Friday, December 7, 2012

Having Myself a Classic Movie Christmas

We're a full week into December, and it's time to get serious about classic Christmas movies. TCM is showing 33 of them this month, including several fan favorites and a lot of less obvious choices, but I'm mostly a traditionalist when it comes to classic holiday films (with a few notable exceptions). Here are six movies I have to watch over the holidays this year, or it just won't be Christmas.

1) It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - My father loves this movie, and I grew up watching it several times each holiday season. It still gets to me today, and I love the huge cast of memorable performers, from the big name leads to the veteran character players. This year I actually get to host a screening of the Capra classic at our local library!

2) White Christmas (1954) - I just love everything about this film, from its WWII patriotism and selfless themes to its crazy drag version of "Sisters" and Mary Wickes' nosy housekeeper. The songs are fantastic, the mood is nostalgic and sweet, and the holidays aren't complete without Danny, Bing, Rosemary, and Vera-Ellen.

3) Three Godfathers (1948) - So I've got a well-established thing for classic Westerns, especially those John Ford/John Wayne collaborations, and this one is simply a Yuletide treasure. Yes, it's another iteration of the now familiar "three men and a baby" plot, and not even the first Western to have the title or tell the story, but the Duke, Pedro Armendariz, and Harry Carey, Jr., are just so lovable and rough that I can't resist them. Personal favorites like Ward Bond, Mildred Natwick, and Jane Darwell help to make this one a holiday essential at my house.

4) The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) - Yes, there are lots of great versions of Charles Dickens'  Christmas tale, but this one is my favorite hands-down, not just for the goofy Muppet humor but for the incredible puppetry work on the Ghosts, especially the Ghost of Christmas Past. Hey, I love the Muppets so much I co-edited two books about them, so nobody can be surprised if I spend time watching Muppet holiday movies every time December rolls around (I watch all of the other Muppet holiday shows, too, but this one is the best). Gonzo as Charles Dickens? Genius! Michael Caine as Scrooge? Fabulous!

5) Scrooged (1988) - Bill Murray's irreverent take on A Christmas Carol is a riot, and it's even got Robert Mitchum! The Ghosts are especially fun, thanks to over-the-top performances from David Johansen and Carol Kane. Bobcat Goldthwait steals his scenes as an ex-employee pushed a little too far by Bill Murray's modern-day Scrooge.

6) Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) - Having grown up a veritable resident of the Island of Misfit Toys, I find Rudolph's outcast protagonist deeply sympathetic in this quirky TV classic. We actually watch all of the Rankin/Bass holiday specials each year, but this one is especially funny and poignant, and full of quotable lines thanks to Larry Mann as Yukon Cornelius. "It's a night not fit for man nor beast! Here's the man... and here's the beast!" - such lines are endlessly repeated in my family this time of year.

Of course, I'll be watching other holiday films this month, including Christmas in Connecticut (1945), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), 101 Dalmatians (1961), A Christmas Story (1983), and even Gremlins (1984), but these six are at the top of my nice list when it comes to Christmas pleasures. Bake some cookies, make a cup of cocoa, and tell me about your favorite Christmas movies in the comments section below!