There are some great Christmas movies and TV specials out there. I love watching them. As in all things, most Christmas shows are horrible; that shouldn’t keep you from loving the few great ones that are out there.
At the end of a viewing, I find that the best Christmas shows are the ones that have made me smile while I’m crying. No surprise, they’re also the ones I tend to keep watching over and over again. I’m also a sucker for some basic story elements: someone who’s been making wrong choices develops a recognition of that flaw and starts making right choices; good people who have become distant realize how much they mean to each other and come back together; someone who proposes a truth isn’t believed by anyone until someone else who is willing to challenge preconceptions takes a chance and then the truth is obvious to all. And I tend to get particularly emotional with father-son movies.
Take Holiday Inn: it’s not specifically a Christmas movie, though the song White Christmas was the most recognizable hit from it that’s lasted through the years. This is one where those two good people become distanced by reason of some foolishness and the smiling, tear-jerker scenes happen when they get past it and come back together.
The Christmas Carol (and I think I’ve mentioned that my favorite versions are Scrooged and the Muppet Christmas Carol) contains the plot device of the character making the wrong decisions and then upon realizing this mistake, changing his attitude to start making the right ones. I’ll point out that I think there are serious character flaws in Scrooge’s nephew character and in the Bob Cratchit character and we don’t see either of them changing, but that’s not the story we’re watching. When Scrooge realizes that he’s been attending to his investments of wealth and hasn’t been attending to his small stockpile of friendship and family, so changes his ways to appreciate all of the values in life, his epiphany instills such a welling of emotion in Bill Murray and Michael Caine that I can’t help but be emotional as well.
Yes, Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus is a great show (my favorite is the one with Ed Asner as the newspaper editor…as usual) wherein the essential truth is the importance of faith and believing in those great things that you can’t touch and hold. I am an agnostic, sure, but I can recognize that there seems an instinct in all of us to believe in something. I can understand that believing in the noble ideals that is often represented in Santa can motivate people to do great and positive things with their lives. And I know that it’s hard to hold to those ideals when people around you deride you and call you names for it. It’s particularly hard for children whose integrities haven’t been hardened by the fires and hammers of experience. Their minds are still malleable enough to be shaped for good or bad by their peers and family and authority figures. The fact that a hardened writer, one known for his war correspondence, could be moved to the point of writing a positive response to a little girl’s letter with this idea in mind — and that it’s a true story — well, that’s just one of the best Christmas stories I’ve ever heard. In the shows, the final scene is one where Virginia’s father reads her the response from the newspaper and just remembering that scene brings tears to my eyes.
White Christmas is another Bing Crosby film; this one contains two of my favorite plot elements: there’s the separated lovers who come together in the form of Bing and Rosemary Clooney; plus there’s the father-son storyline in the form of the old general who’s like a father to his whole old regiment. Just as you might predict, my heartstrings are tugged because the lovers come together and also because the soldiers pay tribute to their father-figure. I don’t know that this movie, either, was meant to be a Christmas film, but I always watch it at this time of the year and the finale scene around the Christmas tree makes for a mental picture that I often associate with the holidays.
My favorite classic movie of the season might be Miracle on 34th Street. Let’s see, there’s the two lovers in the form of Doris Walker and Fred Gailey (or Brian Bedford in the remake) who are estranged in the war of reason versus faith, who come together in the end in a wave of belief. There’s Doris on her own who has been making choices with a closed mind and realizes that she needs to make better ones. There’s a bit of a paternal dynamic that runs between Kris Kringle and the good lawyer, parallel to the paternal dynamic between that same lawyer and Susan Walker, the little girl. And of course, Kris Kringle holds up a torch of truth throughout the story that people just cannot see until the courtroom scenes unfold. Add on the service angle of how to treat a customer looking for an answer (send them where they’ll get the best results), and you’ve got a movie that hits every right note for me.
And Elf. I’ve touched on this modern movie in several of my web logs and I still love it the most. Will Farrell conveys such childish innocence and unwavering belief in goodness that I can’t help but love his character. Buddy knows the truth and always tries to do the right thing. He falls in love with a girl whose heart has been hardened by modern life and after some initial trepidation they come together to save Santa. Buddy’s real father makes choices to put business ahead of his family until his younger son really needs him. So this movie also hits all the right emotional chords for me. Add some hilarious dialogue, great slap-stick, some animated fictional characters, and Ed Asner as Claus and how could any movie be better?
With pretty much all of these movies, I find myself grinning with tears for anything from the last few minutes of the movie to the entire second half of the movie. That feeling of recognizing something so wonderful that my emotions can’t help but burst from my eyes is one that I’ve always associated with this time of the year. I can’t convey those same feelings in a machine gun set of movie reviews, but I hope that maybe I’ve interested some of you in reviewing those shows yourself. It should make you feel good to watch at least a couple of these because they have happy endings. Whether it’s one of these movies or some others, I hope you don’t let that cynical side of you keep you from enjoying some happy endings this season.