The Best of the Worst Christmas Movies – by Charlotte Canelli

Charlotte Canelli is Library Director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin this week.

The movie version of “The Polar Express” was much anticipated in 2004. Tom Hanks has six voiceover roles in the film that was inspired by Chris Van Allburg’s 1985 children’s book. I find some of the motion-capture animation a bit creepy and the scary roller-coaster train ride somewhat dizzying. However, it has many beautiful scenes and the now-classic story has inspired a generation of children.

I decided to finish my Christmas wrapping in one sitting this year and so I watched “The Polar Express” twice through before packing up my scissors, tape, gift tags and rolls of paper and placing the last gift under our Christmas tree.

It came as a total surprise to me when I found it on a list of the 50 Worst Christmas Movies of All time (TotalFilm.com). To my horror I found another nine of my very favorite holiday movies on that list.

A few years ago, I forced my now-grown children to watch “Trapped in Paradise” on Christmas Eve with me. They groaned in protest. I didn’t get it. After all, we had watched it over and over when they were growing up in the 90s. The three bumbling crooks (Nicholas Cage, Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz) cavort with happy, naive townsfolk in Paradise, Pennsylvania and I find the film endearing and funny. I suppose it’s interesting to note that my children have outgrown the film while I haven’t.

Another on the Worst List is “The Family Stone” (2005) starring Diane Keaton and Sarah Jessica Parker. It includes a host of other favorite stars like Dermot Mulroney, Claire Danes and Craig Nelson. It’s a poignant story of a family, their secrets, love and loss and the movie takes place over two Christmas holidays. The ending always brings a lump to my throat but it is also guaranteed to make me smile.

“Love Actually” (2003) is a movie I only discovered last year when I found out my daughter and her friends watched it time and time again. With a cast of actors like Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth and Liam Neeson the movie is a winner in my book. It is especially poignant today, just two short years after the sudden death of Neeson’s wife, Natasha Richardson. In the end, Christmas miracles are plentiful and ‘love is all around’ in the ten stories which are happening at the same time.

A requirement for a Christmas movie is, of course, the timely setting of December 24. “Serendipity” (2001) stars John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale who meet while shopping for gloves on Christmas Eve. Clichéd scenes of ice skating in Central Park, falling snowflakes and quintessential New York moments probably helped put it on the Worst List but those same elements make it one of my favorites. The theme that life is not simply a series of meaningless accidents makes for sappy romantic stuff and that seems to get me every time.

Two beautiful actresses star in “The Holiday”. Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet both find themselves at the end of failed relationships just before Christmas. They swap houses and, of course, discover that they find love when they aren’t looking. It’s another cliché, I know, but it works for me.

I was amazed when I saw Jim Carrey’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000) on that Worst list. How can that be when the movie grossed $260,000,000? Someone’s a mean one, Mr. Grinch, but someone’s very rich for sure. The movie was directed by genius Ron Howard and Anthony Hopkins is rumored to have recorded all of the narration in one day. The sound stage for Whoville measured around 30,000 square feet covered in fake snow. Jim Carrey’s make-up took three hours to apply. Who couldn’t love a movie that takes such pains to make us laugh?

“Prancer” (1989) stars Cloris Leachman and Sam Eliot and is the story of a motherless young girl who still believes in Santa Claus. When she finds an injured reindeer her main wish is to nurse it back to health to return to Santa. Her father, a failing farmer, has other ideas. Of course, the movie ends with Christmas magic and warms my heart each time.

Writer John Grisham took a break from his suspense novels in 2001 and wrote “Skipping Christmas”. The movie based on the book, “Christmas with the Kranks”, appeared just in time for the 2004 holiday season. Scrooge-like Tim Allen invites his wife, Jamie Lee Curtis to skip Christmas and it’s a hilarious romp watching them get their act together when their daughter decides to come home for Christmas at the last minute.

If I were to watch a Christmas movie marathon, the list would include the 1938 version of “A Christmas Carol”, “The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) starring Jimmy Stewart, “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945) with Barbara Stanwyck and “It Happened on 5th Avenue” (1947). Only the last of the four made it to the Worst list and I can’t understand it. After all, it received an Academy nomination for Best Story. A homeless New York man ends up spending Christmas as an uninvited guest in one of the city’s mansions surrounded by friends. Who can’t love a holiday story like that one.

Whatever your taste, you’ll find all of the Best and the Worst at the Morrill Memorial Library or at another of the Minuteman Library Network libraries. If you need help finding a movie that we don’t own, remember to call (781-769-0200) or visit the library.

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