Deck the Holidays: Festive Films

Jackie Jerkins, Literary Editor

Well, it’s getting to be that time—the most wonderful time, that is—of the year. Much mistletoeing, hearts will be glowing, and so on and so forth, et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum. And so, as I stare down the ominous threshold of legal adulthood, I find myself more enchanted—which is the nicest way I can think to say “irreversibly obsessed”—with the idea of the 2011 holiday season. In a last youthful hurrah, I have taken the liberty of hoarding some of the greatest holiday films to date and plan on forcing my charming family to watch them with me in an inescapable situation (which has yet to be designed). In the militant lineup, I’ve assembled my best and brightest: Home Alone (1990), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), Holiday Inn (1942), andthe coup de grâce—It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).

Home Alone is an easy holiday classic. As children, I’d wager we all recall the quintessential look of horror on Macaulay Culkin’s aftershave-soaked face and the extravagant pratfalls that Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern (lovable burglars Harry and Marv) endured in order to rob the clever eight-year-old’s home. Home Alone totes with it a rollercoaster plot, demanding from the audience pity, hilarity, heartbrokenness, some more hilarity, and the absoluteness of warm, familial love and appreciation, all the while decking the halls with warranted festivity. No matter how you slice it, Home Alone is a crowd favorite, gratifying to even the most bitter of Scrooges. Too-cool high schoolers couldn’t stifle a smile at this film endemic with good cheer if they tried.

Miracle on 34th Street coaxes out the child in all of us, I think. It tells of the quest for Santa Claus—the noblest quest of all, of course. Being a staunch supporter of preservation of the original, the 1994 remake is not on my menu. On my turf, the only Miracle on 34th Street involves resident goddess of old Maureen O’Hara, suave and svelte John Payne, and an extra-cherubic Natalie Wood, who gladly sets the bar where 1994 remake actress Elizabeth Perkins couldn’t reach if given a cherry picker. Charming, delightful, and heartwarming on all fronts, it’s a film that rouses the internal confetti of innocent holiday cheer, whether you believe in the pitter-patter of reindeer hooves or not.

As a wee toddler, I’ll admit to having been highly suspicious of the animated TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Green creatures with a predilection for deception didn’t exactly float my toy boat. However, not unlike Grinch’s little heart, I grew, and today it is a classic closest to my own little heart. Kids from one to ninety-two know the story: A Scrooge-like character, glutted with resentment for all that holiday cheer stands for, literally steals Christmas. However, he comes to learn the atrociousness of his ways after connecting with a small Whoville girl, Cindy Lou Who. Thus, Christmas is saved, and, like country jam, the Grinch becomes forever preserved in our childhood.

A few of my most beloved holiday films garner less recognition than they have rightfully earned. The very merry Holiday Inn is one such specimen. Perhaps it’s because the film debuted in 1942—does a little black and white intimidate diehard teenage fronts?—but I digress. Holiday Inn stars the greatest dancer in film history, Fred Astaire, and my personal favorite singer of all time (second only to Dean Martin), Bing Crosby. Bing’s should be a familiar name to this generation, if only because of his almost monopolistic influence on holiday music. Does the song “White Christmas” ring any jingle bells? You can thank Bing for that one. His remarkable multi-octave voice made “White Christmas” not only a hit, but a walloping smash. The Guinness Book of World Records reports that the famous holiday song has sold over 100 million copies around the world. It has 50 million sales as singles, making it the best-selling single of all time. Of all time! But where was I? Oh, yes, the film. Festive, musical (with songs written by Tin Pan Alley king Irving Berlin), and frosted with every bit of holiday spirit that has ever existed—it is, in a word, classic

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the main course: It’s A Wonderful Life. If you’ve ever loved the holidays, chances are you’ve sat down to this film once or twice in your life. Starring acclaimed screen favorite Jimmy Stewart, screen legend Lionel Barrymore, and charming Donna Reed, It’s A Wonderful Life tells the story of a businessman who, with the help of an angel, sees life as it could have been, had he never existed. Thrilling, uplifting, and moving to all degrees, it’s a film that has gone down in the most cherished of history. Performances are top notch, and alongside a magnificently executed plot (courtesy of grand director Frank Capra, naturally), a stunning moral is tenderly imparted.

Thus, it is with this particular film that I draw to a close, because it is one that teaches us another lesson that it may never have intended to teach. Years from now, they won’t be watching Adam Sandler, nor will they be watching Seth Rogen. They’ll be watching the films that “stuck,” for lack of a better term, over the decades; the films that have lasted. These are the ones that never get old, and perhaps even grow finer with age. These are the ones that let us know that, no matter how much maturity we’ve achieved or what load of responsibility we’ve assumed, we are all still very much children at heart.