4 Christmas Movies That Get More Praise Than They Deserve
Christmas is here, and that means it's time to watch some terrible movies! After all,Christmas is all about tradition, and doing things you don't enjoy for reasons you're no longer sure of is the literal definition of the word "tradition."
I mean, not every Christmas movie is terrible, of course. If that was the case, science would still be baffled by the magic of Die Hard to this day.
That said, there are plenty of holiday movies that still get heaped with praise despite the fact that, if we're being completely honest with ourselves, we should have outgrown them a long damn time ago, for a variety of reasons. Christmas movies that get more praise than they deserve are the topic of discussion on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Chet Wild and musician Danger Van Gorder. We kick things off by talking about a film that's become every bit a symbol of Christmas as blinking lights and binge-drinking:
It's a Wonderful Life
You know who loves It's a Wonderful Life? Every person who's ever had to write a list of the best Christmas movies of all time. Also, your mom. Your mom, my mom ... all the moms. Beyond that, I don't know a single person who cops to enjoying this movie, and, if nothing else, the box-office numbers from back when this freight train full of boring first pulled into the movie station kind of back that up. It raked in a mere $3.3 million, which probably seems like a lot in old-timey Jimmy Stewart money, but it wasn't enough to keep the film from registering a $525,000 loss for the studio that initially released it. Yes, it was nominated for a bunch of awards, but trophies don't make a movie fun to watch. Maybe It's a Wonderful Life was an action-packed thrill ride back in the 1940s, but it is dull as fuck by today's standards.
Case in point: not a single explosion.
Oh, that's it, right? I'm being unfair by holding it up to the movie-making standards of today? Well, if you don't want me doing that, don't show this movie on an infinite loop for two solid weeks each year. That kind of heavy rotation should be reserved for shit that holds up. Again, I understand that watching this movie is a tradition of some sort, but it's only been that way since the '80s, and probably just because a lapsed copyright in 1974 meant showing it on television was way cheap for a while. Somehow, that cost-saving measure has since been rebranded as an annual tradition that happens purely out of love for this movie.
He doesn't even love this movie.
Does it inspire you? Is that what you find enjoyable about this film? Seriously, I'm asking, mom. Because I feel like there's a pretty strong argument against that too. The bare bones version of the plot is that George Bailey wants to commit suicide because his life has gone to hell on the money side of things. Sure, he's got a wife and three kids who love him, but they'll be fine -- that's precisely why God made insurance policies.
Money can't buy happiness, but it totally cures sadness.
So it's a noble cause, at least. Except it really isn't. Once the guardian angel shows up, George informs him that he wishes he was never born, which is nothing more than a seemingly less shitty way to say he wishes he never got married or had kids.
No worries, though -- that stranger snaps him out of his suicidal funk. George heads back to town ready to make things right, but there's a problem. Thanks to $8,000 that went missing on account of him being the most inept, irresponsible bank manager possible, George is facing criminal charges. Will he be arrested? Of course not! The townspeople just show up and give him the money he needs.
The moral of the story: just wait for this to happen and things will be fine.
So ... he didn't think to just ask for help in the first place? A man who gives out loans for a living didn't think to ask for a loan? Just immediately with the suicide and the leaving the wife and kids broken and depressed? And now the future and security of said wife and kids once again rests in the hands of a mentally unstable slacker who's added "talking to angels" to his repertoire of crazy? Yeah, that's super inspirational!
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
OK, right off the bat, stop-motion weirds me the hell out, and it always has. It's fine if we're not on the same page about that; just know that I absolutely think you're a lunatic for finding entertainment in such treachery. We're who knows how many decades removed from the invention of that particular animation technique, and it's yet to advance much beyond the herky-jerky nightmare fuel of the original Green Giant commercials ...
... and it probably never will. That's why no one uses that shit anymore and, in turn, why we no longer have to be subjected to its unpleasantness. That is, except when Christmas rolls around and every grown-up on the planet pretends to get nostalgic for Christmases past spent gathered around the television watching a bunch of thrift-store toys oppress the shit out of each other.
Forced labor is Christmas as fuck.
Because there's that too, right? How do you watch this and not wonder at least a little bit about how everyone at the North Pole came to be under Santa's thumb like that in the first place? Rudolph's parents barely have time to wipe the canal juices off their freak show of a child before Santa swoops in to get a gauge on exactly how he can use their new addition to further his own needs.
"I ho-ho-hown you!"
That doesn't strike anyone as a tad harsh? How about those elves? Where'd they come from? Because seeing as there are no other humans around for miles, it seems like he kind of just showed up one day and conquered a race of ultra-productive little people in the name of benefiting mankind. And even that last, seemingly positive aspect of the otherwise harsh reality of Santa's elves requires us to give the man who enslaved an entire people the benefit of the doubt and assume he's not making some sort of massive profit on the back end.
