Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Favorite Holiday Movies: "Elf," "Miracle on 34th Street" and "Scrooged"

In my on-going series on the holiday movies I like (note that "It's a Wonderful Life" has not and will not appear), I am moving on to some better-known titles, the ones that frequently pop up on your TV schedule. They're very different from each other, but they share a good sense of humor, a certain charm and a decided lack of schmaltz. Sentiment, yes. Schmaltz, no.

Up first: "Elf," the 2003 film with ex-SNL comedian Will Ferrell as Buddy, a full-size guy who's had a hard time getting by as an adopted child in the teeny-tiny elf world at the North Pole. An outcast for his inability to be a proper elf, Buddy shows up in New York, where he learns about real people, romance and families, with a marvelous supporting cast in both worlds. I can take or leave James Caan, although he's fine as Buddy's real dad, but it's lovely to see Bob Newhart as his elf papa and even lovelier to see Ed Asner (I still have kind of a crush on him from his "Lou Grant" days) as Santa. "Elf" is sweet and silly, never cloying, with Ferrell deftly playing Buddy as a wide-eyed naif who means well, even if he and his big feet step in all the wrong places.

You'll find "Elf" on the USA network on Christmas Day, on SYFY on the 27th and 28th, and on Oxygen on New Year's Eve.

"Miracle on 34th Street" (the 1947 version) is one of the most recognizable holiday movies around, so everybody should know its story about a cynical little girl named Susan (played by the unbelievably cute Natalie Wood) and her hard-working single mother (Maureen O'Hara), neither of whom believes in Santa Claus. But then what appears to be the real Kris Kringle (played by the even more adorable Edmund Gwenn) arrives at Mom's department store and a firestorm of controversy erupts. Is he crazy? Is he the real deal?

A handsome lawyer (John Payne) lends a hand when Kris has a sanity hearing, Mom gets a romance, Susan starts to believe that wishes can come true, and everybody has a Merry Christmas. Well, maybe not the cranky pencil pusher who put Santa Claus on trial.

It's a classic for a reason: All the elements work perfectly, the players are terrific and just what they need to be, and both Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood knock it out of the park.

You can find "Miracle on 34th Street" showing three times on Christmas Eve and once on Christmas Day on AMC, as well as once on Christmas Eve on WGN America.

My last holiday movie is darker and edgier, shoving Bill Murray into an updated Christmas Carol set in the world of TV production in 1988.

Murray's character, Frank Cross, is too busy ordering people around for a live "Christmas Carol" broadcast to notice that he has no friends, his girlfriend (Karen Allen) left long ago, and he seriously needs a wake-up call on how to behave like a human being. The best part of the movie is its crazy take on his ghosts, with Buster Poindexter (credited here under his real name, David Johansen) as a ferocious cab driver Ghost of Christmas Past and Carol Kane looking pretty but packing quite a punch as the Ghost of Christmas Present. She wallops Cross in the face with a toaster in a moment that resonates long past the movie.

Bill Murray's brothers John, Joel and Brian Doyle Murray show up in cameos, plus you get to see a parade of wacky stars (Buddy Hackett, Robert Goulet, Lee Majors, John Houseman) in the TV extravaganza Cross is supposedly putting on.

"Scrooged" is cynical and irreverent, with that snarky edge Bill Murray does so well. It's like a crazy ride in Buster Poindexter's Hellcab. But it's also hella funny and a welcome companion to all the other "Christmas Carols" out there.

"Scrooged" repeats seven times (SEVEN!) on AMC on Christmas Day, with another three showings the next day.

1 comment:

  1. This has been the year when I confess to Julie how many absolute movie classics I've not seen. (See "Holiday," in the Xmas in Conn. entry.) Thanks to "Miracle on 34th Street" alternating continuously with "Holiday Inn" on Dec 24 on AMC, I've now seen it for the first time. (Albeit colorized, which I wish they wouldn't do.) It's everything you said. And it was nice to be watching with my parents.

    And it was my first intact viewing of "White Christmas" too! I've seen bits here and there over the years, but never the whole thing (actually I may still be missing a quarter hour in the early-middle). That's worth a discussion on its own, but still I should have been familiar with it long before now.