Today I have taken a look back at Christmas films which a have already been reviewed on nEoFILM and selected what I believe to be the top five festive movies. This is not the top five of all time as I have not reviewed every major Christmas film, with classics such as early versions A Christmas Carol/Scrooge yet to be reviewed, let alone modern classics like Scrooged (1988) or of the 1994 version of A Miracle On 34th Street.
But having said that, the number one choice may well stand even against such strong competition. This is not based on my ratings either, as there are more films which rate higher than the titles included on list list which may hold up better as films but this is about the spirit of a Christmas movie and what I personally think of when choosing a film for festive viewing.
Anyway, without further ague…
…at number 5 we have…–
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
DIRECTOR: Henry Selick
May Contain Spoilers!
Whilst Tim Burton was directing Batman Returns, he was also producing this stop-motion animation classic. The influence of Batman’s second outing was clear, and I’m sure that there was a nod to Returns in the scene when the Mayer of Halloween Town is looking for Jack Skellington, with a picture of bat and cat on a plan for next years Halloween.
The story is well conceived, as Jack Skelington, the master mind of the Halloween, is bored with his endless role in the macabre holiday and discovers Christmas Town. Whilst there, he becomes obsessed with Christmas and returns home and arranges for Halloween Town to take over the holiday that year.
Jack’s obsession leads him to research Christmas but he can’t understand it, leading to a Christmas sack filled with shrunken heads and a host of other macabre gifts. The beauty of this film is that it is aimed at everyone. It feels like a kids film but the humour is classic Burton, as is the style. Jack’s obsession is handled in a mature fashion too, a concept that is not fully understandable by children but enough so as to understand his actions.
The other master-stroke here is that almost all the characters of Halloween Town are good. Their motives by trying to put on Christmas are admirable and Jack’s sorrow at his inevitable failure is also very touching. Bad things happen to good people, or creatures, throughout but there’s little malice. it walks a line which fairy tales often do, but this is little a more brazen about doing so.
With a blend of humour, scares and striking imagery, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a great watch for all the family, and a through-back into the days of Grimm and Anderson, only in the final days of the 20th Century.
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
DIRECTOR: Brian Henson
May Contain Spoilers!
The Muppets have always been a strangely compelling creation. Taken seriously as personalities by their creators and fans alike, Kurmet and Miss Piggy are as timeless as Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, whilst managing to maintain their characters over the time without them becoming diminished of tamed, as with the Looney Tunes characters.
The 90’s saw a revival of the franchise in the form of movies, such as this and The Muppet Treasure Island and the short lived TV series rehash. There’s no doubt of the success of these films, though the series left a lot to be desired, but to me, it just doesn’t do it. Scrooge of played admirably by Michael Caine, and in turn it is he who drives the script, with a lot of help for our Muppets.
But with these classic stories being retold in Muppet form, the characters that are the Muppets are subdued and it’s this that works for me normally, and something which has been lost here. This is a decent enough family Christmas film, the kids will love it and it filled with Christmas cheer and a very festive atmosphere but it just falls short for me, and leaves me a little cold. Appropriate fro the time time of year though.
SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE
DIRECTOR: Jeannot Szwarc
May Contain Spoilers!
I can remember this coming out in 1985, The Santa Clause (1994) as it were of the 80’s. It’s not amazing, but it’s a serviceable festive treat. Santa Claus is given a plausible back story and evolves nicely into the character which all grew up with and love.
But I feel that this is supposed to be a Dudley Moore vehicle. Tosh! If anyone was to steal the show from Santa, it would have to be the wonderful, John Lithgow, as quite rightly, as he plays the villainous toy manufacturer, B.Z. who takes what was becoming a paint by numbers affair and gave it some life. Flamboyant and over the top, Lithgow adds a sense of pantomime villainy which actually gives us something and someone to root for. And what does it say about this movie, that the title character, one of the most iconic in modern western culture, should be relegated to third billing, and we thought that Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was bad, with Michael Keaton following Jack Nicholson.
More of a classic that many would give it credit for, but hardly Miracle On 34th Street (1947), but is a film which feels like Christmas to kids of today and a reminder of Christmas Eve for us children of then 1980’s.
DIRECTOR: George Seaton
May contain spoilers!
The original and dare I say, the best, Miracle On 34th Street is one of the Christmas classics. We meet Maureen O’Hara and her daughter, a young Natalie Wood, a cynical pair, the mother divorced and the daughter who only believes in what she sees.
