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Best all-time Christmas movies: our staff favorites, Part 2

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In essence, ‘Home Alone’ is about a second-grader who finds comfort in holding up his family’s traditions. In essence, ‘Home Alone’ is about a second-grader who finds comfort in holding up his family’s traditions.

Yule Blog, Dec. 13: 12 days until Christmas

Rather than provide a list of one writer’s top 10 Christmas movies, this year just for fun we decided to let each member of The Current and Gazette Newspapers editorial staff choose their favorite, tell us why and provide a film clip.

The response from our staff was so enthusiastic that we had to divide the story into two parts.

Here is Part 2 of our top Christmas movie picks, presented in no particular order. See the end of the story for the link to Part 1.

Home Alone

All of the clever traps and catch phrases aside, “Home Alone” is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies. There is a sense of nostalgia that we collectively experience as we watch the main character, Kevin, discover that the spirit of Christmas instilled in him by his parents carries on even when they are not around.

Children typically take for granted the special memories their parents craft for them around Christmas until it’s their turn to create it for their children: the magic of Christmas lights glimmering, the celestial sound of choirs in church and the warmth that projects from a house filled with family.

It’s a lesson some adults, sadly, do not learn until after their parents are no longer alive, but this 1990 film is so poignant because it drops that lesson into much younger hands. Here, a second-grader finds comfort in holding up his family’s traditions, both in how they observe the holiday and the importance they put on family.

In one of my favorite scenes, Kevin goes to church on Christmas Eve and meets a stranger who has always frightened him. The scene uses a classic storytelling element in which the main character interacts with an outsider who changes the course of the story. The conversation with Old Man Marley allows Kevin to give voice to his regrets and to realize he truly misses his family.

“I’ve been kind of pain lately,” he tells the man. “I said some things I shouldn’t have. I really haven’t been too good this year. I’m kind of upset about it because I really like my family, even though sometimes I say I don’t,” Kevin continues as the children’s choir sings “O Holy Night.”

“Deep down, you always love them,” Old Man Marley tells him. “But you can forget that you love them. And you can hurt them and they can hurt you … and that’s not just because you’re young.”

--Laura Stetser

The Grinch

“The Grinch,” aka “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” is my favorite Christmas movie. Here is why it means so much to me.

Consider the following lines from the Dr. Seuss book that is the basis for the movie. After dressing like Santa and stealing all their presents, the Grinch hears the Whos down in Who-ville singing joyfully.

“And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling: ‘How could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags.’ And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before. ‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas ... perhaps ... means a little bit more!" 

But "a little bit more" of what?

Christmas, like all holidays, is actually a reminder that we need a little bit more togetherness, a little bit more friendship, a little bit more family. Boxes, bags, packages, ribbons and tags don't replace human contact and interaction.

If the director wanted to drag the movie out he could have had the Grinch go through years of therapy to reach that conclusion. Fortunately for us movie lovers the Grinch (after some puzzling) has an epiphany rather than years on the shrink’s couch.

So here's to the Grinch and his epiphany at Christmas. Let's hope we all enjoy the ancient ritual called Christmas and come together as family and friends.

Christmas day will always be, just as long as we have we.

Welcome Christmas.

--Rick Travers

A Charlie Brown Christmas

I am not much for Christmas movies, although "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Elf" are pretty good ones. I am so taken by the original Christmas story that the rest seems pretty trite. However, if I want to watch a Christmas movie that sticks close to what the season is all about, it would have to be "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

"A Charlie Brown Christmas" was the first prime-time animated TV special based upon the comic strip “Peanuts” by Charles M. Schulz. It debuted on CBS in 1965 and has been aired in the United States during the Christmas season every year since: on CBS through 2000, and on ABC since 2001. The special has been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award.

The story touches on the overcommercialization and secularism of Christmas, and serves to remind viewers of the true meaning of Christmas: the birth of Jesus Christ.

Charlie Brown wonders if he really knows what Christmas is all about. Linus says he can tell him, and recites from the Gospel of Luke.

Network executives were not at all keen on several aspects of the show, and Schulz and the director waged some serious battles to preserve their vision. The executives were reluctant to have Linus recite from the Gospel, but Schulz was adamant about keeping this scene in, remarking, "If we don't tell the true meaning of Christmas, who will?"

The show was a hit and the recitation of the Christmas story from the Bible a highlight. Some 50 percent of the televisions in the United States were tuned to the first broadcast.

