It’s hard to not like a holiday classic. It’s a universal tradition that brings us back to the child-like wonders we had growing up, and movies can certainly leave us with lasting impressions when viewed. Whether you’re glued to your TV’s for ABC’s 25 Days of Christmas, popping in your favorite holiday disc at home or seeing a brand new holiday film in theaters (Robin Williams has a new comedy titled “A Merry Friggin’ Christmas”), take a little time to enjoy some of my favorites as well as yours. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays :-)
REINDEER GAMES - Ben Affleck has gone from background player obscurity to Academy Award winning writer to A-list Hollywood status and leading man, only to drift into tabloid gossip frenzy and box office poison. A perfect example of a star rebranding his image and star status, he stepped away from the spotlights for a good number of years, explored a new venture behind the scenes in the directors chair and ended up creating three amazing films, one of which winning best picture of the year. With another Academy Award win under his belt and “Gone Girl,” one of the biggest adult blockbusters in recent memory, love him or hate him, he’s staked his claim in Hollywood forever. That makes him cool and relevant again, right? Regardless, “Reindeer Games” is one of his more obscure films of his career that didn’t leave a lasting impression with audiences, but I truly believe is one of the best underrated thrillers of the last decade. It’s dark, violent and edgy, not something you would expect to enjoy during Santa season, but I beg to differ. Affleck plays Rudy Duncan, an inmate who has been sharing a cell with Nick. They have become friends over time and Rudy enjoys hearing about Nick’s new pin-pal girl he’s been looking forward to seeing once released. However, two days before their release from prison, Nick is killed in a random fight. On his release day, Rudy notices the girl waiting for Nick’s face to appear, only to have a slight mixture of sincerity and jealousy, so he claims to be Nick, his dead cellmate to get with the beautiful stranger. First mistakes lead to many mistakes when he quickly learns that Nick isn’t the nice guy he thought he knew in prison, and now Rudy must try and stay one step ahead of the “reindeer games” he has fallen prey to. Directed by the masterful and late John Frankenheimer, whose career spans from 1957 to 2002 with classics like “The Manchurian Candidate” and “Grand Prix,” this is a great swan song to his filmography that mastered the dark and twisted heroes and anti-heroes alike in his long career of action and suspenseful films. With a cast of Santa-dressed killers and thieves that include Affleck, Gary Sinise, Charlize Theron and Dennis Farina, you’ll have one dark ride with characters that deserve coal in their stockings this Xmas.
MICKEY’S ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS - To be the icon of the Walt Disney brand, it’s kind of mind-blowing that Mickey Mouse does not have his own theatrical film series. He’s been in short films released throughout his existence, but never a movie centered around an icon that is possibly more known than Santa Claus. So although he’s not the main star of the show, Mickey Mouse presents a series of three short animated films centered around the most magical time of the year in “Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas.” I grew up on the classic shorts with Mickey and the gang and it was clear that this was a throwback to those classic films of yesteryear. Our first story revolves around Huey, Dewey and Louie waking up on Christmas morning and spoiling all the traditions for the rest of the family. The boys want the day to last forever and evidently get way more than they bargain for when Christmas repeats every day. Turning that one special day into a never-ending nightmare quickly helps the boys learn that Christmas is more than gifts, food and fun. They realize it's about family, feelings and memories that last a lifetime. A special message we can all live by. Our next tale is centered around Goofy and Max and the lengths a father will go for his son's happiness. Max becomes upset after seeing his father play Santa and sadly thinks he doesn’t exist anymore. Father of the year Goofy must now stop at nothing to prove to Max that Santa exists, even if it means finding out that he may not. Now Max must show his dad that regardless of Santa Claus’s existence, there is nothing more sacred than a father and son’s bond and ultimately learning a whole new meaning to Christmas. Lastly is our iconic Mickey Mouse’s chance to shine with a play on "The Gift of the Magi.” It’s Christmas time and Mickey wants to get something special for Minnie, as does Minnie for Mickey. They both put in overtime at their jobs to save up for a gift they know will mean something extra. However, Mickey is suddenly fired from his job and Minnie didn’t receive the bonus she expected. As “The Gift of the Magi” goes, they both sacrifice something to buy one another this gift, even though this new gift was for what they sacrificed. An excellent message for kids and adults alike, it’s in the thought that truly counts when gifting. Narrated by Kelsey Grammer and featuring all of your favorite classic Disney characters, this is one film you will want to add to your collection. Check out the 15th Anniversary Blu-ray coming to stores this holiday season.
HOME ALONE - Home Alone is now a holiday classic that families continue to enjoy yearly to this day, but what surprises me most is how this little film became the highest grossing comedy of all time. On paper it seems really simple and formulaic. A boy gets left home alone during the holidays and has the time of his life in a big house to do whatever he wants, with the only twist being two bumbling thieves trying to break into his house while the family is away on holiday vacation. That is until you throw in a master comedic director (Chris Columbus) and a handful of masterful comedic actors (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, John Candy) and you can turn simple and formulaic into comedy gold. Oh and one up-and-coming little kid who can carry an entire movie, Mr. Macauley Culkin. When your film is centered around a kid that must physically, emotionally and creatively make you feel for him through his experiences, and your choice is spot on, that stakes your claim in film history forever. Not only did it open #1 at the box office, but it stayed #1 for 12 consecutive weeks. It also remained in the top ten charts until after Easter holiday. I have to admit, I thought it was the most amazing movie ever made in it’s day. And although I was only 7 years old at the time of it’s release, apparently I wasn’t the only one. Overnight, Macauley Culkin became a leading actor and although was type-cast in the same round-about roles (Richie Rich, Getting Even With Dad and Home Alone’s very own sequel, Lost In New York), he still remains America’s lovable kid that we have laughed with for so many years. This Christmas, share this with your kids or yourself again, (even if it’s for the 1,000th time), because it is a true classic.
WHITE CHRISTMAS - I’m a huge lover of film. I have a small list of films that I will make time for whenever I see them on, but otherwise I feel like once I’ve seen something already, there is so much more out there that I haven’t seen. I’m such a weirdo that if I ever feel like watching a particular movie again I will instead seek out something that was released around the same time or in the same genre even for that particular title. But come Christmas, the majority of that handful of films consists of holiday movies. One in particular being “White Christmas.” A film that like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street,” always finds itself relevant to today’s audiences. War buddies turned Broadway musical acts, Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye have just met stage performers/singer sisters Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen at a nightclub in Miami. The two couples hit it off in a comical way and through random mishaps end up boarding a train to Vermont where Clooney and Ellen have a show booked for the holidays. Unfortunately for the sisters, there isn’t a single flake of snow and the tourism is down. Looking to impress the sisters and their long-time friend and commander Major Waverly (played by Dean Jagger), who also owns the Inn where the girls are booked, Crosby and Kaye decide to team up with the girls and bring some much needed guests to the show to help all involved. Comedic mishaps, child-like romantic adventures and dramatic turns of events make this one, some 60 years later, an American classic. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and check this one out this Christmas season.
Movie Reviews by Andy Petty
Andy a scenic photographer, also loves the Movies and glamorous Hollywood.
Follow Andy's reviews and unique photos as a regular contributor to Southern Holiday Life magazine.