The Film Strain’s Top 10 Holiday Films
Nov 2010 25

The Film Strain’s Top 10 Holiday Films

Posted In Blog,Entertainment,Movies

by Andrew E. Konietzky

I was again asked by the beautiful staff over at SuicideGirls to create a Top 10 Holiday Films list. As with my Horror Film Top 10, it is impossible to list all the applicable films or put them into some definitive order. I must once again post a small disclaimer; we all have our Holiday favorites we visit each year. You may prefer having a drink in Dorry’s Tavern with Mrs. Deagle in Gremlins. Others may want to attend the Christmas party at Nakatomi Plaza in Diehard. And Buddy the Elf, is already calling me a cotton-headed ninny-muggins for not mentioning Bad Santa, Better Off Dead, Dutch, or The Ref. I know I’m going to miss some, but here are 10 of my peppermint and gingerbread sprinkled seasonal faves.


[Antigone in Naughty and Nice]

The Film Strain’s Top 10 Holiday Films

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
“My mouth’s bleeding, Bert! My mouth’s bleeding!” – I am 39 and every time I see this film it makes me cry like a little baby. I actually got all choked up just remembering lines while writing this and looking at quotes. The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about an intervention by his guardian angel, Clarence Odbody (Henry Travers). Clarence shows George all the lives he has touched and the contributions he has made to his community. Make sure you have a box of tissues, while viewing. I guarantee that even Dexter Morgan would tear up while watching this film.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!” – I am talking about the animated film with the awesome Boris Karloff, as the narrator and voice of the Grinch. The live-action version with Jim Carrey was great, but nothing compares to hearing Karloff dispense his opinions on the Whoville Christmas. Make sure not to miss it, this upcoming season.

3. Emmett Otter’s Jug-band Christmas (1977)
“Look at the birds up in the tree.” – I’m surprised by the number of people that don’t know about this Christmas special. Even my girlfriend has never seen it, which may be a point against her. In this one-hour musical special, Kermit the Frog narrates the story of Alice Otter and her son, Emmet, who live along the river in the village of Frogtown Hollow. Ma and Emmet struggle to make ends meet through odd jobs and projects for neighbors and villagers, but this Christmas they dream of having enough money to buy each other a special gift. Great songs and a mix of rock and country music highlight this seriously underrated holiday special. Jim Henson Studios needs to make this an always-aired show each year.

4. A Christmas Story (1983)
“Fuuuuuuuuuudge!” – My mother hates this film, and I’m not sure why. It could have something to do with my sister and I playing it for 24 hours non-stop on Christmas Eve on year. Based on Jean Shepherd’s short stories and anecdotes, and including material from his books In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash and Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, the story revolves around Ralphie, our junior male lead, overcoming a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to his owning the precious Red Ryder BB gun. In each of the film’s three acts Ralphie makes his case to another adult and each time he is told the same thing… “No, you’ll shoot your eye out.” Amazing film that will remind you of being a kid, and the unique way children see their lives.

5. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (1987)
“Six bucks and my left nut says we’re not going to be landing in Chicago.” – John Hughes… it is a damn John Hughes film. Do I really need to say more? Neal (Steve Martin) is trying return to his family for Thanksgiving in Chicago after being on a business trip in New York. His journey is doomed from the outset, with Del (John Candy) interfering by inadvertently snatching the taxi cab that Neal had laid claim to moments before. The two inevitably pair up and begin an error-prone adventure to help Neal get back to his home. It is a feel-good film showing us how the things that make us different can also join us all together. A Touchy-feely film that’s downright hilarious at the same time. It was also recently revived, or in some critics’ eyes rebooted, in the film Due Date.

6. Scrooged (1988)
“I never liked a girl well enough to give her twelve sharp knives.” – How many times can Hollywood beat Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol into the ground? Many times it seems. The version directed by Richard Donner (Goonies, Superman, and Lethal Weapon) is the best one in my mind. Frank Cross (Bill Murray) is a conceited, cynical television programming executive – like we never knew those existed. He has found great success and wealth but only by becoming cold-hearted and cruel. His ruthless concentration on his career has cost him his true love, the warm-hearted Claire (Karen Allen) – whom, to this day, I have a huge crush on – but back to the film. Frank’s cold actions have alienated him from his family and friends. Once a new commercial is criticized by staff member Eliot (Bobcat Goldthwait), Frank responds by firing him on Christmas Eve and the “three ghosts” snowball starts rolling. Great film, great cast, and some great laughs culminating in a teary sing-along.

7. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
“We’re gonna have the hap hap happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye.” – How could you not want to spend a Christmas with the Griswold family as they set out to find the perfect tree and have an “old-fashioned” family Christmas? For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Griswolds, Clark is food additives expert who works for a company that doesn’t appreciate him. He sets high standards for holiday events that no one can live up to and is notorious for dragging his grudging family along on every painstaking detail of every scheme. His long-suffering wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) is the voice of reason, who keeps the family rooted in reality and responds with frequent deadpan bewilderment to his constant disasters. Clark just wants to stay at home in the snowy Chicago suburbs this year. But he didn’t bargain on bickering family members, non-working Christmas lights, or Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and his hillbilly family turning up unannounced. Being from Florida, Cousin Eddie is priceless, and hits close to home. That’s all I am saying on that, since I’d like my family to still talk to me this holiday season.

8. Toys (1992)
“We’re going to fight fire with marshmallows.” – One of my all-time favorite films. It took director Barry Levinson over 10 years to develop the film, but just over 10 months to shoot. An eccentric toymaker’s (Donald O’Connor) last wish is that his brother takes over the running of his business. The brother is a military General (Micheal Gambon), and is out of touch with toy making, and out of touch with reality too. The business should really have been given to Leslie (Robin Williams), who was much more like his toy making father and is still a child at heart. A very deep film actually; it makes you feel something you’ve always known to be true but just weren’t quite aware of. The amazing and goofy visuals, wrap themselves around a subtle social critique. Even the musical score adds to the overall vibe of the film. In my mind it is a complete work of art, which many people have completely overlooked in the theaters and on TV.

9. Nightmare before Christmas (1993)
“Forgive me, Mr. Claus. I’m afraid I’ve made a terrible mess of your holiday.” – This could be the reason why the Disney Store would never hire me. About a year after this film was released, our local mall got a Disney Store. This was back when Disney tried to hide the fact that they made this film, due to the strange and dark nature of the story and characters. They were looking for managers and they used to do interviews in a group setting. We were all asked which our favorite Disney films were. I said Nightmare and The Black Hole… END of interview. Needless to say, this is one of the most memorable holiday classics of all time. Now of course, Disney has Nightmare merchandise all over the place. They even wanted to do a line of Direct-to-DVD sequels in CG, which thankfully Tim Burton has blocked. Thank you, Tim.

10. Pieces of April (2003)
“Well, the cranberries were easy. I just had to open the can.” – Who? Why? What is this film? Yes, that’s the general response when I tell people about this little known Thanksgiving tale. It stars Katie Holmes, before Tom and the Aliens got to her. I was expecting a comedy but got a very moving story about a young girl who desperately wants to make a nice Thanksgiving dinner for a family from whom she feels estranged. Katie is great as April, and whether or not you like her as an actress, you will be pulling for her by the film’s end. The overall story follows her as she plans a dinner party she desperately wants to be a success. Her lack of skill forces her to fall back on the kindness of neighbors she’s never taken the time to meet. April’s family meanwhile, are on their way into the city to her apartment, whining and complaining about having to visit the “bad” part of town and missing no opportunity to criticize her, while trying to ignore the elephant in the room – the fact that the mother (Patricia Clarkson) has cancer and may not live to see another holiday. It feels like one of those movies that is based on actual events in the life of its writer or director. It’s full of tiny details that make the characters feel completely authentic, rather than creations. Clarkson received an Academy Award nomination for her performance.

***

The memories growing up attached to each film and the time it was first viewed warms my heart. I know, I know, I did not even touch on the enchanted world of Rankin/Bass (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year). I am sure that Yukon Cornelius and the Heat Miser will be haunting my dreams now. As I said once before, a Top Ten list can only have ten and this was a very tear-filled list to assemble. I love these Holiday films like they were children. I will remember them, watch them, and love them until I am a very crotchety old man yelling you younger folks to get off my damn lawn. Now, go on and git!