It’s been a great year, and I personally have much to be grateful for. I’ve met a lot of new friends, and we’ve done great work you and I. Before the Writers’ Strike, we had five spec sales come out of our workshops in 2007, not to mention all the writers who got into film schools, won contests, and got agents and managers thanks to the Cat! method.
I know 2008 will be your best year ever!
And I will also have an announcement soon about our alliance with one of the biggest screenwriting entities in the biz.
But until next year arrives, some final diversions…
When it comes to DVD dreams of a truly Merry Xmas, what are the films that get us in the mood? Here are my Top Ten that never fail to make the season bright.
10. It’s A Wonderful Life — The Frank Capra classic originally premiered in June and only became a Christmas tradition thanks to regular runs on TV. Definitely a post-WW II film, with a surprisingly adult sensibility as when town bad girl Violet walks by Jimmy Stewart and his buddies, one of whom says: “I think I’ll go home and see what the wife’s doing.” To which Jimmy’s cab driver pal remarks: “Family man!”
9. The Ref/Bad Santa — No yuletide is complete without a little cynicism and my cynic’s double feature includes Billy Bob Thornton as the world’s most hungover department store Claus and Denis Leary as a burglar who drops in on a dysfunctional family Christmas and offers his own unique advice: “You know what this family needs? A mute.”
8. The Thin Man and After The Thin Man— These black-and-white “best of” the series star William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles, the upscale detectives who are on the case in two yuletide mysteries that never fail to get me in the holiday spirit. Yes, he calls her “Mommy” and yes Asta, the dog, can get a tad annoying, but there is nothing more romantic than Nick and Nora making scrambled eggs at midnight, or Nick shooting the Christmas tree baubles with the toy airgun he got from his patient wife.
7. The Nightmare Before Christmas — A little animated darkness at holiday time is provided by this Tim Burton-imagined, stop-motion wonder, directed by the great Henry Selick. Bringing Christmas to Halloweentown, the moody world puts a new spin on the season, and songs, and song stylings, by Danny Elfman are the best.
6. Home Alone — This is the movie George Costanza on Seinfeld got caught watching and was forced to admit why he was crying: “The old man!” Ah yes, the old man! He’s the scary neighbor little McCauly Culkin befriends when his madcap family leaves him stranded in suburbia. A great example of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s for screenwriters who want to know “how-to” logically set up this improbable situation. It almost makes perfect sense! And yes, I cry like a baby, too… just like George Costanza.
5. Elf — It may be Will Ferrell’s most underrated performance, and one of the most well-structured for screenwriters studying the family film genre (it hits the BS2 beats like clockwork). It’s also an example of how the “upside-down version of the world” of Act One is reflected in Act Two when Will the elf gets a job in a department store… as an elf.
4. Love Actually — Cry, cry again! Those scenes at the airport of loved ones falling into each other’s arms are enough. But the Richard Curtis “Institutionalized” ensemble shows multiple love stories that converge at Christmas in London. My fave: Rocker Billy Mack (Bill Nighy) eschews the groupies to spend the holiday with his long-suffering manager.
3. Comfort and Joy — Odds are you’ve not seen this movie, but for some extra points at Xmas, check it out. Directed by Bill Forsythe who created Local Hero, it follows a lonely Edinburough radio star who, trying to find the meaning of life at the holiday, is drawn into a battle between rival ice cream companies including one named “Mr. Bunny” (“HELL-o folks!”). Seriously wonderful stuff.
2. Christmas Story — Director Bob Clark was killed earlier this year in a tragic auto accident. This is his most heartfelt film, and even though we’ve seen it a ga-zillion times, it never fails to make me touch my tongue to the ice cubes in the freezer just to see. It also has my favorite Christmas Dad, Ralphie’s “old man,” Darren McGavin, who, between an odd fascination with pornographic table lamps and a battle with the furnace, has a nice moment when he and his wife share a “there goes another year” look amid the Christmas detritus.
1. Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol/A Charlie Brown Christmas — Technically, these aren’t movies. But there was never a better Scrooge than Mr. Magoo (voiced by the great Jim Backus) and the songs by Jules Styne and Bob Merrill (like the wistful little gem, “A Hand for Each Hand”) are really touching. This and A Charlie Brown Christmas, including the Linus speech, may be worn with age, but the message in both is sweet and fun. And along with “Santa, Baby,” the Peanuts-inspired Vince Guaraldi trio album remains my favorite holiday soundtrack.
What are your favorite holiday films and film moments? Chime in, do please!