Hey everyone. I'm writing from Virginia, where I"ll be spending the holidays. As for as entertainment goes, I've hit a bit of culture shock. Despite having a to-see list of 12 movies at the moment, I can't find anything here I want to see. Seriously. Every theater plays the same ten recent releases. The Day the Earth Stood Still is everywhere, but I've got no chance at finding Milk. So if I review any odd movies this week, you'll know why (outside of Doubt, which I saw last week). Also, I had to go to eight stores to find the last available menorah. There really are no Jews in the South.
Anyway, just like with Thanksgiving, I'll be doing a series of holiday posts to celebrate the lead-up to Christmas and the continuation of Chanukkah. I'm starting off with my top 5 Christmas movies. As much as I like Miracle on 34th Street and White Christmas, this list is about going beyond the typical fare for the movies I really love.
5. The Hebrew Hammer
Ok, this is a Chanukkah movie, not a Christmas movie. But because we get so few (Eight Crazy Nights does NOT count), I thought I would honor the best. This "Jewsploitation" flick has a plot just as silly as any Christmas special: Adam Goldberg's Hebrew Hammer must stop Andy Dick's evil Santa Clause from destroying Chanukkah. The Jew jokes are fantastic, from passing out copies of Yentl to testing if someone is Jewish by how much they whine. You may have to be Jewish (or anti-Semetic) to appreciate the humor, but it's the perfect antidote to the overwhelming amount of Christmas music.
4. Love Actually
The networks may think Elf is the contemporary Christmas classic, but Love Actually is my pick. The movie may principally be about love, actually, but what Christmas movie isn't? Christmas drives every major plot, even bringing together the three disparate siblings for a children's pageant. Finally, the movie created not one, but two classic Christmas songs in Billy Mack (Bill Nighy)'s "Christmas Is All Around Me" and that little girl's cover of "All I Want for Christmas Is You." Love, family, and music? Sounds like a Christmas classic to me.
3. A Muppet Christmas Carol/Scrooged
Ok, I cheated, but you try picking just one version of A Christmas Carol. I love the story of Scrooge's visits from the three ghosts straight-up, but isn't everything better with Muppets? I think so. Throw in some songs and you've got a fun twist on a classic. Much like Muppets, Bill Murray improves every story. As the Muppet version stays close to the story, Scrooged is my pick for the modern twist. Murray plays a Scrooge-like TV exec visited by three ghosts while putting on a live special of, you guessed it, A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray, TV, and Dickens all together? A winning formula.
2. Die Hard
When people think Christmas, their next thought is not usually Die Hard. But in taking place on Christmas day and heavily using Christmas songs in the soundtrack, this is most definitely a Christmas movie. Besides, what could be more in the Christmas spirit than taking out European terrorist/thieves one-by-one without shoes? Sure, violence may not be on the Christmas checklist, but John and Holly McClane's reconciliation at the end provides the requisite Christmas gooeyness. The fact that it's the greatest action movie ever made is just icing on the cake. You don't need to wait until Christmas to see it, but it's sure a good excuse.
1. It's a Wonderful Life
I tried to think outside the box, but there's no denying It's a Wonderful Life as the greatest Christmas movie ever. It's the only movie I feel like I have to see each year. What's nice about It's a Wonderful Life is how many different levels it works on. When I was younger, I only watched the movie for Clarence showing George what life would be like had he not been born. These days, I'm much more interested in George's life, as he faced continual disappointments to keep Bedford Falls out of Potter's control. This year, the movie's being looked at even harder, both in a recent New York Times article and for its insights into the Depression. But regardless of why you watch, that ending chorus of "Auld Lang Syne" hits just as hard. And that's the mark of a true Christmas movie.