It’s that time of year. The time TV decides to churn out Christmas stuff. Although a lot of the new specials seem more centered around the secular aspects of Christmas, I’ve found some movies and specials that I always enjoy. Here are ten.
10) Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Based on the American movie Three Godfathers, this is an excellent film by the man I consider the Stanley Kubrick of anime, Satoshi Kon. He did a great job with this story. It’s about three homeless men who find an abandoned baby and decide to give him a family, by taking care of him themselves. I really like the feel of this movie, and for a culture that certainly is not Christian, it actually does Christmas justice. I should warn you, it’s not child-friendly–one of the men is a drag queen.
9. The Small One (1978) This Disney cartoon is the last one that Don Bluth did before he made his own studio and started making cartoons like The Secret of NIMH and An American Tail. It’s a story about a boy who has to sell his family’s donkey because it’s too old. Since it’s set in Bethlehem before Jesus is born, I’m sure you can guess who gets the donkey. It’s very beautiful and the ending is heartwarming. You can find this on the Classic Holiday Favorites DVD from Disney.
8) Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) This musical stars Judy Garland as Esther, the eldest daughter of a wealthy middle-class family. She is dismayed to learn that her family has to move to New York and that she will miss the 1904 World’s Fair. The best, of course has to be the scene where Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, which has become a staple of Christmas music ever since. Garland’s voice is still as beautiful as always.
7. The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus (1985) Based on L. Frank Baum’s classic book. This is the story of a boy cared for by a Wood Nymph named Necile. (The boy is named Claus. Get it? Necile’s Claus?) According to Baum, this is the boy who would become Santa Claus. Okay, it says nothing about St. Nicholaus but I still enjoy this story. It presents the Christmas spirit in a unique way and the stop-motion animation is spell-binding (this is from Rankin-Bass, the same studio that made the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town cartoons that still play every year. I looked on Amazon and there’s lots of DVD collections of their specials, including this one.
6) A Christmas Carol Which one, you ask? Yes, there’s been lots of movies done on this classic Dickens story, from Disney to even the Flintstones (which to me makes no sense when you really think about it). I think the best ones are: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992), the one with Patrick Stewart (made in 1999 for TNT), and the one starring George C. Scott in the 80’s. There’s even a modernized version called Scrooged starring Bill Murray (it’s a bit darker than it should be, but I thought it was a nice twist).
5) The Polar Express (2004) This is just beautiful. Robert Zemeckis is a brilliant filmmaker, whether he’s doing cartoons or live-action (or maybe I’m just biased because I still think the Back to the Future movies are excellent). It’s a story about children who are taken to the North Pole by train before they become too disillusioned to believe in Santa. I love the way the movie addresses the issue of faith. Whether in 2-D or 3-D, this is a joy to watch.
4) How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) It’s just not Christmas without Boris Karloff as the Grinch. This is such a fun story and I just can’t stop watching it every year. And no, I will not watch that awful Ron Howard version.
3) Miracle on 34th Street (original: 1947, remakes in 1955, 1959, and 1994) This is a classic story about Santa Claus that I feel it’s just not Christmas without. I actually like the 1994 version better, but the original is good too. I’ve heard people complain about Mara Wilson’s performance, but I’ve seen worse child actors. And besides, she’s adorable. Richard Attenborough is excellent as Kris Kringle. My favorite bits are when he does sign language for a deaf girl and the end, where the court scene is ended by someone bringing in a dollar bill. The idea is if we put “In God We Trust” on our currency (which I sincerely hope we never stop doing) to indicate a belief in God, then why can’t we believe that Santa exists.
TIE: 2) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) I LOVE this cartoon! I still watch this every year, unlike Rudolph (which I’ve outgrown) and Frosty the Snowman (which I now despise). I find it so disappointing that this is the only secular special that actually quotes the Bible. (although I hear they tried to cut that part out originally, and Schulz insisted that it remain) Like every Charlie Brown cartoon or comic, it has a sense of honesty and innocence that I just love. And how can you not identify with Charlie Brown.
2) The Nativity Story (2006) It’s not a big budget movie but its heart is certainly in the right place. Everything about this movie is well-done. I love the attention given to Joseph’s dilemma, the performance of Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary, and the comic relief provided by the three Wise Men. I really can’t recommend this movie enough. It really deserves more attention than it initially received.
1) It’s A Wonderful Life (1945) Frank Capra directed this excellent movie. George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart, is a loveable hero who discovers how much his hometown Bedford Falls would suck if he wasn’t around to keep the heartless Mr. Potter in check. I’ve not found one person who disagrees with me how great this movie is.