The popcorn is popped, steaming mugs of hot chocolate are in hand and the lights of the Christmas tree softly set the stage for the annual family Christmas Movie gathering. But wait - there is still a decision to be made! What movie should you watch? There are hundreds - if not thousands - of family-oriented Christmas movies for youngsters, oldersters and in-betweensters to watch together this year. How about trying some older movies? I thought I'd share some of my faves with you.
First of all - it goes without saying that the top three picks are:
- It's a Wonderful Life (1946) - Jimmy Stewart is perfect in this story of a man who thinks his life is worthless, but an angel helps him realize that he's made a big difference in the world. The story never ceases to inspire me. Lionel Barrymore is amazing as Mr. Potter - possibly the meanest bad guy in history.
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947) - This movie and makes us all believe, as a lawyer proves that Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwen - a perfect Santa) is indeed the real Santa Claus. Love the scene where they dump the letters to Santa all over the judge's desk. Classic.
- White Christmas (1954) - Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen star in this musical. Successful musicians team with a sister act to save a Vermont Inn which is owned by their WWII general. Our family sings along with every song!
These are great flicks for all ages, including the little ones in the family:
- A Christmas Story (1983) - Ralphie and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun is hilarious. Kids love the chaos, adults love the dad, expertly portrayed by Darren McGavin, and no one can resist the Christmas dinner at a Chinese restaurant. This is my Dad's favorite Christmas movie...he got a BB gun for Christmas at that age and grew up in northern Indiana where the movie is set.
- Christmas Vacation (1989) - Definitely the best of the Vacation movie series by National Lampoon and starring Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold, who keeps the Christmas spirit despite a series of hysterical (slapstick) mishaps. I cannot see an RV without thinking of Dennis Quaid (who plays the brother-in-law a.k.a unwanted guest) as he parks his RV outside the Griswold home and well, makes a mess. If you've not seen this one in awhile it will have you all howling.
- Prancer (1989) - Animals in a movie are always a plus for kids, and this reindeer is so compelling! A young farm girl finds an injured reindeer and believes it to be Prancer, who has fallen from the Santa Claus display in town. She hides and nurses him ...until her father (who is not a believer) finds out. You guessed it - by the end he is. Sam Elliot is the downtrodden dad, and the great cast includes Cloris Leachman and Abe Vigoda.
- One Magic Christmas (1985) - the title says it all. Mary Steenburgen is so real as the Mom who is disappointed in life and struggling to pay the bills. She doesn't believe. But her kids do - and an unlikely, but very kind angel (Harry Dean Stanton in a long dark coat) finds a way to convince her.
- The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (1983) - this one may be hard for you to find, as it was made for TV. But it is my all-time favorite Christmas book, and it's worth finding a copy. The six wild Herdman kids get involved in the annual Christmas pageant and there is no shortage of laughs as they wreak havoc while learning the true meaning of Christmas. They make sure that baby Jesus gets a gift they truly value - a ham!
- A Christmas Carol is a must - but which version? If younger kids are watching, my pick is the Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). It manages to get the point across with the usual Muppets finesse that is entertaining for kids but also funny, creative and enjoyable for adults.
Are older parents joining you for the holidays? Or perhaps you're a lover of musicals, and older films? Here are a few good ones for you:
- The Shop Around the Corner (1940; Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) and In the Good Old Summertime (1949; Judy Garland and Van Johnson) are two movies that share similar plot lines as a more recent version you may be more familiar with called "You've got Mail". Two salespersons working in the same shop don't realize they are pen pals who fall in love. The movies culminate at Christmas time when they eventually discover each other's true identities. The Judy Garland version is set in a music shop, and includes some great musical numbers.
- Meet me in St. Louis (1944) - Another Judy Garland classic about a family in turn of the century St. Louis. The film features a gorgeous rendition of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as the family reluctantly faces the prospect of leaving their beloved St. Louis to move to New York. One of my favorite Christmas scenes in film.
- The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) - Bing Crosby as a priest who comes to help a church in the midst of the city runs into Ingrid Bergman as a nun who believes they will receive the gift of a building to house their school. The film culminates at Christmas and includes one of the cutest Christmas pageant's in movies. There won't be a dry eye in the house by the end of the movie.
- The Bishop's Wife(1947)- Cary Grant is irresistible I this film as the angel, Dudley, who comes to help the Bishop (David Niven) learn some lessons at Christmas time. Loretta Young as the wife is delightful.
- Scrooge - this 1970 musical version of A Christmas Carol starring Albert Finney is reminiscent of the film, Oliver, and other great musicals of that era. Wonderful musical arrangements, real talent and a true Dickensian feeling.
- Mrs. Santa Claus (1996) - This more recent musical may be harder to find as it was made for TV. It's a favorite in our family, as it stars Angela Lansbury and features some great production numbers. Mrs. Santa Clause is feeling un-needed by her husband, and travels to multicultural New York City in the early 1900's for some adventure. Mom loves the costumes and the music in this one. She and my niece have watched this together since my niece (now 19) was a little girl.
Hope this list will spur you to watch some movies you haven't seen in awhile, and perhaps try a few new ones with your family. I'd love to hear about your favorite holiday movie picks!