1. “A Christmas Story”. I saw a preview of this before it opened in 1983, not having a clue about what I was going to see, I was floored by the flood of memories it invoked, being of a certain age. Director Bob Clark was masterful in capturing the early boomer childhood experience, coaxing brilliant comic performances from star Peter Billingsley (Ralphie), Ian Petrella as little brother Randy, and Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin as his parents. The whole thing is tied together by the wonderfully acerbic Jean Shepard, the story’s creator, as the narrator, the adult Ralphie. Every note is pitch perfect and every year during the 24 hour TBS marathon I still enjoy at least two full screenings. When the credits rolled back in 1983, I sat in my seat , tears rolling down, for a good ten minutes. I’ll have to take that up with a psychologist some day, but the humor of the film can carry anyone through thoughts of lost childhood innocence.
2) “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. For a long time I have thought of this Holiday Film (Thanksgiving) as one of the best films of all time. John Hughes was at his finest in creating this vehicle for the wonderful John Candy as shower curtain hook salesman, Del Griffith, and comically, wound tight Steve Martin as Ad man Neal Page. Each vignette is filled with amazing character actors, the timing throughout is exquisite, and the underlying theme of “there’s no place like home for the holidays” is powerful, even though the challenge of getting there is the bottom line. John Candy should have been Oscar nominated for his brilliant performance.
3. “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Frank Capra gives us a great deal to think about in this classic holiday film. What would have happened to those around us if we has never been born. Jimmy Stewart, as George Bailey, the man forgoing his dreams time and again until they are seemingly dashed, is saved from suicide by Clarence the angel (Henry Travers), who shows him and alternative universe in a Bedford Falls without a George Bailey. The finale is unrivaled for a Holiday Happy Ending.
4. “Home Alone”. John Hughes hits a home run again with his screenplay for this Christmas Comedy about the resourceful little boy Kevin (Macaulay Culkin), left to fend for himself after his chaotic, extended family departs for a Paris vacation, leaving him behind. Somehow, director Chis Columbus makes this plausible and we laugh as Kevin makes full use of his freedom in his large Suburban Chicago home, and cheer on his efforts to foil the would be burglars, played with comic skill by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Kevin’s willful naughtiness is sublimated by his discovery that “Old Man Marley” next store is not the rumored family killer, but someone Kevin is able to enjoy and counsel. Chris Columbus is a very skilled comedy director and handles Hughes script with skill, turning out a timeless holiday classic.
5. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”. This is the third effort to bring the Griswold Family to the big screen. Once again John Hughes has written a holiday film for the ages. Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) takes another spectacular turn as the appallingly crude Brother-in-Law of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase, in his best role ever). This film has another all star parade of great character actors as the Griswold in-laws, Doris Roberts, E.G. Marshall, Mae Questel and William Hickey, with Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Nicholas Guest as painfully yuppie neighbors. Clark takes desperate measures when his expected Christmas bonus fails to come through and the ensuing slapstick yields a number classic of comic set pieces.