most important lesson of all, that life, although a long and challenging road, truly is wonderful…

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle and Natalie Wood as a little girl who’s been told by her cynical mother that Santa doesn’t exist steal this film. I like this version a lot more than the updated attempt starring Richard Attenborough as Santa (1994).
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The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) – well, I’m a sucker for the Muppets so my bias probably shows here. But, the film possesses heart, whimsy, and an infectious joy. Michael Caine gives a masterful performance as Ebenezer Scrooge and who just can’t love Miss Piggy as Mrs. Crachit?

muppet xmas

The Santa Clause (1994) – Tim Allen plays Scott Calvin, who replaces Santa after he falls off the roof. The plot is original, the script is fun, and the pace is surprisingly even. It’s not a classic like Scrooge(1951), or Home Alone or It’s a Wonderful Life, just a pleasant family Christmas film. The characters are likable, even though the parents are a bit clichéd and the film a tad too overly sentimental in places. Just a fun movie to eat popcorn to.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) – the Grinch is a character Dr. Seuss could only have written for the malleable face of Jim Carrey. A great cartoon short adapted into a full-length movie with flowing rivers of colour and costumes and of course, the wonderful gargantuously green Mr. Grinch himself. What child could resist such a beautifully evil beast?
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Disappointments:

The Polar Express (2004) – CREEPY!! This is supposed to be serious animation but it just gives me the willies. I don’t like horror movies and this qualifies as one that gives me bad dreams.

A Christmas Story (1983) – little Ralphie and his dad are both characters who push my irritation button from the get-go for no particular reason. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’d like to take that Red Ryder BB gun and aim it directly at Ralphie and his obnoxious dad.

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It’s nostalgic to watch an old friend – a movie we love –  each year as a tradition. It’s Nanaimo bar or Mom’s fruitcake without the scale creep.

Movies, like songs, take us back to years and events in our own lives that play inside our heads, inside our dreams.

And what is Christmas all about if it isn’t about dreams.

charlie brown xmas
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