Well folks, it looks like Christmastime is upon us once again, and the weather outside certainly is frightful. It’s hard to believe it’s been twelve months since last year’s gleeful celebrations, but it’s here; and December 25th is approaching pretty darn fast. As per usual, fluorescent lights will be decorating the houses on the streets you pass, trees will be being put up in the corners of living rooms, kids will be building crude snowmen in their front gardens, and dads everywhere will be squeezing their way into now-undersized Santa suits. And what better way to celebrate Christmas than sitting down in front of the fireplace and watching a movie while the snow descends from the skies above? Opening presents is overrated.
There are always the regular festive flicks that pop up during the TV stations’ December schedules, all snow-covered and candy-cane-flavoured. These Christmas films have become a common ritual of family time during the wintry season, and in amongst them is quite a collection of all-time classics — some more holiday-like than others. Everyone has their favourites, whether it be from the films’ holly-jolly attitude or from pure childhood nostalgia. So, let’s leave the cookie out for Santa, turn the heating up, and countdown my personal top ten seasonal features.
10. “Scrooged” (1988) — First on the nice list is Richard Donner’s “Scrooged,” a fantasy comedy starring everyone’s favourite funnyman, Bill Murray. A modern (well, modern in the ’80s) retelling of Charles Dickens‘ classic novella “A Christmas Carol,” it tells the story of self-centred TV executive Frank Cross, played by the perfectly cast, scenery-munching “Ghostbusters” actor. Due to his arrogance and extreme selfishness during the holiday season, he is visited by three ghosts who show him how much of a heartless git he’s become, trying to turn him into a nice man once again. Both lighthearted and darkly comic at the same time, “Scrooged” proves itself as not just another lazy retelling of “A Christmas Carol,” showing off Murray at his very best. Yule love it.
9. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989) — The third of the misadventures of the infamous Griswold family, “Christmas Vacation” follows the dysfunctional household as they celebrate the jovial month and excitedly prepare for the big day itself. Chevy Chase leads once again as accident-prone Clark in this hysterical everything-goes-wrong comedy, in which, well, everything goes wrong — except the movie itself, of course. Written by John Hughes, it’s a hilarious film worthy of cracking up over and giggling some more — and if you don’t, I’ll strangle you with a goddamned wreath.
8. “Elf” (2003) — Before Jon Favreau was directing Robert Downey Jr. in superhero flick “Iron Man,” he did a side-splitting and sweet little Christmas film called “Elf.” Will Ferrell plays Buddy, one of Santa’s not-so-little helpers who’s much taller than his fellow workshop workers. Discovering that he’s actually a human, he leaves his home in the North Pole and sets out to bond with his dad, James Caan, in New York. Ferrell is unforgettable as the naive, chuckling chatterbox who has a staggering obsession with Christmas — he’s a well-meaning grown man walking around in an elf costume. Fluffy fun that even cotton-headed ninny-muggins will enjoy.
7. “The Santa Clause” (1994) — A bit of a nostalgia piece for me, John Pasquin’s family comedy stars Tim Allen as a man who accidentally kills Santa Claus. Through some contractual rules, the cranky father-of-one is forced to don the famous red suit and floppy hat, having to take on the obligations of the chubby present-giver whether he likes it or not. A definite high-point of Allen’s so-so film career, “The Santa Clause” is a fabulous source of much kid-friendly merriment. It’s better than “Christmas with the Kranks” anyway.
6. “Die Hard” (1988) — “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” may not sound like the joyous catchphrase to a hee-haw Yuletide family film, but action-flick “Die Hard” has Christmas traditions exploding out the yin-yang. Revolving around a vest-wearing Bruce Willis (with hair) as he skilfully thwarts a bunch of hostage-taking terrorists/thieves in a skyscraper, John McTiernan’s high-octane actioner has a big Christmas party, festive songs, a massive Christmas tree, and a recently-deceased henchman wearing a Santa hat on his head with “Now I Have A Machine Gun. Ho-ho-ho!” written in blood on his jumper. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la die.
5. “Gremlins” (1984) — Another non-traditional Xmas picture, Joe Dante’s “Gremlins” is a tongue-in-cheek horror that’s mostly suitable for turkey-hungry littluns. Zach Galligan is given an early gift of a cute and cuddly little creature called Gizmo by his father for the holidays, bought from an antique store in Chinatown. Things go horribly wrong when water is spilled on the adorable fur-ball, causing Gizmo to spawn a whole gang of malicious monsters that attack the snowy town through hilariously grisly methods. Don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight, don’t expose them to bright lights, but most certainly don’t let them not watch “Gremlins” every December. If you can drag them away from the local “Snow White” screening, that is.
4. “Home Alone” (1990) — John Hughes will always be known for his seminal ’80s chick-flicks, but what I will always remember him for is for scribing the wickedly funny slapstick “Home Alone,” a childhood favourite of mine. The film that shot Macaulay Culkin to fame (before he disappeared into some unknown parallel dimension), “Home Alone” showed the mayhem kids can get up to when left on their own. Eight-year-old Kevin McCallister ends up being accidentally left behind when his parents go off on holiday to Paris for the season, the situation made even worse when two scheming robbers target the family home. It’s also even more entertaining when Kevin decides to take on the couple of clumsy bandits all by himself, setting up intricate traps around the whole house. Darn pesky kids.
3. “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) — Whether or not you believe in Santa Claus (how could you not?), you’ll adore this black-and-white classic from writer/director George Seaton. Kris Kringle is an elderly man who claims to be the bearded holiday icon himself, and ends up in the loony-bin because of these seemingly delusional declarations. A faithful lawyer, who Kringle has recently befriended, bravely tries to defend him in court, attempting to convince a judge that Kringle is indeed the real thing, reindeer and all. Crafted with much humour, “Miracle on 34th Street” is a charming vintage Christmas film starring Santa Claus himself. Edmund Gwenn really was Santa Claus, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he?
2. “A Christmas Story” (1983) — Never has a film created such a childish sense of wonder and fascination than Bob Clark’s “A Christmas Story.” The story in question is of a nine-year-old boy from Indiana who wants an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rifle for Christmas. It’s jaw-dropping how involving such a simple story can be, as we yearn for little Ralphie to receive what he so wishes for. Jean Shepherd’s awe-inspiring narration is one of the many fuels behind this film’s warm, burning fire, making one feel like a toddler again. And Ralphie’s such a cutie!
1. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) — Heartwarming, funny, tender and emotional, Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” truly is the quintessential Christmas movie that should be watched every year by all in range of a television set. Part fantasy, part sentimental drama, it has James Stewart receiving a visit from his guardian angel, Clarence, when the former considers suicide. For most of the film we’re watching the life of the generous, selfless businessman as his personality goes from highs to lows, Stewart beginning to realise that his dreams may never come true. The poignant ending will leave even the hardest man welling up and quivering in tearful delight. It’s a wonderful film.