2011 Christmas Movie Journal

It’s A Wonderful Life

Date Viewed: December 24It's A Wonderful Life

If you don’t own it, then you’re sure to catch it on TV each Christmas. This year we just happened to be starting opening our presents with my family in Decatur, Alabama as It’s A Wonderful Life began. Its TV slot was set from 7 to 10 and we started opening presents at 6:30 and wrapped up the unwrapping just as the throng sang Auld Lang Syne. Aside from holding on to the crown of the Christmas movie of all Christmas movies, it’s actually one of the best films ever made. It currently sits at #20 on the AFI Top 100 films and is the only Christmas film on the list. So it took us a good 3 ½ hours to finish opening presents with my family and there’s no doubt one of the contributing factors to the longevity of that whole process was the number of times that our eyes were drawn to the TV during the key scenes of the film, like George and Mary on the phone or George trekking through the bizaro world in which he doesn’t exist. There was never a person more perfect for a role than Jimmy Stewart was for George Bailey. Stewart’s performance is constantly on the edge of comedic with his confident smirk and swagger, but he easily makes the jump over to the dark side and the twinkle turns to fire when all of the years of George selflessly taking responsibility finally pays off in a horrible way. It’s healthy to watch It’s A Wonderful Life once a year as it’s probably the best film most regular people will ever watch.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Date Viewed: December 20

It’s as good as a live-action movie adaptation of the most notable Dr. Seuss novel could be. The mere fact that you’re watching the film means that you can at least place your skepticism to the side and view it for the tongue-in-cheek, wink-and-a-nod film that it is. All the pieces really fall in place here and I think Jim Carrey is the glue that holds this all together. The range of the story had to be expanded since the 1966 original animated film is only 26 minutes and I think what was added in is just fine. I can deal with the fantastical elements, but it’s the technical underachievement of the film that at times I can’t get past. Ron Howard has made movies like, Frost/Nixon, Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind; films that are technically nearly flawless. So I find it odd that the editing is extremely spotty and the cinematography almost claustrophobic and grainy. I wouldn’t expect this film, nor the effort put into it, to be nearly on the same level as his other films, but when I see this film I see laziness or maybe they were in a rush. But the thing is, I really do like How the Grinch Stole Christmasand it’s got that rewatchability factor and after 11 years, this film still holds up and I think it will continue to hold up for a long time to come. Plus, it’s always good to see George Bluth out and about.

The Family StoneThe Family Stone

Date Viewed: December 20

I really like this film and have been known to watch it outside of the realm of the ChristmasSeason. It even found its way on my Top 10 of 2005. The Family Stone is a quaint, quirky little film with a great ensemble cast where each individual player fits perfectly and it all works so well. The script is tightly wrapped and each character has their own unique qualities that contribute to the total likability of the family as a whole, even though they are rather rude to their guest. The Family Stone gets incredibly uncomfortable, which is part of what makes it so great. But even though some of the characters can be cold, the warmth of the film never ceases. Though we may dislike some of these people at times, we still care for them. This, I think, is key in making an enjoyable film. We watched this while Jen addressed herMr. & Mrs. Christmas cards, but due to my putrid penmanship I was only helpful at putting stamps on the envelopes. This is another one of those films that I could see being around years into the future as a part of my Christmas movie watching tradition.

Elf

Elf

Date Viewed: December 18

Elf is a crowd favorite, but it’s not without its flaws. You could really put in parenthesis beside the title, “The Will Ferrell Show”, because let’s face it, that’s what it is. The film totally works, but there are some things about it that bug me. For instance, Buddy’s dad’s office is in the Empire State building, but it doesn’t have a lot of extra decorations. It’s bare and tiny and it just seems lazy. In the end, Elf turns into a “Clap If You Believe In Fairies” sort of thing. Santa’s sleigh rocket runs on Christmas Spirit and the boy begs the people at home to believe in Santa. It’s a total eye roller. I think the film could have benefited from sticking with the Will Ferrell fish-out-of-water side of the film. Nevertheless, Elf is an annual Christmas staple, though I think watching this once a year might be overboard.

Love Actually

Date Viewed: December 12

So I watch this film once a year and it probably took me a couple of years to really warm up to it.  I have this complex where I compare any film with multiple, converging storylines to those wonderful masterpieces from Paul Thomas Anderson or Robert Altman.  After watching Love Actually a couple of times I finally saw the film for what it really was, a feel-good, Christmas movie with bit of an edge and a star-studded cast.  In that, the film excels.  I’m not sure if it’s the nostalgia from repetitive viewings or not, but there’s this thing about Love Actually that feels good.  There’s no doubt that the beautiful, recurring musical theme has something to do with that.  There are several story lines in the film.  Some are more important than others and, therefore, have more screen time.  My favorite, though, is the Colin Firth angle of the good-hearted writer whose wife has been cheating on him with his own brother.  He goes to a secluded cottage to write while a non-English speaking Portuguese maid cleans the place up around him.  They can’t communicate verbally so the unfolding of their relationship is lovely, even if it is one of those storylines with minimal screen time.  The individual characters and their lives are tightly bound to each other whether they’re neighbors, relatives or they’re all listening to the same radio station playing a Christmas song recorded by the old rock star.  Love Actually is one of the films I look forward to watching most, actually.

