Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Christmas! Songs We Hate, Movies We Love – A Top 10 List for the Ages!

I love Christmas. I love almost everything about the season (exceptions soon to be noted). And I am definitely not one of those people who hates Christmas music. On the contrary, I drive everyone crazy with my insistence on playing holiday tunes from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. I’m a regular Christmas elf. As such, I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of all things Noel. As such, I am uniquely qualified to offer this, a countdown of BOTH the best and the worst of Christmas.

As to the worst – well, that’s why I gave you that caveat about not hating Christmas music. Because I’m going to make you listen to the absolute worst all time Christmas music ever recorded. But to help you wade through that bitter swill, I’m going to offer you a candy cane in the form of the best Christmas movies/shows ever made. Will there be any politics in these lists? Why yes, Virginia, there will be. But there will be a lot more, too. So grab a cup of cocoa and settle in for a whirlwind sleigh ride through the heights – and depths – of Yuletide entertainment…

The 10th worst Christmas song of all time:
“It Doesn’t Have to Be that Way” by Jim Croce
Well, it won’t ALL be political.

Jim Croce was cool. Who doesn’t love the poetic “Time in a Bottle,” the poignant “Operator,” or the exuberance of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”? HOWEVER. The man should never have gone near the idea of a Christmas song. “It Doesn’t Have to Be that Way” is just the least offensive in a chain of “let’s use Christmas as an excuse to write a super-lame relationship song” entries that we will be exploring in depth (betcha can’t wait!). Plus, this one’s kinda creepy, threatening, and stalker-ish:
“What we had should never have ended. And I’ll be dropping by today, ‘cause we could easily get it together tonight. It’s only right.”

The 10th best Christmas movie of all time:
Will Ferrell, despite being a fellow alum of the best university in the universe, is not always my cup of tea. And, this movie descends into a sort of clichéd silliness at the end (“you just have to BELIEVE!”). But Buddy the Elf is a character for the ages, and this movie has become a Christmas classic with good reason. Zooey Deschanel is charming as Buddy’s innocent love interest, and she performs a pretty fair rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Buddy’s unmasking of a fake Santa (“You sit on a throne of lies!”) is hysterical, as is his encounter with an arrogant and surly children’s book author (who happens to be a dwarf) who Buddy mistakes for a Christmas elf. Good-hearted, hilarious Christmas fun.

There. Now I made up for making you listen to Jim Croce. I hope the rest of our journey together is just as satisfying for you…

The 9th worst Christmas song of all time:
“Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg
Why, oh why, do they have to play this one incessantly during the holidays? These pathetic former lovers meet in a grocery store on Christmas Eve – that appears to be the only link to Christmas. This is my least favorite type of song – the “singer telling a story.” Thus, the lyrics border on retarded: “I stole behind her in the frozen foods” – again, creepy. “She spilled her purse and we laughed until we cried.” Yes, nothing like a good purse spilling in the middle of a grocery store to have everyone yukkin’ it up. Then, after Fogelberg details how the food was totaled up and bagged (fascinating stuff), they decide to buy a six-pack and drink it in the car, presumably instead of going home to their loved ones. Nice message there! “We drank a toast to now, and tried to reach beyond our emptiness, but neither one knew how.” Inane AND sappy. A winning combination. Gag.

The 9th best Christmas movie of all time:
Holiday Inn (or, White Christmas)
Many people know the story of how the famous song “White Christmas” actually debuted in the film Holiday Inn, the story of a rural Connecticut resort/nightclub that only opens on holidays, allowing holiday-themed musical revues (Lincoln’s Birthday, Valentine’s Day, etc.) to run all year long. Bing Crosby’s rendition of the song was so enormously popular that it helped spur filmmakers to create a movie called White Christmas, but many critics perceive it to be inferior to Holiday Inn. Either way, the movies are full of great music (Irving Berlin!), great dancing (Danny Kaye, Fred Astaire), great singing (Bing), colorful costumes and sets, and the obligatory romantic comedy. Frothy musical fun!

The 8th worst Christmas song of all time:
“This Christmas” by Gloria Estefan
Continuing the theme Fogelberg started of hijacking Christmas as the background for a lame romantic song, this tune, which also gets WAAAAAY too much airtime over the holidays, consists almost entirely of Estefan crooning how special this Christmas is going to be with her (presumably) new love. After all, several times she exults “I’m gonna get to know you better” which makes me wonder if she just picked him up in a grocery store or something. Weak, weak, weak.

