Merry Christmas! I hope everyone is having a bright and happy holiday season!
If you need a little extra cheer, check out this peppy video of Oklahoma musicians Colin Nance and Steven Battles covering the theme from the 1980s comedy “Christmas Vacation.”
Former BAM’s Blog contributors Nathan Poppe and Matt Carney shot the fun video.
Enjoy! Happy New Year!
A version of this story appears in Tuesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman.
The 13 movies of Christmas
Make merry with a wide array of classic films and television specials.
After months of preparations, the relatives have been greeted, the gifts have been unwrapped, the feast consumed.
That was quick. Now what?
Whether you’re too tired or full to move, need to entertain a crowd or have miles and hours to pass en route to your next yuletide gathering, a movie just might be in order.
Given the wide array of films and TV specials centering on or set around Christmastime, picking a holiday movie or planning a whole marathon is a whole lot easier than shopping for your average teenager. With the convenience of instant streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, you don’t even have to wait for the stores to open again to celebrate the season cinematically.
Since ‘tis the season for excess, instead of the 12 movies of Christmas, here are a baker’s dozen of my favorite Christmas films and specials. plus a few “second helping” bonus options:
1. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946): I don’t care what day the calendar says it is, if you haven’t seen Frank Capra’s classic about George Bailey’s (James Stewart) encounter with his guardian angel (Henry Travers), it’s not Christmas.
Second helping: If you’re looking for more yuletide merriment from the era, check out 1945’s “Christmas in Connecticut,” starring Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.
2. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965): Charlie Brown’s (voice of Peter Robbins) search for the true meaning of Christmas in the face of rampant commercialism never gets old — or less topical for that matter.
Second helping: The 1970 stop-motion Rankin/Bass special “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” explores the origins of the Kris Kringle legend, including the meaningful themes of generosity, love and childlike joy.
3. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964): Based on the song popularized by Oklahoma-bred singing cowboy Gene Autry, the first of the legendary stop-motion Christmas specials produced by Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass is about “a couple of misfits” — the titular crimson-snozzed caribou (voice of Billy Richards) and a toy-building elf who really wants to be a dentist (Paul Soles) — looking for a place to fit in. Along the way, they save Christmas. It manages to be surreal, uplifting and classic at all the same time.
Second helping: Rankin and Bass based several of their animated specials on Christmas carols and pop songs, including 1969’s “Frosty the Snowman.” It isn’t as wacky as “Rudolph” — there’s nothing as bizarre as a Charlie in the Box or a lion named King Moonracer — but it’s got Jimmy Durante as the narrator.
4. “Die Hard” (1988): Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a New York cop trying to rescue his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) from a group of ruthless robbers (led by Alan Rickman’s love-to-hate-him Hans Gruber) who have taken her company Christmas party hostage in what is widely regarded as one of the best action movies ever made. Yippee kai yay, the R-rated adventure obviously isn’t for the whole family, but if you’re of age, it’s worth watching again, particularly with the fourth sequel, “A Good Day to Die Hard,” due out Valentine’s Day.
Second helping: Director Richard Donner’s influential 1987 buddy-cop movie “Lethal Weapon,” starring Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, also is set around the holidays. Plus, ‘tis the season for nostalgia, like remembering when ol’ Mel was only frighteningly unpredictable on celluloid.
5. “A Christmas Story” (1983): Bob Clark’s now-beloved adaptation of narrator Jean Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” has become so popular it spawned this year a well-reviewed hit Broadway musical. The movie has so many uproarious and now-iconic sight gags — the leg lamp, the pink bunny suit, the Chinese turkey — but it’s young Ralphie’s (Peter Billingsley) relatable quest for the perfect Christmas gift that makes it favorite for young and old alike.
Second helping: For more yuletide hilarity, 1990’s “Home Alone” not only has plenty of pratfalls but also a surprising measure of heart. Plus, it hearkens back to more innocent times, when John Hughes was still alive and Macaulay Culkin could drive through Oklahoma without getting arrested.
6. “Elf” (2003): Before he brought “Iron Man” to the big screen, director Jon Favreau teamed with Will Ferrell to create one of the most gleefully quotable Christmas comedies in recent memory. Apparently, Broadway now shares the movie world’s affinity for elf culture, since this is another well-loved holiday film with a musical version playing on the Great White Way this season.
Second helping: Also released in 2003, writer-director Richard Curtis’ British romantic comedy “Love, Actually” stars Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Laura Linney, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley and Bill Nighy.
