BY CAINE GARDNER
When gearing up for the Christmas season one very important element to my holiday experience is movies. When searching for my favorite Christmas-themed films I thought long and hard and came to the conclusion that if there are 12 days of Christmas, there should be 12 films as well.
The list is compiled as more of a viewing guide that a definitive all-time list. That being said, the cream has a way of rising to the top and when all was said and done -- this did in fact become my definitive list. Some gems were left out, some just missed the cut, while some just disappeared like candy canes on the Gardner family Christmas tree.
12. White Christmas (1954)
Little else needs to be said than Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye. A film hoped to bring the audience back from Holiday Inn, where the song "White Christmas" made its debut; White Christmas is a far better film than its predecessor due to Kaye being a major player in the movie. His dancing, comedy and good-natured demeanor make this film a real holiday treat.
11. Elf (2003)
The tale of a human child who crawls into Santa's bag and mistakenly leads the first half of his life as an elf. Learning of the truth, Buddy embarks on a journey to find his real father, discovers love and teaches those he comes in contact with the true meaning of Christmas. Will Ferrell is marvelous as Buddy and Zooey Deschanel, with her haunting blue eyes and pixie features, seems made to become an elf's wife.
10. The Santa Clause (1994)
One of Tim Allen's best feature films. When Scott Calvin (Allen) hears a disturbance on his roof on Christmas Eve, he wanders outside, yells at the trespasser who in turn falls to the ground dead. The man disappears, but the suit remains and when Calvin puts on the suit, he in time becomes the real Santa Claus.
With cool effects, great performances and a delightful story, The Santa Clause is a wintertime winner.
9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
I know there was an actual movie made of this Dr. Seuss story, but I'll take the Chuck Jones-animated and Boris Karloff-narrated tale any day of the week. Where the film version was an over-the-top vehicle for Jim Carrey to do his thing, the 1966 depiction is a classic that Carrey's version struggles to even come close to. And besides, how cute is Cindy-Lou Who?
8. A Christmas Carol (1938)
Many prefer the subsequent versions of the Charles Dickens story, but there's something about Reginald Owen's performance as Scrooge that elevates this version to the top of my list. The film eliminated more adult elements such as the phantoms outside of Scrooge's window, plus the starving children who reside in the Ghost of Christmas Present's robes. With those elements gone and a running time of just 69 minutes, Carol was a blatant attempt by MGM to appeal to a family audience.
7. Home Alone (1990)
Probably my least favorite of the films listed, this holiday film had to be included. With memorable scenes such as the aftershave splash and scream, the tarantula on Daniel Stern' face (and his scream) and John Candy rocking out with his polka band in the back of a rental truck, Home Alone is a holiday must. I think this film suffered from overkill and that is mostly the reason for my avoidance of the flick. I can only handle so much Macaulay Culkin.
6. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
The second TV special to make an appearance on the list, this film captures the essence of Christmas perfectly. It shows that no matter how small the tree or lack of gifts, the true meaning of Christmas is a celebration of life. No scene captures this better than when Linus takes the stage, asks for the lights to dim and recites a passage for the Gospel of Luke. If that isn't Christmas, I don't know what is.
5. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
An achievement on so many levels, the tale of Jack Skellington and his attempt to replace "Sandy Claws" is a modern classic.
The music sets the tone for the film and the song "What's This?" captures the innocence and exuberance we all felt when things were new and undiscovered. While not suitable for younger viewers, Nightmare is an absolute must see for any adult at Christmas time.
4. Christmas Vacation (1989)
A slightly off-centered uncle, an electrocuted cat, sewer explosions and an assault on a plastic Santa -- sounds like a typical Christmas in the Gardner family. But this hilarious romp involves our beloved, and clueless, Clark W. Griswold and his quest to have the perfect Christmas. Like with all of Griswold's endeavors, his perfection soon turns to disaster and what follows is a hysterical flick that should be in steady rotation during the holiday season.
