Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wilde.Dash's 12 Days of Christmas: The Movies That For Whatever Reason, Make the Season (Rhyme Not Intended)

In my house, the holidays were always sort of a secular affair. There's little religion to speak of in my family, and what we do have is a mixed bag of backgrounds, so i was born into understanding the Christmas and Hanukkah as one big winter festival of sparkling lights, color coordination, family togetherness, gift-giving, and random traditions centered around food, celebratory winter songs, and repetitive film watching with family and friends. Thus, i have put together a list of the films that are either December rituals, or movies i just start feeling the inescapable urge to watch around this time of the season. I've excluded television specials like your standard Charlie Brown and Dr. Seuss cartoons, because (i'll be honest) to me if its a half hour of primetime air, it just isn't a film, even a short one. There's not much that's really special on here, but there are some things that always manage to surprise those who have actually met me. Let's begin.

1. A Christmas Story (1983) - This is the model by which all Christmas comedies must be judged. The Red Rider BB Gun, the leg lamp, you'll shoot your eye out, be sure to drink your Ovaltine, how does a piggy eat?, the old man and his epic battles with the furnace, I double dog dare ya, soap, the pink bunny suit. Classic, from one scene to the next, the ultimate representation of (as the tagline says) a "two-fisted, American Christmas". I love this movie. I loved it as a child, drawn to the simple pleasures like bulky snowsuits and frozen tongues, but the humor has only gotten better with age. It gets the mixture of comedy and nostalgia just right, never pushing things into obnoxious terrain and capturing all the best and worst bits of wanting that one present so damn bad as a child. Speaking ill about Ralphie in my house is something that'll get you a bar of soap in your mouth.

2. White Christmas (1954)- The other half of my quintessential Christmas viewing. Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye, and Vera Ellen of the 12-inch waist, it's like a time capsule to a place where folks say "swell" and "boffo" and problems can be solved with buttermilk and the goofy smile on Danny Kaye's face. Even if i hate the crushed velvet green and red tuxedos of the dancers (seen above) during the "Mandy" number, i couldn't go a year without them. Oddly enough, this was a tradition in no way related to my parents or an elder. My sister and i found this on TV when we were very young. We watched the second half, and then immediately watched the whole thing when it was re-aired the next day. Our parents couldn't believe it, didn't understand the appeal. I can't explain it, really, but the next year we searched for it again. Now, we've gone through VHS and DVD copies and never skip an early December viewing date.

3. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) - I wanted to watch this movie i think because my cousins kept quoting it. My first memory of it was just really thinking that "Mele kalikimaka" was the best term/song i'd ever heard. Then, slowly, i realized that the rest of the movie was fantastic as well. Like A Christmas Story, this is another comedy that catches all the nitty gritty comedic incidents on the road to celebrating the holidays. Irritating relatives, shopping, bad work bonuses, putting up the lights, every minor irritation is magnified, intensified, and aided by the maniacal look on Clark Griswold's (Chevy Chase) face. Other movies (like last year's Four Christmases), can try, but they will not succeed on the same level this does. It's all in the timing.

4. Die Hard (1988)- I don't talk to the person who initially suggested this action classic was actually a Christmas film anymore, but i'll give credit where it's due. She was right. John McClane (Bruce Willis) saving the Nakatomi Christmas party from the evil Eurotrash wrath of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, who you must adore) is an act of giving. Duh. To some he grants safety, to others, he gives bullets and brings the pain. Tis the season.

5. Home Alone (1990)- I'm sort of convinced that Macualay Culkin was sort of the most badass child actor, maybe ever. Kevin McAllister is sort of like John McClane, in that he fights off intruders and has a whole lot of catchphrases. Do i need to say more? Oh, btw, Buzz, your girlfriend...WOOF!

6. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)- My favorite muppet films will always be Muppets Take Manhattan and The Great Muppet Caper, but i have a history of taking muppets where i can get them, and as it stands this might be the best film version of the Dickens classic i've ever seen. I mean, really, Michael Caine would make a good Scrooge anywhere, but he chose to play the one who gets visited by Statler and Waldorf.

7. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) - I remember my Dad taking me to see this in the theater, and i have to admit, that first time i wasn't the biggest fan. I was in awe of how complicated it was to make. After all, i had a subscription to Disney Adventures that detailed the facts and figures of how many itty bitty movements of the models it took to complete a mere minute of film. But, aside from that, i didn't fully appreciate it. I grew into it, though. And now, while it isn't a yearly viewing, i do have a soft spot for Jack Skellington like any self-respecting morbid kid, and a tendency to sing "Making Christmas" to myself while wrapping presents.

8. The Santa Clause (1994)- Don't judge if you weren't actually a child when this movie came out. Because, you see, there was a time when Tim Allen was insanely popular and in that time he did a couple worthwhile things. This, oddly enough, is one of them. Galaxy Quest is another, the Santa sequels are most certainly not. The Santa Clause is a clever family film that doesn't rely solely on the basics of the mythology, but doesn't pervert them into something garish either. It's a simple wonder, that being Santa Claus is a job, not an immortal position, and that anyone, even your dad, could be Mr. Claus, and the perks of that job are, well, pretty sweet.

9. The Sound of Music (1965) - It's not a Christmas movie. It's a musical Nazi epic. But i'll be damned if there isn't something about all the Austrian atmosphere with the nuns and the snowflakes that stay on noses and eyelashes and the sheer irrepressible likability of Julie Andrews that doesn't make me start craving this movie around early November. I am not ashamed to admit my Sound of Music fandom. It's an impressive feat on a grand scale, watching it, you feel dwarfed by the sound and the majesty of those mountains. It gets a bad rap as being some sort of sweetly innocent piece of fluff with irritating songs and silly scenes with clothes out of curtains, but i'd argue it's far more than that. Sure, the sentiment is there, but it's mixed into some pretty heavy stuff and photographed to perfection.

10. Mary Poppins (1964) - Yes, ok, i love Julie Andrews. How can you not? Don't you want her to be your grandmother and tell you stories with that fantastic voice and winning smile? That would be wonderful. Admit it. But since that's not going to happen, we have to settle for having her as the ultimate cinematic nanny. Like Sound of Music, Mary Poppins is another film that gets smack talked based on fuzzy childhood recollections. There's a reason why both of these films were Oscar darlings in the years they were released, and a reason why they've stuck around so long. They. Are. Timeless. If i watch one, the other will soon follow, which is why i must include both on this list. They go great with hot chocolate and cookies. Plus, Mary Poppins is one sassy lady. She don't mess around.

11. Forbidden Planet (1956) - In my opinion, the most fun of the early sci-fi films and too often overshadowed by The Day the Earth Stood Still. Forbidden Planet is Shakespeare's The Tempest in space made Freudian and featuring one delightful robot sidekick and the best alien soundtrack. As my father's favorite, and the one movie he makes a point of watching over and over and over again, Forbidden Planet is the antidote to much of the other Christmas viewing and a breather that is always...always taken.

12. Peter Pan (1953) - JM Barrie's story is one of my two favorite children's tales of all time. It gets to me. It's the whole "i don't wanna grow up" thing, but that's a story for another day. I get the urge to watch this politically incorrect Disney classic at all times of the year, but i find i most frequently give into it around the holidays. There's something about the spirit of the whole thing, the urgency of its battles and the magic of its world, that goes along well with the small excitements that come with first snows of the season and waiting to unwrap presents. Oh christ, shut me up before i sound too sappy and sentimental.

You should know, i'm writing all of this while watching Dead Snow. Which reminds me, the original Black Christmas is a solid Non-Christmas Christmas movie as well.

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