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Christmas Movies Reviewed by Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card has a column titled "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" where he reviews just about everything hence the title.

This week he reviews Oceans 12 and the Uninvited. He additionally recalls many of the Christmas movies from the past, here is his take on Christmas Movies.

It’s all a matter of taste which Christmas stories and movies are your favorites. I know people who swear that the 1983 A Christmas Story, based on Jean Shepherd’s novel, is the all-time best Christmas movie.

Now, I’m a fan of Shepherd’s work – I loved Wanda Hickey’s Night of Golden Memories, and Other Disasters. But to me, the humor in A Christmas Story seemed ... manufactured. I didn’t care about anybody. It bore no relation to anything Christmas ever meant to me. To me, empty.

So if you loved A Christmas Story, good for you! I’m just not part of its audience.

I did find Christmas Vacation entertaining, partly because I enjoyed Chevy Chase’s mild-mannered comic persona. And the first Santa Clause movie I enjoyed well enough, though I can’t see any reason to watch it a second time.

The best Christmas comedy, for me, is Trapped in Paradise, the Nicolas Cage movie from 1994 about crooks who come to a small town to rob their bank just before Christmas and end up falling in love with the people and the place.

It’s the only movie I’ve ever seen in which Dana Carvey is sometimes funny.

But the Christmas movies that mean the most are not the ones designed to make you laugh, they’re the sentimental comedies – or dramas, when you look at them closely enough.

A Miracle on 34th Street has been filmed several times. The first production (1947), starring Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood will always be the “real” one to me.

The 1994 remake with Richard Attenborough as Kris Kringle was hopelessly overproduced, smothering the attempts of Elizabeth Perkins and Dylan McDermott to make their characters believable.

But the one I wish I could see again was the very warm-hearted 1973 TV movie staring Jane Alexander, David Hartman and Roddy McDowall, with Sebastian Cabot as Kris Kringle. Of course, I love Jane Alexander in almost anything; the surprise was that David Hartman, not yet the host of Good Morning America, was actually a warm and wonderful actor.

The movies that struck closest to my heart, though, are the darker ones. It’s a Wonderful Life came to me in my early 20s, at a time in my life when I sorely needed it; it worked on every bit of self-pity in my heart and forced me to reexamine it in a better perspective. Ever since then, that movie is so intensely emotional to me I can hardly watch it.

I never thought another movie could match it for using Christmas as a way to tap into the relationship between a person and the community surrounding him. But Mary Steenburgen’s almost shockingly dark One Magic Christmas, with Harry Dean Stanton as an angel, may well be the one that means the most to me.

Love, Actually came out last year, so I’m not sure where it will end up on my list – though its place on the list will be high.

It’s definitely not a family film – way too much bad language and nudity for that. But it’s funny, it’s heart-breaking, and it captures the spirit of community and love, of sacrifice and courage that love requires. The movie makes me care about a lot of people and reassures me about the human race. And because it’s set in the Christmas season, it is a Christmas movie, even though it’s not about Christmas.

Still, there’s always room for more – I think Polar Express is going to join my very short list of movies that really mean Christmas to me.

In print, my list is even shorter. Of course I liked O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” when I first read it as a kid – but its magic only works on the first reading.

More enduring is Henry Van Dyke’s “The Story of the Other Wise Man,” a fanciful but moving account of the one magus who was distracted from his trek to see the Christ child by other people’s needs.

And the opening chapters of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a truly wonderful Christmas story, giving the whole book an indelible connection with the Christmas season, for me at least.

No, I’m not forgetting Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’m frustrated, though, that it has never been made into a movie that I really like – mostly because none of the filmmakers who’ve tackled the tale have seemed to understand how dark the story is from beginning to end.