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Top five holiday classics

Alex Holmes

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With winter break and the holidays right around the corner, you’ll have plenty of time to watch movies. While there are many great films coming to a theater near you, and I sincerely urge you to see them on the big screen, here are five cinematic classics for when you just want to cozy up on the couch. Some may warm your heart, others will thrill you, and one might just terrify you, but here they are:

 

  1. “It’s a Wonderful Life” directed by Frank Capra (1946)

Simultaneously the most depressing and joyful film on this list, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a classic by any standard, and it’s easy to see why. James Stewart gives the performance of a lifetime in a film brimming with equal amounts of hope, despair, heart, and humanity. The story is about George Bailey, who is confronted by an angel on Christmas when he attempts to end his own life. The ending is classic Hollywood sentimentalism, but it’s done better than any movie I can remember. This film isn’t one of the greatest of all time because of its artistry, but because of its power to resonate. I watched this movie for the first time many years ago, before I was into movies. Yet I have never forgotten the rollercoaster of emotions Capra took me on. To sum it up, if the ending doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will.

 

  1. “White Christmas” directed by Michael Curtiz (1954)

Michael Curtiz, director of classics like “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “Casablanca,” is the master of telling enriching stories that are easy to get sucked into. He does not disappoint in his direction of this Christmas classic about two singers who run into their old army general at an inn. He’s fallen on tough times, and the singers decide to put on a performance to help the old man out. “White Christmas” is one that I return to every year because of charismatic performances by the likes of Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney, not to mention the sentimental story, and, of course, the titular song and the rest of the music composed by Irving Berlin. You’ve probably heard the song, so now you should watch the movie.

 

  1. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” directed by Chuck Jones (1966)/“The Nightmare Before Christmas” directed by Henry Selick (1993)

Before the awful Jim Carrey Grinch in 2000 and this 2018 banal Benedict Cumberbatch Grinch, there was the Boris Karloff Grinch. Leagues better than the ridiculous Ron Howard film and this year’s bloated version, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is a perfect animated short. Released in 1966, the short is only 26 minutes long, the perfect length for a Dr. Seuss adaptation. In good animation, there is no fluff, and director Chuck Jones upholds that rule. Every scene is cut to precision and moves along briskly, never once boring the viewer. You may recognize Jones’ work, and that’s because he was the famed director of many of the “Looney Tunes” episodes. His knack for well-drawn visual gags really shows here, and this is a wonderfully crisp film. I’m a sucker for 2D animation, and it suits Seuss’ style to a point. Also of note: the great theme song, and Karloff’s gruff and growly performance far outclasses Cumberbatch’s tame Grinch.

Since “Grinch” is technically not a full movie, here’s a feature-length animated feast for the eyes: Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Produced by Burton, this is a stop- motion animation extravaganza that combines the awe of Christmas and the fright of Halloween.  Jack Skellington, a resident of Halloween Town who, fed up with the constant tricking instead of treating, decides to hijack the Christmas of Christmas Town. Every shot is a marvel to look at, as each creature pops off the screen with defined movement. This is also a musical, and the songs, composed by Danny Elfman, are quite memorable in their own right, adding a dose of fun and spookiness to the movie. The great thing about “Christmas!/The Nightmare Before Christmas”: you can watch this one on Halloween or Christmas.

 

  1. “Die Hard” directed by John McTiernan (1988)

“Die Hard” is a Christmas movie the whole way through. Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop trying to reconcile with his estranged wife in Los Angeles at her company’s Christmas party. The celebrations are interrupted by a band of terrorists led by Hans Gruber (a wonderful Alan Rickman). What they want is overly complicated, but that’s not the point. The point is that McClane is the only one in the building who can save the hostages. The action is gripping, the jokes are good, the acting is great, and the music is perfect. It’s an action movie classic, one that you can watch over and over again (just don’t bother with the sequels).

 

  1. “The Shining” directed by Stanley Kubrick (1980)

Okay, I kind of cheated here. “The Shining” is not really a holiday movie. However, it is perfect viewing for a blizzard. Jack Torrance, appointed the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel during the closed winter months, slowly goes mad in the claustrophobic hotel during a heavy snowstorm. Or was he always mad? Kubrick never gives us an explicit answer, and that ambiguity is part of what makes “The Shining” one of the greatest films ever made, and the most influential horror film of all time. That, and the impeccable cinematography, the offputting score, the mesmerizing performances (Jack Nicholson as Torrance is untouchable), the on-point editing, and the cold, twisted production design. This is a horror movie that far outclasses not only its contemporaries but also modern horror flicks because of its ability to not only terrify, but also to stick with you, generating nightmares for years to come.

 

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Top five holiday classics