Over the last two weeks, people have been sharing a meme on Facebook that asks commenters to select their favorite three out of twelve Christmas movies or TV specials. Oddly, they did not include any one of the 52 versions made of A Christmas Carol.
After I posted the meme and stated that the three I would choose are 11, 11, and 11, a dear cousin of mine admitted he only recognized 7 and 10. He asked, “Santa, any suggestions?” I responded by writing a quick identification guide for the movies and added a few sentences to summarize and review them. It occurred to me that what I wrote might be useful, or at least entertaining, to a much wider audience.
1. Christmas Vacation — A slapstick family Christmas that does not land in the Family Movies category because of the sexual innuendos and potty humor. Skewers the expectation versus reality of Christmas.
2. The Polar Express — Welcome to the Uncanny Valley, with a surreal and enigmatic middle, melodramatic climax, followed by a relatively subtle dénouement. Hot chocolate will be served.
3. Elf — Imagine Crocodile Dundee is a man-child who comes to brutal Manhattan looking for his corporate father and finds romance with a Manic Pixie Dream-girl. Then add Santa and reindeer and throw in the recurring theme of believing impossible things magically makes them happen. (Brilliantly funny turn by Peter Dinklage in a subplot.)
4. Miracle on 34th Street — This is probably the dawn of the post-War commercialized Christmas (set in a department store, no less!), which ends with the bizarre message that if you would just delude yourself into believing enough, someone will give you an entire house in a great neighborhood. Truly ironic since the rise of homelessness during Reagan, the 2008 housing bubble, and the ongoing affordable housing crisis that has people living in RVs.
5. Rankin/Bass’ Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — Santa runs a work encampment of bullies (and that includes the adults, including Rudolph’s own a-hole father, Donner!) where conformity is required until a dire situation establishes that non-conformity can be bartered for proper respect, which should have been there at the start.
6. A Christmas Story —This is loved by the Silent Generation and Baby Boomers, probably more for the “oh my God, we had that refrigerator!” moments than the characters or plot. A voice-over narrator is used to guide your thoughts and feelings, just in case the acting, directing, and cinematography don’t.
7. Home Alone — Gen X loves this because all too often we were home alone trying to survive. Slapstick Die Hard Lite for kids.
8. How the Grinch Stole Christmas — The Mask, but Christmassy with a simplified, kid-comprehensible Scrooge. Seems to have been produced by a cast and crew on meth. Who?
9. The Santa Clause — Millennial Christmas fodder, or father, or … This Gen-Xer was too old to see it when it came out and had already had quite enough of this kind of film. It has spawned way too many sequels to cash-in on the original, but that’s the contemporary $pirit of Chri$tmas.
10. It’s a Wonderful Life — NOT the thing to watch in 2020 when you have spent a year on unemployment and you know that no one, no one at all, is going to come rushing to your house to pour money on your table and sing “Auld Lang Syne” with you, not even socially distanced or virtually.
11. Die Hard — Captures the true spirit of Christmas by showing a man who will risk his life to save his wife and hope he can see his kids by killing greedy assholes. In a truly cry-worthy inspirational subplot, a cop finally learns how to do his job again. Moreover, if you want warmth, this has fireballs large enough to warm the Grinch into steamy broccoli. Best Christmas Movie Ever!
12. A Charlie Brown Christmas — The only one on this list that references the… well, what is supposed to be the main reason for the holiday, if you ignore that early Christianity co-opted a lot of pagan holidays as it spread across Europe. The Snoopy subplot deftly clued Gen X into the over-commercialization of Christmas – which also raised awareness of how over-commercialized every moment of our lives have become. (Sadly, some late Boomers only retain the “put the Christ back in Christmas” message, to the point of going all Karen on poor store employees who say “Happy Holidays.” Thankfully, not everyone is an over-wound, self-entitled Christian – although some have accused me of being an over-wound Christian, but that’s because I landed an ironic name and “curmudgeonly” demeanor, according to some people.)