Christmas Spirit Meter: 8



The Holiday

Date Viewed: December 10

We watched The Holiday starting at about 11:00 PM just after spending the day with my family.  The Holiday is not a good film.  In fact, many of the one-on-one scenes between Jude Law and Cameron Diaz look like they could’ve been shot from 2 different parts of the world.  The close dialogue between the two is cut to pieces with close-ups of Law and Diaz.  It rarely ever includes both in one shot during the intimate conversions.  What’s more, there are only a few times that the word, “Christmas” is even used.  The film takes place in two different parts of the world when two women swap houses for the holidays.  The other storyline involve a British Kate Winslet in L.A. who falls for Jack Black.  The L.A. storyline is okay and Eli Wallach only improves matters.  Jude Law is an above average actor and only certain moments of the London storyline are worth watching.  When Jude Law isn’t present in the London storyline that usually means it’s the Cameron Diaz Comedy Hour where she makes several embarrassing and poor attempts at being funny, though I’m sure there are some poor souls out there who laugh.  Why do I watch it?  Because I’ve watched it during Christmas times past and therefore it is a part of tradition.  I choose to watch the Christmas movies like The Holiday when I’m very busy with something else.  I was getting started very late at night on some stuff for work so I thought it would be a good time to get this mess off my plate.

Christmas Spirit Meter: 2


Home Alone 2

Date Viewed: December 2

We sort of just lazily moped around the living room, decorating the house and breaking in our new T3i by taking closeups of our ornaments while we watched Home Alone 2.  This is a decent follow up to its predecessor with its frequent homage to original. Though the all-too familiar catch-phrases, jokes, quotes and what have you are all prevalent and it tends to lean on some of the same cues, rehashed jokes and clichés from the original movie.  It’s also depressing to learn that this family didn’t learn their lesson from the first movie.  Thank goodness Kevin is as clever as he is.  The film could have been better and shorter by completely cutting out the bird lady in the park.  Perhaps they felt that, like Home Alone, the film needed an old person for Kevin to converse with.  However, this old lady isn’t that old and she’s extremely needy emotionally.

Christmas Spirit Meter: 5



Home Alone

Date Viewed: December 1

My wife and I flipped out and properly angled the bunched branches on our pre-lit Christmas tree and put ornaments up while we watched Home Alone.  My parents took me to see this film in theatre when I was a kid and it was an experience I will never forget.  Home Alone came out in 1990, which made me 7 years old.  You forget how much you remember until you actually watch the movie again.  It’s amazing how the little details stayed nestled in my memory only to come dancing out once I saw those parts of the movie again.  What I remembered thinking was so funny as a child was the execution of the expertly placed booby-traps, the slapstick and the violent comeuppance that the thieves endured.  As an adult, what I found was the many great bits of dialogue and one-liners by the McCallister family.  Specifically, Kevin’s lines are great and they are only so funny because of the brilliant delivery by Macaulay Culkin.  The score by John Williams is beautiful and many times forgotten.  This is just a fun film that embodies the Christmas feeling well.

Christmas Spirit Meter: 7




National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Date Viewed: November 25

This was the first year that stores decided to open at midnight on Black Friday so instead of waking up at 4:00 AM, we stayed up and went out at midnight.  That night, as we ate leftover thanksgiving food, I thoroughly enjoyed my first ever viewing of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  It was a very nice and relaxing way to wind down a long day.  It was also a good way to take my mind off of the upcoming Iron Bowl the following day.  There’s a simple humor about Christmas Vacation the film that I just love.  I like how there’s just enough slapstick to keep us on our toes, like Clark punching the Santa in the front yard when the lights won’t work.  One of the things I love most about the film is, according to the time-lapse-advent-calendar, the Griswold’s stand around in Christmas sweaters drinking eggnog and admiring the tree as early as a full week before Christmas day.  Any film that projects this behavior and idea of Christmas Spirit in such an unrealistic way is a winner in my book.  The mark of a good Christmas movie is how well it embodies the idea and feeling of Christmas.  The film wraps up like a Christmas gift when the kidnapped boss realizes his greed and doesn’t press charges.

Christmas Spirit Meter: 9

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