28 Dec 2008

Movies of the Year - 2008

Before we get to my favorite movies of the year, a quick word about this year's mission. My friend Cameron e-mailed me a couple of months ago to ask if I wanted to participate in a sort of joint Best Movies of the Year list with him and six (movie-loving) friends of his. Cam and I do a "Best Movies" blog posting every year and he thought that this year it would be a good idea to, when we post our Best-ofs, post links to the other Best-ofs from our small cabal of film experts.

I thought this would be a good idea for no other reason than to provide different perspectives on what we deem as the best films of the year and to see where several film buffs agreed and/or disagreed.

So, along with my top 10, I'll be linking (at the bottom of this post) to some other views on the movies of the year. Hopefully, my list (and the other top 10s) will make you want to seek out what we deem as quality cinema (especially those movies that appear on multiple lists).

On to the top 10. Unfortunately, this is an incomplete list...for now. There were movies released this year that I didn't get a chance to see, but would probably be on this list. For example, I'm almost positive Doubt, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Reader, Slumdog Millionaire, The Wrestler and Revolutionary Road would be here somewhere. As with previous years' lists, this list is a work-in-progress that will only be truly "complete" when I've seen all of the above. After all, my list last year wasn't really complete until March.

Probably because of this, there aren't actually 10 movies on my list, only eight. Though I've seen plenty of movies this year, only eight (so far) warrant a mention on a 10-best list. For example, I liked Forgetting Sarah Marshall and The Incredible Hulk (to name but two) but I don't think they're good enough to be on a 10-best-of-the-year list.

At the bottom of the list, I'll mention some movies I saw this year and liked, but that weren't good enough to be in a top 10 (like the above two).

1. The Fall

As I mentioned in my review here, this was one of the most original movies I've ever seen. A strange, weird and wonderful R-rated amalgam of The Wizard of Oz, Life of Pi and The Princess Bride, The Fall is the result of director Tarsem Singh (The Cell) being given complete creative control (and what looks like a substantial budget) to make whatever movie he wants.

It isn't often that we mention art direction as the main reason to watch a movie, but with this film (which also boasts stunning visual effects, fantastic acting and a truly original script) I really would recommend it to anyone based on the strength of the visuals alone. I don't think I've ever seen a movie so close to being a living, breathing painting/work of art.

I'll be including the trailer with every movie on my list this year. For this film in particular, the trailer is stunning. I can't remember being blown away this much by a trailer since Fellowship of the Ring. I hadn't heard about this film until I saw the preview, but I sought it out immediately after seeing it.

Truly imaginative, a labour of love and a genius (yes, I said it) piece of film-making.

2. Man on Wire

It seems that almost every year, a documentary comes along that completely blows people away. It's usually the best-reviewed movie of the year (as in this case - 100% fresh rating [out of 136 critics, no less] on Rotten Tomatoes) and usually loses out at the Oscars (no surprise there, then). I'm thinking movies like Hoop Dreams, Crumb, Grizzly Man, The King of Kong, Theremin, Microcosmos, etc.

This year was no exception. Man on Wire very nearly came top of my list thanks to it's subject matter (a man walking on a tightrope between the two towers of the World trade Center in 1974) and thanks to the man himself, Phillipe Petit.

What's genius about the movie is that director James Marsh intersperses interviews with all of the involved parties with dramatised footage of the preparation and execution of one of the greatest pieces of performance art the world's ever seen. This gives the effect of the film feeling like a heist movie, which adds to the feeling of secrecy, risk and drama of the act itself.

Petit, a funny, engaging, charismatic, charming, genial and truthful interviewee is perhaps (with the possible exception of Heath Ledger's Joker) the best cinematic character of the year, an honor given more weight by the fact that he's real and really is (by all accounts) that way.

Tellingly, the movie never mentions the 9/11 attacks, instead deliberately focussing on Petit's act and that fact it's viewed as a celebration of life. Indeed, at one point in the movie, we see reporters repeatedly asking Petit why he did what he did, to which he replies that there really is no why.