What strikes me about this special is its simplicity. The animation was considered crude, voice-overs didn't match mouth movements in some places, and dancing continued after the music stopped.

But in this precious and simple telling of the birth of Jesus, none of that matters.

--Carl Price

A Christmas Carol (1938 and 1984)

Because I love a good ghost story, “A Christmas Carol” will always rank at the top of my must-watch holiday movie list.

After being visited by three ghosts, an old and greedy miser learns that it’s not too late to change his ways. The theme of the story is the basis for many of the holiday films we see today, like “The Santa Clause” and many others.

Director Edwin Marin’s 1938 black-and-white version of the Charles Dickens classic is one of my favorites. Reginald Owen’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge makes me hate and feel sorry for him at the same time. My favorite scene is when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come takes Scrooge to the cemetery and shows him his grave because it evokes the sense of fear Scrooge feels knowing his death is imminent.

The 1984 television movie starring George C. Scott is also a favorite, especially since this was the first version of the book I ever saw that was not a cartoon. The images of want and ignorance are the most terrifying of any version of the movie, and the scene where we are first introduced to the Ghost of Christmas Present, with the huge feast, feels magical.

--Claire Lowe

Miracle on 34th Street

To people who grew up in the ’40s and ’50s, Edmund Gwenn was Santa Claus. He had a British accent that gave his character in “Miracle on 34th Street” a believability. In fact, he won an Oscar for best supporting actor for this film.

Gwenn was joined by a great cast – stars like John Payne and Maureen O’Hara, plus great character actors like William Frawley, Jerome Cowan, Gene Lockhart and Thelma Ritter, not to mention 9-year-old Natalie Wood.

The film centers around Macy’s Department Store in New York and tells the story of Kris Kringle, a resident of a nursing home who says he is the real Santa Claus. The film has been remade many times and was even a musical called “Here’s Love” that The Young Entertainers once performed on the Ocean City Music Pier. Who could ever forget Dave Somers as Kris Kringle, or Pat Orlando as R.H. Macy singing “That Man Over There is Santa Claus.”

The TV remakes are OK (most are in color) but there is nothing like the original in all of its black-and-white glory.

Made in 1947, “Miracle On 34th Street” is an enduring Christmas classic that features some of the top movie stars of the era.

--Tom Williams

   

Nestor the Long-eared Christmas Donkey 

Technically a Christmas television special, “Nestor the Long-eared Christmas Donkey” is a Rankin-Bass stop-motion animated program that first aired in 1977.

It is a story set in the time of the Roman Empire about a donkey with long ears who is ridiculed and bullied for his different appearance.

His ears get him into trouble, and that ends up costing him his home in a stable, from where he and his mother are cast out into a blizzard.

Nestor’s mother sacrifices her life to keep him warm that night. Nestor ends up helping Mary and Joseph get to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus. In doing so, he and proves that being different is not a bad thing. His ears end up keeping Mary safe during a sandstorm.

I love this movie because it brings me back to Christmas as a child with my mom. We always watched this together, and it still takes me to that special place when I put it on. The recent passing of Elwood, the “world’s ugliest dog,” reminded me of Nestor and his message that being different can be special.

--Mandee McCullough

 

White Christmas

This Christmas movie made in 1954 has everything going for it, not the least of which are themes that still resonate nearly 60 years later: war, returning from war and adjusting to life after war, familial obligation, sisterhood, friendship, love, aging and more.

Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye play former World War II buddies who are now big-time song-and-dance men who meet up with the beautiful sisters of an Army pal who are just breaking into show business, played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. One of the funniest moments is when the guys fill in for the gals in a nightclub act so the sisters can elude a cheating landlord. You could chalk it up to good acting, but I’m convinced Kaye and Crosby are truly enjoying themselves when they hoof it, shake their feathered fans and lip sync “Sisters.”

When we watched the movie as kids, my sisters and I – there were seven of us – adopted it as our theme song, and we are still known to launch into it on occasion.

The movie has sap and romance galore, a terrific Irving Berlin score – “White Christmas,” “Snow, Snow, Snow,” “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing” and “Counting Your Blessings” – and some amazing dance numbers featuring Kaye and Ellen. The woman knows how to dance and looks good doing it, with her long legs and wasp-thin waist. Watch closely when she enters the scene in the dress rehearsal of “Choreography” below for her impossibly fast toe tapping, or you might miss it.

