Deck The Heights: Silver Bells on The Silver Screen Heights editors discuss their favorite festive films just in time for the holiday season.

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ach year it seems as though Christmas creeps up sooner and sooner: Walking down the aisles in a Michaels craft store or Target even before Halloween has passed, Santa hats and candy canes lie on the shelves waiting for wide-eyed kids to walk by and beg their parents for an early semblance of the “most wonderful time of the year.”

Cynics attribute this phenomenon to capitalism. Others would like to think it’s caused by a desire to prolong the warm and fuzzy feeling that only the holiday season can create. The best Christmas films play on both of these ideas with heartwarming scenes centered on the exchange of gifts wrapped in shiny paper, aerial pans over chimneys pumping out steam in neighborhoods coated in glistening snow, and a quintessential final scene bringing all the film’s characters together once the holiday spirit has finally warmed even the coldest of hearts—the big bow on top of the present that is Christmas cinema.

‘A Very Murray Christmas’ – Jacob Schick, Arts Editor

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n its own, A Very Murray Christmas was a small part of 2015 and a blip on the radar of holiday films in general. It’s no Christmas Vacation, no Miracle on 34th Street, and it’s certainly no White Christmas.

Instead, A Very Murray Christmas is a fairly short musical comedy starring host Bill Murray as he and a few other celebrity guests find themselves snowed in for the holiday. As they cannot leave the hotel they’re stuck in, Murray wanders around singing Christmas songs with Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus, Maya Rudolph, and more. A Very Murray Christmas makes this year’s Heights holiday feature because, at the same time I was told I couldn’t pick a “joke” Christmas movie like Die Hard or Gremlins, I also hold a very special place in my heart for this film.

I first watched this movie at the annual Christmas in Clearwater featuring a large portion of my mom’s side of the family. We always spend a while watching the award-nominated movies in the large family room of my nana’s house (complete with Christmas tree and model train that runs way too fast to ever stay on the tracks). That year, I convinced my family that we should spend 56 minutes watching this. As the film concluded, they were less than enthused, as it’s kind of weird and not super Christmas-y. But I was happy. I was happy because I could add another movie to my list, but also because I had another memory to file away about my time with them. And of all the gifts I got for Christmas or Hanukkah that year, the memories of spending time with my family were the best.

‘Almost Famous’ – Kaylie Ramirez, Assoc. Arts Editor

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lmost Famous is largely about a rock band, its groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), and an aspiring journalist (Patrick Fugit), but the first scene of the 2000 flick paints a perfect portrait of Christmas in Southern California: A Santa Claus stands on the corner of a street crowded with flip-flop wearing pedestrians and surfers ride waves under the pier as the high-pitched voices of Alvin and the Chipmunks sing “Christmas Song.” Having woken up to palm trees instead of white sheets of snow on the past 19 Christmas mornings, this is a setting far more familiar to me than that of the frosty front lawn in Home Alone.

Young and struggling to find an identity, Fugit’s Will Miller is saved by the gift his sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel) leaves him before running away. Will receives her music collection in the form of a bag full of 1970s rock records—Simon & Garfunkel, The Who, and more. The moment Will unzips the leather treasure chest reminds me of the time I unboxed a doll house instead of an iPod on Christmas when I was around 8 years old. I cried for at least two hours that day, but once I inherited the iPod my brother did get that Christmas, I had received a gift—the gift of music—that would never cease to exude that shiny new Christmas feeling.

Despite embarking on a road trip that takes the film far from its festive start, Almost Famous still drives home the Christmas spirit. Battered by the intensity of touring with a rock band and the even greater intensity of snobby Rolling Stone editors, Will finds himself in an airport lobby where he serendipitously runs into Anita. The free spirit even forgives her mother whom she vehemently rebelled against earlier. Perhaps Almost Famous is my favorite Christmas movie because it is not a Christmas movie at all—Almost Famous is a movie about family.