3. The Dark Knight

To be honest, this, Man on Wire and The Fall were all worthy of the number-one spot on my list. I actually liked them pretty much equally. In the end though, somebody had to be number one, two and three and this is how I rank them.

I think that TDK may have made it to number one if not for one minor (but important) flaw. Christian Bale as Batman. I'm not talking about Bale as Bruce Wayne. I'm talking about Bale as Batman and his completely fucking ridiculous accent. So bad was this "growl" that it distracted me every time he spoke. Combine this with a completely one-note performance as the caped crusader (I know it's not the easiest of roles to breathe "life" into, but come the fuck on. If you read the graphic novels The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One, you'll see that there's more to him than a grimace) and you have a portrayal more silly than serious, more stupid than scary.

Now that that's out of the way, TDK was, in every single other aspect, a muthafuckin' masterpiece. I love the way that this "comic-book movie" was more similar to a great crime drama like Heat (its obvious inspiration) than to stuff like Superman Returns or Iron Man or Hulk (or the previous Batman films).

Performances: Ledger was absolutely legendary and gave what is possibly the best performance by ANY actor in ANY film this year, supporting or not. In any other film, Aaron Eckhart would be rightly lauded (and even possibly nominated) as Two-Face (in fact, in many ways he was scarier than The Joker). Maggie Gylenhall brought substance to an insubstantial role and Caine, Freeman and Oldman once again proved why they're among the best actors working today.

The script and direction were first-rate (in fact, this is, by some way, Nolan's best film [yes, even better than Memento]) and the action scenes were second-to-none among action movies this year, lacking complex FX and instead relying on good ol' fashioned direction and stunt work.

I honestly have not enjoyed a crime/action movie as much as this since Heat. Utterly brilliant.

4. Milk

Hey, you know what? Sean Penn is annoying. He's possibly the most pretentious, too-pleased-with-himself actor currently working in Hollywood. When he's not "arranging" photo ops of himself "helping Katrina's victims," he's spouting off about social issues that have no effect on millionaires like himself, or he's being humourless about good jokes at actors' expense (see his reaction to Chris Rock's jokes about Jude Law at the Oscars).

Unfortunately, though I want to hate him, I can't because he's one of the most gifted actors working today. If you put his tour-de-force performance in Milk alongside his Oscar-nominated (and criminally-robbed) work on Dead Man Walking or his turn as the jazz guitarist in Woody Allen's Sweet and Lowdown, you might be forgiven for thinking that they were three different actors, such is Penn's ability to lose himself in a role.

While I think his career role was in DMW, he is almost as good here as the real-life politician Harvey Milk. I actually forgot it was Sean Penn, so good and realstic he is here. For me it's going to be a straight battle between him and Mickey "the comeback" Rourke for Best Actor this year.

The first openly-gay man to be elected into public office in the U.S., Milk was a champion not only of gay rights, but of the rights of all the downtrodden minorities in California and the U.S. Regular readers of this blog will know how passionate I am in support of gay-marriage, so it's fair to say this movie hit home on a personal level. But while I think it was a worthy subject to make a movie about, I think I've tried to judge the film on its own merits.

Director Gus van Sant has done a remarkable job in making not only a movie set in the seventies, but a movie that feels like it was made in the seventies. Flawless period detail, judicious use of color filters (especially blue for exteriors and brown and green for interiors) to give it "that seventies look" and the seventies acting style of walking the fine line between melodrama (as done in the 40s, 50s and 60s) and realism all work together to make an unforgettable film about an unforgettable moment in American political history.

Of course, the recent passing of Proposition 8 in California only lends the film more poignancy as we see how little we've progressed in 30 years. Moving, inspiring and tragic in more ways than one.

5. Sex and the City

Calm down, calm down! It's position on this list is due to the fact that I'm an absolute SatC fanatic and this movie perfectly captures the essence of the show in a rip-roaring, crowd-pleasing, feature-length episode.

