Then the Christmas season actually rolls around, and every channel known to man plays nothing but Christmas-Christmas-Christmas 24 hours a day for a whole month. This is what I wanted for the entire month of July, after all. This is Christmas in July, but in December.
And I, of course, will watch not one minute of it.
Not because none of it is any good, but because … well, I always kind of end up exhausted by the build-up to Christmas. Hell, radio stations start playing Christmas songs the day after Halloween nowadays. Still, as much as Christmas has become anticlimactic for me, I can’t shake the way Hollywood’s idea of Christmas — and movies in particular — defined the season for me as a child. There are a lot of truly wonderful Christmas movies that help shape our season, just as threre are many lousy ones. As the season descends upon us, let’s look back on the ones that we’ll hopefully always remember, as well as the ones that we’ll unfortunately never forget.
THE BEST …
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): Hands down, no other movie captures the spirit of Christmas as beautifully as Frank Capra’s classic about a guy who just wants to kill himself before the holidays.
A Christmas Story (1983): Few Christmas movies have been made in the last three decades that could be called “timeless,” but this touching tale of a firearms-obsessed young boy earns the adjective several times over. Interestingly, it was directed by Bob Clark, who also directed one of the worst Christmas movies of all time (see below)
Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Every kid wants to believe the smelly wino taking their wishes at the department story is the real deal; here, that turns out to be true, which is what makes Miracle on 34th Street so magical.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): In the last good installment in the Vacation series, the Griswolds have, as previously mentioned, the hap-hap-happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fuckin’ Kaye — while figuring out what the season is really all about. It’s also notable as the last good movie Chevy Chase starred in.
Scrooged (1988): Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol always seemed kind of dated, so Richard Donner updated it with Bill Murray, plenty of explosions, and David Johansen of the New York Dolls — aka Buster Poindexter — as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Can you say brilliant?
THE WORST …
Surviving Christmas (2004): Matt Damon’s BFF plays a soulless record exec who pays the family living in his childhood home to let him spend Christmas with him as one of their children. Tony Soprano plays his dad, but somehow doesn’t shoot him.
Jingle All the Way (1996): Arnold Schwarzenegger just wants to get little Anakin Skywalker a Turbo Man toy for Christmas, or something equally lame. The little bastard who helped ruin The Phantom Menace whines his way through this movie, too.
Christmas with the Kranks (2004): After having pissed on The Santa Claus by starring in its sequel two years earlier, Tim Allen does his best to destroy Christmas altogether this time around in an adaptation of John Grisham’s novella Skipping Christmas.
Deck the Halls (2006): When Danny DeVito appeared on The View to promote Deck the Halls, he was so drunk that the clip became a YouTube hit. Undoubtedly, that clip will be remembered longer than the movie.
Black Christmas (1974): It’s a movie about a serial killer who takes out a sorority house full of hot college girls. Sure, they’re sorority girls, but, come on, it has “Christmas” in the title. This is the type of thing directors go to hell for … unless you’re Bob Clark and you go on to direct A Christmas Story to redeem yourself. (Don’t) watch for the Black Christmas remake, out all too soon.