Bob Siegel’s Ten Best Holiday and Christmas movies
SAN DIEGO: December 9, 2017 – Looking forward to curling up around the TV with loved ones to enjoy the Classic Christmas Movies? Having trouble deciding what to watch first?
Well be of good cheer and keep the faith. Following is a bag of favorite holiday flicks. As you review my personal choices, you may have a few obvious questions:
Obvious Question One: Why did I not pick the favorite classic of many, “White Christmas?”
Although I can objectively admit that this was a well-made, spectacular production with a talented cast, personally I just didn’t like it very much. How’s that for blatant honesty? A good musical to be sure, White Christmas simply doesn’t do anything for me over the holidays.
Besides, the song, White Christmas is one of my least favorite Christmas carols. Not that it’s a bad song. The melody is actually quite nice and Bing Crosby sang this Irving Berlin composition as well as anyone possibly could.
Still, the tune is overdone and plays on the radio far too frequently, often with jazzed-up versions that mess with the tempo and change the melody line, massacring the piece altogether. This makes my Christmas a little less merry. True, deadpan versions of the song are not the fault of the movie itself. But what can one say? A bad taste is left in one’s mouth.
Obvious Question Two: Do you have any favorites that did not make your top ten list?
Yes, Disney’s Babes in Toyland. It was delightful, brilliant, horrible and stupid, all at the same time. This means it’s a good enough Christmas movie to personally enjoy but terrible enough to quarantine it from my Top Ten List.
Exploring the good and the bad with Babes in Toyland will wait for future articles.
Obvious Question Three: Do you have a list of the worst Christmas movie?
Oh yes! That list is coming.
Without further ado, Bob Siegel’s Top Ten Christmas and Holiday movie list:
Top Spot Tie: It’s A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street
If forced, I grant the number one spot to Wonderful Life but it’s really close to a photo finish. Both movies deserve the status of “classic.” They are not only the best Christmas movies of all time; they are among the best movies of all time. I’m not sure any comments are necessary for films that so obviously exist in the stratosphere, but I will make one observation about fantasy in general.
When dealing with far-fetched stories such as Santa Claus or angels sending people into alternate time realities, the writing and acting become even more crucial. If we don’t accept the people, we do not believe in their fantastic tale either. Both movies were cleverly written and expertly performed by actors who breathed real life into the characters.
3) Scrooge (Musical Version)
Excellent acting and well-written dialogue, true to the style of the original Dickens classic and filled out with pleasant musical numbers which enhance, rather than take away from the story. The style of music and street choreography may remind you of the film musical, Oliver. Added dialogue includes a more detailed look at the many paupers who owe Scrooge money and the very clever twist of Scrooge finding himself in hell, (courtesy of the ghost of Christmas Future, of course).
SIDE NOTE: I do not let a Christmas go by anymore without watching this movie. Although most professional reviews praised the acting and gave obligatory kudos to the Dickens story itself, I was disappointed to see many critics unhappy with the songs (composed by Leslie Bricusse who also did Willy Wonka) Some labeled the music as “bad to mediocre” and I couldn’t disagree more.
If you have read such reviews, do yourself a favor and ignore them. Oh certainly, in any musical there will be one or two pieces that you could have done without, but most of the score is excellent.
From the extremely clever and fun number, “Thank You Very Much” to the sweetly melodic “Happiness”, Scrooge, the Musical should take its place with the greats and perhaps will someday. Remember, there was a time when It’s A Wonderful Life was considered a flop too.
4) A Charlie Brown Christmas
Come on! It’s Charlie Brown! Need we say more? A favorite clip from this perinnial favorite of all ages:
5) How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Please do not confuse this annual, animated television gem with that Milk Dud Jim Carrey gave us under the direction of Ron Howard. Dr. Seuss was a genius. As for Dr. Howard? Well, he’s normally a decent director but if any genius lurks inside, it hibernated as he marched to the parade of remakes.
Never mind. My critique of Ron Howard’s version comes up later. For now, try to pretend that movie was never produced and instead make sure you never let a Christmas pass without seeing the real story. It is as fun as it is charming.
6) A Christmas Story
Not as heartwarming as some of the others, but for over three decades now, people have absolutely loved this period holiday story. Set in the forties, the story nevertheless looks and feels quite familiar to anyone who remembers what it was like to grow up with a typical mom, a temperamental dad and a generic bully.
By the way, am I alone in this or is Ralphie just about the funniest looking kid ever to show his little mug on the screen? He’s perfect for the part. The adult narrations blended with Ralphie’s dopey expressions were undoubtedly an inspiration for television’s The Wonder Years.