‘Christmas Vacation’ – Emily Himes, Asst. Arts Editor

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othing truly embodies the holiday spirit like Clark Griswold’s cousin Eddie yelling, “Merry Christmas, shitter was full!” as he stands in the snowy street in his bathrobe. The 1989 Christmas comedy classic Christmas Vacation uses the Griswold family Christmas—which is, in the words of Clark, the “threshold of hell”—to entertain those with the utmost strange senses of humor. To the average person, it’s a dumb movie for people with the comedic capacity of a 10-year-old boy, but to some it’s a holiday tradition that gets better every year.

The movie’s ending, featuring the whole Griswold family singing the national anthem as Santa’s burning sleigh lights up the night sky, never disappoints—no matter how many times you’ve seen it. From Snot the dog to Ellen Griswold’s iconic line, “it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery,” Christmas Vacation brings on holiday cheer and plenty of sophomoric humor to living room televisions across the country every holiday season. While Christmastime might not live up to our dreams like we hope it will every year, this movie never fails to disappoint. It’s truly the holiday constant that fans can always count on. So from the Griswold family to yours, “Merry Christmas, kiss my ass. Kiss his ass. Kiss your ass. Happy Hanukkah.”

‘Home Alone’ – Connor Murphy, Editor-in-Chief

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’ve seen Home Alone about 50 times, by a conservative estimate. The only movie I’ve seen more times is National Treasure, and like National Treasure, Home Alone is, in essence, a slow burn. We wait a while for an extraordinary payoff: Nicolas Cage and Jon Voight (Jon Voight, yikes!) descend an ancient elevator shaft and use their wits to ward off their ex-allies and find the treasure; Kevin defends his enormous and very ’90s home from two bumbling burglars and in the process learns the true meaning of Christmas. As a kid, no sequence in any movie gave me more pleasure than watching every trap Kevin somehow set work out; nothing made me happier than Joe Pesci plunging his on-fire head into the snow, swearing, by God, to kill that kid.

And yet watching it today, I can’t help but think that Home Alone is not the feel-good movie we think it is. Kevin, for example, isn’t the tragically misunderstood hero John Hughes would like us to love—he’s a deeply narcissistic and potentially psychotic child of immense privilege with a disturbing skill for inflicting pain. His parents, in somehow leaving Kevin, all of 8 years old, home alone, are criminally negligent and should be in prison. His neighbor, the old guy who saves the day in the end, approaches Kevin in an empty church and tells Kevin not to be afraid of him. There’s something kind of troubling about this whole thing. In fact, I would argue that its most likable characters are Harry and Marv: There’s a purity to these decidedly unthreatening devotees of their own self-interest. They are transparent in their greed. I admire their gumption and perseverance in the face of this creepy 8-year-old, and they almost win.

But when I go home for Winter Break, and Home Alone is on at 2 a.m. for no reason, you can be sure that I’ll watch Kevin microwave some mac ’n’ cheese, load his BB gun, and kick their asses.

‘Christmas with the Kranks’ – Kipp Milone, Operations Manager

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hile it may lack nostalgia and only score 5 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, Christmas with the Kranks is my absolute favorite holiday movie. Although dismissed by critics, the film features Tim Allen—a quintessential element of any top-notch modern holiday film—and a touching gift-giving scene that would even make Ebenezer Scrooge smile. More importantly, I make sure to watch this movie every year because it focuses on a theme I hold near and dear to my heart: tradition. Throughout the movie, I consistently side with the Kranks’ neighbors, looking on in disgust when they abandon longstanding practices such as buying Christmas cards, making  charitable donations, or hanging up Christmas lights.

Perhaps because my aunt and uncle’s annual Christmas Eve party is one of my favorite nights of the year, nothing makes me happier than the scene where the whole neighborhood decides to put together a party at the last second. Luckily, they are able to pull it off, despite a few problems along the way. Whatever your tradition may be—skiing, eating Chinese food and hitting a local movie theatre on Christmas Day, or just spending time with relatives—this movie will surely make you thankful for your habitual nature around the holidays.

