Point/Counterpoint: What is the best Christmas movie ever?

BY DI STAFF | DECEMBER 20, 2013 5:00 AM

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It’s a Wonderful Life

As we enter the homestretch toward Christmas, it is nearly impossible for someone in this country to not to be exposed to the glut of holiday films populating our idiot-box television screens. It can seem, at times, almost a Herculean task trying to figure out which film is indeed, the best Christmas film of all.

Ha-ha, just kidding — it’s clearly It’s a Wonderful Life.

This staple of network programming during the holiday season may seem corny and antiquated to the casual observer, but actually, this 1946 classic is a timeless celebration both of the gift of life but also of a certain collectivist spirit that makes a bleeding-heart like mine jump for joy.

For the tragically unaware, It’s a Wonderful Life concerns the tale of one George Bailey (played brilliantly by the legendary Jimmy Stewart), an average man from Bedford Falls, N.Y., who, after being financially manipulated by insidious plutocrat Mr. Potter, decides everyone would be better off if he killed himself or if he just hadn’t been born at all. His guardian angel, Clarence, shows George what the world would have looked like had he never existed, and George Bailey, who saved most of the town from the Depression with his Building and Loan Company and saved his little brother’s life among other deeds, sees just what a wonderful life he really had.

All the performances in the film are spectacular, and director Frank Capra really knew how to light a scene. But the true heart of the film shines in its message, which, while clearly championing life, also unabashedly advocates for a certain New Deal, collectivist, “we take care of each other” attitude that is consistently demonized by our individualistic society. Plus how can you not love a film with one of the most heartwarming quotes of all time?

“No man is a failure who has friends.”

— by Matthew Byrd

Home Alone

Christmas movies are, by and large, really bad.

This phenomenon is, in my opinion, due to the genre’s reliance on the cloying twin demons of sappiness and feel-goodery that allegedly appeal to all ages. The menace of Christmas Cheese is evident in such venerable throwbacks as It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street and in the modern proto-classics such as the super-earnest Elf.

To make matters worse, ubiquitous Christmas Cheese is also responsible for the growing and insufferable corps of people who count tangentially Christmasy movies such as Die Hard among their favorite Christmas movies. (Sure, it’s set on Christmas Eve, but come on … it was released in July. Doesn’t count.)

I content that Home Alone stands at the top of the Christmas movie pile because it eviscerates the central conceit of so many sappy Christmas movies — that family and togetherness are the only necessary and sufficient conditions for a truly great holiday.

The McAllister family — the family that accidentally leave behind our protagonist, Kevin, when they jet of to Paris for Christmas — is particularly loathsome. They are the cause of all Kevin’s holiday angst rather than a source of holiday joy.

His parents are stressed and preoccupied by holiday chaos. His siblings are generally cretinous bullies of varying types. His cousin Fuller is a bedwetter.

The family’s callousness toward Kevin is exemplified by an uncle’s sneering reaction to a chain reaction of spilled Pepsi: “Look what you did, you little jerk.”

It’s no wonder that Kevin’s reaction upon waking up to an empty house is utter joy at the thought of his family having disappeared.

If you believe that the movie ultimately absolves Kevin’s family and isn’t totally cynical, consider this: Kevin’s family deserts him at Christmastime and very nearly leaves him to die alone at the hands of the Wet Bandits.

Contrary to the cheeseball collectivism of the Byrdman’s preferred flick,  Home Alone is testament to the triumph of the individual over holiday adversity.

— by Zach Tilly

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