Dec 23, 2009

The Top Ten Christmas Movies of All Time!

Here are the Top Ten Christmas Movies of all time (according to Randumblog).  Let me begin by saying that I am aware that A Christmas Story, The Polar Express, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation are not included.  If there were fifteen they would be (but so would Gremlins).  I also realize that A Charlie Brown Christmas is not listed.  It is a special and not a movie or it would  definitely be in my top ten.

10. The Family Man (2000)
This may be the most underrated Christmas film of all time.  It doesn’t help that it came out at the same time as How the Grinch Stole Christmas which is the highest grossing Christmas film of all time.  The Family Man is a modern twist on the story from It’s a Wonderful Life.  Instead of dealing with what would happen if Jake Campbell (Nicholas Cage) had not existed, it deals with an alternate path that life would have taken him if he had chosen his girlfriend over his career.  If you have not seen this movie, you should rent it soon.

9. Die Hard (1988)
What more could one want from a Christmas movie besides time off from work, reconciliation with family, and a Christmas party?  Oh yeah, did I mention terrorists, explosions, and NYPD officer John Mclain (Bruce Willis)?  Die Hard brings in the holiday with a bang that makes me want to say Yippie Ki Yay Merry Christmas!

8. A Muppet’s Christmas Carol (1992)
Most people disagree as to which “Scrooge” movie is the best.  I happen to believe that it is the Muppet rendition.  Michael Caine would be a great Ebenezer Scrooge in a serious film, which makes it even better that he is acting along side of the Muppets.  Kermit is the best Bob Cratchit that I have ever seen.  On the comedic side, Statler and Waldorf are hilarious as Jacob and Robert Marley.

7. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
I loved the original animated version of the Grinch.  This was an improvement in every area except the rhyming.  It has grown on me ever since.  Jim Carrey does an outstanding job of bringing the Grinch to life.  This movie is a feast for the eyes.  Whoville is a set design that makes Willie Wonka’s Factory look like a sad joke.  I also love the back-story on why the Grinch moved to Mt. Crumpit in the first place.

6. The Santa Clause (1994)
This is hands down the winner for fastest beard growth, with Evan Almighty and Teen Wolf as honorable mention.  Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) is hilarious as the witty would be Santa.  It is a touching story of a boy believing in his father when no one else will.  It is a shame that the two sequels for this film were not up to par.  Actually, it is a shame that sequels were made for this movie period.

5. Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
I am surprised at how many people still have not watched this movie.  It is the greatest clay animation movie of all time.  Most of the people I talk to think that it is supposed to be scary.  This is simply not true.  It is a whimsical fairy tale about someone who wants to bring Christmas to Halloween Town.  The people try, but end up messing up Christmas for our world.  It is up to Jack Skelington to take Santa’s place and save Christmas.  The music is amazing.  Disney originally released it under their Touchtone Pictures label until they saw how great it was and quickly put the Disney brand on the movie.  Coincidentally, this is the only Christmas movie that is applicable to two holidays.

4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The original is definitely the best when it comes to Miracle on 34th Street.  I am still scratching my head as to why the proof for Santa in court was changed from the letters that the post office had, to the In God We Trust motto on the dollar bill.  Were the makers of the modern film trying to say that God is a fictional character?  It doesn’t really matter though since the original is king.  Edmund Gwenn is the best Santa that I have witnessed in any film.  I love how Santa sends the business from Macys to Kimballs and it actually increases the business at Macys.  It would be great to see businesses (and churches) operate in this manner today.

3. Elf (2003)
Elf is destined to become a perennial favorite for years to come.  It is one of those movies that keep getting funnier each time I watch it.  It really helps that there are great quotes within the film. “You stink. You smell like beef and cheese! You don't smell like Santa.”  I am not a big Will Ferrell fan, but I am glad that he was cast in this role, because he was perfect for it.

2. Home Alone (1990)
Home Alone always seems to start the Christmas holiday for me.  I know that Christmas is about Jesus, but the feeling of Christmas and the freedom Christ brings always hits at certain times.  Home Alone is that time for me.  I could have the lights up, the shopping done, and be baking cookies and still not feel like the season has started until I watch Home Alone.  I know it sounds weird, but the sooner I see this, the sooner I begin focusing on the true meaning of Christmas.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Classic, classic, classic!  Did I mention classic?  This movie has it all; great acting, a dynamic story, and the universal moral truth that each life matters.  It also has Jimmy Stewart who is good in any role.  Who would have thought that we would still be watching this annually over fifty years after it was made? I will close with this, “Merry Christams Mr. Potter, Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!”--and Merry Christmas to everyone reading my blog, regardless of your opinion on the best Christmas movies.  Grab one you like, someone you love, and some popcorn and have a great Christmas! 

