It has been an exhausting and difficult few weeks, so when I saw my blogging friend Tara’s Friday Five this morning, I knew that it was time to put my long to-do list away for a few minutes and spend some time having fun.
And, if you know me, you know that talking about Christmas movies and singing Christmas songs are my idea of having F-U-N!
(Confession: I break out my Amy Grant Christmas albums – all three of them – around July every year. I’m sure Bruce loves them just as much as I do. Right, Honey? I’m waiting for someone to challenge me to a Christmas Song Trivia Contest. I would totally win. Any takers?)
I “met” Tara of Running ‘N’ Reading when she followed me on Twitter a few months ago, and I recently realized that we probably came face to face in August when she traveled to Batesville to run the White River 4 Mile Classic (she ran; I handed out cups of water along the route). We’ve gotten to know each other a little bit through our blogs, social media and the Arkansas running community, and we share a love of good books, too. Tara posts a Friday Five every single week (I don’t know how she keeps up with all her blogging, marathon training, book reviews and what-not and also finds time for work and sleep!), and it’s not often that I get to join in, but this is my way of saying, publicly: Tara, you rock!
Here are my Favorite Holiday Movies, and stay tuned for my Favorite Christmas TV Specials. (There are so many to love, I have to separate the movies and TV shows into different categories!) But don’t expect a Favorite Holiday Songs post, because the list would go to infinity and beyond.
In no particular order (mostly because I can’t decide for sure on No. 1):
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
Even before I began working at a bank that gives back to the community in so many ways, both large and small (I personally have been a recipient of donations to my “causes” from both the corporate entity and employee support), I loved the themes in this movie: generosity, community spirit, personal accountability, angels watching our backs (“Attaboy, Clarence! Attaboy!”), love (family, spouse, friends, neighbors) esprit de’ corps, buddies (remember Ernie and Bert, the cops?) and forgiveness. Mr. Potter, eat your heart out.
And then there’s Jimmy Stewart. Could you imagine anyone else, ever, as George Bailey? If anyone ever attempts to remake this movie (I sure hope no one has), the casting director would have a heckuva time finding a replacement for the incomparable James Stewart.
2. Elf (2003).
The first time I saw this story of a 6-foot-3 human who was raised by elves, I went to the theater thinking it was going to be dumb but I decided to give it a try. And the first time I watched it, I thought, “Yeah, it’s dumb but I kinda liked it.” Now it’s a can’t-miss movie every year, and I pop it into the DVD player several times a season (starting in … October?) while I’m puttering around the house on Saturdays. For sure, there are dumb moments, but maybe the adolescent in me chooses to embrace them (I still laugh out loud during the long-and-loud-belch scene).
But I love Buddy’s childlike innocence and enthusiasm. Can you imagine being happy and bringing holiday cheer every day, all year, to everyone you meet? As they teach in elf school: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.” There are so many great one-liners in this movie, especially from Buddy: “I just like to smile. Smiling’s my favorite.” And to the fake Santa: “You sit on a throne of lies.”
(This was also the first time I became aware of the awesome Zooey Deschanel, who played Jovie. Love her.)
This is one of those rare cases in which I enjoy the sequel as much as (well, nearly as much as) the original. (Notable non-holiday examples: Sabrina and True Grit, although my brother would challenge me on that last one.)
Natalie Wood is wonderful as the 6-year-old Susan, but little Mara Wilson is equally precocious; she steals every scene she’s in, because she’s just so stinkin’ cute. And the Santas (Edmund Gwenn, 1947, and Richard Attenborough, 1994) are both engaging and delightful. If I had to pick the main character love-interests, though, I’d choose the always wonderful Maureen O’Hara from the original and good-guy Dylan McDermott from the sequel (although John Payne is not bad on the eyes).
For me, the 1994 version is eye candy. The costume designer chose classic wardrobes for all the characters, and the scenery takes you back to days gone by. New York is stunning and nostalgic in this film. I have no doubt the visuals in this version are a nod to the 1947 classic.
That being said, notice that the piece of art I picked for the 1947 version is in color. Weeellllll, the original was in black and white, and that was just fine with me. Why do they have to go messing with the classics? (It sounds like I’m contradicting myself because of the above comments about sequels, but I’m talking Colorizing here, people. In the 1980s, Ted Turner turned a bunch of black and white classics into color versions for what purpose? Money? I guess I’d better stop here, because sequels are about money, too, no? Except I have to say this: “It’s a Wonderful Life” was a black-and-white movie too, although the movie poster above is also in color.)
There are just too many quotable, laugh-out-loud and now-classic moments to list here. I live for the scene where Clark receives what he anticipates is the usual generous Christmas bonus (he has already made a sizable down-payment on the swimming pool he plans to build) and instead gets a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club. His rant/rave is over the top and classic Chevy Chase. (Wouldn’t anyone have a meltdown after suffering through a Christmas week like he’s had?) But Uncle Lewis and Aunt Bethany have their own hilarious moments … and should I admit here that I, too, have a cousin Eddie? Fortunately, my cousin does not have a dog named Snots.
(Note to Tara: Yes, I have had “Mele Kalikimaka” running through my head for hours now, but I forgive you. It’s such a great song.)
This movie is sentimental, well-acted and funny. If you need to laugh until you cry, check it out.
Where’s the Tylenol?
Christmas in Connecticut (1945).
I’ve long counted this as my favorite Christmas movie, so I saved it for last. (I said I couldn’t decide on No. 1, but when it comes down to it, this still reigns.) This one is a bit hard to find in stores or online, but it’s worth the effort. Barbara Stanwyck is always outstanding, and here she gets support from Dennis Morgan as the lonely sailor, Sydney Greenstreet as her overbearing boss, and the delightful S.Z. Sakall as her “Uncle Felix.”
Premise: Stanwyck, as Elizabeth Lane, is a columnist for “Smart Housekeeping” magazine and writes ad nauseam about her wonderful husband, baby and house in the country, as well as all the yummy food she loves to cook for her family. Trouble is, in reality she’s single and childless, lives in a flat in New York City and doesn’t know a flapjack from a latke. When her boss invites the poor lonely (single) sailor to spend Christmas with her family in their Connecticut farmhouse – and then invites himself along – hilarity ensues. She has to come up with a husband, a baby and a farmhouse (no problem, right?) and learn to cook, pronto. Or, wait. Maybe “Uncle Felix,” who works at the NYC restaurant she frequents, wouldn’t mind tagging along to cook the meals. At least she’s got that part covered, eh?
When they arrive in Connecticut, secrets, borrowed babies (yes, babies, plural), hasty wedding attempts and, of course, a love story are the order of the day. This classic is in black and white, but I believe a colorized version is available (but who wants that?).
If you attempt to find this movie, do not make the mistake of renting the 1992 TV version directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and starring Dyan Cannon and Kris Kristofferson. Do I really need to explain why? Lord, help us all.
What are your favorite Christmas movies? Let us know in the comment section below.
NEXT FRIDAY: Stay tuned for my five favorite holiday TV shows.