Combustible Celluloid

The 12 DVDs of Christmas (2003)

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Already got your Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol DVDs out and ready for the holidays? Maybe you also have your Scrooged, The Nightmare Before Christmas and La Buche DVDs out. What more do you need? How about these 12 new holiday DVDs, freshly pressed like the new-fallen snow...

1. Morvern Callar (2002)
Morvern opens her Christmas presents over her dead, suicidal boyfriend's body with only the sound of flashing, buzzing Christmas tree lights to keep her company. She takes his money and his completed novel and hits the road with her best friend, looking for "someplace beautiful." Samantha Morton turns in a truly great performance as the lost, sad title character and Lynn Ramsey's superb direction detects the slightest changes in atmosphere.

2. A Christmas Story Special Edition (1983)
This great heartwarming comedy from the director of Porky's was a flop during its theatrical run, but, like It's a Wonderful Life, has become a staple on cable during the holiday season. Peter Billingsley plays the pudgy-cheeked, bespectacled boy who navigates the treacheries of daily life all in the hopes of getting a toy rifle for Christmas. Jean Shepherd narrates from his series of stories. This new double-disc set will perfectly accompany that Christmas dinner turkey coma, revisiting with the cast members today and providing tons of funny little features and games. The movie now includes a commentary track by Billingsley and director Bob Clark.

3. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation Special Edition (1989)
John Hughes wrote the screenplay for this silly, warm little guilty pleasure that nails most of the trials and tribulations of spending the holidays with family. Chevy Chase stars for the third time as Clark W. Griswold with Beverly D'Angelo as his wife. Juliette Lewis makes an early appearance as daughter Audrey, and, as usual Randy Quaid provides most of the laughs as country bumpkin cousin Eddie. This new Special Edition doesn't have much to write home about; the new commentary track was recorded by the B-list: Director Jermemiah Chechik, actors Randy Quaid, Beverly D'Angelo, Johnny Galecki, Miriam Flynn and producer Matty Simmons. The disc also includes the trailer, a cast list and a cardboard Christmas ornament.

4. Christmas with the Simpsons (2003)
This quickie disc contains the very first 30-minute "Simpsons" episode, the 1989 "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire," plus four other winter/Christmas themed shows: "Mr. Plow," "Miracle on Evergreen Terrance," "Grift of the Magi" and "She of Little Faith." Not essential, especially if you already own the "Simpsons" Season One box set, but a fun holiday watch.

5. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
The all-time greatest claymation Christmas special, the one to lead them all. Rudolph joins his band of misfit friends to save Christmas and rescue the inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys.

6. Olive the Other Reindeer (1999)
Not an all-time classic (yet), but Olive is just sweet enough and strange enough that it warrants annual viewings. That's partially thanks to Drew Barrymore's warm reading of the title character, a dog who thinks she might save Christmas when Santa calls upon help from "all of the other reindeer." Michael Stipe from R.E.M. co-stars and sings one song.

7. It's a Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie (2002)
An angel (David Arquette) travels to earth to show Kermit what life would be like if he were never born. The object is to save the Muppet Theater from being turned into a nightclub by its greedy owner (Joan Cusack). This clever, funny feature-length TV film spoofs everything from The Grinch to Moulin Rouge. Well worth seeing.

8. Spongebob Squarepants: Christmas (2003)
Sandy explains Santa Claus to Spongebob, and he takes it upon himself to bring Christmas to Bikini Bottom. This two-part episode suffers from too much Patchy the Pirate, but it has its moments. The rest of the disc contains a few more quasi-Christmas episodes (two take place in the snow), and a handful of regular episodes. Nine in all.

9. Second Star to the Left: A Christmas Tale (2001)
A rabbit (voiced by Hugh Laurie), a Guinea pig and a hamster attempt to deliver a lost package to a little girl on Christmas Eve. This 29-minute hand-animated British production has its charms, but it's minor Christmas fare.

10. A Christmas Wish (1950)
Formerly known as The Great Rupert, this family film only partially takes place at Christmas. Jimmy Durante plays an out-of-work acrobat who lugs his wife and daughter around until they find a cheap apartment under a chiseling landlord. A trained squirrel (animated by George Pal) throws money down to them once a week. Second rate stuff, but the film benefits from the gorgeous Terry Moore, who had recently starred in Mighty Joe Young opposite an animated gorilla. This is the colorized version, but if you go to the Special Features menu, you can watch the original black-and-white version. Ms. Moore also provides a commentary track.

11. One Christmas (1994)
An elderly Katharine Hepburn co-stars in this misty made-for-TV Hallmark Hall of Fame film, based on Truman Capote's story. Henry Winkler also stars, and Tony Bill directs.

12. A Freezerburnt Christmas (1997)
The claymation in this half-hour special is wonderful, but the writing leaves a lot to be desired. Not-quite funny "Saturday Night Live" alum Chris Parnell provides the voice of an ice cream man who tries to save Christmas from the evil clutches of a toymaker.

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