Saturday, December 23, 2006

Useless Film Snob Recommended Holiday Viewing

Christmas gets more films and television specials made about it than all the other holidays put together. While I have no problem with Christmas movies, it seems that for every It's a Wonderful Life that gets released, there's a pile of dog crap like Ernest Saves Christmas or whatever to go with it. So I'm here to help you with some of my favorite Christmas stories.

As a child of the 80's, I'm going to have get all nostalgic and go back to that decade. The 80's had its share of dreck (there was full length Yogi Bear Christmas movie that I found on VHS a year of two ago; there's no way this would be on television today). Besides the old Rankin-Bass standby, there were a pair of specials that are mostly forgotten today mostly because they're out of print and rarely shown:

A Muppet Family Christmas
This was shown on ABC in '87 I believe, at least that's the year we recorded on VHS. This must have been a wet dream for my six year old self seeing that it was the first time that all Jim Henson creations, Muppets, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock, were on the same show. It's a surprisingly funny show, even watching it now. The jokes appeal just as much to adults as little kids. I'm so attached to this show mostly because the now almost 20 year old tape I have of it is all that it remains, seeing that the DVD of it is out of print and often get $100 or more for ones on Ebay. Plus, the commercial version released has many songs cut out because Henson productions was too cheap to get clearance for everything. All in all, A Muppet Family Christmas is a forgotten gem that still is my favorite Christmas show of all time.

A Claymation Christmas
This is also on that revered VHS and another special that was released in '87. This was most notable at the time as being a tie-in with the California Raisins, whose commercials were somehow a cultural phenomenon. The show is various Christmas carols done in vignettes with various characters. It's nothing great but its nostalgic value makes it rate very highly, also because it can't be found on DVD or VHS. (Side note: South Park did something like this a couple of year ago, Mr. Hankey Christmas Classics. That episode still is one of my favorite South Parks of all time.)

There are the obvious choices here, especially A Christmas Story, which ranks highly but TBS's overkill has left my wanting to see something else. So, once again we go back to the 80's to pluck out a forgotten and overlooked film:

Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988)
In the last couple of years, this has become my favorite Christmas film. It's an updated take on A Christmas Carol with Bill Murray playing a Scroogesque television exec. If you know the Dickens story, then nothing of the basic plot is a surprise. What does work so well in the film is the biting satire of television, which in itself is a reflection on the decade. The film was partly written by Michael O'Donohouge, who was one of the original writers on SNL and was as probably as influential as shaping that show as any of the actors. The entire beginning, which is a big send up of bloated TV events, had to come from him. Bill Murray does a great job handling a familiar character but giving him enough humor and humanism to breathe new life into said character as well as the story. This film used to get shown on cable once and a while around this time of year, but less and less has been seen of it lately. It is dated, but that doesn't mean that it's not a entertaining film anymore. I happen to think it's one of the more refreshing holiday films released at least in my life of watching films. It sure beats the rampant idiocy of something like Deck the Halls. (Side note: and while I haven't seen Deck the Halls, if the trailer is any indication, it would be a complete waste of money.)

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