Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Best: Christmas Movies of All Time #2 and #1

#2 Scrooged.

Last week when I wrote that Muppet's Christmas Carol is the best version of the Ebeneezer Scrooge story, loyal reader Rick-O asked, "What about Scrooged?"

Scrooged is like Ebeneezer's story, but it follows the journey of Frank Cross (Bill Murray) that is parallel but not exactly like A Christmas Carol.

One of the reasons Scrooged works so well is that it is hysterical.  Bill Murray milks every ounce of humor from every quip and every glance.  To this day, I can't help but smile as the elves go for their automatic machine guns.

And the movie is not afraid to go to dark places.  The scene with Herman under the sidewalk is sad and more than a little creepy.  It hits you like a stomach punch and you feel its gravity.  I was surprised at how seriously that scene was taken.  Murray's humor is an outlet for his guilt and rage.

But what puts this movie over the top is the closing monologue.  The last 10 minutes of the movie are Murray preaching to the audience the meaning of Christmas.  This should be the place where the story comes to screeching halt.  The rule in movies is "show, don't tell."  I don't know what the screenwriters were thinking.  But it works!  It works amazingly.  And I credit it completely to Murray's performance. His conversion from cynicism to optimism feels real and draws you in.  And you feel like you've learned something too about Christmas

And it is a special movie that can get an entire movie theater of strangers singing at the end.

#1 It's A Wonderful Life

This is not only the best Christmas movie ever made, it is also in my top ten films of all time.  I don't think I can do justice to how amazing this movie is in a few short words.

A few weeks ago, my wife took me to see this movie on the big screen, something I had never done before.  And even though I've seen it dozens of times, I was completely mesmerized.  It is pure movie magic.

As a Catholic, I love that it starts with the collected prayers of the people of Bedford Falls.  This is ultimately, the story of a man whose prayers have been answered.  And I love the fact that God answers his prayers in a way that he doesn't expect.  God has a knack for doing the unexpected and better thing.

If God had simply given George the $8,000, then he never would have realized what a wonderful life he was living.  The point of the story is not the ending where the people give him the money (as the great John Nolte has pointed out).  When he returns from seeing the alternate reality, all of George's problems remain: he's deaf in one ear, bleeding from a punch, and he's going to lose his business and his freedom.  But even with all that, George is deliriously happy because he realizes that even with all of those problems, he still has a wonderful life: he has friends, he has a loving wife, and a treasure in his children.

Couple this story with a tour-de-force performance by Jimmy Stewart that runs the gambit from comical, to melodramatic, to insanity, you have a masterpiece of a film.

But the reason why it is so important is because it is still so relevant.  We can relate to the problems of George Bailey, working hard making ends meet, struggling with our responsibilities to get through the day.  But that is why it so important to take time, especially Christmas, to think about the gift of life God gave us and to reflect on how much we give that gift to others.

In the movie, George has a plaque underneath the picture of his father that says: "The only thing you can take with you is that which you give away."  It's A Wonderful Life makes me want to be a better person.

I can't think of a better compliment to give a movie, especially the best Christmas movie of all time.

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