7. “Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas” (1977): Muppets creator Jim Henson used a variety of puppetry techniques to adapt Russell and Lillian Hoban’s children’s storybook, which puts an animal twist on O. Henry’s famed holiday tale “The Gift of the Magi.” This Emmy-nominated TV special is like three of my favorite things all in one.
Second helping: If you’re looking for another family-friendly, book-based, unique-looking seasonal story, check out Robert Zemeckis’ 2004 motion-capture animated film “The Polar Express.”
8. “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947): Edmund Gwenn won a best supporting actor Oscar for his portrayal of a man claiming to be Santa Claus in this stirring family drama co-starring Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and young Natalie Wood.
Second helping: I’m not sure why you’d want to watch a remake of this classic, but Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott and Mara Wilson starred in the 1997 do-over.
9. “A Christmas Carol” (too many to list): Charles Dickens’ beloved Victorian saga has been adapted for the screen a multitude of times since the turn of the 20th century. I generally begin my annual holiday viewing with the 1984 telefilm starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge, but Alastair Sim’s 1951 film “Scrooge” is better known. The Muppets, Mickey Mouse and a motion-capture Jim Carrey have all brought the “bah humbug” to the screen.
Second helping: In Richard Donner’s 1988 modern-day “Carol” “Scrooged,” Bill Murray plays a self-centered TV executive who is haunted by three Christmas spirits.
10. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (1966): Looney Tunes mastermind Chuck Jones co-directed the definitive screen adaptation of one of Dr. Seuss’ kaleidoscopic rhyming tales. He even produced the musical TV special with Ted Geisel himself. Boris Karloff is brilliant as the narrator and voice of the emerald-hued grump, but Thurl Ravenscroft steals the show with his deep-voiced crooning (unfortunately uncredited) of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
Second helping: Makeup maestro Rick Baker won one of his seven Oscars for the 2000’s big-budget live-action adaptation, directed by Duncan-born Ron Howard with Jim Carrey playing a particularly zany Grinch under layers on green latex.
11. “Trading Places” (1983): John Landis’ satirical comedy about a pampered commodities broker (Dan Aykroyd) and a broke street hustler (Eddie Murphy) who unwittingly swap lives as part of a scheme by two coldhearted investment bankers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) who want to solve an ongoing debate about nature vs. nurture is set during the holiday season. Not only does it feature two comedic geniuses in their prime, but it also seems just as relevant today as it did nearly 30 years ago.
Second helping: Another 1980s comedy, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” written by John Hughes, just might be the perfect movie for anyone who feels governed by Murphy’s Law, as Clark Griswold’s (Chevy Chase) efforts to pull off a perfect family Christmas continually go awry.
12. “White Christmas” (1954): Irving Berlin’s musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen is my most likely choice for Christmas Day cinematic entertainment. Snow on Dec. 25 is a rare occurrence here in Oklahoma, but that doesn’t make hearing Bing croon the adored song any less heartwarming.
Second helping: Berlin actually wrote the song “White Christmas” for the 1942 musical “Holiday Inn,” starring Crosby and hoofer Fred Astaire, and he won the best original song Oscar for it.
13. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993): Add a horror-fantasy flair to your musical Christmas with director Henry Selick’s and producer Tim Burton’s stop-motion tale of bored Halloween Town leader Jack Skellington (Chris Sarandon provided his speaking voice, while Danny Elfman sang for him) who becomes obsessed with Christmas and decides to overthrow Santa Claus.
Second helping: An old woman explaining to her great-granddaughter why it snows provides the seasonal framework of Burton’s 1990 live-action fairy tale “Edward Scissorhands.” Of course, the most memorable scene — of Winona Ryder’s Kim dancing in the “snow” that falls as the Johnny Depp’s title character rapidly crafts ice structures — takes place at Christmastime.
A version of this review appears in Tuesday’s Life section of The Oklahoman. 3 1/2 of 4 stars.
Director Tom Hooper, whose historical drama “A King’s Speech” won four Oscars including best picture and director, crafts another crowd-pleaser with his big-screen adaptation of the beloved musical “Les Miserables.”
Emphasis on the “big.” As close and cozy as Hooper made his 2010 period piece about the friendship between Britain’s King George VI and his speech therapist, his rendition of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s pop-opera is appropriately sweeping and epic.
