When producers asked me to compile a list of the best holiday films, I didn’t think that would be very fun. Everybody has seen Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life a million times.
I remember when I worked morning radio, we did a bit in December called “It’s a Wonderful Life Alert,” in which callers would call and inform us when and on what channel, the next showing was. Each day we’d seem to get a call (I always laughed with the sirens we’d have blaring in the background as they told us).
Instead, I thought it would be more fun to name the funniest holiday movies. And with two funny ones at theatres right now – Arthur Christmas (a great family film, with heart and humor) and Harold & Kumar’s 3D Christmas (a funny movie, but a hardcore R rating that’s not for everyone) – why not make a list of some funny films you can rent or Netflix? Maybe a few laughs would help deal with the dysfunctional family members from out of town that you’re trying to handle.
Here’s my list, and I’m sticking to it.
5) LOVE ACTUALLY, which I didn’t actually love, but liked a lot. Sure, it’s always hard to get past Hugh Grant blinking five times every two seconds.
He plays the Prime Minister looking for love. There are 10 stories, two of which don’t work. And one that is average, at best. I found so many of the stories touching and humorous. It has a great cast that includes Emma Thompson (who broke my heart in Sense and Sensibility, and does that again here with husband Alan Rickman); Liam Neeson (who breaks your heart grieving for his wife, especially in light of his real life wife Natasha Richardson passing away);
Kiera Knightley, Laura Linney, and Billy Bob Thornton, who is in the Christmas movie I hated (but everyone else seems to think is hysterical) – Bad Santa.
And hey, who doesn’t want to hear The Troggs horrible ballad Love is All Around turned into a Christmas tune?
4) EMMET OTTER’S JUG BAND CHRISTMAS is probably the kids film I’ve recommended most over the years. I first saw it on HBO in the late 70s.
The only Muppet you’ll recognize is Kermit, who narrates the piece. It’s basically another version of the O. Henry story The Gift of the Magi, which has been retold a number of ways. This telling has a mom and son otter, grieving the loss of dad. They don’t have any money for Christmas gifts, and so Emmet decides he and his friends will start a band and win a talent show. He needs to use his mothers washtub to make a stand-up bass. He doesn’t realize his mother wants to buy him a nice guitar for Christmas, so she sells his tool box to buy a dress and enter the same talent competition. The problem with this isn’t just that they’re competing against each other – each sold the one item the other uses to make money they need. Oh, the plot thickens when evil animals in the forest decide to start a heavy metal band and join the contest. They consist of a bear that plays keyboards and wears shades, a lizard on bass, and a snake that swims in an aquarium and spits at the crowd. Sid Vicious probably loved this, and you will too. Seek out this Jim Henson directed film. You’ll be singing the songs for years.
3) TRADING PLACES is the perfect movie to put on this list. Eddie Murphy made a “come back” with Tower Heist. Sure, everybody claimed he made a comeback when he got that Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls; and if you haven’t heard, he quit as host of the Oscars this year. Weird, because when he didn’t win for that movie, he also quit watching the Oscars, walking out before the show ended.
John Landis directed this and he’s got a decent track record with comedy. He started out with the uneven Kentucky Fried Movie, but then did comedy classics like The Blues Brothers, Three Amigos, Twilight Zone, An American Werewolf in London, Animal House, and Coming to America. It was the late ‘80s, and Murphy still had his funny then.
Along with Murphy, the cast of Trading Places has Dan Aykroyd, Don Ameche, as well as Bo Diddley as a pawn broker and Jamie Lee Curtis as a prostitute. Nice.
2) A CHRISTMAS STORY, like Trading Places, also came out in 1983. We all know the story of Ralphie trying to avoid bullies, mean dogs, and an angry Santa. His dad is obsessed with food and a leg lamp, that his wife would like to hit him over the head with. Having an adult narrate the thoughts he had as a kid, with that same childlike enthusiasm, was so successful, it gave the idea to The Wonder Years.
1) SCROOGED is easily the most fun you’ll have watching a comedy in December. It’s just like Bill Murray’s other holiday movie Groundhog Day (note to self: find out if that would be considered a “holiday”).
Murray plays an evil TV executive who has his secretary send towels and toasters to friends and family for the holidays. He has no qualms about firing Bobcat Goldthwait a few days before Christmas, or stapling small antlers to a hamster if it makes the thing cuter.
He has a soft spot for the lost love of his life, played by Karen Allen. We get to see glimpses of their relationship when he’s visited by three ghosts. It’s a funny take on A Christmas Carol, especially since his network is doing a live version of the story, with lots of big name actors, comedians, and singers – as well as lots of guns and explosions. Who wouldn’t love Lee Majors shooting machine guns.
You also have acting legend Robert Mitchum as the big boss, David Johansen as the crazy cabbie/ghost, Carol Kane as the ghost of Christmas past – who smashes toasters into Murray’s face.
There’s Buddy Hacket as Scrooge and Robert Goulet as himself, doing a "Cajun Christmas." And as if that wasn’t enough, the street musicians include Paul Shaffer and Miles Davis.
Director Richard Donner gave us some good stuff – The Omen, Superman, Inside Moves (nobody ever knows that movie; see it) – before he wasted comedic genius Richard Pryor in The Toy.
He did Lethal Weapon a year before Scrooged – back when Mel Gibson hadn’t become an Ebenezer in real life.
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