This little essay formed in my head during Christmas season. It has nothing to do with football. It has everything to do with the season. Maybe being retired from my official football duties, I have had more time to just ponder the passing of days. Does that sound strange? It sounds a little strange to me, but, it’s kind of the way I am navigating things these days. I’ve got more time on my hands, and while I want to stay engaged, and I clearly still am engaged about football, college and pro, etc, etc,… I also find myself with a desire to tiptoe outside the football box on occasion. This is one of those occasions. It may not happen often, but, from time to time, it will happen. It‘s happening in this post, and it’s about Christmas, and Christmas movies.
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I am an old sentimentalist, and I love the Christmas Carols, and Christmas movies that we see and hear this time of year. The other night I am watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” with James Stewart and Donna Reed. At the end of the movie, like always, I am tearing up, and waiting for Su-Zu to tell her Dad that when a bell rings, an angel gets his wings, and Jimmie Stewart looks up to the heavens and says, “way to go Clarence, way to go.” I mean, c’mon, how do you not just love that! As mushy and corny as it is, it’s also the best! I am emotionally moved. Crazy isn’t it?
This moment in front of the TV came a couple days after we had attended a community theater production of White Christmas. It was the same thing. I was watching and getting gooey thinking about Christmas and the spirit of the season. Wouldn’t you know, a day later I’m surfing the channels on TV and what do I find? The movie “White Christmas” with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney. Of course I watch it. Of course I tear up when they are all gathered around the tree singing White Christmas! It was like Christmas sensory overload, but it got me thinking. I need to get my movie reviewer hat on, and get some thoughts out there on Christmas movies, and where I come down on the genre.
So, here we go. I firmly believe that “It’s a Wonderful Life” is the best Christmas movie of all time. For me, it just is! Second on the list is “White Christmas.” Those old movies were just made differently. They just have a different vibe. They are called classics because they are classic. That can’t be said for every one of the so called “Christmas Movies.” And, to be clear, I’m not talking about Christmas blockbusters, like Die Hard, or one of those Christmas releases of a big studio megahit, I’m talking about movies that have Christmas as a theme. A movie where Christmas could be a character. Those two, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “White Christmas” are first ballot Hall of Famers. They check all the boxes for me.
“Going my Way” with Bing Crosby is another one that has the crucial element for me to make a Christmas movie climb to the top. Now, “Going my Way” may not be a strict Christmas movie, but it fits the emotional category. You can’t help but love the characters. The end is a tear jerker. It fits as a contender no matter what season it is.
“Miracle on 34th Street” is really close to the top on my list, but it falls just a step short. While the Santa story and the legal gymnastics to make Santa Claus the real deal is great, the whole story revolves around a department store and retail sales yada-yada-yada. I really like the story, Maureen O’Hara is the perfect heroine, but, it falls a step short of the other two.
I really like “A Christmas Carol” also, because its roots are in literature. Charles Dickens novella really blew Christmas apart when it was published back in the 1843. It was a feel good story, and it is where the character Ebeneezer Scrooge became a household word for the ages. It still is today. We still refer to people as a “Scrooge.” Now that is powerful, and the story is engaging. And remember, it was a written story, so people who read it made up their own versions of Scrooge and Bob Cratchit, and his son Tiny Tim. Your mind and your imagination can turn a written story into a full fledged feature film if you let it. It wasn’t until it was made into a theatrical performance that Scrooge and the Cratchit’s came to life. There have been many versions too, and the proof of its power is that every actor that had breath wanted to play Scrooge.
The ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future is also a captivating aspect of this tale. It gives us all pause to think and reflect on our life. It’s really close to the top on my list but doesn’t make me cry like the others. I feel really good when it’s over, and Scrooge comes around and finds his more gracious self. I am delighted that he finally gets “it,” but, it doesn’t toy with me as emotionally as the other two.
There are so many others that are great movies, but it’s probably my criteria that keeps them from getting near the top of the list. “The Christmas Story” with young Peter Billingsley nearly shooting his eye out with a Red Rider BB gun is a wonderful story. I laugh out loud at the scene with the brother standing on the stair landing in his rabbit suit made by his aunt. Believe me, that scenario was very close to happening with me on many a Christmas day. But, it’s a comedy. It’s a feel good chuckler. A slice of life story that is wonderfully told, and hits close to home for many of us…but. it’s missing a crucial element.
The same is true for the Home Alone’s, The Elf’s, the Santa Clause’s and others. Don’t get me wrong, they are really good, but they are “entertainment.” My idea of a real Christmas movie is that it’s more than just entertaining. It reaches you in your gut. It makes you feel. I am a very big fan of the “Polar Express,” but the animated nature of it while impressive, doesn’t put it in the category of making me feel. The characters aren’t really real. So, it’s hard for me to elevate the animated versions of great stories to the top of the list. Computer generated characters just can’t give me the same kind of performance as George Bailey, working at his broken down old Bailey Brothers building and loan in Bedford Falls.
The crucial element I’ve mentioned a couple of times in what turns the tide for me is that the main character, or the plot in these great movies involves someone helping another. Someone going out of their way, while gaining no advantage, to make someone else’s life a little better. Maybe that subtle theme is what makes the characters so compelling. Or, it’s what makes the story so appealing. With the background as the Christmas holiday when everyone should be in the spirit of giving, seems to make all of the schmaltz, all of the corn, all of the mush, so very believable. And, so emotional.
There is a Christmas song that has a lyric, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Why? By my way of thinking, these movies at the top of my list tell the story why. It’s because those movies celebrate the unselfish part of human nature. It may be our best part. I think about that while I watch these movies. Maybe that’s why I tear up at the end. I’ll be thinking about it while I visit with family and friends during this Christmas season.
I hope you all have a joyous and happy Christmas. I hope your holiday is filled with good will you never saw coming, and kindness you never imagined giving. After all, it’s the most wonderful time of the year.