Of the dozens (if not hundreds) of movies that are connected with Christmas in some way, a few have become family favorites and holiday classics. I’m sure everyone who celebrates Christmas has his or her own list of favorite Christmas movies. These happen to be six that my family and I try to watch around Christmas most years.
A Miracle on 34th Street (1947) begins with the Thanksgiving Day parade in New York City and ends on Christmas Day. A gentleman who looks like Santa Claus also claims to be Santa Claus. A mother and her daughter are skeptical of his claim, for obvious reasons, but when the man is committed to an institution for his belief, their neighbor (an attorney) takes up his defense. The movie tackles commercialism and cynicism in the modern observation of Christmas. Although it has no distinctly Christ-centered message, it still inspires a sense of genuine holiday spirit. Starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, and Natalie Wood.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) lost money at its original release, but it gained popularity when it was shown repeatedly on television each December due to a failure to protect the movie’s copyright. A man is in despair over a large amount of money missing from his business. His guardian angel views a summary of the man’s life, then intervenes to rescue the man from attempted suicide by showing him how poor the world would be if he had never been born. Elements of this movie are widely imitated in movies and television shows. Although the movie completely fumbles the truth about angels, it is still an enjoyable production, and it does provide some cultural history for the first half of the twentieth century. Starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.
A Christmas Carol (1951) is the classic story by Charles Dickens that has been filmed a number of times. Ebenezer Scrooge is a dedicated and driven businessman who has no use for Christmas and little regard for his fellow man. The ghost of his dead partner arranges for Scrooge to be visited by three spirits representing Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future. His experiences with these spirits entirely changes Scrooge’s personality, including his enjoyment of Christmas and his concern for his neighbors. The 1951 version is vivid with its depictions of the Christmas spirits. Starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge, with a small part played by Patrick Macnee, who also introduces my family’s recording of the movie.
A Christmas Story (1983) is based on the writings of Jean Shepherd, writings which I read in elementary school before the movie was made. The first time I saw the movie, the events in the story seemed strangely familiar, until I remembered reading parts of the book. A Christmas in the late 1940s is remembered by an adult Ralphie, with all the exaggerations that a child’s mind contributes to perception and memory. The movie does a splendid job of taking literally the descriptions from the book. The visit to Santa Claus at the store is almost identical to the visits to Santa I remember from my childhood. Starring Peter Billingsley as the young Ralphie.
The Lion in Winter (1968) takes place on and around Christmas, but there is no Santa Claus, no guardian angel, and no sudden change in personality after dealing with Christmas spirits. The year is 1183, and King Henry II of England has gathered his family for the Christmas holiday with consideration toward choosing an heir among his three sons: Richard, Geoffrey, and John. (Two of the three will reign after Henry.) King Philip II of France also attends this family holiday, as does Henry’s wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Filled with rivalry, deception, and plans within plans, the family gathering reveals the darkness of the human heart. The script is rich with vocabulary and rhythm that seem appropriate to the medieval setting. Starring Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Nigel Terry, and Timothy Dalton.
The Passion of the Christ (2004) helps my family and I to remember the reason for the season. (Before this movie was available, we watched Jesus Christ, Superstar, for the same effect.) From his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane, to his death on the cross and his resurrection, Jesus Christ is shown bearing the sins of the world to defeat evil and rescue humanity. Some critics complained of the realistic depiction of Christ’s sufferings, but for many believers the reality of the suffering makes the point of the movie more convincing. Directed by Mel Gibson (whose hands appear as those of the soldier nailing Jesus to the cross), and starring Jim Cariezel as Jesus.
Many more movies could be listed, but these six are those that I am trying to see this Christmas time. J.