The 8th best Christmas movie of all time:
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Yup, the classic stop motion animation television special. How can you not love this story about the plucky little reindeer who, despite being mocked by everyone including his dad, ends up taking on the Abominable Snowman and saving the woman (girl reindeer) he loves, plus “saving Christmas” to boot? This little TV show had a tremendous soundtrack, including a song that became another Christmas classic, “Holly Jolly Christmas” by the inimitable Burl Ives (who also plays the narrator/snowman). Utterly charming.

The 7th worst Christmas song of all time:
“Last Christmas” by Wham!
Maybe Gloria Estefan should have listened to this song by Wham! before she hooked up with that guy in the grocery store in “This Christmas” – because “Last Christmas” tells the tale of what happens when you are not careful with your romantic hookups. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this song is that other artists have actually considered it worthy to re-record – the sad result being that we are now subjected to multiple versions of this tripe.

The 7th best Christmas movie of all time:
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Not the live action movie – oh NO. That big-budget version had several major flaws, one of which you will read about on the next page. Only the original cartoon version is pure and practically perfect. Dr. Seuss was of course a Lefty, but his book, on which they based the cartoon, is a fine little holiday story (assuming you overlook the claptrap at the end about the meaning of Christmas). However, the book leapt off the page under the skillful eye of famed animation director Chuck Jones. The sequence with the Grinch and his faithful, longsuffering and adorable puppy/reindeer racing down the mountain toward Whoville is pure joy – I can still hear the rollicking score in my head. And I don’t know who was responsible for casting Boris Karloff in the role of the narrator, but it was genius. Nobody else could have delivered these lines with the same exquisite gravitas:
“Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot, but the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville – did not. The Grinch hated Christmas – the whole Christmas season. Now, please don’t ask why; no one quite knows the reason. It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight. Or it could be that his head wasn’t screwed on just right. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that his heart was two sizes too small.”
Add in the fabulous song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and you understand why this remains one of the most popular Christmas productions ever put to film.

The 6th worst Christmas song of all time:
“Where Are You Christmas” by Faith Hill
So the Grinch cartoon gives us Karloff and “You’re a Mean One”… while the live action version gives us an unfunny Jim Carrey and this plate of slop for a theme song. Yuck. Who can even tell what this stupid song is about?
“My world is changing, I’m rearranging, does that mean Christmas changes too?”
What the Who?

Plus, Faith Hill’s soaring vocals are just annoying here. Or maybe I’m just irritated about having to listen to her before I can watch any Sunday Night Football.

The 6th best Christmas movie of all time:
Miracle on 34th Street
The original (duh)! Being a holidayophile (?), I love this movie for two reasons. One, because it starts with the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, I always love to watch it on Thanksgiving Eve, as a sort of kickoff to the entire holiday movie season. As a child from a relatively small middle America place, I was enchanted by the thought of being able to watch the parade from a Manhattan high-rise!

The other reason I love this movie is – everything else. Natalie Wood as a child actress was already luminescent. Edmund Gwenn as the Kris Kringle who has to prove himself is simply spot-on, as are Maureen O’Hara and John Payne as the young adults who come to his rescue (or is it the other way around?). I seem to remember watching a colorized version a few years back when that was the rage – with color or without, this is must-see holiday entertainment.

The 5th worst Christmas song of all time:
“Let There Be Peace on Earth”
Let us ease gently into the politicized Christmas songs, although again – why has this become a Christmas song? It says absolutely nothing about Christmas, holidays, Yuletide, mistletoe, pumpkin pie, or even snow. Instead, it’s a rather self-indulgent slog through someone telling themselves that “peace begins with me.” Really? Tell it to Al Qaeda. I don’t think they’re interested in walking with me as a brother, in perfect harmony.

