I caught a snippet on National Public Radio (NPR) the other morning where a couple of broadcasters were discussing their favorite Christmas movies. In fact, they had asked the radio audience for theirs a couple of days prior. One of the broadcasters said his favorite was Love, Actually, and added that was the choice of many who had responded to their quick survey. The other radio personality selected Die Hard as her top Christmas movie.
I have never seen Love, Actually (my bad), but have heard that it is fine holiday fare. However, Die Hard as a Christmas movie (and I have seen it) would seem to be pushing the envelope right off of the table. Yes, it takes place at an office party on Christmas Eve, but if Santa's sleigh had flown by the window as the jolly sod was out making his rounds, Bruce Willis and the bad guys would have destroyed the sleigh, massacred the reindeer, and blown the fat guy to smithereens!
I like Christmas movies with conflict, usually family conflict, but without automatic weapons' fire.
A Christmas Carol (any version) has, as a major focus, the plight of the Cratchit family and the health of Tiny Tim. It's a Wonderful Life tells the tale of George Bailey as he struggles with family stressors, the loss of a significant amount of money, and keeping his town out of the hands of evil Mr. Potter. In both of those movies Santa Claus and the Christmas story itself aren't centrally featured - they are stories of people overcoming hardships and changing their lives for the benefit of others - and the "spirit" of Christmas is pervasive.
It like that conflict stuff, but I also like plenty of humor. My three favorite Christmas movies revolve around families in crisis who encounter plenty of odd-ball situations to keep the chuckle-meter bouncing.
Number three on my list is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation from 1989. The movie was a sequel to the earlier Chevy Chase hit, National Lampoon's Vacation, and took the characters from the original movie, the Griswold family and plopped them down in the middle of the holiday season. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), the father, was the continual conflict generator as he struggled to outshine the neighborhood with his decorations and illuminations - inside of the house and out. Lots of sight gags, lots of laughs.
Did you know that a very young Johnny Galecki (Leonard from The Big Bang Theory) played the role of Griswold's son, Rusty?
Number two was a movie made the following year in 1990: the classic Home Alone. The power went out in their Chicago neighborhood the night before the McCallister family and various other assorted relatives were to get up early, catch their airport shuttles, and fly to Paris for Christmas. When they finally woke up and realized they were late, the entire household jumped into overdrive getting ready and rushing into the shuttles. They made it to the airport just in the nick of time, hopped on their plane, and several hours later realized that young Kevin was not with them. He had accidentally been left home alone!
The role of Kevin was a career-maker for young Macaulay Culkin.
I watched Home Alone last night for the umpteenth time. It holds up very, very well.
But my favorite holiday movie of all time is 1994's The Ref starring Dennis Leary as a hard-luck burglar who kidnaps the WRONG couple in an effort to evade the law. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis, as the bitter and cruel Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur, are enough to convince their captor rather quickly that life in prison might be preferable to dealing with his hostages. This movie is a very clever take on the O. Henry classic, The Ransom of Red Chief. Another favorite film of mine is Ruthless People, which is also based on The Ransom of Red Chief.
The Ref is a tale of how a family begins to heal itself in the midst of a crisis. The writing and acting are superb. Besides the three leads, fine performances are also turned in by Glynis Johns (Lloyd's completely evil mother) and Christine Baranski (a.k.a. "Slipper socks, medium!").
It was such a treat getting to see Home Alone last night. I hope that I encounter The Ref before the season is over. Unlike Die Hard, The Ref is a compelling tale in which the holiday, and a kidnapper, bring the spirit of Christmas back to a family that has spent many years slowly forgetting the joys of the season and the importance of being a family.
Those are my picks. How about you? Which movies ring your chimes this special time of year?