7) The Santa Clause
A unique idea and fresh take on the Santa Claus legend. This time, we learn that Santa Claus is actually the title of an office to be filled. When one Santa dies, another takes his place.
The movie would not have worked without the subtle but piercing wit of Tim Allen. His timing and facial mannerisms are priceless.
8) The Santa Clause 2
Normally I hate sequels with a passion. This movie was an exception and for a very important reason; There really was a new story to tell! The producers (for a change) chose not to retread Movie One. As a matter of fact, although its predecessor was a good movie, The Santa Clause 2 is a GREAT MOVIE!
I ranked it after One only because the originality of the premise owes everything to the first chapter. Elizabeth Mitchell (known today for her intriguing role on Lost) is very convincing as a stuffy, but three-dimensional High School principal who falls in love with Tim Allen.
Who would have thought that in the midst of talking animals, plastic giant toy villains and flying sleighs, a movie could be so convincingly romantic?
Oh yes. While we are on the subject, I guess I should say something about The Santa Claus 3. It was as bad as Two was good, everything one fears in a cookie cutter sequel and much much more. How’s this for an original premise? Santa works too hard and doesn’t spend enough time with his wife.
This pathetic send up includes a lame attempt to mix the It’s A Wonderful Life theme with Kris Kringle. Supposing Scott Calvin had never become Santa Claus? Just how depressing would life be up in the North Pole? The blend worked about as well as juicy, sirloin steak with peanut butter.
The only bright spot is Martin Short, hilarious as the evil Jack Frost who wants to replace Santa Claus. I won’t ’t say Short saved the movie. But Short does get a good deal of screen time, so this may be worth watching, ONCE. Still, all in all, it stinks like one of those animals on the ice planet of Hoth.
You know, the one Han Solo thought smelled bad on the outside until he opened it up with a Light Saber.
9) Jingle All the Way
I can’t call Schwarzenegger a bad actor anymore. After all, he fooled us into thinking he was a Republican when he ran for Governor, an Academy Award caliber performance.
Anyway, this movie is so nutty and so zany, and so outrageous and so impossible, and so unbelievable, it works. Bad acting and all. Just seeing one hundred crooked Santas (led by Jim Belushi) dog pile on top of Arnold makes the whole outing worth it.
It’s also fun to watch the Governater being laughed at by two smug store clerks who treat him like an imbecile, simply because he didn’t know it was too late to buy a Turbo Man for his son.
“Where have you been? Turbo Man is only the hottest action toy ever! Duh!”
At this point, Schwarzenegger grabs them both by the collar, lifts them into the air and says, “Where’s your Christmas spirit?”
Full of repeat watchability, I laugh out loud every single time!
10) Home Alone
Would you be amazed to learn that Home Alone was once the highest grossing film of all time? Even though this Christmas Movie was overrated when it came out, it’s still a favorite. The premise is far-fetched and difficult to swallow.
But Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern brighten things up as bumbling villains. Normally slapstick is not my cup of eggnog, it works well here. Also, (at the expense of sounding like a sentimental mush pot), I cannot watch the old man reconcile with his family without getting teary-eyed.
The music makes the movie
John Williams wrote a beautiful score, which helps us forget the obvious elephant in the room: Macaulay Culkin cannot act! No matter. Everyone else in the movie is quite good. Even Culkin is effective in one scene., walking through his lonely neighborhood, looking earnestly through decorated windows, watching families gather for Christmas Eve and feeling left out, as we listen to the modern but worthy Williams carol, Somewhere In My Memory.
Note: The images that accompany this video are from Quebec, Canada. Notice the famous Frontenac Hotel, skyline views of Old Quebec, Old Town Quebec and more. Truly makes you want to visit this ancient city at the holidays.
It’s ironic that this review follows Jingle All the Way. Schwarzenegger, by comparison to Kulkin, comes across like Laurence Olivier. Still worth watching every year!
Listening to Barbara Streisand’s version of Jingle Bells reminds me of something painful. Although I do not have a Top Ten List of Worst Christmas Songs, this one would be number one.
Indeed, it could not possibly be higher. I actually like Babs as a singer and I even own a few of her CDs. But her version of Jingle Bells? It could not be worse:
Bob Siegel is a weekend radio talk show host on KCBQ and a regular CommDigiNew columnist. His novel “The Dangerous Christmas Ornament” is a 2017 “Distinguished Favorite” of the Independent Press Award and the New York City Big Book Award.
The book is also listed by About Read as one of the Top 30 Recommended Action Adventure Books for 11 Year Olds!