After all, the sung-through musical — almost every word is sung rather than spoken — is about Big Ideas like love, obsession, redemption, freedom, sacrifice, courage, duty, forgiveness and revolution.
By tasking his sterling cast with singing the famous songs live on set rather than recording them in a studio and then lip-synching for the cameras, Hooper gets to the emotion behind these universal themes. The resulting musical numbers aren’t pristinely sung, but they are fully attuned to the character’s feelings.
When Anne Hathaway’s ill-fated prostitute Fantine croons the iconic “I Dreamed a Dream,” it’s through streaming tears and gulping sobs, and the close-up shots give a heartbreakingly intimate insight into her pain and disillusionment.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never seen a stage version of “Les Miserables,” nor have I read the 1862 Victor Hugo novel on which the musical was based. But I was given a copy of the original Broadway cast album when I was in high school and enthusiastically wallowed to the tune of “On My Own” during my first big breakup.
The details of the story were unknown to me, though, and Hooper’s film does a reasonably adroit job guiding the uninitiated through the sprawling storyline.
In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is finishing a brutally labor-intensive 19-year prison sentence for stealing a loaf of bread and attempted jailbreak. Perhaps because of his uncommon strength, self-righteous police Inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) labels him a dangerous man, reluctantly releases him on parole and predicts he will soon have Valjean back in the work camp.
Required to show papers everywhere declaring himself an ex-convict, Valjean can’t find work and teeters on the brink of starvation. An encounter with a benevolent bishop (Colm Wilkinson, who originated the role of Valjean on Broadway and in London) inspires the former prisoner to tear up his papers and start a new life as an honest man.
But Valjean’s choice to skip out on his parole prompts Javert to become obsessed with hunting down and re-imprisoning him. The fear of discovery and longing for real freedom also defines Valjean’s life, even when he adopts young Cosette (Isabelle Allen), Fantine’s illegitimate daughter.
While Hathaway and Jackman are earning awards buzz for their performances, Amanda Seyfried effectively luminesces and hits some startlingly high notes as the young adult Cosette, and Eddie Redmayne exudes boyish charm as Marius, the revolutionary who falls in love with her at first sight.
Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter provide hard-edged but much-needed comic relief as the thieving innkeepers who housed Cosette as a girl. But Samantha Barks nearly steals the film as their daughter Eponine, who is in love with Marius. Barks played the part on the London stage in 2010-11, and her “On My Own” is every bit as affecting as Hathaway’s “I Dreamed a Dream.”
The movie musical explores the ways people’s lives intersect, but it probably takes the notion a bit too far. After all, more than 2 ½ hours is a long time to spend in a story crammed with enough poverty, death and tragedy to be called “Les Miserables,” even if Hooper pulls off the uplifting finale.
Today’s featured event:
Merry Christmas! Skate through the holiday at the Devon Ice Rink at the Myriad Botanical Gardens, 100 Myriad Gardens. The rink is open special hours from noon to 8 p.m. today for Christmas.
The Devon Ice Rink is part of the Downtown in December festivities. For more information, go to www.downtownindecember.com.
For more events, go to www.wimgo.com.
First-look photo: Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”; “The Unexpected Journey” continues to rule the box office
Check out the first image of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins atop a pile of dragon’s treasure in “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug,” the second film in the planned trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” prequel.
“The Desolation of Smaug” is due in theaters Dec. 13, 2013.
Meanwhile, the first film in the trilogy, “The Unexpected Journey,” continues to rule them all at the box office. The launcher of Peter Jackson’s second Middle-Earth trilogy took in $36.7 million to remain No. 1 at the box office for the second-straight weekend, easily beating a rush of top-name holiday newcomers, reports The Associated Press.
Part one of Jackson’s prelude to his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, the Warner Bros. release raised its domestic total to $149.9 million after 10 days. The film added $91 million overseas to bring its international total to $284 million and its worldwide haul to $434 million.
Oklahoma country music superstar Blake Shelton’s Christmas song “New Kid in Town” is being used in an advertisement for the 2013 miniseries “The Bible.”
The 10-hour miniseries will star Roma Downey (“Touched By an Angel”) and is produced by Mark Burnett (reality shows “The Voice,” which stars Shelton, and “Survivor”), reports The Boot.
The rendition of “New Kid in Town” featured in the commercial is a solo version. Shelton’s holiday album “Cheers, it’s Christmas” includes a duet version with Kelly Clarkson, who also joined him to perform the song on his “Blake Shelton’s Not-So-Family Christmas” TV special.
