The 50+ Films of Christmas (Part 6)

The 50+ Films of Christmas

Follow me as I watch 50+ of the best (and worst) holiday films! I will blog mini-reviews as I go and then rank them when I’m done watching them all.

7 Bad Santa

Bad Santa

Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) is worse than The Grinch. He’s worse than Scrooge. He’s a career criminal that poses as a department store Santa so he can steal the holiday deposit. He’s constantly drunk, hates himself, and has no more will to live. He has no filter and constantly spews the worst things possible to children.

Willie always has plans to use the money they steal to change his life around, but he’s beyond saving. His accomplice, a dwarf played by Tony Cox, is in it to get his materialistic mail order bride (Lauren Tom) her heart’s desires, and he’s fed up with Willie’s antics.

As Santa, Willie pees himself, hits on jailbait, stays at with a slow kid and his demented grandmother, and has sex with anyone he can, including a waitress that has a thing for Santa Claus (Lauren Graham).

On the other side of the law is the prudish mall manager (John Ritter) and the head of security (Bernie Mac). This is considered Ritter’s final performance, and it is the best in the film. If only there were more scenes with him.

This is not a Christmas movie for just anyone. There is some sentimentality, but it’s not the kind for people that hang out around the Hallmark Channel. But if you like toilet humor with your holiday ham, then you should watch “Bad Santa.”


7.5 The Bishop's Wife

The Bishop’s Wife

From the first scene, we know that Dudley (Cary Grant) is what he says he is. He’s an angel, and he’s come to help the Bishop with his prayers. He could just give the Bishop (David Niven) the miracle he desires, but it would lose meaning that way.

Dudley says he will assist Bishop Brougham in any way he asks, and instead of asking for the angel to attend to the business of helping him build his new church, he asks Dudley to take care of his wife Julia (Loretta Young).

Dudley is learned, well-spoken, and adventurous, and it isn’t long before he’s charming everyone around him, including the Bishop’s daughter (Karolyn Grimes, who is also Zuzu in “It’s a Wonderful Life“), the help (Elsa Lanchester, who had a storied career including being the Bride of Frankenstein), a cab driver named Sylvester (James Gleason), an atheist (Monty Woolley), and especially Julia. Yes, and Julia charms him too.

An angel that shows us inspiration and sees inspiration in us. That’s “The Bishop’s Wife.”


8 How the Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Dr. Seuss is perhaps the most beloved of all writers in children’s literature. His bizarre rhymes and whimsical illustrations have inspired kids of all generations for years.

Chuck Jones is the man that humanized the Loony Tunes, making Daffy, for example, a bit less daffy and more motivated by emotions we can relate to, like greed and envy.

Boris Karloff is a movie star of legend that created many memorable characters. He is best known as one of the most important Universal creatures, Frankenstein’s monster.

When the time came to adapt Dr. Seuss’s beloved book into a television special, Boris Karloff was given the job of narrating and voicing the Grinch. However, he did not sing the famed song, “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Many believe he did, due the the fact the song went uncredited, but it was performed by Tony the Tiger’s voice actor, Thurl Ravenscroft.

This film is quite simply the sum of its parts. It is the writing of Dr. Seuss, the animation style of Chuck Jones, and the vocal talents of Karloff and Ravenscroft. No more, no less. Good thing for all of us that each of these talents was a master of his craft, and this short little holiday classic is a masterpiece.


6 Surviving Christmas

Surviving Christmas

Ben Affleck plays a man that has more money than he can spend, but he doesn’t have the one thing he needs, a family to spend Christmas with. Years of loneliness have caught up with him, and he’s finally snapped. He goes to the house where he grew up and hires the family that lives there now to take him in for the holidays.

James Gandolfini plays the grumpy father, and Catherine O’Hara is the long suffering wife. Their marriage is basically over, but for the benefit of getting the money, they’re willing to pretend to be the perfect family. Until things get weird, that is.

Their son sees what’s going on. That’s why he locks himself in the room and surfs for porn all day. But his older sister, played by Christina Applegate, is still in denial.

There are times where this movie works, but overall it has a tragic flaw. Unfortunately Affleck’s character is a bit loony, and he’s essentially holding this family hostage with his mania. The film does give good reason in the end for this, but it doesn’t feel like the *right* reason given that this is an ad man that pitches boozing it up as the only way to survive the holidays with your family. Best not to think of it, I suppose.

No, even better!! Imagine that Affleck is Bruce Wayne in *this* movie too. Then “Surviving Christmas” is awesome!


8 Scrooged


I should begin this review by telling you that Bill Murray is one of my favorite actors, and that it was *this* film that made me realize how gifted he was, not only with comedy, but as a dramatic actor as well.

After “Ghostbusters,” Bill was the biggest movie star in Hollywood. His pet project, “The Razor’s Edge,” was a brave film but was met with critical criticism and was not a commercial success. After that, Bill stepped away from the limelight. “Scrooged” was his return to starring roles (he had a cameo in “Little Shop of Horrors”).

Murray is at his best when he plays a character that is just as self-loathing as he is smarmy and charming. But there is the other side to Bill as well. A part of Mr. Murray is still that kid that hasn’t accepted his father’s death. This part of Bill is sentimental and has a message of kindness for the world. Frank Cross is in the upper echelon of great Murray roles, because in playing a variation of Ebenezer in the moral tale of “A Christmas Carol,” Murray is able to fully explore both sides of his personality.

Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon,” “Superman,” “The Goonies”) helms this update of the Dickens tale. The humor is biting and dark, but the message of transformation and redemption is still intact.

The role of Bob Cratchet is split in two. There’s the assistant with the heart of gold and poor, lovable family (Alfre Woodard), and then there’s the disgruntled former employee that has gone totally postal (Bobcat Goldthwait). In this version of the story, the lost love is a more important aspect of the story, and Karen Allen (“Raiders of the Lost Ark”) represents the side of Frank that could know love and charity.

From “The Night the Reindeer Cried” with Lee Majors to the casting of Buddy Hacket and Mary Lou Retton in the movie within the movie, this is pure satire. The ghosts are varied and refreshing (John Forsythe, Carol Kane, and David Johansen – better known as Buster Poindexter), and the rest of the cast and the cameos are high caliber and fit their roles well.

With four Murray Brothers (Brian Doyle-Murray, John Murray, and Joel Murray) in tow, this is the best way to have a Murray Christmas this year.



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