By the time Christmas is looming over me, I’m usually facing a massive backlog of holiday movies I need to watch. To avoid having to watch three different adaptations of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, a rough schedule must be created.
Curation is key, here. We’re four weeks out from Christmas, and while it’s necessary to get into the spirit, no one can maintain full-on holiday cheer for a lunar month. It’s been known to cause cancer and urinary tract infections. So we start off with the questionably festive Trading Places, in which goodwill and brotherhood are about as mauled by capitalism as they can be, but at least it ends with people coming together in the spirit of revenge and, uh… orange juice. Gremlins takes place during the holidays, involves a Santa Claus getting stuck in a chimney and dying, and, of course, begins with “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Darlene Love, one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time. Scrooged, because it’s important to have a Bill Murray movie for every holiday, and Elf because it’s mind-boggling to think of Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, and James Caan in the same movie together. A movie.
Christmas Carol (1938)
Deeper into the fold: Alastair Sim’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol is almost too dark to put too close to Christmas itself, brilliant though he is in the movie. And Love Actually may be the single most perfect, unlikely Christmas movie that will last longer than human civilization itself. It’s the best kind of hokey crap, and if the writers for Walking Dead don’t make Rick Grimes say, “It’s a… self… preservation thing” once before the show concludes, I will probably just write something mean about them on Twitter.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Charlie Brown Christmas
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
This is an exercise is plucking the strings of nostalgia, a Stanislavskian effort to engage emotional memory and set Christmas feelings into full swing. Rudolph is patently ridiculous, but Burl Ives is one hell of a snowman and raconteur, the Bumble teaches us about the gentleness in us all, and Hermy the Elf gets to be a dentist, which is to say he is 100% gay but you can’t be that on-the-nose in a claymation children’s movie. Charlie Brown Christmas, is, in my mind, gift-wrapping music. The Vince Guaraldi version of “Christmastime Is Here” is some sort of trance-inducing nightmare soundtrack for slicing wrapping paper and taping up presents. Ditto Christmas Vacation, which isn’t so much something you watch as something you remember in exact step with the movie.
Christmas Carol (1999)
Miracle On 34th Street
What we’re talking about is TNT’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol, starring Sir Patrick Stewart, noted Park Slope resident and fellow Patrick. This version stays pretty true to the book, and when Scrooge visits his nephew on Christmas Day, it’s a stake right to the heart. Also, Stewart’s take on what it looks and sounds like when a man laughs for the first time in maybe fifty years is one of the most amazing feats of acting ever recorded. Miracle On 34th Street—THE ONLY VERSION OF THE MOVIE THAT EXISTS, I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT, RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH? YOU MUST BE THINKING OF JURASSIC PARK GET THE HELL AWAY FROM ME—requires no explanation.
Home Alone gets a bump to week 3 because it has deep tendrils into my childhood, and I have been mildly uncomfortable about ordering pizza my entire life because of it.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
It’s A Wonderful Life
Mandatory. The object would seem to be: “cry as much as possible on Christmas Eve.” Muppets + Dickens. It almost shouldn’t work. Gonzo as Dickens? Ditto. But it works so good. I also maintain that It’s A Wonderful Life is A. one of the ten greatest movies ever made, B. actually secular (the Saints are galaxies, for fuck’s sake; Clarence is a star), and C. only one of three original ideas for Christmas stories, the others being Miracle and Carol.
A Christmas Story
A Wish For Wings That Work
Negotiable. Well, at least A Christmas Story is, since I can watch it in 5 seconds just by thinking about it. It’s more of a background movie than something you really plunk down and watch. Berkeley Breathed’s A Wish For Wings That Work, starring Bloom County and Outland‘s famed penguin Opus, is approaching mandatory.
There’s always one or two new attempts at Christmas magic that I’ll give their holiday chance. This year, it’ll be Un Conte de Noël and Joyeux Noël, both French, the former a black family comedy, the latter a historical drama about the famed World War I Christmas armistice, starring perennial man-crush and Marion Cotillard-impregnator Guillaume Canet; We’re No Angels, because tis always the season for Bogart; While You Were Sleeping, because it’s weird that I’ve lived this long without seeing it, and it looks like a slightly more stalkery version of a Nora Ephron film; and maybe Batman Returns, just because.
You’ll notice that Die Hard isn’t listed here. It’s not a Christmas movie, and you’re not edgy for saying it’s your favorite. You bozos.