So this is Christmas, and this is the only time you’ll ever see me quoting that John Lennon song. I figure I’ll be taking it easy this week because of the holiday as well as most of you, but I should at least give you guys a post about my personal favorite Christmas movies. I considered doing my usual top six, but there’s only three movies I have to watch every year in order to be in the Christmas mood. Perhaps they’re in your canon, perhaps they aren’t, but they’re certainly worth the time if that’s your sort of thing.
And they are…
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Despite working as an extra on the tepid at best Vacation reboot/sequel that came out this year, I’ve never actually seen most of the original Vacation movies that came out from 1983 to 1997. Well, except for one. Where most families make staples out of films like It’s A Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, mine made one out of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It would probably make sense if you met us. We’re a weird and spaced out group of sarcastic and independent assholes who’s entire family tree is marked with divorce and drama. When my dad got remarried, it took me a long time to get used to the fact that his wife’s family is friendly and cordial with one another. I’m still not used to it entirely. Not to say that my family doesn’t love each other, but big happy family is not how we operate.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is a film that speaks a lot to that dysfunctional dynamic. Focused around Clark Griswold and his efforts to have a Christmas like one from his childhood, everything seems to go wrong from the start. From a tree that breaks their windows to the deadbeat Cousin Eddie dropping in to visit to the company president skimping out on bonuses, Christmas Vacation is the epitome of holiday disasters. And they don’t even go anywhere! Everyone comes to them. As Ellen Griswold says partway through the film, “It’s Christmas, and we’re all in misery.”
Still, even with all the drama and hangups, the Griswold family still manages to come together and make it work. Because that’s what Christmas really is about. A lot of it is surviving, but it’s also taking joy in your weird ass relatives and finding the good in them. Because they just might surprise you in the end.
A Muppet Christmas Carol
This was the first time I ever remember seeing The Muppets as well as any version of A Christmas Carol. I’ve seen many versions of A Christmas Carol since then, but nothing seems to hold a candle to the sincerity and warmth that this 1992 adaptation presents. With Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge playing the role straight while surrounded by Muppets, this adaptation is gorgeous in scope and scale, with lovingly crafted costumes and beautiful music by Paul Williams occupying the screen.
There is some typical Muppet humor in there (“LIGHT THE LAMP, NOT THE RAT! LIGHT THE LAMP, NOT THE RAT!”) as well as fudging some details of the book to fit with The Muppets themselves, but generally, this adaptation goes less for farce and more for sincerity. There was a great article that went up at The Guardian recently about how the movie was made and the emphasis on wanting to give it real heart after Jim Henson passed away. It shows. I don’t think I have ever watched this movie and walked away feeling sour about Christmas. It’s lovely and gorgeous and just the right pick me up for the season.
Man, what does it say about me that I immediately jump from being super loving about Muppets to “Let’s talk about this movie of Denis Leary playing a cat burglar trying to keep a married couple together on Christmas”?
Still, that’s The Ref for you, a 1994 film centered around a burglar named Gus who takes a couple hostage on Christmas, but then ends up trying to keep them from killing each other. I’m a sucker for family drama on Christmas, apparently.
Though, unlike Christmas Vacation, the film is more poking at the facade of WASP culture since it all takes place in a small Connecticut town and a lot of the subplots focus around social niceties falling apart. One neighbor who delivers fruitcakes while dressed as Santa gets drunk and starts verbally abusing his neighbors. The local sheriff gets annoyed with all the yuppie citizens of his town butting in with the investigation when it isn’t going fast enough for them. The climax of the movie ends with the Chasseur family airing their grievances toward the uncaring matriarch Rose, who has everyone by the purse strings. I don’t know if it’s because it makes me feel better about my own family by comparison (I don’t recall any time I’ve ever wanted Kevin Spacey as a father) or if I wish we had someone as blunt as Gus in our family mediation, but I love this movie.
Anyway, those are my movies. Which ones are yours? And I hope that you and yours have a very merry one this year. Next week will be a big one as I recount my favorite pieces of media this year over the course of the entire week. See you then!