While I was looking forward to this movie, I was a bit apprehensive because if TV-to-film adaptations have proved anything, it's that they're very easy to fuck-up. So once I heard the (mostly) positive reviews starting to come in, I relaxed a little and started to get very excited to see it.

I wasn't disappointed. The movie perfectly carried (no pun intended) on where the series left off, not feeling trite or unbelievable. The four girls were in happy places in their lives and the scene was set for Carrie to (finally) marry Big. of course, complications, drama, tears, and much hilarity ensue before leading us to a crowd-pleasing and very satisfying conclusion.

I don't think anyone involved in the making of the film expected it to be such a huge hit, but I'm glad it was and I'll defend it's (and, more importantly the TV show's) place in the cultural zeitgeist to anyone (depsite their charges of it being degrading to women - yeah, only to those cardigan-wearing, angry women who think love of make-up, style and the desire to be in a loving relationship as opposed to forever single are negative character traits).

Possibly the most "fun" I had watching a movie all year. Bring on the sequel!!

6. Iron Man

From the moment I heard that Robert Downey, Jr. was cast as Tony Stark, I knew this movie would be a better-than-average comic-book adaptation. What I didn't know, though, was just how much "better-than-average" it would be.

Unlike TDK (which I consider to be a serious crime thriller more than a superhero movie), Iron Man is possibly the perfect cinematic realisation of a comic-book movie. Smarter than X-Men 1 and 2 (the less mentioned about X3 the better), more believable than the Spider-Man trilogy and more accessible than the likes of Sin City or Ghost World, director Jon Favreau got everything just about right with his take on the Man of Iron. A quality cast giving quality performances (Terrence Howard, Jeff Bridges and Gwyneth Paltrow were all great), kick-ass action (for there's no better way to describe it), cool FX (and non-fake-looking) and an absolute barn-storming performance as Tony Stark (take note, Bale) from the great RDJ resulted in the second-most amount of fun (after SatC) I had at the movies this year.

Bad. Ass.

7. Religulous

I'm an atheist and proud of it, as some of you may already be aware. I won't go into the arguments for atheism in this forum as its a movie list and also because people who believe in a "magical book" can't win the argument anyway. Just saying "because the bible says so" isn't an argument, my friends.

Another thing to get out of the way is that I am a big Bill Maher fan. I agree with about 60% of what he believes/says, but I admire 100% his balls and unwillingness to cowtow to or toe the line when it comes to not offending religious people. It's all too rare in the U.S. that someone can stand up to religious fanatics (and by fanatics I mean most religious people) and not give a shit.

To the movie. I think the trailer (below) gives a pretty good idea of how the movie will be - that is, a funny and humorous argument against religion. This is not a serious documentary (though are certainly some serious parts to it, especially Maher's closing monologue), rather a chance for a stand-up comedian to explain what only 18% of the U.S. population already know - religion is more a force for bad than for good.

Some critics (atheists and Christians alike) have deemed Maher and his film as too smart-ass and snarky. Well, duh! The guy's a comedian, for chrissakes! It's not for nothing that the movie was directed by the great Larry Charles (director of Borat and Curb Your Enthusiasm). Those criticising the movie for it's lack of seriousness probably decry Iron Man for being too kick-ass!

Anyway, an extremely funny (and scary) way to sepnd 90 minutes.

8. Gran Torino

Let's get this straight. I'm a Clint fan first and foremost. I think he's one of the best American filmakers of all time, creating such diverse masterpieces as Unforgiven, Bird and The Bridges of Madison County (horrible book, fantastic movie).

Anything with a Clint label on it (be it as actor or director) and I'm there. Now, in the twilight of his career, he seems to be doing the best work of his life. The odd misstep aside (I'm thinking Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) he seems to be batting a thousand lately (Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters From Iwo Jima, The Changeling, this, etc.).

His film The Changeling seemed to garner most of the press attention leading up to the end of this year (just as Flags of Our Fathers did in 2006), but it is with this film that serious Oscar talk and critical praise have occured (just as with 2006's "lesser" Eastwood project, Letters From Iwo Jima).

