Christmas day is drawing near (less than two weeks away!) which means it’s the season for films set during, around and about the holidays. The Moose have gathered to discuss their favorite (and least favorite) Christmas films!
Most Christmas movies that people typically enjoy, I don’t usually like. Specifically the ones that happen to be my sister’s favorites which I was forced to watch again, and again, and again. However there are certain movies that it just doesn’t seem like Christmas without. So to me, the first thing Christmas means is Muppets.
A Muppet Christmas Carol is pretty much my favorite Muppet Movie, not to mention my favorite Christmas movie. Every Christmas eve I turn the DVD on and sing along with all the songs while everyone else is asleep. Of course I have to make sure I watch my older DVD with the fullscreen option because every other version cuts “When Love is Gone.” Which, if you haven’t listened to the song, is downright criminal. Personal feelings aside it’s some of Michael Caine’s best work.
Christmas Day however, there is a much better Muppet thing to watch. A Muppet Family Christmas is probably the best Christmas Special ever put on tv. All of the Muppets, the cast of Sesame Street, and the entirety of Fraggle Rock all go to Fozzie’s mom’s house for Christmas and ruin her vacation. It’s the perfect variety show christmas special, unlike some other ones I’ve mentioned this month.
Also more and more I have to thank Shane Black for making Iron Man 3 a Christmas movie. Now not only is it not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls of Nakatomi Plaza, but it’s also not Christmas until Pepper Potts smashes Aldrich Killian’s head. Not to mention it has Tony Stark going all Home Alone at Home Depot.
Here’s the thing: on a whole, as a generalized rule, I don’t actually like Christmas movies at all. Even when I was younger I never found them compelling. I remember watching National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story and Miracle on 34th Street as a kid but none of them became seasonal touchstones for me and, in the case of the first two, I’ve come to rather actively dislike them as I’ve gotten older.
For most Christmas films however, it’s not so much a dislike as it is an active neutrality. I’m not even sure I can strictly identify what causes this indifference to holiday themed films. I love Christmas time in every other capacity but for whatever reason the standard canon of movies that I hear so many people rave about come December have never connected with me at all. The Muppet Christmas Carol? Nope. Elf? Newp. It’s a Wonderful Life? Not a thing for me. Perhaps it’s their saccharine nature that causes the aversion. Or perhaps that I don’t have any ingrained foundation of nostalgia from my childhood for any of them. I’ve never had that film (or films) where I go: “It’s Christmas, I must watch this!”
Until last year.
What happened last year, you ask? Well. Clarice (a.k.a. Ginger Moose) sat me down after hearing of the lack of beloved Christmas film in my life and made me watch Christmas in Connecticut and Remember the Night with consideration towards my love of classic Hollywood.
And I loved them both.
Both feature the one and only Barbara Stanwyck giving vastly different, but equally stellar performances. Remember the Night is actually her first film with Double Indemnity co-star Fred MacMurray and seeing this vastly different dynamic between the two actors is fascinating. It is gorgeous and poignant and is the first film I’ve watched that I feel truly sends an impactful message of the spirit of the holiday season. It resonated with me. Honestly, of the two it’s probably the better film.
However, it was Christmas in Connecticut that I think truly broke the mold. It’s funny and sweet and full of wonderful friendships and healthy attraction and allows Stanwyck to stretch her less recognized comedic muscles. It’s a wonderful movie and between it and Remember the Night I finally have my Christmas touchstone films that I will be watching year after year!
I’m a little sad that kids these days won’t know the joy of watching a handful of VHS recordings of TV specials over and over again — commercials and all. I guess that means I’m getting properly old. One of VHS tapes in my house was A Claymation Christmas. It’s hosted by a bowtied T-Rex and Triceratops in a santa suit. Ice skating walruses, anthropomorphized bells and the California Raisins all make appearances and perform to Christmas Carols. It’s a weird and wonderful bit of work with what I consider the right amount of humor and sweetness and tradition for the holidays. Watch it and have a glass of wassail, by all means.
On the other side of the holiday coin (in terms of cheer) is The West Wing Christmas Specials. Especially “Noel” and “In Excelsis Deo.” The first is primarily concerned with PTSD, and the second with the treatment of veterans in the US. They are more heartbreaking than heartwarming, both tackle more than those primary concerns and each was awarded an an Emmy. So if you need — as I sometimes do — a hit of holiday melancholy, this is a good place to go.
If neither holiday claymation dinosaurs nor melancholy are my desire, then there’s always Die Hard. Which is a great Christmas movie.
Ok. So unlike every other Moose that has spoken, Christmas movies are TOTALLY A THING for me. Brace yourself, folks…
My fondness for Christmas movies is a bit complex. There is a plethora of them that I’m not even sure I particularly like… but somehow they remain weirdly important, ingrained seasonal experiences for me (even if I have to mock my way through them now that I’m older).