The 5th best Christmas movie of all time:
It’s a Wonderful Life
You knew I would have it somewhere on this list. Frank Capra’s classic is a classic for a reason. Well, a lot of reasons. Jimmy Stewart in all his glory. Donna Reed in all hers. A little romance. A little adventure (not George’s). A little selfishness (not George’s). A lot of self-sacrifice (George’s). Henry Travers as Clarence, the most personable angel ever. And the intriguing premise, copied many times since the 1946 release, that we might be able to see what life would be like had we never existed, never touched anyone else’s lives. If you look up “heartwarming” in the dictionary, there’s probably a picture from this film.

The 4th worst Christmas song of all time:
“My Grown Up Christmas List”
Ehhh… what a gagger this is. Why is it that the birth of our Savior leads some people to write obnoxious, self-righteous, touchy-feely saccharine like this:
“No more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, and time would heal all hearts, and everyone would have a friend, and right would always win, and love would never end, this is my grown up Christmas list”
That’s not a grown-up Christmas list; that’s an imbecilic Christmas list. That everyone would have a friend? The lyrics seem to have been written by Barney the Dinosaur, or possibly the late and perpetually gentle Mister Rogers.

The 4th best Christmas movie of all time:
The Bishop’s Wife
The 1940s were really the Golden Age for Christmas movies – this is the fourth one from that decade! Not as well known as the others I’ve mentioned, this one has an angel, too, but he’s not cuddly and cute like Henry Travers. This angel, named Dudley, is Cary Grant! As such, he is suave and appealing, and even gives the bishop (David Niven) cause for a bit of jealous concern over Dudley’s attentions to the bishop’s lovely wife, played perfectly by Loretta Young. The plot revolves around the bishop’s prayers for guidance in the building of a new cathedral. Every single character is delightful, and the ending is as Christmas-y as one could hope.

The 3rd worst Christmas song of all time:
“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon
These songs are getting harder and harder to stomach, aren’t they? This particular swill is made more noxious by the knowledge that its composer also wrote that anthem of the effete Left, “Imagine.”
The only good thing about this song is how John and Yoko whisper “Happy Christmas” to their children at the very beginning. It goes downhill rapidly from there:
“And so this is Christmas, for weak and for strong, for rich and the poor ones, the world is so wrong. And so happy Christmas, for black and for white, for yellow and red ones, let’s stop all the fight.”
Oh, yes. Let’s DO stop all the fight.


The 3rd best Christmas movie of all time:
A Christmas Carol
This one rarely gets mentioned on “best of Christmas movie” lists, but I am quite fond of the 1984 made-for-TV movie starring George C. Scott as Scrooge, directed by Clive Donner. With near-perfect casting in virtually every role, this version is as true to the Dickens classic as any, with its flawless attention to every lush, rich detail of the story. No other version has ever surpassed this, in my book, and when I think of Scrooge, I see the stern and subtly angry countenance of George C. Scott. I recommend reading the story, if you haven’t done that before. But then get ahold of this version and enjoy.

The 2nd worst Christmas song of all time:
“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid/Bob Geldof
I am not alone in hating this song. Basically, a bunch of astonishingly self-promoting egomaniacs (Leftists galore) got together to create a tuneless monstrosity with lyrics like this:
“Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time, but say a prayer, pray for the other ones, at Christmas time it’s hard, but when you’re having fun, there’s a world outside your window, and it’s a world of dread and fear, where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears, and the Christmas bells that ring there, are the clanging chimes of doom, well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.”
Wait – their Christmas bells are “clanging chimes of doom”? I guess we certainly SHOULD be thankful it’s “them” and not us!

This abortion of a song goes on to instruct us that “nothing ever grows” in Africa (uh… ?), and we all need to “feed the world.” It is, of course, beyond both the scope and theme of this article to address the causes of famine in Africa, but needless to say, a lack of rock stars raising money is not the key issue.

Amusingly, even Geldof now hates this song, which he calls one of the worst in history. Well, credit where credit is due – he’s got that part completely right.

The 2nd best Christmas movie of all time:
A Christmas Story
I love, love, LOVE this movie. Every single scene has a masterful touch. The main child character, Ralphie, narrates his own childhood Christmas story and his undying quest for a Red Ryder BB gun. It’s inventive, it’s entertaining, it’s warmhearted, it’s funny, it’s charming. (Woody Allen offered a similar premise in the movie Radio Days, in which the adult character narrated his childhood adventures – but this is, plain and simple, better.)