For the first time in his career, there's serious talk of Clint winning Best Actor (though I'm sure the award will go to either Sean Penn for Milk or Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler). As a Clint aficionado, I can tell you that this film, while not being even in the top five of best Clint films, sees Clint give perhaps the best performance of his illustrious career. He is magnificent as an old, crusty, racist Korean War veteran. The story (old man is at first at odds with and then begins to accept his Korean neighbors while learning and giving life lessons) is pure movie-of-the-week territory; so much so, in fact, that the film didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations. What sets it apart from your average TV movie, though, is purely and simply Clint. His direction - measured, never showy - and his acting lift this so high as to earn its rightful place on my list.

Clint's never been a great actor - more a great movie star and an incredibly gifted and indisbutably great director. As I said he'll probably lose to Penn or Rourke and deservedly so (probably in Rourke's case, definitely in Penn's case). But what a way to cap an amazing career - directing yourself (at age 78, no less) to the best performance of your career. Great, great stuff.

Other movies I saw this year and enjoyed:

Cloverfield - Scary and original

Rambo - The best Rambo since First Blood and brilliantly violent!

The Spiderwick Chronicles - Probably the best kids' movie I saw all year

The Bank Job - Statham. Period.

Funny Games - Twisted and chilling thriller from the director of one of my favorite films of last year, Cache

Forgetting Sarah Marshall - Intermittently funny movie from the Apatow gang

Baby Mama - Almost good enough for my top 10 list. Almost. Amy Poehler rules

The Strangers - Good old-fashioned slasher flick

The Incredible Hulk - Very good and waaay better than the first one

The Love Guru - Yes, I actually found this occassionally funny

Wall-E - Good, but what the hell is all the fuss about??!!

Wanted - Good time-waster, nothing more, though McAvoy was good

Mamma Mia! - Cheesy and predictable but fun and loooove those songs (I fully expected this to be in my top 10 of the year, but it was just too corny)

Step Brothers - The funniest comedy of the year, for me

Pineapple Express - Good, but not as funny as Step Brothers

Tropic Thunder - See above (though Tom Cruise and RDJ were fan-fucking-tastic)

Ghost Town - A crap rom-com made much better thanks solely to Gervais

...and finally, movies I haven't seen this year but want to:

Quantum of Solace



Prince Caspian


Revolutionary Road



The Reader

Slumdog Millionaire

The Wrestler

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Bedtime Stories (no, really)

The Spirit (I know it's going to be shit)

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

The Visitor

As promised, the other Top 10 lists:


Joel Mayward's

Jason LaFavorite's

Charlie Basta's

Brian Humphreys'

19 Dec 2008

Leaving the Air Force/Going back to England

Today was a very good day. The family and I were due to fly out of Mississippi this Tuesday on a plane bound for London. However, Courtney and Finlay's Visas had not arrived by yesterday. It was looking bleak to say the least and we'd resigned ourselves to leaving in January and missing Xmas at home. Then, due to luck all of my own making (a phone call to a contact at the UK Embassy in D.C. on Monday), we received a phone call from the Visa issuing office in Chicago yesterday saying that the Visas had been approved and would be arriving today!! At 2:40 pm today, a UPS guy finally bought me a package containing $3100-worth of Visas for Courtney and Finn! So we are now assured of making our flight on Tuesday and being home for Xmas!!

At the same time, today was my last day in the Air Force (I have to go in to outprocess on Monday for one hour, but that's it). It was an emotional day/week/month/year.

Leaving the AF is bittersweet. I'm glad I will be returning home to England, I'm glad to be leaving Mississippi - the worst place I've ever lived, I'm glad to be leaving the U.S. - I'm just not cut-out for this country, but I'm REALLY glad that I'll no longer have to be away from Courtney, Cate and Finn anymore because of deployments, TDYs, etc. I missed many important events in Cate's life, thanks to the AF - her first steps, her first real talking, two out of her first three Xmases, etc, etc. I was determined not to let that happen again with Finn. Leaving the AF was really the best decision for me and for my family.

