Once again, I’ve fallen just short of my 25 Christmas films goal. I’ve watched 23 Christmas movies since the beginning of November. Of those 23, none of the films I watched for the first time made much of an impression outside of Holiday Affair with Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh. Otherwise, it’s been perennial classics, like It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas, and a handful of shorts, like Mickey’s Christmas Carol and A Charlie Brown Christmas Special (which I actually saw for the first time). Meanwhile, I have very little to watch in theaters here in Korea. The big opening this week is Cats (which looks like an unforgettable travesty). Star Wars’ final chapter won’t be imported until January 8th. With no other options, I likely will go see Cats and find out just how bad it is.
#12: Home Alone
1990, Directed by Christopher Columbus
Macauley Culkin is one of the most famous kid stars of all time. He did other films, but he’ll always be remembered for slapping his hands to his face and screaming in Home Alone; a gift and a curse, I’m sure. He’s really good, a natural, carrying a film and selling the outlandish idea of an 8-year-old being smarter than adults. He plays Kevin McCallister, left behind accidentally by his family who want to spend Christmas in France. As his mom (Catherine O’Hara) desperately tries to make it back, Kevin lives it up and ultimately protects his house from a couple of threatening burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern). Technically speaking, Home Alone’s not much to write about. It’s an inspired idea delivered straight and told plainly, like all of Hughes’ films, even ones like this that he didn’t direct.
#13: Home Alone 2
1992, Directed by Christopher Columbus
Basically a complete retread of the first Home Alone, only set in New York rather than Chicago. Kevin McCallister is once again left by his negligent family. He again lives it up by himself before realizing that he loves and misses them. He again fortifies an entire house in less than 3 hours. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern return to be terrorized by the most resourceful ten-year-old of all-time as Kevin becomes friends with a seemingly terrifying stranger (this time a bird lady played by Oscar winner-Brenda Fricker). It’s all recycling, and I have no problem with that. It’s a very entertaining formula. It warranted two films.
#14: Shrek the Halls
2007, Directed by Gary Trousdale
How Gary Trousdale went from directing two of the best-animated films of all-time (Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame) to directing this, I’ll never know, but it’s a decent Christmas special without being essential. Shrek prepares for his first Christmas spent with friends and family but when the day comes, he finds it doesn’t go as planned. There’s not a lot of meaningful action here, but the characters are still classic despite being worn out by their studio, and the story is amusing with a number of good jokes.
#15: White Christmas
1954, Directed by Michael Curtiz
Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) saves Bob Wallace’s (Bing Crosby) life during the war; the big one, World War II. “How can I pay you back?” Wallace asks Davis. That’s how the unknown Phil Davis became the partner of showbiz entertainer Bob Wallace, and years later, after their partnership’s proven a success, Davis looks to play Cupid and find a wife for his friend. Chance leads the duo to rural Vermont where the beautiful Haynes sisters( Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) are set to perform at a small inn. There, they find their old general runs the place, and that his inn is struggling to make money. To turn things around for him, Wallace and Davis decide to put on a Christmas show. White Christmas is a very old-fashioned film and people who don’t like that simply aren’t my people. Romantic adventures, quaint scenery in technicolor, with wonderful performers singing timeless music. What kind of Christmas movies do you like?
#16: It’s a Wonderful Life
1946, Directed by Frank Capra
Clarence (Travers), an angel 2nd class, is given an awfully tough assignment: selfless, devoted family man, George Bailey (Stewart) of Bedford Falls, wonders if the world would be a better place if he was never born. Clarence gives George a glimpse of what that would look like. The quintessential Christmas standard, It’s a Wonderful Life is the best of Christmas movies for any lover of classic Hollywood. James Stewart and Frank Capra were an awesome pair, and I’m not sure anyone has looked more beautiful in a film than Donna Reed when she and Stewart huddle around a phone, trying to stay angry at one another. I’ve mentioned before people’s tendency to forgive overt sentimentality in older films. In fact, it’s what people love most about films like It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s life isn’t easy, or what he dreamed for himself, but in the end, he’s given the gift of seeing that he has a purpose. Aside: Like any true traditionalist, I prefer this film in black and white.
