Friday, December 09, 2005

What to Watch This Christmas

Each and every Friday throughout the calendar year, fresh theatrical releases find their way into cinemas worldwide. With genres abounding from drama and comedy, to action and romance, there is always something for all tastes. Nevertheless, come late November/early December, Hollywood typically attempts to get movie-theater goers into the Christmas spirit by emptying their wallets for one or two holiday-oriented features. This year the evidence would be 20th Century Fox’s The Family Stone. (Films like Jarhead, The Ice Harvest, Just Friends, and Rent are also set during the holidays, but according to popular definition, these are not “holiday” pictures.)

Whatever your appetite, there is without a doubt a wide variety of Christmas treasures available on both DVD and VHS that offset other cinematic lumps of coal. Hopefully, the following list will provide you with an understanding of which films should help decorate your mantel and which motion-pictures should be buried beneath the North Pole.

Let us first start with the classics. Before the 1970’s, Santa’s cinematic sack was stuffed with lots of gifts of joy and spirit. I’m sure everyone is more than familiar with both the stop-motion animated favorite of Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) and the cartoon animated classics of Frosty the Snowman (1969), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), and the 30-minute A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), but some of the most endearing Christmas films to date came long before Alaska and Hawaii were added to Santa’s schedule of U.S. stops.

In 1946, Frank Capra helmed the outstanding story about celebrating life, entitled It’s a Wonderful Life, and one year later Kris Kringle was on trial with the fantastic Miracle on 34th Street. Finally, to round out the early Christmas ornaments, the thoroughly entertaining White Christmas (1954) is undoubtedly a holiday musical favorite.

Moving on, post-disco era to present, there are a few films that take on the comedic aspects of the holiday season, including the outright uproarious A Christmas Story (1983), the popular choice of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989), and the equally enjoyable Home Alone (1990). Also, newly added to the comical collection of Christmas features is the amusing Elf. So, whether it’s watching Ralphie nearly “shoot his eye out,” the Griswald’s family fun, Kevin defending his house, or Will Ferrell playing a six-foot tall elf named Buddy, either way, be sure your bladder is emptied of all eggnog before viewing these comedic treats.

On the other hand, if it’s originality you are searching for (that is far from a strictly inspiring or sternly side-splitting motion-picture), there are a few twinkling lights on the tree. Robert Zemeckis’ The Polar Express (2004) is highly recommended; both its computer animation and elements of faith are outright astounding. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare before Christmas (1993) is out-and-out innovative—combining the creatures of Halloween with the spirit of Christmas. Also, Scrooged (1988) is a unique and pleasant take on the frequently remade classic A Christmas Carol. In addition, for more of a dark comedy that isn’t afraid of offending anyone, search for none other than Bad Santa. Bad Santa is hands down one of the funniest films of 2003, and in terms of its Christmas laughter-inducing level, it’s right up there with A Christmas Story—just with a completely different (and more adult-oriented) tone.

In contrast, there are some full-length feature films of the Christmas variety that aren’t so hot in terms of quality. The Santa Clause (1994), its sequel (2002), and Schwarzenegger’s Jingle All the Way (1996) are cute, but just nominal, while Tim Allen’s more recent holiday endeavor, Christmas with the Kranks, is downright detestable. For a better understanding of more Yuletide refuse that should be thrown out with the leftover fruitcake, look no further than 2004’s Surviving Christmas (which was out of theatres before turkey day) and 2005's The Happy Elf (which went straight to DVD). And finally, to round out the holiday-season films that I would not touch with a 39-and-one-half foot pole is the horrible horror film Jack Frost (1997), its even more abhorrent sequel, Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000), and Santa Clause Conquers The Martians (1964).

Regardless, ‘tis the season to be jolly, so make sure you find a film that gets you into the spirit of the season—be it an inspirational drama, a hysterical comedy, or a fantastical fairy-tale. Hence, from me to you: happy viewing and happy holidays.

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005