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A Reel Christmas: Heights Arts’ Favorite Christmas Movie

The Heights editors compile their choices for the Christmas movie that best encapsulates this magical time of the year.

As you snuggle close to the fire, hot cocoa in hand with a fresh slice of fruitcake waiting for you in the kitchen, pull up Netflix, pop in a DVD or VHS and enjoy the best cinema the season has to offer.

Christmas movies, by design, are usually buckets of crap. They’re nothing more than a rosy-tinted hour and 15 minutes of people talking about the power of childhood wonder, the beauty of communal caroling, and how the real Christmas present is love. What a disgusting waste of valuable time off from school.

But there is one movie that dominates all other Christmas movies. A movie that has the true Christmas spirit: disappointment, temporality, and mashed potatoes. That is A Christmas Story, the classic film of TBS 24-hour marathon fame that tells the story of young Ralphie’s (Peter Billingsley) quest to get an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time. Ever since I saw the scene where Ralphie beats up his bully while screaming obscenities and then collapses in tears, I knew that this was the Christmas movie for me. It takes the fra-gee-lay life of a child on the cusp of his youthful peak, just a bright-eyed kid trying to have a great Christmas, and has Santa literally kick him in the face.

I don’t look forward to that many things nowadays, but I can confidently tell you that I can’t wait to watch the final scene of the movie on Christmas Eve. As the unnamed mother and father sit in their dark living room watching the snow fall outside to the sounds of “Silent Night,” the nostalgic, childish, sentimental, and ultimately kinda sad spirit of Christmas is fully realized in the best dang Christmas movie of all time.

Though released in the summer of 1984, Gremlins is undoubtedly a Christmas story. Gifting, giving, caroling, family, and violent mischief are intrinsically parts of an illustrious holiday season. After all, what is family without a little bloodshed? The rules of the mogwai are simple and echo the sentiments we can all follow to keep us alive during Christmas time.

1. Keep them away from sunlight. In the dead of a brutal New England winter, when we are all nuzzled about the fire, the last thing we want is a ray of sunshine to make our days any less dour. We love winter because it gives us an excuse to be indoors. For mogwai like Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel), the imperative is survival. For us, the imperative is not moving an inch.

2. Keep them away from water. As you down your fifth spiked egg nog, the last thing you want is a family member to even insist you “take it easy.” The holidays are all about giving—to yourself. If the mogwai cannot handle the candor and merrimaking of their spawn, maybe they should have thought about that before they got doused in water.

3. Never feed them after midnight. Now excess is good and Gremlins can attest to that, but the gastronomic turmoil you are likely to wrought on your body is probably not worth it. Gremlins burn a lot of calories committing acts of vandalism, burglary, and homicide. They have earned it. The least you could do is put in a couple of reps at the gym. So when Billy’s mom finds you in the kitchen eating all the Christmas cookies with no intent on stopping, the shame may have you thinking about putting yourself in the microwave.

But beyond the rules, the sentimental moments of Gremlins capture the essence of this season of candy canes, carols, and gingerbread houses. In one scene, Kate (Phoebe Gates) describes how she found her father dead in the chimney in an attempt to play Santa Claus. Is it sad? Is it funny? Who knows. It is in Gremlins though.

Gremlins is the perfect Christmas movie because it captures the fears we have all had as children on Christmas morning. And it’s not finding your father dead in the chimney. It’s when all you wanted was something fun and entertaining, but you just end up inheriting an excessive amount of responsibility.

Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is nothing but a neat, compact little title for a time-honored Christmas movie whose lime-green colored VHS case of my youth should have instead been emblazoned with the more accurate name How The Grinch Stole Our Hearts in The Greatest Cinematic Masterpiece to Grace Undeserving Mortals in the History of Holiday-Themed Films Including all Future Attempts at Dethroning this Particular Hollywood Gem, Probably.

The movie, produced by Universal Pictures and released right at the turn of the 21st century, boasts an unprecedented level of imagination in an unquestionably emotional story which champions the winter season’s spirit of belonging and fostering good will toward [green] men.

The Grinch’s entire, complicated world—comprised of all the valid insecurities that accompany life as a hairy orphan baby, tragic memories of a childhood love gone sour, and hilarious revenge plots intended to serve the Grinch’s boyhood bullies their just desserts like a heaping plate of “Who Pudding”—is revealed to be a mere microscopic speck on a seemingly insignificant snowflake in the first few seconds of the film. This is mind-boggling stuff we’re flirting with here, folks.

The live action film, straying boldly from the pliable versatility of the animated realm, somehow finds a way to aid viewers in its difficult request to drastically suspend audience disbelief, all the while warmly inviting them into Dr. Seuss’ wonky, fictional world. As far as fantastic aesthetics are concerned, this rendition of Whoville looks like a local tinsel factory exploded and the Christmas season itself vomited glitter and strings of twinkly lights all over the set after having an unfortunate stint with too much spiked eggnog. But, you know, in a good way.