An updated list for 2011 is available here

Dec 20, 2009

Saying Goodbye to Brittany Murphy

Brittany Murphy was found dead this morning in the shower.  She died from cardiac arrest but the cause is uncertain at this time.  The 32 year old actress had starred in movies such as Clueless, Just Married and 8 Mile.  My personal favorite role of Brittany's was that of Luanne Platter in television's King of the Hill.  Luanne never failed to make me laugh when she was interacting with Hank Hill.  Brittany's voice was perfect for the role.

It is always sad to see someone die this young (I am already 30 myself).  The rumors are that she was taking Vicodin, although a drug overdose seems to be ruled out at this time.  Her husband, screenwriter Simon Monjack, told hospital staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center that he did not want an autopsy performed (or at least that is what sources are telling TMZ).  Her mother, who found Brittany and dialed 911, told paramedics that her daughter struggled with diabetes.  All of these things cast a shadow on what will become a full blown investigation into her death.

She will be missed by her family, friends and fans.  Ashton Kutcher, who acted along side her in Just Married, had this to say on Twitter:  "See you on the other side kid 2day the world lost a little piece of sunshine. My deepest condolences go out 2 Brittany's family, her husband, & her amazing mother Sharon."  Let us remember her family in prayer at this time, as we reflect on the brevity of life and the legacies that each of us are carving out. 

Dec 18, 2009

AVATAR - Movie Review - With No Plot Spoilers!

Well I just returned from the much celebrated and highly advertised Avatar movie.  I had an enjoyable time watching this film (as I always do when I get a good seat in an uncrowded theater).  The experience was heightened by the digital theater I saw it in and also by the 3D glasses.

Avatar was filmed with virtual cameras, so that the director could see the finished product, as it was being shot on the green screen.  This is going to revolutionize the movie industry.  I can't wait to see the worlds that will be unfolded with this kind of technology.

I know that at this point most of my readers have not seen Avatar, so I will not give away any plot spoilers.  I thought that the special effects were great, especially when coupled with shots from New Zealand (where much of Lord of the Rings was filmed).  It was very difficult to think of any of what I was seeing as CGI.

There is an indigenous tribe called the Na'vi that the main character, a paraplegic named Jake Sully, has infiltrated by using a real living avatar.  There is no explanation of how the human can transfer back and forth from avatar to body.  It is like logging in to the Matrix except that this is supposed to be real life and not a computer program.  This should require the avatar to return to the lab to be logged out of its body but they do it from a distance somehow.

The movie itself felt like watching Dances with Wolves in Space.  The humans are evil and want to kill the very "green" blue people.  Even the tag-line at the end of the credits says that any similarity between the movie and real people or events is unintentional, although one can find a very purposeful connection to modern politics.  We are told by the military in this movie that we must do a preemptive strike to fight terror with terror.  This was an obvious reference to Iraqi since there were no acts of terror or any other mention of terrorism in the entire movie.

This is likely to become Al Gore's favorite Sci-Fi movie.  The movie speaks of the "mother" of the planet (in the form of a goddess).  It is said that there is nothing green on earth and that the humans had killed their mother (Earth).  Apparently they were bent on killing the mother of the Na'vi too.  James Cameron presents us with a world where all living things are one together (the force), one must be born a second time in order to be a full member of the tribe (Christianity),  and the great mother provides neutrality but in a pinch can use power to aid her followers (Greek mythology/Buddhism/Environmentalism).  They even commune with the souls of their ancestors.

Avatar is the best movie I have seen since 2012 and it may even be better.  It has a great story of forbidden love woven in.  All in all the movie is enjoyable and can spark some good discussions.  Such as, why is a movie with a PG13 rating, violence, and a good deal more profanity than most current fantasy films being marketed in McDonalds' Happy Meals?

Dec 15, 2009

Childlike Faith

My Grandad died when I was thirteen years old. I remember it vividly. I accepted that he was indeed dead, but I also believed that God had power over death and life. All of this faith and I was not even a believer yet. I buried my face in my pillow and cried. My crying turned to screaming and soon I was yelling at God. I did not think that this was wrong because in my mind he had taken my grandad and there was still some negotiating to be done. I mean, what is the point of God raising Lazarus or Jesus from the dead if he did not intend to stay in practice? I remember begging God to bring my grandad back and when I had finished my rant and settled down, I went into the family room. I sat by the phone for the next hour or so honestly expecting a call saying that my grandad was back. Yes, he would be back in his body to finish out his life until such a time as I and God agreed on his rightful departure. How naive, but full of faith I was.