Everything about this seems like a celebration of the fact that The Man is constantly holding you down, and that's before you even get to the Island of Misfit Toys, where "flawed" goods are exiled to live their lives in shame for a variety of crimes. Dolly, for example, earned her place in Broken City by virtue of being depressed over the fact that her owner abandoned her.
Feelings don't put gifts under trees, missy.
So the Island of Misfit Toys is basically like one of those old-timey asylums where dudes could drop off their wives and have them admitted against their will forever on the grounds that they were being kind of a bitch.
The message is pretty clear. Being different is wrong, and nothing matters more than getting toys into the hands of children. Merry Christmas?
A Christmas Story
In almost every way, the 1983 classic A Christmas Story is this generation's version of It's a Wonderful Life, right down to the part where no one gave a shit that it even existed until someone decided to start giving it the marathon treatment every holiday season. In fact, it made such a poor showing at the box office that, despite being a Christmas movie, it wasn't even in theaters anymore by the time Christmas rolled around that year.
If you're being completely honest with yourself, then there is absolutely no reason this information should come as a surprise. After all, this is a movie about whether or not a kid is going to get a gun for Christmas. There is nothing else to it. Yes, some mildly wacky things are taking place around that central story, but that's still the story, and it's not a particularly interesting one.
I'll shoot my own eye out if I have to watch this movie again.
Nevertheless, just like with It's a Wonderful Life, annual marathons of A Christmas Story have been dominating the Christmastime television schedule for a long time now. In this case, it started in the mid-'90s when Ted Turner acquired the rights to the film and subsequently broadcast it on his TNT and TBS networks a total of six times over two days in 1995. A few years later, the annual marathon started. By 2009, the movie had aired an astounding 250 times on the various Turner networks.
In turn, critics now treat A Christmas Story like some sort of grand achievement in filmmaking. Not only is it listed among the best Christmas movies of all time (usually fighting it out with It's a Wonderful Life for the top spot), it's also now thought to be one of the best films of 1983. It's really not, though. It's not the best movie of any year, decade, or era. It's a cute-at-times but otherwise completely unremarkable film, and the worst part about it is that I'm going to get murdered in the comments section for saying that, for no other reason than because Ted Turner can't be bothered to cobble together a quality lineup of television shows during the holidays.
Do you think Ted Turner is a smoker?
A Christmas Story isn't a great movie, it's a testament to the power and influence corporate America holds over nearly every aspect of our lives. So, at least give it credit for being a nearly ideal representation of Christmas in that way. Still, that doesn't make it a good movie.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
I'll give A Charlie Brown Christmas credit for possessing one attribute that is sorely lacking in every other example on this list: it's short. With a running time of less than 30 minutes, at least it's over before you realize there's a reason you stopped caring about Charlie Brown and his ilk way back when you were a child.
There is a pretty huge problem with A Charlie Brown Christmas, though. For all intents and purposes, it is the televised Christmas special version of that one overzealous adult relative who, while everyone else is whipping themselves into a frenzy of gift-giving and receiving, stops the party to remind the room that Jesus is the real reason we celebrate. All of this commercialism and advertising just cheapens the true message of the holiday.
Christmas is no time to party!
Don't let that stop your dollars from being among the $80 million that are spent annually on Peanuts-related merchandise, though. Does it qualify as irony that a sizable portion of that revenue is likely generated around the holidays, when this 25-minute Peanuts commercial tends to resurface? Between this and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the Charles Schulz estate has established one of the longest-running and most effective advertising campaigns in history. Who would even know Peanuts is still a thing without these two specials?
Kids who read newspapers?
Also, let's talk like adults for a second. Charlie Brown is kind of a whiny asshole. Maybe the rest of the pack has too much family shit going on to maintain the same Shiite-level adherence to the founding principles of Christmas as you, Charlie Brown. Staying on that point for a second: if you're so unsure of what Christmas is all about, how do you even know that the commercialization of it is a problem?
A Charlie Brown Christmas is a half-hour commercial for Snoopy T-shirts that somehow also manages to lecture you for worrying about whether or not you have a Snoopy T-shirt under your tree this year.
Keep Christmas commercial.
If Kirk Cameron pulled a stunt like that, our collective Internet rage would be enough to burn the sound stage where Growing Pains was filmed right to the damn ground without a single one of us ever leaving the couch. Why is it any different coming from a cartoon?
In lieu of Christmas gifts, please follow Adam on Twitter @adamtodbrown.
For more from Adam, check out 6 Holiday Traditions We Should Stop Pretending to Enjoy. And then check out 11 Tasteless Holiday Decorations.
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