The greatest part about The Grinch is exactly how far Universal decided to stretch the thing so that a hairy green monster was just as much of a person as his viewers. In this rendition, an 8-year-old Grinch sulks after being bullied by Whoville’s future mayor. He peaces out and practically enslaves an adorable dog as his beloved indentured servant. The movie follows

the peppermint-flavored tropes of “nice-guy-turns-nasty” and the classic “christmas-hating-hoodlum-gets-the-girl-after-heart-grows-bigger-and-lame-mayor-realizes-he-can’t-buy-love-with-an-expensive-car.” Despite the aforementioned conventional plotline, though, the film soars.

Jim Carrey is a treat as the brooding, sarcastic Grinch. While Carrey’s character is not entirely human, but gradually getting there, his flawless comedic portrayal of the crabby anti-Christmas antihero makes the grouchy green monster far more relatable and drastically more genuine than we ever imagined he’d be.

The movie has allowed every man, woman, and child young at heart to believe in the possibility that with every snowflake landing on their awaiting outstretched tongue, there may very well be some miniscule green monster gaily flinging jury duty notices and pieces of blackmail into the tiny square mailboxes of an entire Who population embedded somewhere deep in the fibers of the teeny-tiny snow particle. This notion alone is utterly hilarious and incredibly absurd—two marked characteristics of all high-quality Christmas movies.

The beloved adaptation and realistic rendering of a wacky Massachusetts man’s 1957 animated, nonsensically rhyming story of the same name succeeded almost entirely with the help of a stellar leading man. Thought-provoking and whimsical, the movie is over-the-top but endearing—much like its punchy protagonist.

 Ever had a bad Christmas break? Maybe Santa didn’t bring an iPhone in the color you wanted, finals were particularly rough, or maybe you got asked about college one too many times. Sometimes things, including Christmas, just don’t go our way. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it the ol’ college try. I bet that Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) has you beat for the worst Christmas ever. He just can’t seem to catch a break in his attempt to make this year (well … 1989 at least) the best Christmas ever. The Griswold family weathers annoying neighbors, obnoxious relatives, faulty lighting, a few wild animals, and the crushing weight of holiday expectations in this Christmas comedy.

Christmas Vacationis the movie that I asked Santa to bring me for Christmas. It’s not just some feel-good, everyone remember how special family is holiday flick. It’s a comedy, and a good one at that. So you know it’s going to be a little more “ha-ha” than “ho-ho” which is just how I like my Christmas movies. My family has the tendency to make the same jokes every year. Multiple. Times. And while I love them, it’s nice to stick some actual comedy in there too. And I know my family reads all of my articles so … Hi guys! Don’t worry, I love the jokes every time you tell them.

Christmas Vacation also has a very important lesson to impart to you and I. Griswold puts way too much pressure on himself and on the holiday. He brings his family to “the threshold of Hell” trying to get things to go exactly according to plan. Christmas is a time to de-stress after a long year. It’s a time to sit around the house, spend time with the family you don’t see for most of the year, eat lots and lots of food, try to figure out what the heck you’re supposed to do on Christmas Day after presents have been opened (I always see a movie … go figure), prepare for the eight crazy nights of Hanukkah this year (if you’re half-Jewish like me), and do every other wacky tradition your family does. Learn from the Griswolds, and have a merry, and incident-free, Christmas this year.

What more could anyone ask for out of Christmas than seeing an overwhelmingly awkward and pompous Sarah Jessica Parker character work through one of the worst first-Christmas-with-the-in-laws ever? Though it might not be one of most timeless Christmas classics to come out of Hollywood, The Family Stone deserves more credit than it gets when it comes to Christmas movie rankings. Bringing together an all-star cast to form one of most authentic, welcoming, and quirky families of all time, The Family Stone reminds viewers that a weird, tight-knit family is all any of us really need in life.

There’s nothing essentially iconic about The Family Stone. In a large sense, the movie is the simple story of one of the Stone family’s more bizarre Christmas weeks, as one of the Stone family sons, Everett (Dermot Mulroney), brings home his girlfriend, Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker). The rest of the family’s heard plenty about Meredith. One of the Stone daughters, Amy (Rachel McAdams), spent a weekend with her and Everett in New York. Amy tells the rest of her family, including her parents Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson), about how uptight and conservative she is, arguing that Meredith is a terrible fit for both Everett and the whole family. Meredith’s got a lot working against her.
Throughout the movie, Meredith tries to prove to the family that she is more than just a prude and rigid New Yorker and that she and Everett make for a great, compassionate couple. For the most part she fails miserably and embarrassingly. Though things look grim for Everett and Meredith, these types of situations have a funny way of working out how some might not expect them to, and movies don’t always have to put together couples everyone thinks they have to.

This relationship isn’t the only thing The Family Stone has going for it. It’s the story of an outsider that wants desperately to be a part of something that looks so wholesome and fulfilling. It’s the story about a typical, yet uncanny family—one that makes a viewer feel right at home with them, whether that be by judging Meredith or simply snuggling into the couch next to the fire. The Family Stone maybe doesn’t have the depth, history, or significance of Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, but it is not afraid to show its viewers a real family, one without all that joyful makeup.

Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor

December 8, 2016