‘Love Actually’ – Mary Wilkie, Opinions Editor

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or the last seven years, my cousin Terese has invited all 22 of our cousins to her house the Sunday before Halloween for Scary Movie Day. Now, since my cousin Alex is absolutely terrified of horror movies, she has Christmas Movie Night the Friday before Christmas, and we always watch Love Actually, because, for as long as I can remember, it’s been a favorite of my aunts and their daughters.

I’m not saying it’s a great movie, because I don’t think it is. Besides the fact that it truly plays on American stereotypes—which the American population that adores that movie either just ignores and accepts, or they’re actually as dense as the film depicts—the most iconic scene in Love Actually is arguably the most disconcerting. “Just because it’s Christmas” is no excuse to declare your love for someone if it completely undermines your best friend’s relationship with his wife, even if you show her a series of posters with everything that you can’t actually say—probably because you’re trying to ruin your friend’s marriage—and bring a boombox (hello, 2003).

With 10 romantic relationships in the film (or 12, if you count Billy Bob Thornton, the unnamed American president, making creepy advancements on the prime minister’s secretary and the aforementioned attempted marital sabotage), it’s an unreasonably serendipitous film without real value. But, only when you get to the very end do you realize that this movie is about love, actually (I’m sorry, I had to). It’s not just about romantic love, it’s about familial love and platonic love. After all of these relationships unrealistically resolve, a montage of real people—friends, family members, and significant others—reuniting at airports to the sound of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” closes the movie with an overwhelming sense of love. When I watch that with my cousins a few days before Christmas, that’s what I feel.

‘The Santa Clause 2’ – Abby Hunt, Copy Editor

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very year at Christmastime, my mom and I sit down and watch all three of The Santa Clause movies. How this tradition started, I do not know—but every year without fail, finals will end, the hot chocolate will come out, and it will be time to watch Tim Allen kill and replace Father Christmas.

In my many viewings of the The Santa Clause trilogy, it has become undoubtedly clear to me that the second film is superior to the other two. In The Santa Clause 2, we see Scott Calvin (Allen) eight years after initially assuming the role of Santa, and he is thriving in the role—that is, until he learns two pieces of terrible news: He has until Christmas Eve to find a wife or he will stop being Santa forever, and his own son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) has found himself on the naughty list this year.

Scott returns home to try to rectify both of these situations, and he meets Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell), the strict principal at his son’s school, who he finds himself falling for. With the limited amount of magic that he has left as he becomes “de-Santafied,” Scott takes Carol to a faculty Christmas party in a horse-drawn carriage, and he livens up the gathering by presenting everyone with their favorite gifts they received as children. The movie is cute, heartwarming, and a lovely way to get in the Christmas spirit.

You probably will never actually get the chance to see it—which brings me to the real reason I chose to write about this film: I have a grievance to air. The main source of most people’s Christmas movie-watching joy comes from turning on 25 Days of Christmas on ABC Family every December. While the network always plays The Santa Clause 1 and 3, it never, ever shows the second film, leaving my mother and I to find it on our own every year. My findings on why the film is not shown were not substantial: Research on the subject appears to be limited. But nonetheless, every holiday season, this troubling phenomenon returns to haunt me, and I would like some answers. How am I supposed to sleep knowing that Freeform is playing the first and third movies of the series back-to-back on 12 different occasions this month? It’s a crime that would be abhorrent under any circumstances, but it’s much worse when the victim is a film as lovely as The Santa Clause 2.

‘Die Hard’ – Bradley Smart, Assoc. Sports Editor

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ant to argue the merits of Die Hard as a Christmas movie? By all means attempt to, but quite simply, it’s a movie that should be enjoyed every holiday season—and here’s a couple reasons why.

