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Getting into the holiday spirit… through Christmas movies

As some of you may know, I love Christmas movies.  Today, my niece Sophie said she wanted to get into the holiday spirit and asked for a list of my favorites, so here goes!

I’m starting with the classic “A Christmas Carol”, but there have been literally hundreds of movies made around this general theme.  One of my favorites is A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge. Fairly true to the original story, and Stewart is terrific. There’s also the 1970 MUSICAL version  starring Albert Finney as Scrooge with Sir Alec Guinness as Marley. You’ll have the song “Thank You Very Much” stuck in your head for days! On the more humorous side, there’s also The Muppet Christmas Carol from 1992, with Micheal Caine as Scrooge, Kermit and Miss Piggy as the Cratchits, and Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat as narrators. VERY funny! A modern-day humorous version is Scrooged, with Bill Murray as a tv executive who get the classic three-ghost treatment. A final entry in this category that I really like is Chasing Christmas (2005), kind of an oddball take focusing on the ghosts. In this one, the Spirit of Christmas Past is sick of the whole thing and takes off, leaving the Scrooge-character (a beautifully grumpy Tom Arnold) trapped in his own past.

Another classic is of course “Miracle on 34th Street”. There have been a bunch of versions, but the best two are the original Miracle on 34th Street (1947) with Maureen O’Hara as the mom, and Miracle on 34th Street (1994) with an adorable Mara Wilson as the little girl.

You’ve probably already seen the classic musical White Christmas (1954) with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. But did you know that this WASN’T the first movie to showcase the song “White Christmas”? That song was a key element in Holiday Inn (1942). Still starring Bing Crosby, but this time with Fred Astaire in a plot that involves a song-and-dance man who quits the biz to run a hotel that’s only open on holidays. There are some GREAT dance numbers, including a terrific Astaire number with firecrackers for 4th of July, and there’s also a somewhat controversial number for Lincoln’s birthday that Crosby and co-star Marjorie Reynolds do in black-face. I really prefer “Holiday Inn” to “White Christmas”, but they’re both good.

The final must-watch classic for me is It’s a Wonderful Life (60th Anniversary Edition) from 1946, but I usually like to hold off on watching this one until much closer to Christmas day.

As you probably know, there are tons of holiday-themed movies released every year. Several channels, including ABCFamily, Hallmark, Hallmark Movie Channel, and True Some are ok, some are dreadful, but they all tend to fall into categories. For example, there is the “who will be the next Santa?” type, with candidate-Santas including Whoopi Goldberg, Jenny McCarthy, Tim Allen, Vince Vaughn, Steve Guttenberg, and many more. My favorite in this category is Mr. St. Nick (2002) set in modern day Florida, starring Kelsey Grammer as the errant heir to the Christmas throne.

There are also lots of romances, usually where the only child of a single mother does something that ends up helping the mom find her own true love on Christmas Day (as signified by the new couple happily kissing under the mistletoe). Or childhood friends who’ve lost contact reunite.  The only one of these that stands out for me is Borrowed Hearts with Roma Downey as the single mom and Eric McCormack as the romantic interest. To be honest, that might be because I watched it with Heidi when she was little, so I find it to be a bit nostalgic.

There are also lots of movies where someone makes a wish on a Christmas star (or bumps her head really hard) and wakes up to find a different life (either a successful career woman waking up poor-but-happy or a poor woman waking up rich and successful).  After a couple of days of panic, our hero settles in to the new life and then –whammo! returns to her former life having learned that money isn’t everything, especially when you have a loving family.  Sadly, (or perhaps obviously) none of these titles spring to mind – they tend to blur together.

One of my favorite categories is where someone has to live Christmas Day over and over again (like in Groundhog Day).  There are versions where a woman relives Christmas day (12 Dates of Christmas), a man relives Christmas day (Christmas Do-Over), a teenager relives Christmas day (Pete’s Christmas and Christmas Every Day), and even a Muppet version (Elmo Saves Christmas).

There are several true stories that are pretty good, including Silent Night, set in WWII where Linda Hamilton forces a temporary truce between opposing soldiers, Christmas Cottage, about Thomas Kinkade’s early life, and (my favorite in this group) is The Man Who Saved Christmas, with Jason Alexander playing A.C. Gilbert, the man who invented the Erector Set.

Finally, for something a little bit different, there’s Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (English Subtitled)a Finnish film set in far northern Finland where the Santa character is NOT a good guy, and the elves are all scary, old, naked men who kidnap children. Kind of dark, but really well done!

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