#17: A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby
2019, Directed by John Schultz
There’s no reason, as far as I can tell, that Netflix shouldn’t just keep rolling out these ultra-cheesy, predictable Christmas Prince movies every year. The Royal Baby, the third film in this watershed trilogy, brings back Queen Amber (Rose McIver) and King Richard (Ben Lamb) as they prepare for the birth of their first child and also to sign a treaty that would continue the alliance between their made-up country, Aldovia, and some other made-up country, Penglia. When someone steals the treaty before it’s signed, the king and queen go into detective mode. Enjoyable, treacly to the extreme, A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby is satisfying viewing for those who like laughable, corny entertainment.
#18: A Cinderella Story: Christmas Wish
2019, Directed by Michelle Johnston
Kat Decker (Laura Marano), an aspiring singer, lives under the oppressive roof of her step-mother and two vapid step-sisters. While working her menial job as a Christmas elf to support her family, she meets Dominic Wintergarden (Gregg Sulkin), wealthy, handsome, and kind. Is there any way that he could actually be interested in her? This is a romantic comedy. Of course, there is. Let’s start with the positives: the actors are fine. That’s about it for me. It’s very straightforward, underwhelming fare with bad music thrown in.
#19: Unaccompanied Minors
2006, Directed by Paul Feig
A group of kids-Spencer, Grace, Charles, Donna, and “Beef”-are cooped up in D.C’s international airport on Christmas Eve thanks to a snowstorm. Grouchy Head of Passenger Relations, Oliver Porter (Lewis Black), seems determined that they have no fun during their stay, so the children respond by running wild and “outsmarting” him at every turn. Maybe the filmmakers thought they had a bit of the Home Alone formula in hand. Neglected, resourceful child (in this case, children) versus dimwitted adults. The problem is, in Unaccompanied Minors, the children’s cleverness isn’t all that clever, the adults, though militant, aren’t necessarily even wrong, and the children are basically brats for most of the film. Unaccompanied Minors is never funny and often annoying.
#20: The Little Drummer Boy
1968, Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr and Jules Bass
(7-Very Good Film)
One of Rankin and Bass’ Christmas classics told in their indelible stop-motion style, The Little Drummer Boy adapts the popular Christmas song of the same name and provides a little background. A young Jewish boy named Aaron lives only to play his drum. Swindled into joining a talentless traveling troupe leads Aaron ultimately to Bethlehem where he humbly plays his drum for the newborn baby Jesus. Like all of their specials, Rankin and Bass’ The Little Drummer Boy is one part creepy and two parts sweet, nostalgic, memorable, and a testament to their creativity. One of their best.
#21: Mickey’s Christmas Carol
1983, Directed by Burny Mattinson
Splendid version of Charles Dickens’ much-told tale, this 26 minute short special might be my favorite Christmas Carol. Scrooge McDuck takes his natural role in the story as Ebenezer Scrooge, a hard-hearted old businessman without any empathy or love. One night, on Christmas Eve, he is visited by three ghosts-the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Future. They open his eyes and force a change of heart, causing old Scrooge to turn his life around. Short and sweet, Mickey’s Christmas Carol is a fantastically animated special.
#22: A Charlie Brown Christmas
1965, Directed by Bill Melendez
I’ve watched the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special countless times, but somehow I’ve never seen A Charlie Brown Christmas until this year. It’s wonderful. Charlie Brown wades through the holiday season being the young neurotic that he is, asking some big questions. Lucy convinces him to direct her Christmas play. Eventually, he’s reminded of the true meaning of Christmas just in time to enjoy it. Vince Guaraldi’s music is gorgeous.
#23: The Small One
1978, Directed by Don Bluth
(7-Very Good Film)
A little derivative of The Little Drummer Boy, The Small One is directed by Don Bluth during his time at Disney, before he left to start his own animation studio. The young hero, simply Boy, travels through Nazareth searching for a suitable buyer for his runtish, old donkey. The people he meets prove cruel at every turn until he meets a kind stranger named Joesph, who needs a donkey to carry his wife, Mary, on her way to Bethlehem to give birth. We know how that turns out. Sweet film. Nicely animated.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-