Even though the Flaming Lips aren’t playing their New Year’s Eve Freakout here in their hometown of Oklahoma City this year, fans still can have a psychedelic holiday encounter with the experimental rockers.
The Lips and Bon Iver plan to release the music video for “Ashes in the Air,” their collaboration from the 2012 duets album “The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends,” on Christmas Day, the Lips announced on Twitter (@theflaminglips).
The bands released over the weekend a making-of clip for “Ashes in the Air.” Judging from the sneak peek, it looks like Lips frontman Wayne Coyne will rescue an alien baby in the video. Sounds just like something he would do, especially on Christmas.
The open call for bands for the 2013 Norman Music Festival is drawing to a close.
The deadline for artists and bands to apply for NMF6 is 5 p.m. this coming Sunday, Dec. 30.
The Norman Music Festival is a free three-day festival that includes more than 250 acts and celebrates original music.
Here’s the the format for the 2013 NMF:
April 25 – mostly indoor locations
April 26 – mostly indoor, some outdoor
April 27 – indoor, outdoor, street closure
Bands of all genres are welcome to apply, but no cover acts please – original music only.
The Norman Music Festival works closely with the Oklahoma Film and Music Office as a supporter of Oklahoma musicians. This year, NMF organizers are promoting their Music Database in conjunction with the NMF6 open call.
To apply for NMF6, click here to fill out the open call application.
For more information, go to www.facebook.com/NormanMusicFestival.
Bad news for fans of the caper series “Leverage”: The series has been canceled.
Over the weekend, Executive Producer Dean Devlin issued a letter to the show’s faithful followers confirming that Tuesday’s Season 5 finale also will be the series finale. The last episode will air at 9 p.m. Christmas Day on TNT.
“The Long Goodbye is our final goodbye,” Devlin writes in the letter. “It has been decided … that this Tuesday’s episode of Leverage ‘The Long Goodbye Job’ will be the series finale as TNT has decided not to renew the show for a sixth season.
“I want to take the opportunity to thank TNT for five amazing seasons and 77 episodes of a show that has been so good to me. I’m incredibly proud of the show and what we’ve accomplished. Throughout this journey TNT have been the most amazing partners. Their support and collaboration I will cherish forever.”
As previously reported, Devlin wrote in an earlier open letter that the final episode of Season 5 was planned as though it were the series finale.
“Everyone involved with the show, from the cast, the crew, the writers and producers, would like nothing more than to continue telling these stories,” Devlin wrote earlier this month. “But, in case we do not get that opportunity we felt that, creatively, after 77 episodes, we owed it to you, our fans, to end the show properly.”
In his new letter, Devlin reiterates that Tuesday’s final episode will give the series closure:
“I’m so happy we were able to film the series finale we had always envisioned and I’m happy we’re able to present it on Christmas as our gift to you. It’s a bittersweet goodbye,” he writes.
The series stars Norman-bred actor/musician Christian Kane, Academy Award winner Timothy Hutton, Gina Bellman, Beth Riesgraf and Aldis Hodge.
“I also want to thank everyone involved in making the show. Tim, Gina, Beth, Christian and Aldis are the finest ensemble of actors I’ve ever worked with. They’ve become our partners, our friends and our family,” Devlin writes in his new letter, which goes on to thank the crew and fans.
“Leverage” focuses on a team of five top-notch reformed criminals out to give everyday people a helping hand against the machinations of corrupt bigwigs. Leading the crew is mastermind Nate Ford (Hutton), a former insurance investigator whose son died when his employer refused to pay for life-saving surgery. The finale will have the team embarking on its riskiest con ever when Nate takes a case linked to his son’s death.
On “Leverage,” Kane plays “retrieval specialist” Eliot Spencer, the heavy hitter on the five-person team, and in a 2011 interview, he told me how much he loved working on the show and why he thought it resonated with fans.
“We’re a blue-collar show. We’re a working man’s fist, and I think that actually works out (for us). I mean, how many times do people just want to quit their job or punch their boss? And the economy’s tough right now … and we kind of represent that, we kind of represent the working man getting to throw punches at some people that are the bad guys,” Kane said.
Read Devlin’s letter in full after the break.
Merry Christmas Eve! Here’s a catchy quote from a movie, TV show or other source to brighten the beginning of your week:
Elizabeth Lane: The things a girl will do for a mink coat.
- Click here to learn the source.