One of the biggest scenes of the movie occurs when the terrorists who took over Nakatomi Plaza finally break into the vault after the FBI turns the power off, and the song “Ode to Joy” starts playing over a shot of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) gazing longingly at the door opening. At the end of the movie, when the limo driver, Argyle (De’voreaux White), meets up again with John McClane (Bruce Willis), he cracks a joke: “If this is your idea of Christmas, I’ve got to be there for New Years.” The movie is set on Christmas Eve, depicts Christmas parties well, reflects what it’s like to travel on the holidays, and somehow also depicts a true friendship between two people that have very little screen time.

It has the family and timing element of any good Christmas movie, and that fact that we follow Willis around a office building filled with hostages and dramatic shootouts only bolsters the reason to watch it. It’s got great Christmas music, iconic one-liners (Yippee-ki-yay, for one), and is a modern version of classic John Wayne westerns. Watching it during the peak of the Christmas season is wonderful, especially as it’s easily one of the most iconic movies from the 1980s.

I’ll leave you with one quote, well-said over a radio transmission by one of the many terrorists under Rickman. “Alright, listen up guys. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring—except for the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.”

‘The Year Without A Santa Claus’ – Jack Miller, Asst. News Editor

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very year, The Year Without A Santa Claus offers a refreshing look into Christmas without any of the ridiculous pretense of other favorites (or casual endorsement of murder like The Santa Clause). For uncultured readers who haven’t had the pleasure, the movie opens with a bedridden and demoralized Santa Claus taking—you guessed it—a year off. Being Santa takes a lot of work and I don’t think enough of us appreciate that. Was he being a little needy? Maybe. But he does a lot of good work that parents take credit for.

All of that is nice and shows why The Year Without A Santa Claus has earned its place in holiday season canon. But the musical numbers are what really set the film apart from its peers, specifically the catchy introductions to the Miser Brothers, Heat and Cold.

Heat Miser comes across as a grumpy villain looking to ruin Christmas with sunshine and temperatures better suited for summers in Walsh. But after a repeat viewing, I’ve realized that he gets a lot of unwarranted hate. Christmas is like the one day of winter when nobody complains about the temperature, but we all know that it’s sandwiched between months of grumbling about the cold. Further, one of the opening scenes of the movie shows chilly counterpart taunting Heat about the worldwide love for White Christmases. Cold is much like that annoying younger sibling that can push all your buttons through their incessant whining. In the film’s little-known spiritual successor, A Miser Brothers’ Christmas, they have to work together to save Santa, revealing a happier side of Heat Miser.

This winter, we should all take the Miser Brothers’ lesson to heart and be nicer to the Heat Misers of our lives.

‘Elf’ – Peter Kim, Asst. Sports Editor

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don’t remember how old I was the first time I watched Elf, but I do remember that I was in my cousin’s basement, where I watched a lot of movies growing up. Back then, my elementary-school self was more than happy to enjoy the cheap laughs that the movie presents. I got a kick out of Buddy (Will Ferrell)—the titular character who was raised by elves at the North Pole despite actually being human—packing his large frame into a miniscule desk during classes or fighting a “fake Santa” in a New York department store while insisting that he knows the real one.   

Since then, I’ve watched Elf at least once a year, usually around holiday season, and while it never fails to make me laugh, the film to me is more than a simple comedy. The end of the movie, set in the chaotic Central Park, contains two touching scenes. Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), Buddy’s budding love interest, leads a crowd of New York strangers in a rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” to help power Santa’s sleigh back up, and Walter (James Caan), Buddy’s real father, finally accepts Buddy into his family.

While Elf can and always will be a movie that will get a laugh out of kids, it is also a reminder that the holidays are about spending time with your family and loved ones—even the ones you don’t necessarily get along with—and believing in the magic of the holiday season, which should never fail to put a smile on everybody’s face.

Featured Image by Hughes Entertainment 

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