Besides tree decorating, the lights, the food and the spirit - another favorite aspect of the holiday season is the movies. There are so many Christmas movies that can quickly take you back to your childhood, bring tears to your eyes and make the holidays a little brighter.
I have a lot of favorites when it comes to Christmas movies, but I’ve decided to narrow it down to just the season’s top five.
1. “A Christmas Story”
Every year for as long as I can remember, I have watched Ralphie ask for the gun, quoted the popular phrase, “You’ll shoot your eye out,” and laughed over the infamous leg lamp, to the boy sticking his tongue to the flag pole.
It’s not surprising that TBS runs 24 hours of “A Christmas Story” year after year – the idea behind the decision for the repetition has to be that this movie never gets old.
Synopsis – Released in 1983, “A Christmas Story “ is adapted from a memoir by humorist Jean Shepherd (who narrates), the film centers on Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley), a young boy living in 1940s Indiana, desperately yearning for a Red Rider BB gun for Christmas. Despite protests from his mother (Melinda Dillon) that he’ll shoot his eye out, Ralphie persists, unsuccessfully trying to enlist the assistance of both his teacher and Santa Claus. All the while, Ralphie finds himself dealing with the constant taunts of a pair of bullies and trying to not get in the middle of a feud between his mother and father (Darren McGavin) regarding a sexy lamp.
The 1988 film features Bill Murray is one of his best roles to date. Murray takes on the character of Frank Cross. This version of Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” would not have worked with any other leading man. Murray was bright, funny and really made the film a classic. Every year right after Thanksgiving dinner is cleaned up and we are all relaxing for the night, I always turn on “Scrooged”.
Synopsis - A darkly comic and surreal contemporization of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this effects-heavy Bill Murray holiday vehicle from 1988 sees the former SNL funnyman assuming the role of television executive Frank Cross, the meanest and most depraved man on earth. Cross will stoop to unheard of levels to increase his network’s ratings - even if it means mounting outrageous programs to retain an audience, such as “Robert Goulet’s Cajun Christmas” and Lee Majors in “The Night the Reindeer Died,” with an AK-47-toting Santa. Cross plots his foulest move, however, for the Christmas holiday, when he will force his office staff to mount a live production of A Christmas Carol on national television - and thus work through Christmas Eve. Cross’s life is turned upside down with visits from three ghosts: a craggy-faced cabbie known as The Ghost of Christmas Past (David Johansen); the sugar-plum fairy Ghost of Christmas Present (Carol Kane) (who gets her jollies by bonking Frank across the face with a toaster oven); and, eventually, the caped, headless Ghost of Christmas Future, who will send Frank sliding into a crematory oven - just before he gives the sleazoid one last chance to redeem himself. Along the way, the spirits carry Frank to scenes from his past, present, and future (per Scrooge) and impart a glimpse of how he became so thoroughly rotten. The radiant Karen Allen co-stars as Frank’s girlfriend, Claire Phillips, and the film packs in cameos from countless celebrities - among them, Mary Lou Retton, John Houseman, Jamie Farr, and, in a truly grisly and tasteless bit, John Forsythe. Richard Donner directs, from a script credited to the late Michael O’Donoghue and Mitch Glazer.
3. “Bad Santa”
This movie is in no way jolly or heartwarming, but man is it funny. This is by far one of Billy Bob Thorton’s best performances to date. His rendition of Santa Claus would not have been as successful if it weren’t for the casting of what becomes his young friend in the movie. Whoever cast Brett Kelly II to play Therman Merman deserved a lot of credit for this movie’s success. “Bad Santa” also has plenty of other stars, which include Bernie Mac and John Ritter.
Synopsis: The Christmas season just got a lot less joyous in this very dark comedy. Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) is a con man and a thief who teams up with his friend Marcus (Tony Cox), a midget, for a very special scam each year during the holiday season. Willie gets a job as Santa Claus at a shopping mall, his pal tags along as an elf, and they use their employee status to crack mall security and rob stores blind just before Christmas. However, there’s one flaw to this plan - Willie is a bitter, foul-mouthed and perpetually grouchy alcoholic who doesn’t care for kids, and it’s all he can do to keep himself from getting fired while on the job. The mall’s manager (John Ritter, in his last film appearance) is certain something’s wrong with the Santa he’s hired, so he asks the mall’s chief of security (Bernie Mac) to do some research on Willie. Meanwhile, one of the kids Willie is forced to talk to becomes a regular customer; overweight, awkward, and the frequent target of bullies, the boy manages to arouse something like sympathy from Willie, who tries to give him some advice and develops something vaguely resembling Christmas sprit along the way. Bad Santa was directed by Terry Zwigoff, who enjoyed previous success with Crumb and Ghost World.
4. “Santa Claus”
While I can’t say a lot for the sequal, I will say the first “Santa Claus” was full of humor, a clever storyline and is perfect for all ages. I am a big fan of Tim Allen, who is perfect for such a character.
Synopsis: Television sitcom star Tim Allen made his big screen debut with this light, family-friendly holiday comedy. Allen stars as Scott Calvin, the divorced dad of Charlie (Eric Lloyd). Scott is distressed to learn that his ex-wife Laura (Wendy Crewson) and Charlie’s psychiatrist stepfather Neal (Judge Reinhold) have informed his son that there is no Santa Claus. While a sullen Charlie visits his dad on Christmas Eve, a noise on the roof brings them outside, where Scott startles the intruder, who tumbles from the roof. It turns out that there is a Santa after all, and Scott has just accidentally killed him. Because of a legal technicality known as “the Santa clause,” Scott inherits the jolly old elf’s job. As the next year passes, Scott rapidly gains weight, grows a white beard and meets the elf Bernard (David Krumholtz) - who is the one who really runs the North Pole - while Charlie regains his Christmas spirit. However, Neal becomes concerned about Scott’s sudden change in appearance and insistence that he’s Santa, and he forces him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
5. “Trading Places”
While not your warm, fuzzy holiday movie, the cast in this movie make it one of the season’s best. This is when Eddie Murphy was still at the top of his game, and with a great story line, it make sit one of my favorites not just during the holidays, but yearround.
Synopsis: The “nature-nurture” theory that motivated so many Three Stooges comedies is the basis of John Landis’ hit comedy. The fabulously wealthy but morally bankrupt Duke brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) make a one-dollar bet over heredity vs. environment. Curious as to what might happen if different lifestyles were reversed, they arrange for impoverished street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) to be placed in the lap of luxury and trained for a cushy career in commodities brokerage. Simultaneously, they set about to reduce aristocratic yuppie Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd to poverty and disgrace, hiring a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis) to hasten his downfall. When Billy Ray figures out that the brothers intend to dump him back on the streets once their experiment is complete, he seeks out Winthorpe, and together the pauper-turned-prince and prince-turned-pauper plot an uproarious revenge. With the good-hearted prostitute and Winthorpe’s faithful butler (Denholm Elliott) as their accomplices, they set about to hit the brothers where it really hurts: in the pocketbook.
(Editor’s Note: Synopsis’ from rottentomatoes.com.)