Somewhere on the path of life to adulthood we seem to lose our childlike faith. The same thing happened to Jesus' disciples when he had been preaching to a large crowd. They wanted Jesus to send the people away so that they could buy food. Jesus told them to feed the people. This was an absurd suggestion, but one of the disciples found a boy with five small loaves of bread and two fish. The boy was willing to give the food to feed the over 5000 in attendance. Jesus' followers said that it was not enough.

I remember being like that boy. I believed in the impossible. I believed that I could be anything if I only dreamed it. The disciple's faith is where I find myself too often. I find myself thinking, "Sure it can happen--but it's unlikely."

Jesus prayed for the food and fed everyone with it. Here is the kicker though--he made the disciples pass out the food. They saw first hand what Jesus could do with one boy's faith. Then Jesus asked the disciples to do something strange. He wanted them to pick up the left over scraps that the people had left on the ground. Why would he do this? The food was probably dirty or partially eaten. They could just leave it for the animals since they were outside the city. I believe he did this as a lesson. Each one of them picked up an entire basket of scraps. There were twelve baskets in all. One basket full for each of the disciples that had doubted what God could do.

I hope you will keep in mind that there is always hope where there is faith. We should choose to have the faith of a child. That whimsical belief in a box-less God who can do the impossible.

Dec 12, 2009

The Tiger Woods Scandal Continues

Well the latest news on the Tiger Woods scandal is that Gillette is either scaling back, phasing out, or taking a break from his endorsement of their products. In the midst of all of the chaos and constant coverage I would like to voice a simple, WHO CARES? I am not downplaying what he did. It is a shame that he had so many indiscretions that threaten to rip his family in two.

The truth is that we are not helping matters. If there is hope for Tiger’s marriage there won’t be when the media is finished chipping away at it. Does anyone remember Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey? Their relationship was scrutinized, analyzed and questioned to the point that it fell under the strain. Tiger and his family have asked for privacy during this time so that they can sort all of this out. We as a gossip-saturated society are not allowing it. If we didn’t jump at the chance to see a scandal or gawk at someone else’s misfortune we would be a lot better off.

Well, let’s put all of this aside for a moment and let me go back to my original comment. WHO CARES? I mean come on people! The man plays golf! What's next, a chess scandal? If this were Michael Jordan, Wayne Brady or Derek Jeter I could at least understand why there is such a fuss. When the O.J. trial filled our nations tabloids and newscasts, at least it was a scandal about a formerly great sports star. Golf is a game not a sport. What if soccer players rode a cart to where they would kick the ball? What if hockey players had someone skate around with them carrying their stick? I mean come on people really; this game is like pool, cornhole or anything for the Wii. In fact ping-pong has much more action than golf. Now that I have made all of the golfers out their mad, let me say that I know it takes skills that I do not have. Come to think of it, so does Double Dutch.

The bottom line is that the Tiger scandal is overplayed, malicious, and frankly none of my business. Since it is before me daily, I am reminded to pray for Tiger, his wife Elin, and their two children. It is my hope that he will face the consequences, embrace the guilt and work to salvage what he has tarnished. As for throwing stones, (verbal or literal) let’s continue to follow the example that Jesus set with the woman caught in adultery, when he said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

Dec 11, 2009

Star Wars Bethlehem A New Hope

My four year old son and I wanted to make a video.  It was a toss up between a Christmas or a Star Wars movie.  Since the decision was difficult we merged the two.  He was the genius behind all of the set design and most of the creative elements. It is probably not the most professional thing that you have ever seen, but if you like it, we would love it if you shared it with others.

Dec 3, 2009

Blu-ray and DVD on One Disc?

When I saw Disney re-release Snow White earlier this year with a Blu-ray disc and DVD in one package, I thought it was a good idea.  Beginning in January, Universal Studios Home Entertainment will release a GREAT idea.  They have begun production of the "Flipper", which features Blu-ray and DVD on opposite sides of the same disc.  The first release will be the Bourne trilogy.  

I still do not own a high definition TV, and will not in the near future.  As a movie lover the prospect of starting over is not an appealing thought.  Sure Blu-ray players can play both formats, but for how much longer?  Is this just to ease our transition?  How many DVD/VHS combos do you see nowadays?  That transition cost me a pretty penny.  What if I want to watch it on my computer, in another room, or just let a non-Blu-ray owning friend borrow a movie?  Do I have to buy a machine for every TV and an extra for friends to borrow?  No, I do not.  All I need is to purchase future movies on the "Flipper" disc, and even if Blu-ray goes under like HD-DVD did (which an Xbox 360 can still play, but is no longer considered a feature) then my collection is still safe.  For now I will keep my analog TV and DVD collection, but come January I may own my first Blu-ray disc.  I will enjoy the DVD side and all of my friends can borrow it regardless of their machine choice.