I’m especially looking at you, problematic Rankin Bass ‘classics!’ Oh yes — I’m talking the shocking casual sexism of Rudolph… the inescapable creepiness of Frosty the Snowman… and even a stop-motion Fred Astaire cannot save the utter oddity that is Santa Claus is Comin to Town. And I’m not even including all the second tier ones! Quick question: have you heard about the Rankin Bass Cricket on the Hearth?? It is probably one of the absolute worst animated films I have ever seen in my entire life. But the extent of sadistic glee I get from subjecting unknowing folk to it is very very real (just ask the other Moose!) The story is terrible (they can’t all be holiday winners, Dickens!), the animation is terrible, the songs are terrible.
Now, in the realm of that other more well known Dickens classic… One of my favorite versions of A Christmas Carol is actually the Blackadder version (as a less traditional variation). Muppet Christmas Carol you ask? Umm… it’s Michael Caine + muppets. So yeah, I’M ON BOARD. Have you heard the songs??? There are days during December where I will just wander around the house singing ‘DOOMED, Scrooge! You’re DOOMED for all time!” Ya know, for funsies. Oh, and then there’s that TNT special from the 90s that did A Christmas Carol straight with Patrick Stewart. Also my dad is a major Bill Murray fan so I inevitably end up watching Scrooged every year with him (Carol Kane in that movie gives me life, darlings).
I admit I have an affection for the earnestness and non-traditional family moral of The Santa Claus… and I can get into the unabashed wackiness of Favreau’s Elf (the jack-in-the-box testing makes me laugh my ass of every single time). And here’s a confession for you: I derive a weird amount of cocktail-fueled delight from many of those godawful modern ABC Family Christmas specials. (The 12 Dates of Christmas anyone? Anyone??? Mark Paul Gosselar is the most ludicrously ‘perfect’ besweatered widower ever!)
Fuck, I even get a similar perverse delight from how sugary fucking terrible the Miracle on 34th Street remake is. Ya know… the one with all the gauzy cheesecloth lighting? and John Hammond is Santa? Dylan McDermott wears sweaters and is basically the worst lawyer ever? “I ask the court which is worse: a lie that draws a smile, or a truth that draws a tear.” AHAHAHAHAHA! WHAT BULLSHIT EVEN IS THAT??? Honestly, I find the original more appealing and accessible, with its mail delivery technicalities and considerably more grounded feelings.
And as far as other older standards go… Shop Around the Corner is a curious, slightly more uncommon entry to pull out around the holidays. Considering it’s the basis for You’ve Got Mail, it can make for an intriguing comparison watching for people. And speaking of Jimmy Stewart… It’s a Wonderful Life? Well, it’s a Frank Capra film which means you’re getting about 80% saccharine treacle… with 20% a genuinely gutting story about depression, about the deluge of little life inconveniences/tragedies that steadily bleed away youthful dreams and ambitions, and about the saving grace of community and friendship.
There’s Holiday Inn, and it’s non-sequel sequel White Christmas. Holiday Inn benefits from Fred Astaire being a rare jackass character (and boasting one of my favorite Astaire dances ever — the firecrackers), and suffers from things like… racism — embodied the most by the blackface number about how awesome Abraham Lincoln was. (No, seriously. That is a thing that actually happens!) Meanwhile White Christmas benefits from the wonderful spirit of Danny Kaye (the best things happen while you’re dancing!), Rosemary Clooney singing “You Didn’t Do Right By Me,” and some cracktastic dance numbers. And then it suffers from things like… Bing Crosby still being there… and just not being a very good movie with truly terrible songs mixed in amongst the couple gems. But oh how I will watch White Christmas every. damn. year.
Christmas in Connecticut (which Cole touched on) is a fluffy, unexpectedly great piece with Barbara Stanwyck playing the kind of comedic female role that rarely gets done even now.
And while I’m mentioning Barbara Stanwyck and women’s roles that don’t get made in modern day… Lee Leander in Remember the Night. Darlings, if you haven’t seen it I highly recommend it as an alternative to some of the other more common oldies. It certainly has its sporadic moments of your usual old Hollywood Christmas sugar, but largely it does some things you don’t see very often in Christmas movies. It overflows with real poignancy, handling its situations and characters in a surprising and refreshingly real manner. Stanwyck’s character is a thief, and the film doesn’t ever forget it. While it is often delightful, there is no hand-wavy happiness throughout. And the end strikes a perfect cord of being neither happy nor depressing.
Much like Hanna, there are Christmas episodes of TV shows I enjoy — not the least of which is Black Mirror‘s gut-punch ‘seasonal’ special “White Christmas” which has weirdly become a new standard for me. And as far as ‘non-Christmas’ Christmas movies go, Hanna mentioned Die Hard and Brad mentioned Shane Black’s Iron Man 3. Well, I propose you try Shane Black’s other ‘holiday’ movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
There are many other Christmas movies that warrant no strong feels from me, and there are totally ones that I don’t like! For example, I don’t care for other popular offerings like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Home Alone or Bad Santa or We’re No Angels… The Polar Express freaks me out… Love Actually makes me actively, irrationally angry… and the only acceptable Grinch is the short animated one with Boris Korloff.
And lastly… every Christmas I listen to the Dead Authors podcast with Hal Lublin as Charles Dickens and Marc Evan Jackson as O. Henry. You really should too.
… I probably forgot a couple things…