Monday April 21, 2014




Three takes on top movies for the holidays

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View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Benzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: What are your top-three must-see movies for the holiday season?

Musicals

I absolutely loathe most made-for-Christmas movies. This would be the category that includes flicks such as Home Alone, The Santa Clause, Elf and Jingle All The Way.

Then there are the animated classics I mostly stopped watching when my kids grew up.

There are a few I might watch, such as Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol (the 1951 Alistair Sim version), Trading Places, Scrooged, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but only if they happen to be on TV at a convenient time.

My top-three must-see movies for the holiday season, however, is a no-brainer because there are only three and they are my personal Christmas traditions, which I have tried to pass on to my family with varying degrees of success from year to year.

The first is The Sound of Music, which is not only an imperative, but it also must be Christmas Eve. This hearkens back to childhood, when in the three TV-channel universe, with no option of video, dvd or Internet, you basically watched what happened to be on, and on Christmas Eve that was The Sound of Music. I’ve always loved it and can’t remember missing a year. I might even still have a bit of a crush on the young Julie Andrews.

The second and third are also imperative, but I’m a little more flexible about the timing. Jesus Christ Superstar is still one of the greatest musicals ever written and the film version was cinematically courageous and innovative. And while it may be argued that because of the period in Jesus’s life that it covers, it is more of an Easter movie, it is an essential Christmas tradition for me.

Finally, there’s Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Yes, it is a Christmas movie. The whole point is that Brian was born in the same time and place as Jesus. It’s smart, poignant, irreverent, but most of all, laugh-out-loud funny. It also contains that most Christmassy of messages. Always look on the bright side of life.

-Thom Barker

Kids’ stuff

I’m not the biggest Christmas person. All of the decorations and Christmas music tend to annoy me at times.  However, I do enjoy certain “Christmassy” movies. What follows is a brief explanation of what I consider to be the top three Christmas ‘movies’.

I’ll start with what I believe is the best of the best. Home Alone is a Christmas-related movie that I feel should be at the top of everyone’s watch list during the Christmas season.  Basically, it’s about a child (Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McCallister) who accidently gets left behind at Christmas while his family goes to Paris. While at home alone (see what I did there?) his house is broken in to by two completely inept villains (Daniel Stern as Marv Merchants and Joe Pesci as Harry Lime). Hilarity ensues when the two would-be thieves constantly get thwarted by the eight-year-old protagonist. In short, this movie is awesome and deserves to be watched during the Christmas holidays.

Number two on the list might not be a movie, but it is a Christmas constant and something that should be viewed by children and adults alike. The 1966 TV Short How the Grinch Stole Christmas! makes this list simply because it’s a masterpiece. I mean, who doesn’t want to see an ugly, green creature try to steal a beloved holiday?  Although, I must admit, I always find myself cheering for the Grinch and each and every time I am left disappointed that he never succeeds.

Third on the list is the 1964 made-for-TV movie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This movie doesn’t even need to be defended. It’s a Christmas classic that parents and grandparents will remember with fondness and children will fall in love with. Even I, as someone who relates more to the Grinch, enjoys this movie.

-Randy Brenzen

Classics

Oh it is the holiday season, and with that hopefully we all find a way to spend some additional family time. Often that means sitting down with what are often well-loved and oft-watched Christmas movies.

In this case we are looking at holiday movies, those which started their lives on the big screen so as much as I love the 1964 release of the animated Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with the dentist elf Hermey, the gold-seeking Yukon Cornelius and the soon-to-bee toothless Bumble, it doesn’t make the list.

In terms of theatre movies, the list probably needs to be broken into two groups, the more recent releases, the last three decades or so seem a reasonable timeframe and those made earlier.

For the most part the newer holiday fare rarely rises above average, with some, like Jim Carey’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas released in 2000 vying for any list of all time movie trash.

Three moves do aspire to greatness though. In third place among modern releases is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) and wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) are excellent as always in this series, and the chaos of the season is great fodder for their brand of humour.  

In second comes The Santa Clause. At the time of its release in 1994 Tim Allen as Scott Calvin was at his best. Popular from the sitcom Home Improvement, Allen was as good as he ever got in The Santa Clause. The movie had a fun premise, good humour without dropping into the stupid zone, and the overall package was simply great.

And topping the modern era is the 2004 animated masterpiece The Polar Express.

With Tom Hanks as the most recognizable voice, the movie is based on the 1985 book of the same name by writer and illustrator Chris Van Allsburg.

The story has some darker elements, the hobo ghost on the train roof, and a solid underlying message about holding on to dreams and hopes.

Visually stunning The Polar Express is as good as it gets in the modern era.

But the best movies of the season are actually from the distant past, the top three here trumping anything modern.

In third spot among the best-of-the best from the past is Miracle on 32nd Street, released in 1947. The story of a small girl losing her belief in Santa was at the time a pretty nouvelle idea, and the movie carries it off wonderfully. Edmund Gwenn was a perfect Santa figure, and it is heart-warming when they carry in bags of mail to show Santa was real.

If you want some reaffirmation we all matter in this world, well tune into the 1946 release It’s A Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart made the role of George Bailey, old man Potter played by Lionel Barrymore was wonderfully ‘Scroogy’, and Henry Travers as the angel Clarence combined to create a notable cast each adding to a truly great movie.

And then there is the best holiday movie of the bunch Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. Being based on Charles Dickens’ amazing story, originally published in 1843, of course helps. When you start with such a strong foundation the chance of building something lasting of course grows.

The story has been an endearing one, with a number of re-makes including ones featuring George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart in the lead roles, but Sims’ effort trumps them all.

The movie, released in 1951 was of course black and white at the time, and while a colourized version now exists, always opt to view it as released. The black and white just adds to the feeling of an older era.

There you have it, six of the best holiday movies around. Make some homemade egg nog, grab a sugar cookie or two, and watch any of them to add a little extra to the season.

-Calvin Daniels


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