Tis the season for … “Holiday” movies. Yes every year at this time we get a proliferation of somewhat related to Christmas movies. Now I am a fool for these movies, even some of the worse of them the B movies of the season. The nebulous message of family is important is indeed an important message and considering the themes of so many movies, this aspect is a least welcome. Though while I can enjoy a badly made movie purely for the enjoyment of its b-ness, I of course also enjoy the movie that is artfully made with good scriptwriting, directing, acting, etc.
Now I don’t pretend to be a movie critic or play one since my abilities are lacking in that direction and I am unable to dissect a movie as to what makes it good or bad at a high level. Regardless I will forge ahead.
I was thinking on the topic of what are the best Christmas movies and for the most part I could only really think of what are my favorite Christmas movies have little to do with the celebration of Christ being born – though there is often at least some connection however thin.
It seems that most of these movies spend more time proving that Santa is real. Writers seem to be firmly of the Santa Clause apologists camp. “Yes Virginia, Santa Claus is real.” Now interacting with myths and playacting this type of belief is no problem with me. A good imagination can enjoy the Faery Story and have fun with believing Fairies are real in imaginative playacting. Movies though in the vein of showing that Jesus is true and in fact Truth himself are rather scarce and especially scarce during Christmas.
Now for me the perfect Christmas movie would involve the very themes regarding the Christ child. Now this does not mean that it must be a movie based on the actual event of the Nativity of Christ. Advent is the season of joyful waiting for the Incarnation and the Incarnation itself something we can meditate on endlessly. God became man not to just hang out with his creation, but he came as the Messiah, a redeemer to redeem us from our sins. Redemption from our sins is the one gift nobody could give us on Christmas, but Jesus. Plus Jesus continues to give us this gift through the sacraments and the priesthood he also gave us as a gift. We are sinners and we need redemption and the Incarnation and later Crucifixion and Resurrection are the crucial events in human history. So again for me a perfect Christmas movie would involve acknowledgment of sin and our redemption and the very mercy of God that made this possible.
Maybe Dickens’ The Christmas Carol is one of the most popular Christmas stories because it touches on these themes. Scrooge the greedy sinner treats others as objects in attainment of more money. The three spirits show him the errors of his ways and he repents of his sins and becomes giving to others on Christmas Day the Feast of the Incarnation.
Every year I once again watch “It’s a Wonderful Life”, but it’s not the perfect Christmas movie. George Bailey the compassionate man who gives himself for others and puts aside his own ambition to help others gets caught up in the tide of events moving against him and attempts suicide only to be stopped by an Angel who shows how his life had impacted others to the good. There is much in this movie that I so love, but sin and redemption is not much of a factor.
I’ve also watch Elf on Christmas Eve every year since it came out and I always enjoy it. The six foot “Elf” who leaves the North Pole to find his father is quite funny situationally and Will Farrell really pulls of Buddy the Elf – something he is very hit and miss with regarding his characters. It is part of the Santa Clause is real and family is important camp.
One of the worst Christmas movies is “Jingle all the way” with Arnold Swartzenegger and Sinbad. This movie is so bad that of course I watch it every year and provide my own Mystery Science Theatre 3000 soundtrack. This one falls in the perils of materialism and family is important camp. Though I have my limits on bad Christmas movies and thus have not seen “Christmas with the Kranks”, “Surviving Christmas”, and “Deck the Halls.”
You might think “The Nativity Story” would place itself well having actual Christmas themes. This is one case where I am at odds with Catholic film critic Steven Greydanus who views the film more favorable then myself. I regard Steven Greydanus as the film critic whose taste most matches my own and have found his reviews to greatly inform me. The times when I have ignored his advice on a movie has always been to my detriment. I re-watched “The Nativity Story” last year and my original feelings were reinforced. The theological arguments against the movie were not the reason and I think Mr Greydanus wrote a very good article on the subject of the Virgin Mary and birthing pains. A Virgin Mary with teenage angst was a bit much for me. Plus the visuals were so underwhelming in regards to the angels, especially only having one Angel talk to the shepherds. No multitude of Angels showing the glory of God. Now I can see some argument for understating a miracle visually since you are never going to fully reflect it, still this is a scene I have meditate on and those words bring so much more to me than understated visuals in the film. I think I am more annoyed at what they could have done with the film than what was actually done. I didn’t hate the movie and some parts were nicely done such as the Visitation (though a Visitation without the Magnificat). Plus the movie’s failure at the box office ensures we will not see the story retold by someone more fully capable artistically.
I’ve only watched “A Christmas Story” twice. I was initially prejudiced against it since any movie Ted Turner decided should be played for 24 hours on Christmas must be problematic. The Christmas Story is hardly a Christmas story, though there are certainly some pretty funny scenes in it along with many lines that have crept into the culture. Plus I mostly like anything with Darren McGavin in it since Kolchak: The Night Stalker was one of my favorite series growing up. This one is partly in the family is important camp. I would also put National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation
as being close to “A Christmas Story” in tone and the type of humor.
The animated version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” is a classic for good reasons, though once again this is a movie in the family is important camp and the decrying of the materialistic aspects of Christmas. But it does contain a conversion story in it and as such like The Christmas Carol could partly explain why this is such a classic. The movie version though while touching on the same themes is just plain horrible – Anathema Sit Ron Howard
The original version of “Miracle on 34th Street” is still a good watch, but again part of the Santa is real and family is important genre. The parent of the little (Natalie Wood) will not play along with the idea of Santa since it would involve lying to her daughter. I was reminded of this because of a caller from an eleven year old to Jimmy Akin on Catholic answers. The boy asked if telling a child about Santa was a sin. Jimmy’s answers was appropriately nuanced, but he said if he ever has kids that he would not lie to them about this. Though he went on to explain that when the child was of an age to understand that playing along with it was fine. This playing along I would imagine to be at the same level when we play along with the Santa is real movies knowing the difference between the historical Saint Nicholas and the various mythical legends that arose later. This though is a prudential question for parents as Jimmy Akin also explained.
Then of course there are the Tim Allen Christmas movies “Stinkin’ up Christmas since …” Yet more movies in the Santa is real and family is important genre weakened by a divorced family. To be fair the first The Santa Clause movie was an okay film and even re-watchable. The same can not be said for the second one and the third one was disastrously bad. Luckily the series stopped, but Tim Allen did not stop making bad Christmas movies.
Secular Christmas movies are nothing new and even some great films considered Christmas movies such as “Christmas in Connecticut”, “White Christmas”, “Holiday Inn”, etc.
Even the first Die Hard is in the family is important genre as a Christmas movie.
Being a film lover, but not a film geek I wonder what are the films that have themes of sin and redemption that are connected to Jesus who made that redemption possible and what are your favorite Christmas movies?