Christmas Essentials

Christmas time is here again! I hope you have taken the time to enjoy some of your favorite Christmas traditions. Here are a few of my favorite Christmas things that my Christmas season simply is not complete without:

Little Women (1994)

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Perhaps considered a non-traditional Christmas film by some, but to me it is essential holiday viewing. Louisa May Alcott’s novel is one of my favorites, and it has been adapted to film several times, notably in 1933 (starring Katharine Hepburn as Jo), in 1949 (starring June Allyson as Jo and a blonde-haired Elizabeth Taylor as Amy–bizarre….), and in 1994, with Winona Ryder as Jo. The 1994 interpretation is definitely my favorite. I love that this version highlights the feminist undertones of the original novel.

Feminine weaknesses and fainting spells are the direct result of our confining young girls to the house, bent over their needlework, and restrictive corsets.”

“I find it poor logic to say that because women are good, women should vote. Men do not vote because they are good; they vote because they are male, and women should vote, not because we are angels and men are animals, but because we are human beings and citizens of this country.” 

“I so wish I could give my girls a more just world. But I know you’ll make it a better place.”

Oh, perhaps over the mysteries of female life there is drawn a veil best left undisturbed.

I love that Christian Bale is no boy, he is Laurie! (“If I were a boy, I’d want to look just like that.”) I love that the film makes you laugh, makes you cry, and makes you appreciate your family ever so much more. That is what makes it an essential Christmas movie for me–the portrayal of a close-knit family, longing to stay together and still staying close despite challenges and tragedy.

Everything about this interpretation is perfect (aside from obvious flaws in the novel–ahem, Laurie and Amy, cough, gag, cough). Winona Ryder is the perfect Jo, who is actually me. I could strangle Mr. Davis! 

The Beach Boys’ Christmas Album (1964)

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Sigh. The deepest, longest sigh. I love The Beach Boys so much. Have I not made that clear? I used to borrow this album on cassette from the local library (and that cassette contained their sublime rendering of “The Lord’s Prayer”–why was this not included on Ultimate Christmas? Where is “The Christmas Album Sessions”? I have needs, Capitol records!) and listen it to year-round because it really is that perfect and transcendent of seasons. The first side is original compositions (the “teen side” as Brian once described it to an interviewer), and the second side is the group covering some beloved classics–and making them sound like originals because they’re just that good. Oh, I just love The Beach Boys. Did I say that already?

A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra (1957)

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From “I love those J-I-N-G-L-E bells” to “Christ the Savior is born”, this is another perfect Christmas album that I can listen to at any time of the year. I want to gag myself when I hear someone else sing “Mistletoe and Holly”, and Sinatra’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is the absolute best. Sorry, Judy Garland. I love how effortless Sinatra makes singing seem, but I know how hard he really worked at honing his craft. A consummate professional.

Happy Holidays from Bing and Frank (1957)

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This very special episode of The Frank Sinatra Show originally aired in black-and-white but was actually filmed in color. Thankfully, we can now watch it in color. Frank invites Bing over, and they sing several Christmas songs, including “Mistletoe and Holly,” “Away in a Manger,” “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, “The Christmas Song,” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Bing brings a gift for Frank (his Christmas album), and Frank gives Bing a gift in return (his Christmas album). They even travel to merry olde England for some caroling and end the evening by singing “White Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Bing.”

“Merry Christmas, Frank.”

“Merry Christmas everybody!”

Is this real life? Heavens to Betsy, this special is an absolute delight to watch. The respect and camaraderie these men share is palpable. Their admiration for one another was mutual, and Crosby was Sinatra’s idol. Instead of becoming rivals, they become friends and frequent collaborators. As a sign of his respect and admiration for Crosby, however, Sinatra always insisted that when they worked together, Crosby receive top billing, as he does in this Christmas special (despite the fact that it is The Frank Sinatra Show). Whatta guy. It was on Turner Classic Movies last night, but do a quick Google search and you can find it online. It is divinity. (Kind of like butter.)

Christmas with the Nelsons

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This four-episode collection is not only essential holiday viewing but also a holiday decoration.(That darn Ricky is so cute.)  In this collection, you get to watch the young Nelson boys work to earn extra money for Christmas, get a lesson in etiquette from Ozzie in “The Fruitcake” (why do Ozzie and Thorny go to the Campus Malt Shop to discuss their Christmas gifts?), and again work to earn extra money for a present for dear old Dad in “The Christmas Tree Lot.” As a special feature, Ricky sings! Yes, if you spend Christmas with me, I will force you to watch Ricky sing “Baby, I’m Sorry” at least a dozen times. Unfortunately, this collection does not include all of the Christmas episodes. In “Busy Christmas” (available on YouTube), you find Ozzie doing Christmas with the Kranks (worst Christmas movie ever?) fifty-odd years before Christmas with the Kranks. Talk about visionary. When this episode re-aired in 1964, the older and bigger Nelson family gathered around Rick as he sang “The Christmas Song.”

I like to imagine that is what they’re all–together once again–doing right now.

“A Christmas Memory”  by Truman Capote

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“Buddy, it’s fruitcake weather!”

