Thursday, November 24, 2005
Best of the Season
5- A Christmas Story (1983) - For Christmas films to become worthy Christmas traditions, they must do one thing -- stand the test of time. The same holds true for Christmas songs. New ones may have now nudged out older ones on the radio, but it's taken many of them at least a decade to earn that status. A Christmas Story sort of came and went when it was released (as hard as it is to believe) 22 years ago, but thanks to repeated showings on cable, it has had time to slowly simmer, like a Thanksgiving turkey, and is as important to the Christmas season any of the films further up on this list. Its sense of nostalgia and keen attention to period detail makes it feel like a much older film, which works in its favor. No film has ever expressed the anticipation of Christmas through the eyes of a child better than this one.
4- The Polar Express (2004) - Not yet time-tested, but what a ride! This groundbreaking animated film soared onto screens last year, taking a well-liked children's Christmas book and making into a breath-taking experience for children and adults alike. On the edge of disbelief, children from all walks of life, are invited to take a ride on an express train to the North Pole, on Christmas Eve, and regain their faith in the holiday. Time will tell, but I'm betting this one becomes a classic.
3- A Christmas Carol (1951) - This story by Charles Dickens has been filmed so many times, but none before or after this version, with Alastair Sim as Scrooge, has come close to conveying the kind of redemptive power this story possesses. Nor has there ever been a better portrayal of Scrooge than Sim's. All at once, this movie shows how lonely for some, and still how magical, Christmas Eve can be for those who have lost the spirit of the holiday (but are willing to regain it).
2- It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - Like A Christmas Carol and The Polar Express (and numerous other Christmas movies), the magic of Christmas Eve is central to this story of a man who is ready to kill himself because he thinks his life is worthless. A more recent film entitled Noel, directed by Chazz Palminteri, puts me in mind of It's a Wonderful Life. Like this film, characters, filled with desperation, are affected on Christmas Eve in ways that change their lives. I have said before that It's a Wonderful Life is my all-time favorite film and it is. And it certainly would hold the top spot on this list as well if it were not for...
1- Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - In the nearly 60 years since this film has been released, it remains, simply, the quintessential Christmas movie. Forget the remakes that followed. Never has there been a more brilliant tale of Christmas faith than this film. Is a man, who fills in last-minute for the Macy's department store Santa actually the real Santa Claus, as he claims or a kindly old delusional gentleman? There is a scene in this film that fills my eyes with tears each time I see it. I respect the film for its intelligent approach to the subject matter, and the convincing way in which it pulls us in, until we believe too.