I wavered a bit on this 10th choice. It was between The Christmas Card and The Santa Clause, but I decided to go with the more obscure because it is a beautiful and romantic story that should be acknowledged. When officer Cody Cullen arrives at the town where he received a Christmas card, he finds the coldness that had begun to seep into his heart start to melt. When he meets the lovely Faith Spellman, is welcomed into the home of her parents, finds himself working as a carpenter at her father's mill, everything reminds him that his life does go on and that, even though he's lost good friends in the war, there is still reason to hope. I've never seen such a typical idea done so originally and with such a genuine desire to get it right. The acting is exquisite, the setting is magical, and every year I find myself awed by the warmth shown to this lonely soldier who need to find rest. It's beautiful and if you haven't seen The Christmas Card, I urge you to do so, either now before Christmas, or even after the new year.
I would be horribly remiss if I didn't include White Christmas on this list. This is one of those movies that probably everyone has seen at one time or another, or even just bits of it. The number that Danny and Bing do dress up like the girls and singing "Sisters" is always a riot. And, to think that this is the first movie where Bing sang his emotionally-haunting rendition of White Christmas, that's enough to make this movie a classic. But my favorite part, truly, is when General Waverly is honored at the end of the film, in that spectacular show put on Wallace and Davis. It's such a beautiful reminder that we need to honor and respect our troops as they're starting to return home. Even if someone has been out of the military for years, for decades, they still deserve our respect and our gratitude for serving. Having that beautiful message wrapped in a decadent and fun story of dancing and singing and delight was brilliant and so White Christmas deserves to be honored.
All right, you're probably all thinking I'm crazy. How does a Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine movie possibly make it onto a Christmas movie list? Well, if you've ever seen The Apartment, then you'll remember how it does take place at Christmastime. It's the story of a man who works in an office building of at least 50,000 employees in New York City. He's desk such-and-such a number out of a gazillion running statistics on people for health insurance. His life could be considered pleasant, except for the fact that his apartment is commandeered at least four nights a week by unfaithful husbands in the office who need a place to take their "dates." I know what you're thinking, how dreadfully immoral, and you're right, and that's how it is portrayed. Poor Baxter hardly knows what to do with himself. All he knows is that this can't go on any longer, especially when he finds the woman he likes from the office, Miss Kubelik, unconscious in his apartment a few days before Christmas. This really is the story of people who manage to survive despite overwhelming odds. Fran Kubelik makes horrible choices in men, but somehow, by spending time with Baxter, she realizes there's more to life than hopping from one bad relationship to another. That apartment, for all its flaws and pain that it caused, brought two lives together and gave them the courage to resist the immoral demands of others. This all happens at Christmastime and ends on an upbeat note of hope.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
I will never fully understand how this movie scared some of my friends when they were young. The first time I saw it, I was so completely enchanted. Now, as an adult, I realize just how much I love Michael Caine's rendition of Scrooge and just entertaining it is to have Gonzo in the role of Charles Dickens with Rizzo as a sidekick. The Muppet Christmas Carol follows the traditional telling of Dickens' original story, while adding fun quirks of its own, such as the original songs, and the casting of the muppets right alongside human actors. One thing I've always experience is a strange sensation that the muppets are real. They're actors, just like their human counterparts, and so I never struggle with disbelief whenever I watch this version. The songs are magnificent, and I just adore the Ghost of Christmas Present in all his jolliness and hilarity. If you're going to take a journey with Dickens into his story, then what better way to do that then with a mixed cast that keeps the scariest aspects from being too scary for young children. It's a great movie for the entire family to enjoy in the Christmas season.
The Polar Express
From the moment I first saw The Polar Express in theaters, I was hooked. I mean, a train that comes on Christmas Eve to take children to the North Pole? How incredible is that?! Particularly since the main little boy doesn't necessarily believe in Santa Clause at this point. He's reached that logical age where Santa can't possibly exist. This, however, is where Santa to do something about the doubting children in the world. The journey they experience, the dangers and thrills, the drinking of hot chocolate and Tom Hanks singing on the train, and finally, the lighting of the Christmas tree at the North Pole and meeting Santa Clause, everything is magical! There are, of course, allegory too, especially in the form of the hobo on the train who travels to the North Pole but doesn't actually believe. Yet, he saves the little boy from falling off the train. Every time I watch this movie, I am amazed anew at its ingenuity and sheer sparkling quality. I love animated films like most everyone else, but this one is top notch, a step above the norm. Although, truth be told, I think some of the scarier moments reminded my dad of a few nightmares he'd had as a kid. Oh well, you can't please everybody!
