Monday, December 7, 2009

Our Top Ten Favorite Christmas movies

Every year, there's a big hustle in our house to find all our favorite Christmas movies on Comcast's program guide and get them set to tape. We used to own most of these movies on VHS tapes -- well, okay, we still do own them, but the only VCR is upstairs on a small television and we're all so abominably spoiled by the whole DVD/DVR age we're living in that we just leave them collecting dust in the media cabinet. So we tape them.
Here's a list of our Top Ten Favorites:

10. The Ultimate Christmas Present (2000, Disney) - Allie is a southern California girl who wants a snow day, so she steals a weather machine from Santa and causes a blizzard to stop school, yes. But it also stops her father from being able to come home for Christmas. Stars Peter Scolari (Newhart, Bosom Buddies) as the nasty television weatherman.

9. Snowglobe (2007, TV) - Gina, a member of a large Italian-African American family, is dreaming of a WASP-y Christmas, complete with a proper Christmas goose and Dickensian groups of carolers instead of a loud, boisterous ethnic bunch yelling at each other over the lasagna. When she receives a mysterious and magical snow globe that takes her to the perfect Christmas village of her dreams, she finds out that maybe what she already has isn't so bad after all. Lorraine Bracco (The Sopranos) plays the part of Rose, Gina's no-nonsense but loving mother.

8. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965, TV) Cartoonist Charles Schultz lamented that there were so many mistakes in this wee gem of a Christmas classic, but after watching it every year for as long as we can remember, my husband and I still can't find one. The music, the simple snowflakes, Snoopy playing Crack-the-Whip and most of all, that little tree....cartoony perfection.

7. Unlikely Angel (1996, TV) - Ordinarily, you might wonder at a Christmas movie with Dolly Parton in it, because you just know she's going to sing something and I can't bear country music. However, in this movie, Dolly plays a nightclub singer named Ruby Diamond who meets an untimely death, but can't enter heaven until she performs a good deed on earth. Whether you're a fan of her music or not, Dolly is adorable and this movie is very cute and funny, pure Christmas feel-good schmaltz.

6. The House Without a Christmas Tree (1972, TV) Growing up in Nebraska in 1946 when you never knew your mother (who died in childbirth) and your father makes Ebeneezer Scrooge look like Anne of Green Gables is difficult, but that can't stop the irrepressible Addie Mills from living her fifth-grade life to the absolute fullest. This year, as in every other year, she begins her wily campaign to get her father to put up a Christmas tree and is surprised at the things she learns about dear old dad when she finally gets him to agree. Jason Robards stars as Jamie Mills and he, Lisa Lucas (Addie) and Mildred Natwick as Grandma Mills give the audience a show worth watching every single year. I don't really feel it's Christmas until I've bawled my head off over this lovely, funny, bittersweet movie.

5. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966, TV) This is the original, the best, one of the few movies that is even better than the book. Boris Karloff's creepy-voice narration and the singing of the Whos on that barren Christmas morning are primo entertainment for every age. And then there's Max, Max the dog in his Santa Claus get-up riding that sleigh down the side of the mountain: Irresistable.

4. Eloise at Christmastime (2003, TV) I remember Hilary Knight's Eloise books from my own childhood, so of course I read them to Meelyn and Ailsing. When I first heard about this movie, my lip curled scornfully: There was no way, I thought, that a movie could ever have even half the charm of the books. NO WAY. But then we watched Eloise at Christmastime one Christmas day and I was hooked, as were the girls. Little Sofia Vassilieva makes a perfect Eloise and Julie Andrews is all Super Nanny and the Plaza Hotel is beautiful, so watching this movie has become a Christmas Day tradition at our house while my husband has a little nap in his chair.

3. White Christmas (1954, Paramount Pictures) Sweet, funny and goofy, with a plot line as thin as gossamer and a gold-plated cast, this movie is a major classic in our house. How could you not love Danny Kaye? And Bing Crosby! Singing "White Christmas"! (Although several of us here are hold outs for "Mele Kalikimaka.") Rosemary Clooney is so pretty as buttoned-up Betty and Vera-Ellen has a waist the circumference of a chapstick. The military angle is a tear-jerker and we all just ignore how that horse-drawn sleigh is able to skim right over the ground that is only covered with about a half-inch of snow. Holiday magic!

2. Elf (2003, New Line Cinema) "You sit on a throne of lies"...."I like smiling, it's my favorite!"...."Buddy the Elf! What's your favorite color?!" All these quotes, plus about a hundred more, and Zooey Deschanel doing a fabulous rendition (with Buddy's help) of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and the deadpan Bob Newhart....*sigh* And to think that when I first heard about this movie, it didn't even want to see it! I thought it sounded stupid. But now that I have seen it approximately four thousand times and know huge swatches of dialogue by heart, I am willing to admit that I was wrong.

1. A Christmas Story (1983, Metro-Goldwyn Mayer) "You'll shoot your eye out, kid." The number of times I heard in my childhood that everything is fun and games until someone loses an eye is the same amount of times I have seen this movie. We love every second of it and settle down to watch on Christmas evening armed with cookies, popcorn, candy and other snack items both sweet and salty. Which is kind of what this movie is like: sweet and salty. You've got your cussy dad and your distracted mother and Mommy's Little Piggie and Ralphie. Ralphie helping his dad change the tire and dropping the lug nuts makes me laugh out loud every year.

But the Christmas movie that refuses to be classified, the one that is in a league all its own, the one you'd have to have a heart made of Kevlar to not cry your way through is:

It's a Wonderful Life (1946, RKO Radio Pictures) I can hardly even type the title of that movie without choking up. Seriously. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed make the best couple, especially because of Zuzu, whom I stubbornly persist in thinking is their real life daughter because it would be too cruel if she weren't. This movie is our third Christmas Day pick and I have to watch it while wearing absorbent clothing and holding a giant Costco-sized box of tissues. It's just a lovely, lovely movie, so lovely that I don't even care if it's black and white, which is SAYING SOMETHING for me.

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