At the same time, there are many things about it I'll miss. The sense of being in a fraternity (and though I say fraternity, I include the female AF members, of course)with many others, working toward a common goal. Of being a part of something greater than myself. I'll miss the positive attitude toward fitness, manners, work ethic, pride in yourself and your work, thinking of others before yourself and many other positive influences and traits I've taken on since signing up.

I'll always be glad I joined the AF (in fact, I wish I had joined earlier in my life) and I'll always be proud of the many things I accomplished. At the same time, I'm glad I'm leaving the AF and returning to the place where me and my family belong.

I'm sure as the reality of my new reality sets in, I'll have more to say/post on this. For now, a mere 45 minutes since I left the office for the last time, I'm done.

8 Dec 2008

My Favorite Xmas Movies

My friend Cam recently posted his top 10 favorite Xmas movies on his blog here. A good list it was, too. I know he'll forgive me for saying, though, that there were some glaring omissions and a few unworthy inclusions.

Unable to keep shtum for any longer, I bring you my (and therefore the ultimate!) list of festive favorites:

1. Scrooge (1951)
As Cam said, the definitive telling of Dickens' timeless classic. Alistair Sim fully embodies the character and spirit of Dickens' most famous miser, rendering all other portrayals moot. Brian Desmond Hurst captures all the magic (and even the darkness) in the classic tale while the uniformly excellent cast (most of whom had just previously worked together in the classic Tom Brown's Schooldays) help make this the most perfect and famous telling of the most perfect and famous Xmas tale of them all. Un. Beatable.

2. It's a Wonderful Life
What more can be said about this movie? It's not even a Xmas movie, really, until the last half hour and yet it has become the most-loved yuletide story of them all. Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart, the best director/actor team of the 1940s/50s (with respect to Jack Lemmon and Billy Wilder), reached the apotheosis of their collaborations with this stunningly well-told story. A perfect, perfect gem of a movie that never gets old and improves (as we get older and more mature) with each year.

3. The Wizard of Oz
I know, I know, this isn't really a Xmas movie but, growing up in England in the early eighties, before VCRs (let alone DVD players) were common household items, TWOO was shown by the BBC every single Xmas without fail and it was a big event in our house. My older sister and I would get our sleeping bags on the floor and watch Dorothy and friends' journey to Oz while Mom brought us hot chocolate and popcorn. Quite apart from being one of the best movies of Hollywood's "Golden Age," it has been and always will be a true holiday classic for me.

4. Blackadder's Christmas Carol
While not strictly a movie, this 50-minute 1988 Xmas special deviates from the regular, half-hour episodes of one of the greatest comedy shows ever made and is thus included on my list. Like Scrooge and IAWL, this is watched in my house EVERY Xmas. For the uninformed, Blackadder is a UK comedy series that ran for four seasons from 1984-1989 and, like all brilliant, successful and critically-acclaimed British comedy shows, the makers decided not to make anymore at the height of its popularity (think Fawlty Towers, The Office, Gavin and Stacey, etc.). Each season of Blackadder follows the mythical chracter Edmund Blackadder through four different periods in British history. Season one was set in the middle ages, two in Elizabethan England, three during the 18th century and four in the trenches of WWI. This special, set, just like the original Christmas Carol in Victorian England, is a sort of Scrooge-in-reverse tale, with the kindly samaritan Edmund shown his past by a spirit (Robbie Coltrane). Except this time, the kindly Edmund sees how rotten his ancestors were (we get new footage of the Blackadders from the other seasons) and realizes that there's something to be said for being bad. He therefore resolves to change his ways and become a bad guy. The cast includes alumni from all of the other seasons, including Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Miranda Richardson and Jim Broadbent. Like every episode of Blackadder, there are too many classic quotes to count, including the immortal

Blackadder: Ha! Got him with my subtle plan
Baldrick (the dummy): I didn't notice any subtle plan.
Blackadder: Baldrick, you wouldn't notice a subtle plan if it painted itself purple and danced naked on top of a harpsichord singing "Subtle plans are here again!"

