WASHINGTON, December 25, 2017 – In our previous article, we explored the initial five of our Top 10 picks for the best Christmas films ever. Now for our final five, the very best of the best Christmas movies of all time. Our final five includes one astounding entry from Finland. We’ve made it this year’s Number One Christmas movie pick.
Best Christmas movies: The Final Five
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947). Long resident on most best Christmas movie lists I’ve seen, the best part of this unabashedly Christmas-shopping-friendly film is Edmund Gwenn’s incredibly believable turn as Kris Kringle. Old Kris claims he really is Santa Claus as he dons his suit to portray that jolly old elf at Macy’s flagship store in midtown Manhattan. By the end of the film, Gwenn makes you wonder if there really is a Santa Claus after all. If so, it’s surely he.
Here’s a key clip from the (not very perfectly) colorized edition of this originally black and white film.
4. “A Christmas Carol,” sometimes known as “Scrooge.” (1951). Our Top 10 list of the best Christmas movies of all time has been pretty U.S.-centric thus far. But our pals the Brits are no pikers when it comes to portraying Christmas, something that’s easy to see in this somewhat difficult to find classic. You can sometimes stumble upon this one via one of the classic movie cable TV channels. I also found a fairly decent version this year on YouTube, although that video nipped off the final key lines of the film.
Over the decades, countless films have appeared based on Charles Dickens’ timeless short novel “A Christmas Carol.” But this one, starring veteran English thespian Alastair Sim as that bitter old miser, Uncle Scrooge, comes closest, we think, to the spirit of Dickens’ original, sentimental tear-jerker. From the outset, Dickens’ original tale is quite dark, much like one of the Grimm Brothers’ un-Disney-fied fairy tales.
This starkly black and white British film version captures not only the Christmas miracle of skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge. It also refuses to flinch from the darker side of Victorian London, a London the once equally impoverished Dickens himself never forgot.
Although there is purportedly a colorized version available (we haven’t seen it), the original, stark, B&W film − distinguished by Sim’s nasty, scowling visage − is clearly the one to watch if you prefer your Victorian squalor reasonably grimy and accurate.
Scrooge’s London here is as relentlessly pinched and unpleasant as that ultimate penny-pincher himself, reflecting Dickens’ brooding, lifetime bitterness toward the indolent upper classes − actually the Victorian edition of today’s current 1%-ers.
Scrooge’s surprise redemption, particularly as ealized by Sim, is a timeless lesson that today’s supercilious Silicon Valley mega-rich and their even more crooked politicians and enablers should take to heart.
Instead of visiting Scrooge at his darkest hour along with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, let’s drop in on the old miser at a transformative moment.
3. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). Talk about the best Christmas movies, and this movie will always crop up. We could go on and on about this wonderful film, which belongs in any list of the best Christmas movies of all time. But we encourage you to peruse our colleague John Haydon’s entertaining and informative article on the topic.
This film finds all-American optimism confronting disaster and temptation. Good-heartedness meets absolute greed in this film as well. In so doing, its occasional, shocking grittiness make this Frank Capra film a contender in any Top 5 or Top 10 best Christmas movies list. In a way, “Wonderful Life” is almost like an American “Christmas Carol.” But Capra’s evil banker, Mr. Potter, never learns, even though our hero learns and grows.
Trivia buffs: as depicted in the adjacent and somewhat fuzzy still, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are dancing on top of a swimming pool cover that is soon to be surreptitiously opened by a dastardly young man who’s a rival for Donna’s hand. Who is that nasty guy?
Before we give you the answer, why not take a look at the closing moments of this uplifting film?
Pop quiz answer: Our mystery villain/prankster? It’s Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, former chief crooner and heartthrob in many “Little Rascals” shorts in the 1930s?
2. “Rare Exports.” (2010) We discovered this Finnish film on Netflix during Christmas 2012 as we surfed for random Christmas on Netflix. We were absolutely blown away by its originality and dark hilarity. It’s completely, utterly different from anything else on our list and resembles no other Christmas-themed film you might ever chance to see, including that nasty, 1984 mad slasher classic, “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” We’re delighted to add this one to our 2017 edition featuring the best Christmas movies of all time.
“Rare Exports” is gloomy and spooky, the antithesis of our favorite American classic Christmas films, reflecting in many ways the peculiarly introspective and somber inscapes characteristic of Finnish films. But this one is amply redeemed as a modern holiday classic. Its self-deprecating humor, sly innuendo, political reference points and outright hilarious satire on Christmas commercialism are likely to make this one unique in the annals of Christmas films for decades to come.
This Aki Kaurismaki-directed film is brightened considerably by the presence of its weird, gawky, highly intelligent young hero, an 8-year-old named Pietari Kontio. He and his widowed dad Rauno live somewhere in Finland’s frigid northern region close to that country’s still dicey border with Russia.
Pietari and a young friend discover a substantial, American-led drilling operation nearby and decide to investigate. It looks like those rapacious Yanks are tunneling into a large hill resembling an ancient, indigenous burial mound.
