Steve Martaindale

Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series

Lights. Action. Christmas!

its-a-wonderful-life-still


James Stewart and Henry Travers as George Bailey and Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Had it not felt like Christmas already, the 20- to 30-mph north winds and temperatures dropping steadily all day Thursday and hovering this morning certainly bring awareness of the Yuletide season.

One thing that dependably underscores the season – regardless whether the weather outside is frightful – is the television lineup of Christmas movies.

We’re not talking simply of classics such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” true icons of the genre, but also films like “Die Hard” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

So, I reached out across the Internet with the question, what movies mean Christmas for you? Let’s peek at the returns.

A surprise for me was “Love Actually,” a romantic dramedy released in 2003 featuring an impressive cast with the likes of Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth and others. I saw the movie years ago and did not remember a Christmas theme.

However, three people list it among movies that make the season for them.

Karen mentions that it featured “grownup hot guys,” but she adds she appreciates “the theme that love gets everyone through pain, doubt, disappointment and love triumphs through all.”

Holly lists its attributes as, “Clever, famous ensemble cast, funny, charming and good music!” Judy puts in a plug for “Christmas lobster,” referencing a scene in the movie.

We’ll move next to a more traditional movie, “A Christmas Story,” released in 1983

Margaret sums it up well: “Because, you know – it’s iconic! And because Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) is just so darned cute!” Aretta says it reminds her of her childhood.

Mike also tosses out two of the most memorable references: Red Ryder BB gun and “Don’t lick the flag pole.”

“‘You’ll shoot your eye out!’” Lynette writes. “We’ve watched that movie for years on Christmas morning with our boys while we gather together to open our gifts. We love it! It’s a family tradition now.”

Add Dale and Heather and it received five nominations.

I was a bit surprised “The Polar Express” received only one mention. Paul names the 2004 film as his favorite because, “to me, Christmas is magic and love.”

Two people tagged “Holiday Inn” from 1942, featuring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

Another Judy says she likes the “music and dancing and romance.” Donna says it reminds her “of the golden days years ago.”

Constance lists two movies nobody else did. “One Magic Christmas,” released in 1985, starred Mary Steenburgen and Harry Dean Stanton. “The Bishop’s Wife,” 1947, featured Cary Grant and Loretta Young.

“The Year Without a Santa Claus,” had two recommendations with James specifically mentioning Heat Miser and Snow Miser from the 2006 film. Katie says she cries “every time when the kids start singing ‘I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You.’”

Time for another big-name Christmas movie, “Elf,” Will Ferrell’s 2003 movie that sported its own all-star cast. Dale lists it as an example of the “innocence of Christmas,” Will “for comedic reasons” and Leah “because that is how I feel about Christmas.” Erin brings it in at four supporters.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965) was entered on three ballots, including Kate’s. Becky likes it for “how sweetly it portrays the Nativity story.”

“Good grief,” says Jim, “who hasn’t been in Chuck’s shoes?”

We’ll move from animation to Claymation, nominated by Will and Angie, particularly “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964) and “Frosty the Snowman” (1969).

“Some of my earliest memories are of watching them with my folks,” Will says.

From Claymation to puppets as Katie gives a nod to “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992).

And then Kathy brings up “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” (1977). “I love the music and such a beautiful story line. Also, it came out in such a perfect time in our family life when our daughters were just the right age to appreciate it.”

What’s Christmas without pratfalls?

That can only make one think of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” Chevy Chase’s 1989 hit was tagged by five people, including Heather and Maggi.

Dale adds that it’s “just down right funny and who hasn’t spazzed out over the perfect Christmas?

Janis says they watch it every year because, “too many of my relatives are in it!”

Says Melissa, “It’s so ridiculously real.”

Pratfalls do stir up other Christmas memories for Erin and Matt, 1990’s “Home Alone.” Matt adds, “Who doesn’t like watching a kid out-smart a couple of crooks?”

Leah brings up another movie I’ve not seen, “The Family Stone.” The 2005 flick makes her list because, “that’s how life and families are – happy, sad and messy – all at the same time.”

Richard has another I wouldn’t have thought of, “Donovan’s Reef” of 1963.

While I earlier mentioned “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) as a classic, it was only mentioned once. Karen notes it is, “About the power of belief, wishes granted, assumptions overturned.”

Sammie brings up “Scrooged” (1988), saying it, “redeems my soul and puts me in the spirit whole heartedly.”

Becky tosses 1989’s “Prancer” onto the list. “The reason is the story line about a widower dealing with his two children the first Christmas after their mother’s death … and, of course, Christmas magic.”

Don nominated two Barbara Stanwyck pictures: “Christmas in Connecticut” from 1945 and “Remember the Night” from 1940.

Dan and Kirk expand the theme a bit.

Dan goes with Bob Hope Christmas specials, partly because he met Bob Hope and most of us didn’t.

“During a studio tour in Los Angeles, Thanksgiving 1985, I met him along with Patti LaBelle, who was one of his guests, as they were filming the annual Christmas show,” he says. “Appreciated his warmth on and off the show.”

Kirk writes, “For me as a child, Christmas didn’t start until I saw the Norelco commercial,” the one with Santa riding an electric razor across the snow.

We’re beginning to wrap up this list and we’ll do so with one of the most unlikely Christmas hits and probably the most likely one.

The International Movie Database offers this description of the 1988 film “Die Hard”: “John McClane, officer of the NYPD, tries to save his wife Holly Gennaro and several others that were taken hostage by German terrorist Hans Gruber during a birthday party at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles.”

Oh, wait, it doesn’t say birthday party. It says Christmas party. There, that’s all we need to turn deadly drama into a holiday movie. Of course, it also broke ground for Bruce Willis as one of the premiere action actors of the past few decades.

The depth of the movie’s entrenchment as a Christmas special is reflected in a meme I saw recently: “It’s not Christmas until I see Hans Gruber fall from Nakatomi Tower.” (Hope that’s not a spoiler!)

Erin voted for the movie and Dale endorsed it, saying, “Man has to have an action flick.” Mikuláš was just as succinct: “No need for additional reason.”

Finally, there is what may be the quintessential Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946).

Four people listed it – Matt, Angie, Mollie and Kate, the latter identifying it as having a “perfect cast, timeless theme.”

No description is needed here. Either you’ve seen it or you need to. (IMDb says it’s showing on the USA Network on Saturday, Sunday and next Friday.)

So, that wraps it up, right?

Who am I kidding? We’ll never get through all the Christmas movies.

Another Leah submitted, “Nothing kicks off the Holiday season like endless Hallmark Christmas movies!

Perhaps Lynette sums it up best, tacking onto her favorite the following disclaimer: “I also like the ‘Walton Christmas Reunion’ (which I could not find), ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas,’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and almost any other Christmas movie.

Enough said. Merry Christmas to all.

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