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THE BEST SELLERS’ LIST- Holiday Movie Classics: From the reason for the season to Jolly St. Nick, ranking the best films

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Kevin McCallister lived out every eight- and 10-year-old boys’ dreams in two movies while defeating burglars. Photo is copyright by Twentieth Century Fox and other respective production studios and distributors.

Dudley Moore and David Huddleston (as Santa) take an almost biographical look into the life of the jolly old elf in the 1985 flick, “Santa Claus: The Movie.”

Thanks to the women in my life, I am tired of Christmas movies at this point.

The first week in December is barely over and I can’t take another Lifetime or Hallmark network movie. I swear my mom has been watching those cheesy flicks since July.

I can’t take another “Jingle Belle,” “A Very Nutty Christmas” or “Love for Christmas.” This season is not about romance or two goofy adults finding love through the Christmas spirit. Late November and the month of December is all about commercialism, marketing and laughing. Occasionally mix in a moral lesson, then you have the recipe for great Christmas movies.

I have to wrestle away the remote from my mom and sister to stop the marathon of made-for-TV commercials geared toward women. Meanwhile, I will give them these suggestions with my top 10 and honorable mentions. The best of the rest are “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Polar Express,” “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer,” “Scrooged,” “Gremlins,” “Jingle All the Way” and “The Santa Clause.”

10. “Die Hard” (1988)

This is one of my selection that is technically a “Christmas” movie because of its time of year. But this movie is an action classic starring Bruce Willis as New York City police officer John McClane. McClane is a man going through a lot in his personal life with a crumbling marriage involving two daughters. He didn’t know attending a holiday party in the headquarters of a Japanese-owned business where his wife works would lead to him having to spring into action. A group of terrorists bust up the party and festivities. McClane came to the rescue with quick thinking, determination and the motivation of having a “bad day.”

Every so often you get a reminder that it is Christmas as things explode, bullets fly and classic one-liners are delivered. This classic also introduced us to the future Carl Winslow with actor Reginald VelJohnson giving a great performance as Sgt. Al Powell.

9. “A Christmas Story” (1983)

Back when I was a 5-year-old, my sister went to visit my grandmother’s house during our winter break. So it was just my dad, mom and me at the house for a week. Then trouble struck, with my mom falling very ill with the flu. With my dad being a bartender, the busiest time of the year is the Christmas season. So he left me with instructions to take care of mom and money to order food.

I felt like a “man” giving my mom juice and medicine. Then I called Domino’s to order my large supreme pizza. I even tipped the delivery driver.

With my mom resting, I popped on the TV to watch this movie with a blonde-haired boy wearing glasses. He had a strong desire for a “Red Ryder” air rifle. For the next hour and 34 minutes, I was laughing and relating to this kid Ralphie Parker.

While I was feeling more grown up, this classic film brought me back to reality through Ralphie’s struggles at school, daydreams and desire for this toy. I love the iconic scenes, from the tongue on the frozen pole to the famous lamp.

“A Christmas Story” will always have a special place in my heart because it was escape for that short moment I was the man of the house.

8. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

This movie might be No. 1 on a lot of list but thanks to the black-and-white display, I could only watch the 2 hours and 15 minutes once. This screenplay by Frank Capra, Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Jo Swerling and Michael Wilson is a great life lesson. Since James Stewart brought George Bailey to life in the film, many other movies and some television shows have taken a shot at doing the whole “what if” scenario.

Sadly, a part of the holiday season is depression. This legendary film can serve as a symbol of hope and finding the will to fight through the pains of life to stay alive. I was glad George didn’t jump off that bridge and instead made it back home. And the sound of a bell during the holiday season is an angel getting their wings like Clarence. Because we all need a guardian angel sometimes just to make it to another day. Then we’ll have moments we realize it is a wonderful life.

7. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966)

If you love classic cartoons, you are familiar with the creativity of Chuck Jones. So the visual of the 1966 “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” grabbed my attention. I joined my third-grade class at Delano Elementary in the library to view this 30 minute classic.

Later Jim Carrey brought the story to life in 2000 with a full length movie. It is based on the eponymous children’s book by Dr. Seuss, the story of the Grinch trying to take away Christmas from the townsfolk of Whoville below his mountain hideaway.

In the most humorous way, the Grinch makes Christmas disappear in Whoville. When the townsfolk woke up to all the gifts, decoration and commercialism gone, they were sad for a moment. The Grinch was filled with evil joy.

But then the people realized the true meaning of Christmas and began to sing and have fellowship. The Grinch was confused but it dawned on him that his actions actually brought good to the spirit of the townsfolk. The Grinch’s heart grew and so did my ticker.

6. “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” (1992)

Let’s rejoin Kevin McCallister and his family. These good people didn’t learn from the previous mishap to maybe stay home for Christmas. The McCallisters need to go to Florida gave their son Kevin another chance to be left alone.