Randy Quaid as Uncle Eddie again steals the show and when he discloses what happens when a microwave is kicked on will keep you laughing throughout the year.
3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Winner of three Academy Awards, Miracle captures the hearts of audiences and critics alike. Miracle is the story of how the real Kris Kringle comes to touch the lives of a cynical mother, a disbelieving child and a lawyer who believes the old man might just be telling the truth.
Edmund Gwenn stars as Kringle and is the heart of the film. His believable performance as the real Santa Claus will leave the viewer questioning their belief in jolly Ol' Saint Nick.
It's awesome when a movie ends on a scene that stays with you forever and Miracle accomplishes this. Young Susan (Natalie Wood) asks Kringle for a beautiful house in the suburbs and when her wish isn't taken care of on Christmas morning, the child is crushed. The ever-helpful Kringle offers an alternate route for Susan's mother (Maureen O'Hara) and Fred (John Payne) to avoid traffic on the way home. When they decide they might be lost, Susan exclaims "Stop!" from the back of the vehicle, exits and races up the lawn to the home of her dreams.
When she explains to her mother and Fred that this is the home she asked Kringle for, the adults dismiss it, but as they begin to exit the home, Fred spies Kris' cane sitting next to the fireplace.
2. A Christmas Story (1983)
A Christmas Story is the tale of a boy and his dream. His dream in this case is to own an "official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass on the stock."
Littered with memorable moments and lines, this classic was dubbed a flop in its initial theatrical release, but thanks to the wonders of cable television, it has become a staple of Christmas programming. Beginning on Christmas Eve, cable station TBS runs "24 Hours of A Christmas Story", a testament to the film's popularity. Just for the record, this reviewer's TV runs the marathon in its entirity as his own tradition. My daughter loves the Ralphie in the pink bunny suit.
Set in fictional Hohman (Hammond, Ind.), A Christmas Story has that cool Midwestern feel that we've all come to love. With references to places in Indiana, the movie is especially significant for Hoosiers.
Of course the "you'll shoot your eye out" moment when Ralphie does in fact almost shot his eye out is laugh out loud hilarious, my favorite line of the movie involves his little brother Randy (Ian Petrella).
When Ralphie has his first encounter of the film with Scut Farkus, Randy is pushed to the ground where the narrator explains that "Randy lay there like a slug, it was his only defense." That's gold baby!
A Christmas Story is filled with nods to yesteryear, slick one-liners and all the good things that made being a kid awesome. Just try not to watch it this Christmas -- I triple-dog dare ya.
1. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
Voted by the American Film Institute as the No. 1 most inspirational film of all time, It's a Wonderful Life is hands down the best holiday film of all time as well.
This enchanting tale follows George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), a likeable everyman who wishes to someday leave his town of Bedford Falls. Finally he accepts the fact that Bedford Falls is his home, begins working at the Bailey Building and Loan and ultimately building Bailey Park, an affordable housing division.
Things look great until Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) loses an $8,000 deposit on the way to the bank in some newspaper; Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) takes the money knowing that this will spell the end for the Bailey Building and Loan. George approaches Potter about getting alone and only has $500 worth of equity in his $15,000 life insurance policy. Potter cruelly tells George he's worth more dead than alive, which sends George's mind racing.
Intent on committing suicide to get the building and loan out of trouble, George is visited by Clarence -- his guardian angel. After learning of this fact, George remarks that he wished he'd never been born. Clarence then shows George what life would be like without him for the residents of Bedford Falls.
After seeing of the ill fortunes of the townspeople and his family, George begs God to let him live. His prayer is granted and he races home to his family, with his financial troubles the furthest thing from his mind. There he hugs and kisses his family and then throngs of people begin to show up and give enough money to cover the lost deposit.
Then as the Christmas miracle is happening, a tiny bell on the tree rings to which George's daughter Zuzu responds "Look, daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings and angel gets his wings." George smiles, says that's right and so ends the No. 1 Christmas flick of all time.
Happy Holidays everyone!