Good King Wenceslas
I admit it. I love obscure movies that are nearly impossible to track down, but you can find this one online if you look hard enough. While this movie isn't necessarily about Christmas, it does take place in the winter and focuses on a spiritually devout young man whom most people know as Wenceslas. You've heard the song, I'm sure. Wenceslas is the heir to his father's throne and will inherit once he reaches the age of 21. His step-mother, played by Stefanie Powers, has other ideas. She wants her son to be king and so hatches a plot to make the much-beloved Wenceslas fall out of favor with his people. The story is really about watching a young man stick tightly to his convictions and not be led astray by any conniving schemes. He falls in love, he triumphs over evil, and there are incredible amounts of Christian allegory in the movie where Wenceslas is deliberately and specifically saved by God. This is Jonathan Brandis at his finest moment and one of the last chances for people to see a radiant and elderly Joan Fontaine.
This is one of those movies that probably 90% of the population of America has never seen. It's based on Dylan Thomas' brilliant prose and filmed in such magnificent style that you almost feel like you're not watching a movie but rather participating in an actual story. A little boy on Christmas Eve in modern Wales asks his grandfather what life was like when he was a little boy. We're talking 70 or so years from the 1980s, so set in 1910 or thereabouts. Then we proceed to follow the story of the young version of Denholm Elliot, which he narrates. He tells of Christmas spent with uncles and aunts, of going out with his friends and caroling, of pretending to smoke a candy cigarette, of popping a balloon while his uncles are napping, of his aunt who is a songbird, and his parents who kiss him tenderly and send him to bed after the Christmas festivities, and above all, of the snow that was always a part of his Christmas. The story is magical. I can't praise it enough and I can't encourage you enough to find a copy and see it for yourself. There's nothing else like it anywhere.
It's a Wonderful Life
If you haven't seen It's a Wonderful Life then you're really missing one of the finest Christmas movies ever made. I admit, my sister was too young when she first saw this because all she took from it was that Jimmy Stewart yelled at his family. But there's so much more to the story than just an angry young man. This is the story of a man named George who realizes just how much he impacts other people and how much his life is impacted by others. He's a man with a good heart who loves the town in which he lives and who loves his family. This is the his story, of how he is the favored son of the town and then how he is willing to nearly resort to suicide because he thinks he's lot it all: his worth as a man, a provider for his family, his self-respect. Thank goodness for Clarence, the guardian angel of the story, who shows George a world without him in it, and it is a bleak and dismal view. The ending, that beautiful ending where everyone pulls together and supports one another, is probably one of the most well-known in Christmas film history. I love watching Jimmy Stewart bellow down the street, "Merry Christmas!"
Miracle on 34th Street
Now, who hasn't seen the original Miracle on 34th Street? My heart reached out to that logical little girl who had been raised without imagination. Just like I feel pain for Susan's mother who had risked falling in love only to have her heart broken. It's funny how in this movie it doesn't really matter if Kris is Santa Clause or not. Even if he's only suffering from a delusion, that's not the point. The point is that he brings the joy of Santa Clause into the lives of the people around him. Once Susan starts to believe in him, it's beautiful. When he teaches her about the "Imagination" and how to pretend with other children, it's like watching a little flower blossom. Of course, it helps that Miss Susan is played by Natalie Wood. But truly, when Maureen O'Hara encourages her suddenly doubting daughter at the end of the movie to still believe in Kris, regardless of proof and common sense, that is what really makes me stand up and cheer. Sometimes you just have to believe in something, whether the world agrees with you or not.
I was essentially raised on Prancer. It follows the story of Jessica Riggs, a child of vivid imagination who loves Christmas. When she finds a reindeer in the woods who happens to look just like one of the reindeer pictures hung on her window, it can only be Prancer. Her goal is for Santa to be aware that she has Prancer and hopefully pick him on Christmas Eve when she will deliver him to Antler Ridge. Of course, the story is more than just that of a little girl and her reindeer. It's also about the mending of relationships. Her father, played by the brilliant Sam Elliot, is a man who is hurting ever since the loss of his wife. He doesn't know how to love his kids and it is up to Jessica and her brother to heal the wounds, both in themselves, and in their father. My favorite scene is when Jessica's dad sits and reads the "Dear Virginia" letter to her on Christmas Eve. It never fails to bring tears to my eyes because that is when their relationship is mended. It's beautiful.