On the bright side, Kevin gets reunited with his old pals “The Sticky Bandits” Harry and Marv. Kevin torturing the duo leads to another life lesson and reunion with his family on Christmas Day.

What made this film so enjoyable was the setting of Kevin being alone in New York City in the Plaza Hotel. There were a few products marketed in the film that I still want today like the “Talkboy.”

For a sequel, this film delivered with entertainment, memorable moments and a good moral lesson.

5. “Bad Santa” (2003)

You have to learn how to stand up for yourself no matter what time of year it is. In this dark comedy, down-on-his-luck Willie T. Stokes portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton joins his partner in crime Tony Cox for their holiday con. Posing as a mall Santa and his elf, the duo rip off shopping outlets on Christmas Eve. But Willie’s demons are starting to affect his con skills. Willie’s life starts to take some form of direction when he befriends a chubby boy who is facing problems like bullying. Teaching the boy helps Willie find some seasonal spirit aside from a bottle.

I like the plot and good feel from the movie, but the reason why this film makes my top 10 is for the dark humor and adult material. Grown people need a Christmas laugh too.

4. “Elf” (2003)

In the same year as “Bad Santa” we got the more family-friendly “Elf” starring Will Ferrell. Ferrell plays Buddy, a man accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler and raised to adulthood among Santa’s elves.

The size of a normal human, it is clear that Buddy doesn’t fit into the world of the magical elves. So Buddy travels to New York, still dressed as an elf, in search of his real father and meaning for his life.

His father is Walter Hobbs, a powerful businessman. As he reconnects with his father, Buddy starts to find his purpose in the world. Hobbs starts to soften up and form more meaningful bonds in all his life. Of course there is a dramatic ending that teaches us all about love and the true meaning of the holiday.

I was impressed by the entire story and how Ferrell could deliver a wholesome performance while still being hilarious. This is a fantastic film.

3. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)

Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold tackles Christmas. After vacations to Wally World and Europe, it is time to join the Griswolds back in Chicago for a perfect family Christmas.

For the longest this was my favorite Christmas movie. Time has seen it move down my list, but the film has aged well over 29 years. I love hearing the theme, “Christmas Vacation.” Once that sound echoes in my living room, it is time to share laughs with loved one.

I’m going to skip the plot and write about my two favorite scenes. No. 2 is the dinner when Clark thinks he has his Christmas bonus to buy the swimming pool for his family. Instead it was a jelly-of-the-month club coupon. After cutting an air-filled turkey, it was time for Clark to snap and rant. It was Chevy Chase at his best.

No. 1 is Chase bringing a screenwriter’s word to life creating an iconic moment. Clark was trying to light up his house with white Christmas lights. After hours of hard work, it was time to plug in the lights — nothing. After a few tries, Clark just loses it. This scene still brings tears to my eyes.

2. “Home Alone” (1990)

Macaulay Culkin became a piece of Americana with this performance. He portrayed the bratty 8-year-old Kevin McCallister. Kevin acts out the night before a family trip to Paris during his Christmas season. Mrs. McCallister makes him sleep in the attic after a couple of confrontations with relatives. After the McCallisters mistakenly leave for the airport without Kevin, he awakens to an empty house and assumes his wish to have no family has come true.

Then Kevin lives out every young kid’s dream until a pair of burglars Harry and Marv mess up everything. This film has so many memorable moments, from Kevin’s house of torture for “The Wet Bandits” to his fake party creation.

When I ordered my pizza, I was nice to the delivery guy. Kevin has his pizza man running for his life. I guess the main reason I enjoyed this movie so much is because I would have been Kevin. I had a taste of that freedom just a few years earlier. I am about the same age as Kevin, and I was living vicariously through him. And I still do as a 37-year-old man.

1. “Santa Claus: The Movie” (1985)

My favorite pure Christmas movie of all time is appropriately named “Santa Claus: The Movie.” I was about 5 years old when I first saw this film. The Santa had a real beard and seasonal look. The presentation of Mrs. Claus was on point. The background of how Santa came to be was very believable. The North Pole was how I imagined it all those 5 years of my life. Then we the viewers are taken on a journey of how Santa became so popular over the years. Fast forward to Santa being taken for granted as the world become more industrial and corporate.

In ancient times, a man named Claus (David Huddleston) delivers toys in his small village. He was chosen to fulfill his destiny to become Santa Claus or St. Nicholas after meeting an expert toy-making elf, Patch, in the North Pole. Patch was portrayed by Dudley Moore.

In the present day, Santa Claus became overwhelmed by his workload. The disgruntled Patch left the North Pole and took his talents to New York City. It was there Patch unknowingly threatens the fate of Christmas by taking a job at a failing toy company run by a scheming businessman played by John Lithgow.

The lesson here is some people use the Christmas spirit for evil and try to take advantage of others. But we learn in this film that good always overcomes evil in the end. It takes faith and a strong belief in what is true and good.

THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for Journal West 10 Media LLC. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas.sellers@journalinc.com.

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