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Insight from Outlook: Tis the season for Bing, Ralphie and Scrooge

December 10, 2010

Tis the season of holiday movies — at the cinemas and on television — and stage productions, whether musical, drama or comedy.
Every year, more and more Christmas movies hit the scene. Some of these are regarded as classics, but what some regard as classics, others might view differently. Box office success has nothing to do with a movie being dubbed a “classic,” nor does age. That is, the age of a movie — not my age. An “old” movie isn’t necessarily a classic. For me, a classic movie is a movie that I want to watch again and again and never tire of seeing it. The same holds true of stage productions and musicals — a classic draws me to watch it repeatedly. The same for books, too. I watch and read classics, and I laugh and/or cry every time. And, I take something from that classic with me and hold it in my heart.
So, here are my top 10 favorite holiday movies and shows, sans claymation, cartoon, animated and all modern techno stuff.
I can’t possibly rate these in any kind of order — these all rank as favorites.
No. 10: “White Christmas” may seem somewhat fluffy, but this is sweet-natured, light and features Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney in a romantic comedy.
No. 9: “Holiday Inn” dates me, I know. The 1942 movie and 1954 remake stars Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds in a love triangle that’s set in a hotel open only on holidays. What’s not to like about Irving Berlin’s music, Crosby’s crooning and Astaire’s dancing.
No. 8: “A Christmas Carol” is an ultimate classic and is based on Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas story. I love the story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his Christmas Eve trip to redemption as he’s visited by three Christmas spirits. George C. Scott, in the 1984 version was my favorite.
No. 7: “It’s a Wonderful Life” is touchingly beautiful and thoughtful. George Bailey’s life was spent giving to his family, friends and the people of his hometown, and he never wanted to let them down. One Christmas Eve, Bailey’s uncle lost thousands of dollars, literally, from the family business. The business got in trouble when the money couldn’t be found, so Bailey thought his family would be better off without him. He came close to committing suicide, but an angel heard the prayers of Bailey’s family and came to earth. The angel showed him what things would be like for Bailey’s family without him. James Stewart as George Bailey is unforgettable.
No. 6: “Miracle on 34th Street” is a great holiday classic. A little girl, Susan, doubts Santa really exists, but throughout the movie, she is given something to believe in — Santa. There was truly something special about the Macy’s Santa Claus. I watch this every year, and it still brings tears.
No. 5: “A Christmas Special with Luciano Pavarotti.” I saw this on TV years ago but now I listen to Pavarotti’s CD. Famed tenor Pavarotti performed holiday classics in a program at North Dame Cathedral in Montreal. Each Christmas, I listen to Pavarotti’s CD “O Holy Night,” one of the finest recordings of sacred music I’ve heard. In fact, I play the CD so much, I have to replace it every year.
No. 4: “Rent,” a rock opera, was also adapted into a movie. It takes place on two Christmas Eves a year apart, in New York City and tells the story of a group of modern Bohemians who struggle to get by while still trying to live life on their own terms. Jonathan Larsen wrote the music and lyrics based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera, “La boheme.” Although not a traditional holiday offering, the appeal is in the strong message of living one day at a time and living for no day but today. “Rent” is about friendships, love and forgiveness in a setting of poverty, drug abuse and AIDS. The music is beautiful, and all in all, this is one to watch not only during the holidays, but all year long as well.
No. 3: “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” features the six Herdman children. They lie, steal and smoke cigars. They go to church for the first time after being told that the church offers snacks. Despite protests from church members, the Herdmans are given roles in the Sunday school Christmas play. They tell the story in their own unconventional way, and it really was the best Christmas pageant ever because the Herdman’s learned the true meaning of Christmas.
No. 2: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” sends me into gales of laughter every time I watch it. I know, I know, it’s silly, but the Griswold family is laughable and the movie is worth watching again and again. The Griswold family prepares for Christmas and Chevy Chase (Clark Griswold) obsesses about everything. The family’s plan for a big Christmas features lots of lights, accidents and a crispy cat, but in the end, everything works out.
No. 1. “A Christmas Story.” What’s not to absolutely love about Ralphie, who longs for a 200-shot, Red Ryder, carbine action air rifle with a compass in the stock and something that tells time. The memorable scenes include the boy who was triple-dog-dared to stick his tongue onto a frozen lamp post, Ralphie’s Old Man winning the tacky lamp in the shape of a woman’s leg. Ralphie’s long-awaited Little Orphan Annie Secret Society Decoder Pin translates a radio program’s top-secret message that turns out to be a crummy commercial. Even Santa is a scary fraud. But Ralphie hangs tough and ends up getting his BB gun. “A Christmas Story” is such a classic that there’s a A Christmas Story House, now restored to its movie splendor, open year-round to the public for tours.
So, those are my favorites, however, my holiday season isn’t complete without re-reading David Sedaris’ “Holidays on Ice.” Worth the price of the book alone is the hilarious “SantaLand Diaries,” Sedaris’s chronicle of his time working as Crumpet, an elf at Macy’s, covering everything from the preliminary group lectures (“You are not a dancer. If you were a real dancer you wouldn’t be here. You’re an elf, and you’re going to wear panties like an elf.”) to the perils of inter-elf flirtation. Sedaris tells a funny, but sadly true, portrait of the way the many parents move through SantaLand too busy to pay attention to their children. There is a holiday message here, for sure.
Sure, my holiday favorites are an eclectic assortment, but I remain a dedicated follower to what I perceive as classics.

Barbara Burns is editor of Outlook and a columnist for The Observer News Enterprise. Her column appears in the Thursday edition of The O-N-E.

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