Take time out for a holiday classic

Take time out for a holiday classic

Everyone has a favorite Christmas movie. For some, it’s an old black and white like “The Bishop’s Wife” (1948) with David Niven as a beleaguered minister and his wife played by the luminous Loretta Young who are visited by a handsome Cary Grant playing the angel that brings a Christmas miracle. My favorite is “White Christmas,” the musical built around the Irving Berlin classic with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as a variety act duo who hook up with a pair of sisters played by Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen for some holiday cheer, and snow, snow, snow.

Almost all top 10 Christmas movie lists put “It’s a Wonderful Life” at No. 1. This holiday classic starring Jimmy Stewart never goes out of style and the ending is guaranteed to deliver a little Christmas spirit even to those who are feeling more like Ebenezer Scrooge. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) is not necessarily a Christmas movie, but it is where you’ll find one of the most poignant holiday film moments with Judy Garland singing the iconic Hugh Martin/Ralph Blane song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Her moist eyes and quavering voice will break your heart every time.

These movies can all be found on cable channels throughout the holiday season, and it’s wonderful to revisit them again and again like old friends you only see once a year. But no list would be complete without “A Christmas Story,” (1983) with a young Peter Billingsley as Ralphie, the kid who just wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. The leg lamp continues to be a Christmas gag gift for the ages and never seems to grow old.

“Trading Places” takes place around Christmas time, but is not really a holiday movie. Still, one of my favorite scenes is a very drunk Dan Ackroyd stumbling around the streets of Philadelphia on Christmas Eve in a filthy Santa suit gnawing on a side of smoked salmon he has stolen off a holiday buffet table. It’s right up there with little McCauley Culkin’s famous face slapping scene in “Home Alone,” (1990) which is actually a Christmas movie from John Hughes. The movie —and Culkin — were a huge hit that year.

More recently Will Ferrell created the hilarious “Elf” (2003) about a sweet, sugar-addicted elf who comes to New York to find his father played by James Caan. Ferrell taps into the wide-eyed innocence of the oversized character who knows for sure that Santa Claus really does exist. This is one of those “kids of all ages” movies.

One that is definitely for grown ups is “Bad Santa,” which may be one of Billy Bob Thornton’s best roles as Willie T. Stokes, a robber posing as a shopping mall Santa. It’s a raunchy comedy that is the antithesis of almost every holiday movie, and may well be the antidote for the sappiness found in those, not that it doesn’t have some sweet moments.

The multi-storyline featuring a large cast of great actors like Hugh Grant and Keira Knightley puts “Love Actually” onto the favorite holiday movie list even though it isn’t really a holiday movie. What it does have is a lot of happy endings for the characters all wrapped up in a big shiny bow. Its “feel good” vibe keeps it on the list.

There are so many more holiday movies and more being made all the time that offer their own versions of the true meaning of Christmas. Still it’s hard to imagine some of these classics ever growing truly old. I never grow tired of watching some of these and it’s always nice to take time during a hectic holiday season and sit down with a bowl of popcorn to watch one or two. And hopefully, as Judy Garland sings, “you will let your heart be light.” Oh, and “may your troubles be out of sight,” too.