One of the joys of the Christmas season is watching my favorite Christmas movies. We all have our favorites – the ones we watch year after year – the ones we can recite along with the actors – the ones we sing all the songs to. I’ve been talking to people about their favorite Christmas movies. Jackie and I went over a list of top 100 Christmas movies (Hulk Hogan in “Santa with Muscles”, “Santa’s Slay” where Santa starts killing everyone, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians”). One of the things I realized as I talked to people is that your favorite Christmas movie is highly subjective.
Tom and John’s favorite Christmas movie is the 1989 “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” I enjoy this movie and watch it every year with Tom, but it is not one of my top five. There are some classic moments (the lights coming on and the power reactor going into overdrive, the cat being electrocuted under the chair, the squirrel jumping on Julia Louis-Dreyfus) but the movie feels a little cruel to me. One fun sidenote: Johnny Galecki who plays Rusty, the Griswold boy, in the movie, is also Leonard in “Big Bang Theory.”
A movie that should be in my top five but isn’t is the 2006 “The Nativity Story.” I wanted to like this big budget telling of the birth of Jesus and there were parts of it I really appreciated, but mostly it was just boring. And the story of Jesus’ conception and birth is not a boring story. The theology was good (mostly) and it stayed true to the Biblical accounts (mostly).
There are two favorite television specials that do not make the movie list because – well, they are half hour long television shows. They are “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” I don’t think there can be anyone over 50 who doesn’t count these among their favorite Christmas memories. They are classics that continue to touch children and adults by being shown on television every year.
So what movies make my Six Favorite Christmas Movies list?
6. “White Christmas” from 1954. A remake/expansion of the 1942 movie “Holiday Inn” (probably the better movie but included all the holidays!). “White Christmas” stars Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen and has music by Irving Berlin. The story is sentimental, sappy, romantic, lovely, and has wonderful singing and dancing. “Let’s put on a show to save the inn!” The movie plays into all the cliches – boy and girl fall in love, have a fight, make up on Christmas eve. A little snow covers a multitude of problems. The movie isn’t even slightly religious and Christmas is seen as a purely secular holiday, but I love the songs, the characters, and the tender sentiment.
5. “Elf” from 2003 is the most recent movie on my list. I’m not usually a huge Will Ferrell fan, but this movie really touches my heart. Buddy is an elf that doesn’t fit in because his real father is a human. So Buddy goes in search of him in New York City. I love the sweetness of the Buddy character, and I’m not talking about his spaghetti and maple syrup breakfast (elves four main food groups: candy, candy cane, candy corn, and syrup). He celebrates Christmas with child-like joy and enthusiasm and spreads “Christmas cheer” to people in his workplace, his family, and his girlfriend. There are so many lines from this movie that are classic: “I just like smiling. Smiling is my favorite.” “This place looks like Santa’s workshop except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.” I laugh, I cry, and I find “Elf” to be a surprisingly religious movie every time I watch it. God wants us to have this kind of indomitable child-like spirit, especially about the miraculous birth of his son at Christmas.
4. “A Christmas Story” from 1983. Every scene is a delight. The movie is made from a collection of short stories by Jean Shepherd, loosely based on his life. The theme that holds it all together is Ralph’s desire for a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time. He is thwarted in this desire by his mother, teacher, and store Santa who all tell him “You’ll shoot your eye out.” The movie is a tender look back on the Christmases of our childhoods, even if you don’t remember coal furnaces, Little Orphan Annie radio shows, or so few electrical outlets that plugging in one more thing blew a fuse.
3. “Its a Wonderful Life” the classic with Jimmy Stewart from 1946, directed by Frank Capra. George Bailey has given up his own dreams and sacrificed so others could achieve their dreams. But, due to the error of an absent-minded uncle, his savings and loan is about to go under and George contemplates suicide, thinking that his life doesn’t matter. Angel Clarence rescues him and shows him all the ways that his life has made a difference. The movie is a powerful testimony to the difference each of us can make when we stay faithful to God. In the end, all the people George helped come together to help him and George realizes how precious the gift of his life is.
2. “Miracle on 34th Street,” again, the classic from 1947 with Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara. A story about learning to believe in something beyond yourself. This is the story of faith even though it is centered around Santa Claus. Maureen O’Hara is a divorced woman who has to learn how to trust the man she loves, a lawyer defending a man who claims to be Santa Claus. Natalie Wood, a little girl raised not to believe in fairy tales or even happy endings, comes to trust Santa and teaches her mother how to believe: Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. The story is a metaphor for our faith in God and helps us see beyond the hype to the ways that belief in God can make our lives, and our world, better.
- “Scrooged” from 1988 with Bill Murray. The classic Dicken’s tale with a modern twist. Bill Murray is a television executive, Frank Cross, who wants “Must-see tv” on Christmas eve, which means violence and sex. As he is visited by three ghosts, Frank sees the people in his life in a different way. Frank reconnects with his brother, his secretary, his former love (Karen Allen), and other people in his life. On Christmas Eve he ends up on his own broadcast urging people to “be the miracle for other.” Bobcat Goldthwait and Carol Kane are hilarious. The movie is scary, funny, sad, true, and – in the end – a witness to faith and working with others to change the world. Frank changes, just as anyone can change, and he becomes a force for good in the world.
Those are my six favorite Christmas movies. Is your favorite on the list? Did I leave your favorite Christmas movie off the list? What is your favorite and why?