5. A Charlie Brown Christmas
And seeing as we're going with one-off Xmas TV specials, no list would be complete without A Charlie Brown Xmas. Every single thing about it reminds me of Yuletide; the fantastic soundtrack (which, apart from containing some of the most memorable Xmas music ever to come from America, is also a perfect example of the Cool Jazz trio [piano, double bass and drums], in this case immortalised by Vince Guaraldi and crew), the crude animation, the jokes, Snoopy's happy dance, the "true meaning of Xmas" as told by Linus, the Xmas Queen, that rubbish tree, and on and on and on. I don't think anything on this list makes me feel more Christmassy.

6. The Nightmare Before Xmas
This could be a Halloween or a Xmas favorite but for me has always been one for the holidays. I've said in the past that this is my favorite Disney movie of all time and it still holds true today. While Tim Burton's endless (and samey) gothic weirdness can become quite tiresome, this movie is a perfect realisation of his macabre mind. Jack Skellington is one of the greatest characters in all kids' or Christmas movies, combining wonder at the magic of Christmas with kindness, innocence and the desire to do good. The music and songs are, I believe, Danny Elfman's best work and the stop-motion animation is still awe-inspring even today. I hope to see it in IMAX 3D one of these days, but until then, it remains one of the most popular titles in Cate and Dad's Movie Club.

7. Love Actually
While ostensibly being about love in all its permutations, Love Actually is one of the Christmasiest (is that a word?) movies ever. Director Richard Curtis, having written some of the best rom-coms of all time (Four Weddings..., Notting Hill, The Tall Guy, etc.) finally gets his turn in the director's chair, creating, arguably, the best UK rom-com of all time. Several intertwining stories about love and relationships, set against the backdrop of an impossibly snowy English Xmas, Love Actually is one of those films that truly gives you the seasonal warm fuzzies. Great comedy, great acting, great cast (special mention to Bill Nighy's has-been rock star and Emma Thompson's cheated-on wife) and a Xmas setting make Love Actually way better than it had any right to be.

8. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Chevy Chase is hit and miss for me and for many other people. He comes off as a little too pleased with himself most of the time and, if you've ever listened to Howard Stern, you know he's a bit of an arrogant ass. Having said this, on those rare occasions when he's good, he's very good. The first three vacation movies (I'd prefer to forget about Vegas Vacation) and both Fletch movies show how great he can be. This is, without doubt, his best performance in his best film. A Xmas staple for the majority of Americans (and a fair few Brits, too) NLCV is hilarious literally no matter how many times you watch it. I literally cry with laughter on each viewing. For best results, watch Dec. 23rd in the presence of father-in-law, whose constant guffawing throughout is entertainment enough in itself. Oh, and please don't watch NLCV 2 - Cousin Eddie's Island Vacation or something, which is as horrible as it sounds.

9. Elf
When I first saw this movie, I laughed so much I think I peed a little. In my eyes, Will Ferrell is quite simply inherently funny. Even in his shit movies (I'm looking at you, Blades of Glory) all he has to do is walk onto the screen and I'm laughing. Jon Favreau has created a modern classic with this film. Sentimental without ever being sickly, hilarious, wonderfully acted (especially by Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel and, in a cameo, the always-excellent Peter Dinklage) and with a truly funny, heart-warming script, Elf became an instant classic. The acid test came the following year after I first saw it. Would it still be as great and funny? You bet your ass it was (and continues to be).

10. The Snowman
A Xmas special from the mid-80s more famous for the song it spawned than for the actual special itself, The Snowman, based on Raymond Briggs' beloved children's book, is a typically British Xmas tale, full of wonder, magic and melancholy. It has an ending which would never be allowed in America and a conceit (no dialogue whatsoever) which would similarly ensure it never would be aired alongside such faves as Shrek the Halls, etc. The song, Walking in the Air, sung by a then-cherubic Aled Jones, is a Xmas classic which is always in heavy rotation in my house from mid-November through to Boxing Day. The Snowman is known to still make grown men cry and therefore earns its position on my list.

