Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn star in The Christmas Chronicles 2, which was filmed in B.C. Photo by Joseph Lederer/Netflix

Best of the season: Christmas movies to capture the spirit

By 
  • December 18, 2020

Isn’t it fascinating how, back in spring 2020, at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, the first impulse for comfort and familiarity was an urge to watch Christmas shows? The goodwill and good feels of Christmastime pageantry is powerful medicine.

You can find my Christmas movie suggestions for 2019 here (I won’t be repeating any of them in this year’s list).

Many of these films are available for free (or rent) on YouTube (make sure you’re renting from YouTube and not some sketchy site).

Here are my top 12 for 2020:

  1. Christmas Chronicles 1 & 2 (2018 & 2020): Netflix (the always underrated and underutilized Kurt Russell is a magnificent Santa, and Mrs. C is none other than Goldie Hawn). A cut high above the usual mindless “Believe!” Santa adventures. In CC1, a teenage boy is longing for his deceased father. Regular kids with regular kid problems and solid, loving adult mentors. In CC2, it’s the daughter who’s missing her Dad. There are major Christian elements, connecting “the bishop of Myra, St. Nicholas” to the “Star of Bethlehem”… mixed with magic and elves. Perhaps a bit of syncretism (Christianity and fantasy), so would need some explaining to youngsters. Good lessons about vice and virtue. Finally: meaningful, religious VFX! Thoroughly imaginative and delightful. Chris Columbus directs.
  2. Bells of St. Mary’s (1945): In glorious black and white! Celebrate the 75th anniversary of this uplifting favourite. Fr. O’Malley (Bing Crosby) spars with Sr. Mary Benedict (Ingrid Bergman), but they unite in order to save their school.
  3. The Preacher’s Wife (1996): Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. An angel is sent to help a pastor through some tough times, but the pastor’s wife catches his eye. Lots of Christmas cheer. A remake of 1947’s The Bishop’s Wife starring Cary Grant and Loretta Young.
  4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000): The inimical Jim Carrey in all his manic glory inhabiting the Grinch with gut-busting hilarity. Some object to the fact that the Whos from Whoville aren’t the sweet, innocent things from Dr. Seuss’ original story, but Hollywood always has to give characters a complex backstory. (Here, they’re petty and self-serving.) But forget the Whos! This is all about Jim.
  5. Christmas in the Clouds (2005): If you like romance and screwball comedies, this is a goodie (starring Ontario’s own Graham Greene). A native-owned ski resort in Utah is the locale for a love story that begins with a mismatched mix-up (don’t they all?)
  6. Babar and Father Christmas (1986): Winner of a Gemini award for Best Animated Program or Series, this Quebec-produced Christmas special featuring the beloved elephant airs annually around the world for the wee ones.
  7. A Christmas Carol (1984): George C. Scott as Scrooge. Dickens’ stirring novella never gets old. The sheer number of cinematic iterations (starting with silent versions as far back as 1910) makes it easy to view a different one each year. Conversion of heart is a perennial Gospel theme. What better way to change our lives than through memento mori?
  8. One Magic Christmas (1985): Mary Steenburgen, Harry Dean Stanton. A down-on-their-luck family has few prospects for Christmas. Stanton is a black-clad cowboy angel who plays his harmonica in a tree. And it totally works.
  9. The Fourth Wise Man (1985): Martin Sheen, Alan Arkin; Paulist Productions, based on the short story The Other Wise Man, by Henry van Dyke. The Bible doesn’t say there were three wise men, only that there were three gifts. The bones of the Magi are preserved in the Cathedral of Cologne, Germany — and there are four, not three skulls.
  10. The Juggler of Notre Dame (1984): Paulist Productions, based on a French legend of the 12th century. Simple and beautiful.
  11. A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1987): Based on Dylan Thomas’ recollections. Do you get all old-timey and nostalgic-y at Christmas? This one’s for you. Charming.
  12. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987): It’s technically a Thanksgiving film, but the blend of jocularity and heart at the holidays is unparalleled. Steven Martin and Toronto’s own John Candy. (Watch for one string of f-bombs.)

MOVIES ABOUT THE BABY

The Little Drummer Boy (1968): I’m not crying, you’re crying.

The Nativity Story (2006): Mary is depicted as a petulant teen, but Joseph is amazing and steals the show.

FAIRLY RECENT CLASSICS

Do the stop-action and cartoons we loved so much as kids pass the time test? For the most part, yes, they’ve held up. But will newer generations relate? Ask ‘em!
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Santa Claus is Coming To Town (1970), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), Frosty the Snowman (1969).

OLDIE GOLDIES

  • Miracle of the Bells (1948): Fred MacMurray and Frank Sinatra.
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947 & 1994 remake): A little girl living in NYC is taught by her sophisticated mother not to believe in Santa.
  • White Christmas (1954): This sparkling musical comedy features Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen.
  • Meet Me in St. Louis (1944): Set in 1904, Judy Garland stars in this end of the Second World War light-hearted musical. The song “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” made it overseas and became the anthem of those who wouldn’t be home for Christmas.

THE 90’S

The Santa Clause, Jingle All the Way, Scrooged, Home Alone.

MISCELLANEOUS

The City That Forgot About Christmas (Lutheran Television); The Story of Silent Night (Questar Entertainment); A Madea Christmas (2013) — A little raw around the edges and, of course, you either love Tyler Perry’s character or you don’t. In the end, always some wise take away.

KIDS ONLY

  • CCC of America’s Nicholas: The Boy Who Became Santa — a former Disney animator is doing Catholic saints now.
  • Veggie Tales’ The Star of Christmas, The Toy that Saved Christmas.
  • Prancer, featuring REAL reindeer! Reindeer are soooo adorbs. (My acid test for qualifying as a Christmas movie is if it has “the Christmas spirit”: some kind of transformation involving true charity.)

TWO THUMBS DOWN

Holiday Inn, The Polar Express, Love Actually.

NOT CHRISTMAS MOVIES

Guys: Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. Bruce Willis said so. Gals: Frozen is not a Christmas movie, even though there’s lots of ice, a snowman and a reindeer.

Now dash away, dash away, dash away all to the easy chair, sofa, davenport, chesterfield, beanbag, sectional or recliner! And God bless us, every one.

(Sr. Helena, fsp, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She holds a Masters in Media Literacy Education and studied screenwriting at UCLA. www.HellBurns.com  Twitter: @srhelenaburns)

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