Christmas Movie Countdown

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The best thing about Christmas is undoubtably the movies- whether you’re a fan of the cheesy classics that bring back nostalgic memories of childhood, the newly discovered favorites that are used as a palate cleanser, or movies that take place at Christmas that aren’t really about Christmas, there’s a movie with a Red Santa Hat out there for you.

If You’re Looking for a Forgotten Classic: White Christmas (1954) is the film Chevy Chase is talking about when he says “We’re going to have the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap danced with…” well, you remember the rest. This heartwarming musical doesn’t have a lot of Christmas classics as the music, but the story, about two veterans-turned-successful showmen hosting a holiday performance at the inn of their former general, is full of Christmas fun. It also stars George Clooney’s Aunt, Rosemary Clooney, as Bing Crosby’s love interest.

If You’re Looking for a Cartoon: Olive the Other Reindeer (1999)This is not the obvious choice, and I could go on and on about the Rankin Bass stop-motion classics that defined my experience with Christmas growing up (Don’t get me started on Santa Claus is Coming to Town). But a little known cartoon that has just as much Christmas Cheer is Olive the Other Reindeer, about a precocious pup (played by Drew Berrymore) who mishears Santa on the radio and thinks that Santa needs her to come to the North Pole and pull his sleigh with the reindeer team. Add a mail man villain who hates the holiday season because of the havoc it wreaks on his back, and you’ve got a should-be classic on your hands.

If You’re Looking for Christmas Sequel: The Santa Claus 2 (2002). When I was a kid, I would set up shop on one of the windowsills of my living room and pretend to be one of the elves in the control room of this movie. Santa has to find a wife to keep his job, and ends up going back home and reconnecting with his son. A lot of people don’t like this movie- to them I say, how can you not like a movie that features teenagers using rock-climbing equipment to spray paint the walls of their school gymnasium?

If You’re Looking For Something as Cheerful as You are: Elf (2003). How can you beat the warm smiles of Buddy the Elf? Every line of dialogue in this film is a quote that can be used the whole year long. Will Ferrell is delightful. Zooey Deschanel is blonde! Santa is a little bit grumpy and that’s pretty cool! There’s not a lot to say about Elf other than- you should watch it.

If You’re Looking for A Christmas Carol Adaptation: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). As much of a Christmas fanatic as I am, I do not know Christmas Carol adaptations very well and I am sure there are dozens of classic versions that could be on this list. But my personal favorite version was brought to life by the Jim Henson company. This version has a fantastic soundtrack, a marvelous performance by Michael Caine as Scrooge, and the comforting and warm presence of the Muppets. The Ghost of Christmas Present is a role model for all.

If You’re Looking for Something that Barely Counts: Die Hard (1988) and The Shane Black Christmas Movies (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang [2005] and Iron Man 3 [2013])There are lots of movies that take place at Christmas time, and we can debate whether or not they are Christmas movies later, but sometimes you need something that doesn’t really have anything to do with Christmas to get you through the season. For these, there are perfect action movies that you can use as palate cleansers. Die Hard is a perfect, macho adventure that makes you thankful you’re wearing shoes this Christmas. Shane Black frequently sets his films during Christmastime, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the PERFECT blend of his dark humor and Christmas cheer. And for Marvel Fanatics, Iron Man 3 has the most holiday cheer.

If You’re Looking for Something to Remind you How Wonderful Life is: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). What could me more heartwarming than to watch someone learn that all the sacrifices he made along the way were worth it? We’ve all seen it, and it’s a million years long, but I encourage all of you to take the time this Holiday season to watch this movie. It’s romantic, it’s nostalgic, it believes in you. We could all use something genuinely heartwarming at the end of the year.

If None of Those Are Your Style: My personal favorite Christmas Movie is A Christmas Story (1983), but I didn’t want this list to be too-obvious “Camille’s favorite movie” propaganda. Gremlins (1984) is another great holiday movie, with a hint of 80’s campy-scary. Christmas Vacation (1989) can make any holiday mishap look like a breeze. And there are the classics I haven’t personally seen: Home Alone (1990), and Jingle All the Way (1996). 

So, whatever your favorite Christmas movie, have an excellent holiday! And if Christmas isn’t your thing, watch some good movies this December 25th, just because Movies are the Best. 

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

planes-trains-and-automobiles-screencap-03Is there a story more quintessentially American than that of a workaholic father trying to make it home to Chicago for Thanksgiving who keeps facing disasters in his modes of transportation? Of course not. The classic Steve Martin and John Candy comedy rises above it’s simple premise and status as a “pop” film to becomes one of the nicest films I’ve ever seen in my life.

The director, John Hughes, is known for his classic high school films of the 1980’s. I may not need to list his films for you to recognize his influence on teen movie history, and he was known for bringing rich character to the archetypes of high school cliques. His first film as a director to focus on adult protagonists, John Hughes’s trademarks are all on display here- grounded character, a tender story, and undeniable comedy.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a rare comedy wherein the two main characters are legitimately good, nice people. Neal Page (Martin) is a successful, white collar worker heading home from a business trip to spend the holidays with his family in Chicago. He meets Del Griffith (Candy) while waiting for their delayed plane, where the two discover that Del stole Neal’s taxi earlier in the day. With the coldest of shoulders, Neal runs into Del again and again and again, and through a series of weather-caused travel mishaps, they become reluctant travel companions. While they frequently argue and insult one another, you can tell that they both just want to get home. Their desperation brings out the worst in them, but it is evident that this is, indeed, their worst.

The tightrope that is walked by the film is phenomenal. Without the turmoil, there, of course is no film, but the troubles that these two men face is delightful. As audience members, we crave their success and revel in their misfortune. There is nothing in the film that doesn’t need to be there and everything that needs to be in the film is included. The perfect example of this is the monologue that got the film it’s R-Rating. After one too many misfortunes Steve Martin gives a biting speech to an employee at a car rental facility. Without this scene, the film easily would have gained a PG-13 rating, but Hughes chose to leave the scene in. But the film doesn’t revel in this R-Rating either. It is a wholesome family film if I’ve ever seen one, but it kept the R-Rated material that it needed.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the film equivalent of a Thanksgiving Meal. It is at once wholesome and indulgent, best enjoyed with loved ones. Even upon first viewing, watching it feels like tradition. The film can be defined by what it is (heartfelt, original) as easily as it can be defined by what it is not (lazy, gratuitous). It is a funny, simple movie about Thanksgiving and how terrible traveling is- what is more American than that?