With Christmas rushing upon us as quickly as ever, these December evenings should be times to pause, kick off our shoes and enjoy gathering with family and friends in warm homes, and maybe even overdose on hot chocolate doused with marshmallows.
Cindy-Lou Who from "Dr. Seuss’ the Grinch Who Stole Christmas"
Parties are a holiday tradition, but watching some of those classic Christmas-themed shows are also a must-do for many. Thus, below are my picks for the Top 10 TV Christmas specials, followed by the Top 10 Christmas movies.
Most of these air every Yuletide season on network, cable or satellite TV, while a few may only be found on DVD.
Top 10 TV Christmas classics
1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): In the best animated-Christmas special of them all, Charlie Brown and his Peanuts pals discover the true meaning of Christmas while working on a school play and decorating a sickly fir tree. Linus saves the day with his recitation of the birth of the Christ child from the book of Luke. Fabulous jazz piano score by Vince Guaraldi.
2. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): This feature film only came into its own when it began airing on TV. Jimmy Stewart stars as George Bailey, a small-town everyman who decides to jump off a bridge. An angel then exposes him to what life in Bedford Falls would have been like had he never been born. Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.
3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964): Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives) narrates as Rudolph and his pals Hermie the Misfit Elf and Yukon Cornelius trek to the Island of Misfit Toys and deal with the Abominable Snowman. This Rankin/Bass stop motion animation has aired every year since its birth.
4. Dr. Seuss’ the Grinch Who Stole Christmas (1966): Horror movie legend Boris Karloff provides the star voice as the green villain Grinch robs all the toys from beneath the Christmas trees in Who-ville. He’s proves to be not such a “mean one Mr. Grinch” after all.
5. A Christmas Carol (1951): Of the multitude of films and TV adaptations of the Charles Dickens classic, this rings true as the best, mainly due to the magnificent performance of Alastair Sim as Scrooge. Watchable every year on TV. Runners-up include the 1938 Christmas Carol and the 1984 TV movie A Christmas Carol with the masterful George C. Scott.
6. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962): This animated musical features Jim Backus as the voice of Magoo, who portrays Ebenezer Scrooge, and a deliciously infectious score by the Broadway team of composer Jule Styne and lyricist Bob Merrill. Simply charming and delightful.
7. Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977): Straight from Jim Henson and his talented Muppet-making crew of creative folks. Great songs by Paul Williams. Don’t know why it hasn’t been shown on TV for years. Definitely worth buying the DVD to see how poor Emmet and his widowed Ma make do for Christmas in Frogtown Hollow. Early elementary children should adore this along with their own ma and pa.
8. The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971): This made-for-TV movie served as the pilot for The Waltons TV series. The child actors are all the same, but Patricia Neal and Andrew Duggan play Olivia and John Walton. It’s the day before Christmas, and the family doesn’t know if the father will make it back from town, where he has been working, for the Christmas Eve due to a big snowstorm. Hearth- and heartwarming.
9. Frosty the Snowman (1969): Another Rankin/Bass joy giver with Jimmy Durante as narrator and Jackie Vernon voicing the jolly snowman who wears a magical top hat. Based on the 1950 hit song by cowboy legend Gene Autry.
10. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1970): This Rankin/Bass stop motion special features the voices of Fred Astaire as the mailman and narrator and Mickey Rooney as Kris Kringle/Santa Claus and takes place in a town where toys have been outlawed. Also memorable are the Burgermeister, the Winter Warlock and the song “Put One Foot in Front of the Other.”
Top 10 Christmas movies
1. A Christmas Story (1983): All 9-year-old Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB rifle. Of course, his parents warn “You’ll shoot your eye out.” The story came from the late writer Jean Shepherd, whom I consider the “Mark Twain” of 20th-century writers. TNT generally airs this film for 24 consecutive hours beginning Christmas Eve, and it is worthy of the honor as it resonates with the inner child in all of us.
2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947): The New York City Macy’s Department Store Santa claims to be the real deal and a 6-year-old girl (Natalie Wood) believes him, even when he is taken to court and accused of mental illness. Can proof be made that he really is Santa? The beloved film won four Oscars including best actor award for Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle.
3. Holiday Inn (1942): Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire are musical partners who split over the girl in their act. Friendship and romance eventually work out at a supper club turned into a holiday inn in Connecticut where Bing performs Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” the biggest Christmas song of all time. Great music all the way.
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989): Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswald and his family celebrate Christmas like no one else on the block. From fetching a tree in the woods to stringing the lights around the house, Clark and his family, including crazy Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid), make for one hilarious romp through the holiday season. Now where’s the cat?
5. The Polar Express (2004): Tom Hanks is all over the place in this computer animated film as a fantasy train carries a group of children who don’t believe in Santa Claus to meet the man himself at the North Pole. The bell still rings for those who truly believe.
6. One Magic Christmas (1985): Mary Steenburgen steals the movie and Harry Dean Stanton makes a strange angel in this overlooked heartbreaker about a family that is drowning in tragedy. You should get a lump in your throat, not coal in your stocking, and learn it’s best to celebrate what you have and not what you want.
7. Christmas in Connecticut (1945): Barbara Stanwyck stars in this romantic comedy about a magazine journalist, who is single, lives in a N.Y.C. apartment and can’t cook, who tries to create an illusion of life at an idyllic farmhouse where she tends to the needs of her husband and baby while she entertains a World War II sailor (Dennis Morgan) on the mend. Sentimental, you betcha.
8. Scrooged (1988): Darkly funny Bill Murray shines as a modern-day Scrooge, a network TV executive who gets a second chance with the girl he use to love. Loads of fun with good roles for Robert Mitchum, Karen Allen, Buddy Hackett, Robert Goulet, Bobcat Goldthwait and Carol Kane as the slaphappy Ghost of Christmas Present.
9. The Santa Clause (1994): Comedian Tim Allen takes over the role of the Christmas Eve toy delivery man after Santa falls off his roof. A solid, amusing old-fashioned holiday comedy which spawned two sequels.
10. Home Alone (1990): Young Kevin, a pesky little brother, accidentally gets left behind when the family goes to Europe for the holidays. He learns a few lessons as he fends for himself, befriends an elderly neighbor and whips up on some bungling burglars. One of the top-grossing comedies of all time.