Enter Kris Kringle, aka Santa Claus. The newly hired Macy’s Department Store Santa claims to be the REAL Father Christmas but O’Hara and Wood are too wise to believe this, but this story of believing in Santa is more to do with faith and never allowing life’s hurdles to jade us rather than is solving the controversy as to whether Kris Kringle is Santa Claus or simply a mad man.
Miracle On 34th Street (1947) was actually released in May of that year, despite the fact that it is set between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This was apparently due to studio head, Darryl F. Zanuck feeling that more people went to the cinema in summer rather than braving the cold of winter so the publicity, including the theatrical posters were toned down, without any festive artwork whatsoever.
The tone and dialogue are sharp as this light comedy mounts its attack on the ever commercialised Christmas, (and they thought it was it bad in 1947!) but somehow manages to make its string of marketing managers and CEO’s, including fictitious versions of R. H. Macy and Mr. Gimble of the now defunct Gimbles Department Store’s into loveable rogues rather than fat cat villains. This an enjoyable and poignant romp through the Christmas Season as the we follow Kringle’s journey into the heart of commercialism only to be won over by the good nature of people, faith in mankind winning out.
In 1985, this film was colourised, a process which I, as many, have a fundamental problem with. I feel that it is unnecessary and as wrong as CGI special editions or post conversions of old films into 3D.
But whilst I feel there is little need for any of these processes, I am guilty of enjoying the results. It can be nice to revisit classics such as Jurassic Park (1993) or The Wizard Of Oz (1939) after an IMAX 3D conversion, without detracting from the originals, it can offer a new viewing experience of a film which has been watched to death! At the very least, a novelty.
So what a pleasant surprise to discover how good A Miracle On 34th Street looked after the 1985 colourisation process. Granted, the colour is not as rich as Technicolor but it works, breathing new life into a film which looked perfectly fine in black and white but why not have the option to see it colour, certainly with such a light and breezy subject such as this.
The colour complimented the film’s festive tone and whilst not better than the original, it was a nice alternate way to see this classic.
…and at number…
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
DIRECTOR: Frank Capra
May Contain Spoilers!
The Christmas classic which has left an unparalleled mark on movie history and the Family Christmas is undoubtedly, Frank Capra’s, It’s A Wonderful Life. Like many seasonal classics, this has gained its fame and recognition from TV showings over the seven decades since its initial release, but it’s clearly NOT a Christmas film in the traditional sense. Yes, it’s set on Christmas Eve and it features a Christmas miracle but most of it is pretty dark and set over the span of George Bailey’s (James Stewart) life.
It tells the simple story of how a good man’s life has more meaningful and has a greater impact on those around him than he could have possibly known, and is shown this by Clarence, a second class angel on a mission to get his wings. He fights for the underdog and sacrifices his own dreams in the process. This and the prospect of prison following his uncles mistake in misplacing $8000 of his banks money, eventually leads him to contemplate suicide. It is here that Clarence shows him what life would have been like without him and coins one of cinema and TV’s most used, or overused plot devices!
But the beauty of this classic is that it is a real film in its own right, whether you watch it at Christmas time of in June! It’s dark but moralistic tone plays out like a religious parable, with Stewart’s character facing off against the seemingly evil Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) in order to protect the little man. In post-war 1946 America, this banker helping the working class would have been very topical but even today, in a world were bankers are perceived as crooks and thieves, the idea of Bailey’s idealism is appealing, a shows in a microcosmic way how economy and socialism can work hand in hand.
But enough politics. This is a deeply meaningful and yet whimsical take, which is heart-warming throughout for all the right reasons. Family and proper, decent family values are promoted here, not the schmaltzy ones, but the REAL values, not perfect people in the perfect family, but family and friends sticking together for their collective betterment. The idea that two of life’s “Little people” standing shoulder to shoulder can hold their own against one “Fat cat”.
It’s A Wonderful Life is just one of Frank Capra’s brilliant movies. A man with a clear social message but in this case, using a man born into money to tell his story. This is Scrooge but in reverse. The happy ending comes not from learning from the error of his ways but the realisation that he was already a good man and that his deeds would pay divides when he truly needed them too.
A classic, well shot, acted and conceived. A worthy classic if ever there was one.
N.B. This has been reassessed and upgraded from 9/10 – 10/10 (27/12/15).