By the time this movie winds to an end, the four characters and a cast of hundreds of war buddies have helped a beloved retired general who runs a Vermont inn recapture his dignity. It’s sweet, sentimental and perfect.

--Joan Kostiuk

Special mention

It’s no fun being the editor of a compilation like this unless you get some perks out of it. So I’m going to throw in two more favorites of mine that no one else chose..

Heidi

I have yet to see this 1937 Shirley Temple classic on a Christmas movie list, but all the excitement comes to a head on Christmas Eve, so it qualifies. And I’m afraid that if I don’t bring it to people's attention, this precious gem might someday fall into obscurity and be forgotten, and that would be a real shame.

Based on the 1880 children’s book by Johanna Spyri, the story begins with the orphan Heidi being dumped by her Aunt Dete on the doorstep of her gruff grandfather, who has lived the life of a recluse in a cabin on the Swiss Alps since having a falling-out with his son many years ago.

Dete goes off to Frankfurt to take a job caring for Clara, the crippled daughter of the rich Herr Sesemann, and the sweet-natured Heidi quickly charms and comes to love the grandfather, and he her.

Three years later, Dete comes back and snatches Heidi, taking her to Frankfurt as a playmate for Clara. The grandfather, played by Jean Hersholt, walks more than 100 miles to find her, arriving on Christmas Eve.

Much trouble ensues, with the grandfather finding Heidi just as the nasty governess Fraulein Rottenmeier is selling her to the gypsies. The film culminates in what must be one of the earliest police vehicle chases on film – only in this one the vehicles are horse-drawn sleighs and constables on horseback racing through the narrow streets of Frankfurt.

This clip shows the last few minutes of the movie, but someday when the kids are around, catch it in its entirety. Heidi exemplifies innocence, kindness and unselfishness, qualities not often seen in children on the screen today.

The Bishop's Wife/The Preacher’s Wife

Both the 1947 classic starring Cary Grant, David Niven and Loretta Young and the 1996 remake titled “The Preacher’s Wife” with Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston and Courtney B. Vance are a delight.

I didn’t think anyone could be more charming than Grant in the original role of an angel sent to Earth to help a preoccupied Episcopal clergyman who is neglecting his wife, but the hunky Washington is irresistible as the angel who falls for the preacher’s wife while in the line of duty.

In “Preacher,” the gospel choir is exquisite. Houston, too, creates some magic as she falls under the angel Dudley’s spell. It’s worth watching just to hear her sing “I Believe in You and Me.”

Like Dudley says, it’s what love really sounds like.

--Joan Kostiuk

What is your favorite holiday flick? Let us know in the comment section below.

The Yule Blog is a day-to-day countdown to Christmas featuring a new story each day. Click the links below to read other stories in the series.

Nov. 29: Best shopping apps put you where the buys are.

Nov. 30: Small Business Saturday gives independent shops their turn to shine.

Dec. 1: Before there was 'Elf,' there was 'The Santaland Diaries.'

Dec. 2: Historic Smithville has plenty of old-fashioned Christmas spirit to go around

Dec. 3: Earth-friendly gifts help preserve the world's green assets.

Dec. 4: Great gift ideas for the cook

Dec. 5: Let Cape May kindle your Christmas spirit

Dec. 6: The worst and the weirdest Christmas films

Dec. 7: How to take the perfect holiday portrait

Dec. 8: Will South Jersey have a White Christmas in 2013?

Dec. 9: Don't risk a home fire this winter

Dec. 10: In the kitchen with grandma: How to make 6-layer Neapolitan cookies

Dec. 11: 12 (relatively) new songs for Christmas

Dec. 12: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 1

Dec. 13: Best all-time Christmas movies, Part 2

Dec. 14: How to make Razzleberry Dressing

Dec. 15: Last-minute make-it gift: Peppermint Patty Martini

Dec. 16: Dennisville Christmas House Tour connects past and present

Dec. 17: Snow day survival guide

Dec. 18: Best all-time Christmas songs

Dec. 19: 5 handy gifts for the home baker

Dec. 20: Cookie swaps sweeten the holidays if you can avoid the jams

Dec. 21: When will Santa get here? Track his flight Christmas Eve with NORAD

DEc. 22: Presents for pets - and pet lovers

Dec. 23: Best children's books get to the heart of Christmas

Dec. 24: Feast of the 7 Fishes is a Christmas Eve tradition for many Italians

Dec. 25: People all over the world celebrate the birth of Jesus


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