Christmas movies to watch … or avoid

  • By Kirk Baird Toledo Blade
  • Tuesday, December 22, 2009 12:01am
  • Life

Let me spare you the trouble.

“White Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Story” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

There you go. The best holiday films to watch, a list as predictable as the coming of cold winter nights.

What about all the other holiday films that don’t make the list?

Best Christmas movie with a one-time “Saturday Night Live” cast member: “Trading Places.” Sure, you think Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” and Bill Murray in “Scrooged.” Perhaps even “Jingle all the Way” with Phil Hartman or “Trapped in Paradise” starring Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz.

But “Trading Places,” with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in “The Prince and the Pauper”-inspired tale, bests them all.

“Trading Places” offers savage social satire mixed with holiday sneer with Aykroyd’s Louis Winthorpe III leading the way as the original bad Santa.

Best Christmas movie with an iconic catchphrase: “Die Hard.” Bruce Willis was defined as an action-movie hero in this triumphant role as New York cop John McClane, who arrives in Los Angeles to visit his wife for the holidays. Throw in some terrorists with hostages in a L.A. skyscraper on Christmas Eve, and you’ve got one explosive, action-packed holiday film. Yippie ki-yay.

Best Bill Murray holiday movie: “Scrooged.” 1980s Murray was hard to beat for ironic smarminess. The former “SNL”-er may have reinvented his career playing sullen, lost souls, but he made bank in comedies such as “Scrooged,” a twisted, surprisingly dark take on the Dickens chestnut.

Worst Bill Murray holiday movie: “Ghostbusters II.” This film reunites the paranormal investigators during the holiday season as they take on a supernatural baddie named Vigo the Carpathian in a climactic New Year’s Eve battle in New York.

As great as “Ghostbusters” was, its sequel is forced and unnecessary.

Worst sequel with a Christmas theme: “Look Who’s Talking Now” is the third and final film (thankfully!) in the “Look Who’s Talking” series. The talking babies have grown into chatty kids, which leaves the comic dialogue to a rascally pooch (voiced by Danny DeVito) named Rocks and a well-trained canine named Daphne (Diane Keaton).

They partner to save their human family from a pack of wolves and the frozen wilderness — just in time for Christmas.

Most redundant Christmas movie title: (A tie) “The Nutcracker, the Motion Picture”; “Santa Claus, the Movie.”

It takes some hubris on the part of filmmakers to include “motion picture” or “movie” in a film’s title.

The filmmakers’ case isn’t helped, either, by the fact that neither motion picture/movie was particularly memorable.

Best bloody Christmas: “Silent Night, Deadly Night.” This 1984 horror film featuring an ax-wielding man in a Santa suit does not make for a popular Santa. A quarter-century later, the slasher film seems fairly tame compared to the genre’s ilk of today. And speaking of bad Santas …

Best Christmas movie with two celebrities who left us too soon: “Bad Santa.” Watching John Ritter and Bernie Mac (who died at the age of 54 and 50, respectively) in this film casts a somber pall on the whole affair. Their inspired performances, though, live on in this darkly comic tale of a thieving, boozing Santa (a wicked Billy Bob Thornton) with an odd fetish.

Worst use of Christmas for a sequel: “Ernest Saves Christmas.” The late Jim Varney made a career out of the Ernest movies. But years before he went to jail, was scared stupid or joined the Army, he came to the aid of Santa who traveled to Orlando (?!) to crown his North Pole replacement. Nothing says Christmas like Ernest or Orlando.

Worst career choice in a Christmas movie: “Jack Frost.” Michael Keaton is an absentee father in this 1998 flick who returns from the dead as a snowman to mend the relationship with his young son.

Keaton’s career never recovered from the frosty critical and box-office reception given this bomb.

Note: The Keaton Jack Frost is not to be confused with the Christmas horror “classic” of the same name and released two years before about a killer who returns from the dead as a homicidal snowman .

Most unnecessary sequel: “Meet the Santas.” This 2005 tragic waste of valuable broadcast airtime, starring Steve Guttenberg and Crystal Bernard, is a spawn of 2004’s TV movie “Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus,” also starring Guttenberg and Bernard.

In the first movie, Nick (Guttenberg) is Santa’s son, and must find a wife before his dad retires. In the follow-up, Nick’s impending marriage to Beth (Bernard) runs into some unexpected trouble.

So, was the first movie so important and unresolved that a sequel was necessary? Or, were audiences really clamoring to see Guttenberg and Bernard reunited?

Best Christmas movie featuring Santa Claus with a mullet: “Once Upon Christmas.” This made-for-TV “gem” stars former super-model-turned-”actress” Kathy Ireland as the daughter of Santa Claus, who takes over for her dad when he calls it quits, and Douglas Campbell as retired Jolly Ol’ St. Nick. (What’s up with the Santa-replacement stories?)

But the true star of the movie is Santa’s long, white, curly locks, coiffed in a short-in-front, long-in-back ’do that would do 1988 proud. Seriously.

Scripps Howard News Service

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