I have written about this story previously, but it really is one of my favorite and most-loved stories. Truman Capote is an amazing writer, and this story is a perfect example of his skill: the clarity of his beautiful prose, the perfect rhythm of each carefully selected word, and the poignant lyricism in this evocative story about two lonely souls who find comfort and companionship in one another and their special Christmas tradition. I have to read it every year. Thank you, Mr. Wilson.

Christmas Eve Double Feature: Mr. Kreuger’s Christmas and It’s A Wonderful Life

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“George Bailey, I’ll love you ’til the day I die.

It just wouldn’t be Christmas without It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s such a perfect film (written about previously here), I wonder why we only allow ourselves to watch it once a year? I love George Bailey, and I love Jimmy Stewart. We usually watch one of his last pieces of work, Mr. Kreuger’s Christmas, prior to watching It’s a Wonderful Life. Mr. Kreuger is a kind, lonely old man who demonstrates the true meaning of Christmas. (There’s also The Shop Around the Corner, but I’m the only one in my family who can tolerate Margaret Sullavan enough to watch it, ha.)

“That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

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Linus Van Pelt, I love you. Linus is undoubtedly my favorite Peanuts character. Clinging to his blanket and sucking his thumb, he shares wisdom far beyond his years. In A Charlie Brown Christmas, he shares with a sickened Charlie, disgusted with the commercialization of the holiday, the true meaning of Christmas:

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” 

Oh, Linus. Your message is as relevant today as it was in 1965. Why do we always forget?

Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas and Thank You

Where has the time gone? There’s only 16 days until Christmas, only three days until Sinatra’s 100th birthday, and yesterday marked 35 years since John Lennon was assassinated. (It’s amazing how no matter how much time passes between hearing that man sing, there is always a comfort and a chill when I hear his voice–so real and so authentic and so very missed.) Things in my life have been very strange these past few months. A few months ago, I couldn’t wait to listen to A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra, so I didn’t. Oh by gosh by golly, it was time for mistletoe and holly in October. Last night, I had no desire to watch any holiday-themed films; I just wanted to watch Love and Mercy–darn that Paul Dano if he doesn’t simply radiate the spirit of Brian Wilson so darn well, especially when he’s in the studio and so incandescently happy. It warms my heart and brings a little tear to my eye. Give that man an Oscar!

It is, however, time to indulge in the Christmas spirit and begin a series of (serious) posts about some of my favorite Christmas-related things. Up first: a critical analysis of one of the best Christmas songs and videos ever, Wham!’s “Last Christmas.”

Plot synopsis: Last Christmas, George Michael gave his heart to a girl. The very next day, she gave it away to be with…the other guy from Wham!. Yeah. Totally believable.

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So we’re off to a great start when a jeep pulls up to a snowy retreat in the mountains and out jumps a waving, smiling George Michael. We meet George Michael’s former flame (the one who threw his heart away)–for the sake of simplicity, let’s refer to her from this point forward as…Sally. Friends wave each other excitedly, and George Michael strategically places his arm around his new girlfriend–with whom he has ZERO chemistry and who has ZERO personality. Just look at how dully she greets George’s friends:

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“Hi, nice to meet you. I left my personality at home. Isn’t it weird how George greets a friend with more passion than he expresses toward me throughout the entire duration of this video?” 

Once everyone is inside the cozy haven, it’s time to set the table for dinner and decorate the Christmas tree. George is on tinsel duty, which is a natural choice since every time he smiles, his Colgate-white teeth light up the room. There is some tension in the air as Sally watches George decorate the tree (more like watches George’s butt), and the tension continues to build until…GASP! George drops the tinsel and makes eye contact with Sally. Remember in Titanic when Old Rose reminisced about posing for the naked portrait for Jack? “It was the most erotic moment of my life…” Yeah.

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Since things were getting a little too heated inside, the gang moves outside to play in the snow. George Michael, though, plays it cool and aloof, melting the snow with his smoldering stare…

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He’s apparently successful because next thing we know, the gang’s back inside, enjoying Christmas dinner. George Michael sits at one end of the table, sipping a glass of wine and attempting to engage in conversation with the people around him. (Is that his new squeeze sitting there? Hard to tell because THEY DO NOT INTERACT OR HAVE ANY CHEMISTRY!!) George and Sally’s eyes meet. Oh my gosh. What is this?

“I’m melting! I’m melting!”

It’s time for a flashback. We see happier times–like Katie and Hubbell putting the books away in California. Sigh. George and Sally roll around in the snow…

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George has just told a REALLY funny joke. How could she ever give his heart away?

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We then see George, with an open shirt, give Sally THE GIFT…THE GIFT that she gives to…the other guy from Wham!? Really? Why? Are you delusional?

Cut to the gang heading up the ski lift and saying their goodbyes until they see each other again. It’s such an unhappy, unsatisfying ending. I really am struggling to grasp the fact that Sally would ditch George Michael for the other guy from Wham!–and why does George Michael have that other girl? He pays zero attention to her! It’s just like in The Way We Were. How could Hubbell leave Katie after she had the baby? She was the only one who really loved him, the only one who was going to push him to write his second novel, the only one to make him a better person, to give him a spine. George and Sally are Hubbell and Katie all over again. “Your girl is lovely, Hubbell.” Gag me! Oh, well–maybe…next year…

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