The Best Christmas Movie Is…

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…would you believe? … “It’s A Wonderful Christmas Story Actually.”

It’s a three-way run-off!

With Christmas only a few days away now, Americans are doing their part to jump-start the national economy by buying things they don’t need in order to employ people they don’t know and it’s your last chance to vote in the 2008 run-off of our Movie Smackdown Christmas Movie Poll.

Last year, we asked ten of our SmackRefs to each recommend a Christmas film that they have a special fondness for, something that can stand the test of repeat viewing.  That poll turned out to be a squeaker with an unexpected winner when traditional favorite “It’s A Wonderful Life” fell narrowly to the period “A Christmas Story” with a strong third place by the relatively new Love Actually.”  In any case, the past is just nostalgia. To get you in the holiday spirit
again, we’ve put those top three finishers in the Run-off Ring against each
other to decide, once and for all (at least until next year) who the
real champion is in the “No-Humbug Zone.”

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As we said, last year’s winning vote-getter was “A Christmas Story,” advocated by SmackRef Scott Baradell who picked up on the pop culture momentum of film to take the prize. It is true that the other two top films from 2007 came from SmackRefs with last names that end in, well, Zabel, (i.e. Lauren with “Love Actually” and Jonathan with “It’s A Wonderful Life”) but they beat out seven other critics with their picks to show.  And, by the way, yours truly picked “Home Alone” which, sadly, did not make the cut.  

Three of our most prolific SmackRefs also failed to rally the voters a year ago:  Mark Sanchez liked “The Ref,” Beau DeMayo favored “Polar Express,” and Jay Amicarella pulled up the Polar Caboose with his pick of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.”

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Scott_baradell_9256_web772165_2_2 Scott Baradell recommends “A CHRISTMAS STORY” (1983) 


When I think of classic lines from Christmas movies, “Every time a bell
rings an angel gets his wings” isn’t the first one that comes to mind.
And neither is “God bless us, every one.”  No, for me, the most
memorable line ever in a holiday movie is “You’ll shoot your eye out,
kid!” from 1983’s “A Christmas Story” — novelist and screenwriter Jean
Shepherd’s giddily cynical look at growing up in small-town Indiana in
the 1940s.

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The
story line may not, at first blush, strike you as proper Christmas
movie fodder. It’s all about a kid named Ralphie who passionately wants
to own… tin drum-roll, please… a Daisy Red Ryder 200-shot Carbine
Action BB gun. Oddly, everybody he talks to seems incapable of
discussing this potential possession without using those words, “shoot
your eye out.” The world this film lives in no longer exists and that’s
part of the reason it’s so much fun to visit for a couple of hours.

This is truly the Little Engine That Could of holiday flicks. A
low-budget box-office flop featuring minor stars Peter Billingsley,
Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, and directed by Bob Clark of
“Porky’s” infamy, “A Christmas Story” began to pick up steam with
audiences when Ted Turner’s WTBS began broadcasting it in the late
’80s. By the mid-’90s, Turner was airing 24-hour marathons of the film
on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The reason for the success?  The
movie has an ear for how kids talk, and a heart for how they feel. It
manages to be nostalgic without being sentimental. And that’s no mean
trick.

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Jonathan Zabel recommends “IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE” (1946)

Like a lot of Americans, Frank Capra
had just returned from World War II and he wanted this picture (based
on a story by Philip Van Doren Stern) to be a celebration of our
country’s ordinary citizens. It wasn’t really all that successful at
the time nor was it perceived as a “Christmas movie.” That happened
when it fell starting in the 1970s when PBS stations used it as
counter-programming to big network Christmas specials and gathered
steam when a clerical error allowed it to fall out of copyright in
1974.

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The audience has grown over the years and many families make it an
annual holiday viewing, something that Capra himself in 1984 called
“the damndest thing.” In the 80s, a colorized version was released
which, ironically, had no problem being copyrighted by has been savaged
by film critics although average viewers seem to not be so bothered by.

The film takes place in the fictional
town of Bedford Falls shortly after World War II and stars James
Stewart as George Bailey, a man whose attempted suicide on Christmas
Eve gains the attention of his guardian angel, Clarence who is sent to
help him in his hour of need. Most of the film is told through
flashbacks spanning George’s entire life and narrated by Franklin and
Joseph, unseen Angels who are preparing Clarence for his mission to
save George. Through these flashbacks we see all the people whose lives
have been touched by George and the difference he has made to the
community in which he lives.

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LaurenzabelLauren Zabel recommends “LOVE ACTUALLY” (2003) 

Our family tried to make “It’s A
Wonderful Life” a Christmas tradition, but it never quite caught on.
Then, in 2003, writer Richard Curtis (“Four Weddings and a Funeral,”
“Bridget Jones’s Diary”) gave us the Christmas gift of “Love Actually”
as his directorial debut and it’s been a once-a-year screening ever
since. The film is an ensemble romantic comedy set against the backdrop
of the holiday season and, by my count, there are over 20 main
characters and about nine separate romances. Some play out better than
others but, overall, it’s like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you
never know what you’re going to get.

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Hugh Grant is wonderful, as usual, playing the newly elected Prime
Minister of Britain who happens to fall for a crumpet working for the
household staff (played by Martine McCutcheon). He’s as appealing as
ever and his story really is the spine of the piece, if you think about
it. But you never really have the time because there’s so much going
on. My second favorite bit is with Bill Nighy who plays an
over-the-hill rocker who’s just scored a big hit by putting an old rock
standard “Love Is All Around” to Christmas lyrics and knows it’s not
his finest work.

It works as a Christmas movie,
though, because Christmas really is all around. It’s in the presents
people buy each other in this film, in the songs they sing, in the
plays they attend. It’s about people who realize how much they need
other people and, even though this message begins the movie as a 9/11
reference, it’s clearly developed as a holiday theme. Some critics have
tried to slam this film as being too busy but that has never bothered
me on the repeated viewings. I love these characters and if I could buy
them all a present, I would. Instead, just vote for them in our poll
and I’ll be happy.


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THE DECISION.  This time it’s up to you.  You’ll find this year’s Top Three Run-Off below, followed by last year’s Top Ten which we’ve kept open this season.  Let us know how you feel.  And Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

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About Bryce Zabel 196 Articles
Drawing inspiration from career experiences as a CNN correspondent, TV Academy chairman, creator of five produced primetime network TV series, and fast-food frycook, Bryce is the Editor-in-Chief of "Movie Smackdown." While he freely admits to having written the screenplay for the reviewer-savaged "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation," he hopes the fact that he also won the Writers Guild award a couple of years ago will cause you to cut him some slack. That, plus the fact that he has a new StudioCanal produced feature film, “The Last Battle,” shooting this summer in Europe about the end of World War II. He's also a member of the Directors Guild, Screen Actors Guild, and a past enthusiast of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. His new what-if book series, “Breakpoint,” just won the prestigious Sidewise Award for Alternate History, and has so far tackled JFK not being assassinated and The Beatles staying together.

2 Comments on The Best Christmas Movie Is…


  1. I saw “A Christmas Story” over the holiday on one of those TBS marathons. God, it’s dreadful. Either of the others, please!!


  2. I might quibble about what should be in the “run-off” but, of this trio, I agree it’s time for some new blood at holiday time. I’ve seen “Love Actually” twice and, even though it’s uneven, it’s still a modern classic that captures, in all its moods, the essence of Christmas as we celebrate it today. So, yeah, LOVE ACTUALLY.

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