Not long after this excursion, kids start to disappear from Pietari’s remote town. Strange talismans resembling voodoo dolls are left in their stead.
Making matters worse, the village reindeer herd—the town’s main source of protein during its harsh winters—is also being slaughtered and devoured by… something.
It turns out we’re being let in on a peculiarly Finnish version of the Father Christmas legend. The Santa(s) we encounter here proves the very antithesis of either Old St. Nick or the American Santa Claus. But never fear. Asserting his 2nd Amendment rights, Pietari, his dad and the villagers start packing iron as they confront the truth about Santa−with unexpectedly scary and unexpectedly funny results.
We won’t give the rest away. No spoilers here.
This haunting, scary, beautiful, occasionally gory film offers a strange but wondrous combination of terror and laughter all strung together by a surprisingly compelling mystery plot. A few short scenes might be a little rough for little kids in front of the TV. But in the main, this is an easy, just-short-of-PG13 film the whole family can actually enjoy together and one that boys Pietari’s age and a bit older will seriously get into. No, they will love it.
Without a doubt, it’s the most creepy and the most fun of all our best Christmas movies.
For more on “Rare Exports”: Offbeat Holiday Horror Films: ‘Krampus’ and ‘Rare Exports’
1. “A Christmas Story.” (1983) Although this writer originally hails from Cleveland and attended high school not far from one of this cult classic’s locations, he only discovered this film about five years ago by chance on TV. It was an amazing experience viewing a movie that so definitively re-creates the times and the spirit of a typical Midwestern Christmas back in the 1940s and 1950s. That’s why it’s earned our top spot on this year’s listing of the best Chrismas movies of all time. This one”s nothing less than Christmas heaven for the Deplorables. It’s the way we lived back when the Boomer era was just getting fired up. More or less.
“A Christmas Story” is based on a number of short and semi-biographical works of fiction by writer Jean Shepherd. Its script and some of its dialogue is derived from Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” Set in 1940s Indiana but with sets that look very 1950s (except for the cars), it’s a surprisingly accurate (and very funny) depiction of the Way We Were back in the day. That’s a big part of its enduring charm.
The film’s footage was shot in a variety of locations. The famous Parker family house and select outdoor environs were filmed in the funky, arty, ethnic West Side Cleveland neighborhood of Tremont. This was a working class ‘hood in the ‘40s and ‘50s. After a long decline, it’s now become fashionable and trendy once again in the slowly reviving Rust Belt City of Cleveland, Ohio, another once-important American city that’s been a casualty of Democrat machine politics’ one-party rule.
BTW, the “Christmas Story” house itself is now a museum where you can acquire your very own leg lamp, just like the “major prize” that was won by Ralphie’s dad. You can add this one to your itinerary the next time you’re in town visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or catching a performance of the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra, which is far more culturally enlightening.
Some scenes in the film, including those at the school and in the schoolyard, were actually filmed farther north in St. Catherine, Ontario. That huge Canadian province has for years served as a low-cost mecca for strapped film producers looking to save a buck. The rest of this film’s scenes, including house interiors, were filmed on a soundstage.
As the film opens, we’re introduced to the Parker family, all of whom are completely normal and totally eccentric at the same time. Our young hero, the bespectacled Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) resides with his dad (Darren McGavin in perhaps the finest role of his life), his mom (Melinda Dillon) and his pain-in-the-tush kid brother, Randy.
Ralphie’s fondest Christmas wish is for Santa to bring him a fabulous Red Ryder B.B. gun. Despite the lack of sanctimonious 2nd Amendment opponents in this era, Mom steps up to the plate to take their place in opposition of her son’s Christmas wish. She’s opposed to the gun for the usual 1940s-1950s mom reason. No, it’s not gun control. Mom is worried that Ralphie’s will find a way to “put out his eye.” (Which almost happened to me in the 1960s!)
Key scenes in this film have become cult favorites, including the Old Man’s grouchy behavior, particularly when confronting an ancient, balky furnace; Ralphie’s frequent, exciting, but imaginary adventures, precursors in a way to “Calvin and Hobbs”; double- and triple-dog dares, including that always-disastrous tongue-on-the-frozen-flagpole trick; and, finally, that fantastic, world-famous Leg Lamp (pictured above).
Some critics dislike the voiceover narration in this film. It’s performed by author Jean Shepherd himself in the guise of the adult Ralphie. But the narration, at least for this writer, never gets tedious. It might have even influenced, the similar device once used in that use late, almost great Fox comedy series “Arrested Development.”
We tried to find a good clip from the film. But all the short YouTube videos are festooned with dull, opportunistic ads and watermarks that obscure the footage. Rather than annoy you with these, here’s a clip of people visiting the “Christmas Story” house in Cleveland. As for viewing the film, it’s been easy to find on cable and download services for the last several years. “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
That wraps up our 2017 Top Ten list of the best Christmas movies of all time. Let’s see if Hollywood can beat any of these classics in 2018, now that we’re allowed to say the word “Christmas” once again. God bless us, every one!
Come back in December 2018 for the next edition of CDN’s best Christmas movies.