11. A Christmas Story
This may surprise some of you, but I never actually saw A Christmas Story until about six years ago (at the tender age of 28, no less). Growing up in England, where this movie just isn't a Xmas staple, I simply never got around to seeing it. My wife, though, has always loved it and introduced me to the delights of Ralphie and his BB gun. It's so very 80s, so very badly shot (did the celluloid get dunked in dirt and coffee during filming??!! WTF?!), but so very funny and it just FEELS like Xmas when it's on in the background.

12. The Polar Express
Like A Christmas Story, I'm one of the few people who were unfamiliar with this story as a kid. Again, I'll put it down to this book not being particularly popular in the UK, but nearly all of my American friends seem to have read this story as a child. Maybe that was a good thing, though, in that I went into the movie with no preconceived notions or expectations. Let me say that, quite apart from the jaw-dropping special effects, I was really surprised at how good the essential story was. I can see, now, why this has been a classic tale for more than 20 years. Perfectly capturing a child's magical view of Xmas and Santa himself, TPE automatically became a Xmas classic for me when I first saw it only last year.

13. White Christmas
Bing! Danny! Rosemary! Vera! This movie is, at the same time, wonderful and terrible. Corny, cheesy, hokey, badly edited, plot holes the size of Montana, badly colored (using the then-relatively-new Technicolor), poorly written and, last but not least, utterly fabulous! The immortal song "White Christmas," Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen duetting on "The Best Things Happen While You're Dancing," Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen doing "Sisters." Pure Hollywood magic and a staple!

14. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
Controversy alert! I actually prefer the 1994 remake over the original. Don't get me wrong, I like the 1947 original and think that Natalie Wood gave a much better, more natural performance than her '94 counterpart, Mara Wilson. I have a problem, though, with the pacing of the original (too many boring stretches) and with Edmund Gwenn as an annoying, over-acting Santa. I much prefer the elegantly art directed remake with a delightful Richard Attenborough really playing the part seriously, great chemistry between Elizabeth Perkins and Dylan McDermott and nasty, boo-hiss villains in the form of the late, great J.T. Walsh and Joss Ackland.

15. Santa Claus: The Movie
Released when I was 10, a few years after I stopped "believing," I remember that the first half of this movie was so good that I wanted to start believing again. I don't think there's ever been a better telling of Santa's story and in David Huddlestone, Alexander and Ilya Salkind (uber-producers and the men behind the Chris Reeve Superman films) found the puh-herrfect St. Nick. The other two great things about the movie are the sets (it's obvious that no expense was spared, resulting in an over-blown budget that never had a chance of making the Salkinds a profit) and John Lithgow (is he ever bad in anything? I mean, really?) as a great pantomime villain in the somewhat-hokey second half of the movie.

Honorable mention:

Die Hard - While not a Xmas movie in the traditional sense, it was set during Xmas, at a Xmas party, with Xmas jokes ("Now I have a machine gun. Ho Ho Ho!"), Xmas sets and it just happens to be, arguably, the greatest action movie ever made. I can watch this every Xmas and throughout the year. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!

Scrooged - Great twist on A Christmas Carol. Still funny, but nowhere near as funny as it used to be.

Trading Places - I have an even harder time calling this a Xmas movie than I do with Die Hard, but the best thing Dan Ayckroyd or Eddie Murphy ever did and a classic I can watch any time of year.

Joyeaux Noel - Saw this last year for the first time and was blown away by how good it was. The true story of some French, Scottish and German soldiers in the trenches in WWI who called a ceasefire just on Xmas Eve. Moving, harrowing and rewarding. If it's still as good after a few more years/viewings, I'm sure it'll shoot up my list.

And some crappy christmas movies:

The Grinch - Unbearably boring with Jim Carrey over-acting more than he ever has.

Home Alone 2 - The laziest movie ever made. Almost a complete remake of the first one (which I do like very much, even though it doesn't hold up to repeated viewings).

Jingle All the Way - Do I really need to explain this one?