Ralphie battles the neighborhood bullies and his own parents’ intransigence on the BB gun issue with aplomb and creativity (or what passes for it in a 9-year-old boy – he thinks his paper on “What I Want for Christmas” is Academy Award material!). There’s adventure with Orphan Annie, a bout of soap poisoning, a PG-rated lamp that causes a family crisis of sorts, and a Christmas dinner scene that will never be outdone. The ending of this movie is, I think, my favorite movie ending in any movie anywhere any time. A perfect gem. I’m always amazed when I meet people who haven’t seen this. See it.

The absolutely, positively worst Christmas song of all time:
“Christmas Shoes” by Newsong
When my kids were little I used to frown on them saying they “hated” something. So they learned synonyms. Despise, abhor, loathe. Well, I [insert all of those] this song.

You know, it’s pretty bad when you beat out a song that is even making its creator sick. But “Christmas Shoes” has everything a bad song should have. It is another of those “tell a story” songs in which the lyrics sound forced and stilted. The melody is repetitive and forgettable. But it is the sheer, manipulative cheesiness of this turkey that wins it top billing. First of all, some guy’s in a store trying to buy Christmas gifts. There’s a little kid “pacing ‘round like little boys do” – clearly a filler line since it makes no sense to the story. Also, little boys don’t pace around. But anyway. He’s waiting anxiously (I thought he was pacing?), holding a pair of shoes. His clothes are worn and old and he’s covered in filth. Why? Because as we all know, poor people are dirty. But back to our story. When it came time for the kid to PAY, this guy couldn’t believe what he had to SAY. (Hey! Rhyming!)
“Sir, I want to buy these shoes for my Mama, please, it’s Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size. Could you hurry, sir, Daddy says there’s not much time, you see she’s been sick for quite a while, and I know these shoes would make her smile, and I want her to look beautiful if Mama meets Jesus tonight.”
Gurgle. Excuse me. That was me fighting my gag reflex. So the poor kid wants to buy his mom, who’s about to die… shoes. Uh… why?

“He counted pennies for what seemed like years” – really? Then the cashier tells the kids he doesn’t have enough money, and after searching his pockets “frantically” he turns to the narrator and gives this speech which sounds a lot like something you’d hear a little boy say:
“Mama made Christmas good at our house, though most years she just did without, tell me Sir, what am I going to do, somehow I’ve got to buy her these Christmas shoes.”
Well, who can resist the appeal of Christmas shoes? I mean, who can die without them? I sure hope I don’t have to! So he pays for the shoes, and we have to hear the sappy chorus again, and then:
“As he thanked me and ran out, I knew that God had sent that little boy, to remind me just what Christmas is all about.”
There you go! It’s about SHOES. And make darn sure you’re wearing them when you die.

The absolutely, positively best Christmas movie of all time:
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Like Rudolph and the Grinch, this is strictly speaking not a movie. But A Charlie Brown Christmas makes the number one spot not just because it’s a classic and the very best story in all the animated Peanuts specials. Not just because of the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack, which is legendary and fits this quirky little story to a “T.” And not even because of how loveable Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy and Lucy are to generations of us. It’s number one because, unlike the song we just discussed, this modest little cartoon actually does “get” what Christmas is all about. In a scene that Peanuts creator Charles Schulz insisted be included, little Linus finally breaks it down:

Aahhh… there’s so much more we could talk about, both good (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) and bad (McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime”). But it’s time to stop, and extend my heartfelt wishes that all our readers will enjoy the best Christmas movies, avoid the worst Christmas songs, and have a blessed holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

1 comment:

  1. Okay. You and I have always agreed on a lot. I'm a collector of Christmas Carol videos, and prefer the ones that show Scrooge personally taking gifts to the Cratchits. However, I'd have to put It's a Wonderful Life and Charlie Brown's Christmas as a tie for the best movies. I have that Linus doll in my classroom, which says the famous line when you squeeze his foot. Included in my room are all the other Hallmark toys they sell each year from Peanuts. Most of my students still want to hear Linus above all the musical gadgets. I love Linus because he is still a child with his blanky, but has more wisdom than most adults.
    I don't think that Where Are You Christmas and Christmas Shoes should be so mistreated, but okay so we don't agree on everything.
    Merry Christmas, Friend!