The Honor Roll is a Great Stories feature column that gives you the best in class movies, books, and multimedia from the Great Stories team. This month Jim and Chris make their top six picks for the best Christmas features of all time! A total of twelve films/specials you should consider watching in preparation for jolly old St. Nick sliding down your chimney.
Here is part one of the list with Jim’s picks!
“This holiday, discover your inner elf!”
The most recent Christmas flick on the list, this was Will Ferrell’s first starring role after Saturday Night Live. He’s at his best here in a role that’s tailor-made for his man-child persona. This is a sweet movie that doesn’t become icky-sweet, with just enough cynicism for the Scrooges among us. A great supporting cast consisting of James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, the appealing Zooey Deschanel and Peter Dinklage (who makes a classic out of his one scene). And look for a cameo from Peter Billingsley, star of my next entry!
Chris’ Comment: I remember heading out to see this one with my family after Thanksgiving dinner and having a great time. A hit with the whole family in fact. I had not been familiar with Will Ferrel’s man child brand of acting and comedic delivery at that time (not having been a view of SNL for some years) so his great performance came as a pleasant surprise.
A Christmas Story
“Sometimes Christmas is about getting what you really want.”
Well, what can you say about this one? Middling box office when it was released 30 years ago, eventually becoming so popular through television viewings that some stations run it non-stop on Christmas Day. The merchandising, the Broadway show. Watch the face of anyone that you mention this movie to break into a grin. “You’ll shoot your eye out!” “Ralphie just lay there like a slug.” “I triple –dog-dare-ya!” My favorite scene: the visit with the department store Santa. HO HO HO!!!
Chris’ Comment: See Part Two of this blog (appearing tomorrow)
Colorful musical version of A Christmas Carol, with a memorable performance by Albert Finney, Alec Guinness as the best Marley ever, and with a rousing rendition of “Thank You Very Much.” I usually save this one to play on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Chris’ Comment: I chose another version of Dicken’s tale to present on my top list, but this one is a fine choice and almost won out. You can’t go wrong with this musical version, or Albert Finney’s Ebeneezer!
The Shop Around the Corner
Expertly played by a talented ensemble (James Stewart, Margaret Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart and William Tracy stand out), Ernst Lubitsch’s gentle classic has made way for several remakes (even a Broadway play), but it’s still by far the best version. What’s more, it’s a Christmas movie that doesn’t keep hitting you over the head that it’s a Christmas movie.
Chris’ Comment: I have to say this is an odd choice for a best Christmas movie list. Is it a good movie? Sure, it’s OK. It did spawn a remake of sorts in the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan “You’ve Got Mail”. James Stewart is widely recognized as one of the greatest leading men in Hollywood lore, but man does he offer up one of the weakest tough guy shoves in movie history in the movie’s most confrontational scene. As occupational rivals, Margaret Sullivan and Stewart are entertaining in their roles in a movie that is certainly telegraphing its plot twist from the very start. Ah, the innocence and simplicity of Hollywood in the 1950’s! Yes, the thoughts of a jaded movie-goer who feels he has seen it all. Once was enough for this guy.
The Bishop’s Wife
Forget the dull remake, 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. This is the one to watch for good old-fashioned holiday cheer. With the deft Cary Grant as the angel who might not be 100% angelic and the luminous Loretta Young. Add to that an effective performance by David Niven, one of the best supporting casts ever assembled (Monty Woolley and Elsa Lanchester included) and Gregg Toland’s deep-focus cinematography. The filmic equivalent of a glass of egg nog and a plate of Christmas cookies (and much less fattening!).
Chris’ Comment: Bravo Jim! Cary Grant playing God’s dutiful angel who is tempted to leave his work for the love of a woman. A fine Christmas selection that weaves a tale of heartfelt life lessons and the dangers of temptation. With an ending full of redemption and restoration of balance, it makes for a satisfying cinematic experience.
March of the Wooden Soldiers
Like many of the choices on my list, this may be extremely corny and old-fashioned to some. However, I think that we have to lament the fact that movies such as these have been passed over in recent years in favor of those containing vulgarity and cynicism. It might aid your enjoyment of this movie to transport yourself to 1934 to forgive some of the broad acting and the dated special effects (although please feel free to skip past the dreadful singing duets between Bo Peep and Tom Tom). With the great Laurel and Hardy, wonderful (non-digital!) sets and a general feeling that a storybook has just come to life right in front of you.
Chris’ Comment: This movie makes me wish I picked Jingle All the Way (yeah, I liked that one…laugh all you want) as a measure of “corny” revenge on my good friend Jim. I had not seen this movie and so borrowed it from his collection. My wife and I were saddened by how bad this one was. I know it is not in the Christmas spirit to say this, but “Bah Humbug to this utter trash”. Remember folks, just because it’s old does not make it a classic. Maybe I just don’t get Laurel and Hardy. I like to think of myself as having a sense of humor and wonder, but this Babes in Toyland story makes Robin Williams’ Toys look like a fine cinematic triumph.
Stay tuned for the second half of our honor roll blog celebrating our favorite Christmas movies later in the weekend!