17 December 2008

Christmas Essential Viewing

Christmas Viewing Essentials
By Kristin Battestella
It's a Wonderful Life (60th Anniversary Edition)I know Christmas is fast approaching, so instead of meandering about charming holiday music and films, I’m going to give it to you short and sweet. Need to keep the kids still during winter break? Want to unwind from the chaotic shopping sessions? Here’s the holiday films you need to survive-in no magical order.

It’s A Wonderful Life- Yes, I love classics, but even the biggest black and white naysayer can take some Christmas meaning from Frank Capra’s holiday gem. ZuZu’s petals, Clarence, Bedford Falls, come on. You know it. Say it with me, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

Scrooged- When people (i.e. me!) harp on you about the return to Dickensian Christmas charm and value, you don’t need Tiny Tim and Bah Humbug if you’ve got Scrooged. Bill Murray’s 1988 is A Christmas Carol meets Wall Street in only the way Bill Murray can amuse you.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation- Some of the fashion may be out of date and Chevy Chase is years past his comedic prime, but there’s still superior gags from Sparky and the gang. Find me a person who hasn’t had a family Christmas gone awry because of freaky family and blown up trees, only then will I withdraw my praise.

Miracle on 34th Street (Special Edition)Miracle on 34th Street- Stick with the 1947 classic, trust me. Kids will forget the black and white once they hear the problem: Santa on trial! Baby boomers will also feel warm and fuzzy when Natalie Wood pulls Edmund Gwenn’s beard. How can you not?

A Christmas Story- Did you triple dog dare me not to include A Christmas Story? Pick your favorite part for this family gem. Some like the sentimentality of an early mid century American Christmas; my mom still can’t get over the bunny suit. I ask you, do you have a leg lamp ornament on your tree? You don’t even need this one on DVD, it runs 24 hours a day!

The Bishop’s Wife / The Preacher’s Wife- Older folks adore Cary Grant’s timeless take as suave angel Dudley seeking to save Christmas for The Bishop and his pretty wife. One of the few times an update has been worthy, The Preacher’s Wife gives us an angelic Denzel Washington and enchanting vocals from Whitney Houston.

The Nativity Story- The best telling of the first Christmas, simply put. No kinky stuff about virgins or mysticism. Historical and religious, beat that.

We're No Angels (1955) We’re No Angels - Humphrey Bogart as a ne’er do well escaped con doing well on Christmas. Perfect comedic performances from talent such as Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, Joan Bennett, and Basil Rathbone keep this one charming for young and old.

Home Alone- Yes, yes, we know the ‘aaaahhhhh’, but when was the last time you sat down with the entire family and watched this one all the way through? A little dated now, but still a darling lesson.

Bad Santa- Enough about family friendly stuff for the kids. Check out the unrated version of Bad Santa for adult cynicism and perhaps truer reflections on how a lot of people probably feel at Christmas.

Elf- Will Ferrell in tights and yet James Caan keeps a straight face. Fine cast and genuine sentiment mixed with great physical comedy- Elf is probably the best newest addition to the genre.

White ChristmasHoliday Inn/White Christmas- For real old school folks, take the black and white Holiday Inn. Bing’s real version of White Christmas and Fred Astaire’s toe tapping was so unbeatable that they tried to do it again. In this new musical revival, take in White Christmas again-in widescreen- for all its Technicolor holiday splendor.

A Christmas Carol- Well of course I had to get a faithful adaptation of this staple in here. You can take your pick. The original 1938 is dated, but great background for a holiday party. The classic 1951 Alstair Sim version has to be seen at least once by all. Favor musicals? Try Albert Finney or Kelsey Grammar’s new tune. If you need Oscar weight, take George C. Scott’s 1984 carol. Then again, there’s always Mickey’s Christmas Carol. If you must know, I do prefer Patrick Stewart’s 1999 faithful, but that’s just me.

And for a bit of Hanukkah….
On a sad note, I don’t know of any good Hanukkah films. Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights is the choice by default. I love Chaim Potok’s novel The Chosen, but I’ve not seen the film version. I suppose you can’t go wrong with The Ten Commandments, but that is usually reserved for Passover. So, why not…

Exodus- This past June, I watched Exodus in honor of the 60th Anniversary of the founding of Israel. Why not ring out 2008 with Paul Newman’s ode to the triumph of the Jewish spirit?

Unfortunately, it appears the new Kwanzaa documentary The Black Candle is not available on DVD. Narrated by Maya Angelou, this documentary sheds light on the celebration and the African-American triumph.
However you spend your December with your family and friends, remember you are blessed and that I love you, whoever you are wherever you are. Merry Christmas!


Anonymous said...

Actually, THE BLACK CANDLE is AVAILABLE on DVD. You can order it from the link you provided earlier or from www.theblackcandle.com
I ordered a copy from their website and I'm excited to see it. The film is narrated by Maya Angelou and looks beautiful.

Kristin Battestella said...

Thanks for the tip, Debra! I'm glad to see its getting to the public. I love Maya Angelou!


Kristin Battestella said...


I'm not sure the Exodus DVD is still in print, but it will be airing on Turner Classic Movies 8 p.m. Monday December 22.