Folks, it’s just under two weeks ‘til Christmas, or Chrismukkah, as our dearly departed young friends from “The O.C.” once called it. With the festivities looming in the air like freshly baked sugar cookies your spinning instructor will surely shame you for eating, I’ve been devoting the bulk of my spare time to getting in the non-denominational holiday spirit by watching Christmas movies and TV specials, as well as eating and drinking anything remotely holiday-themed. In the midst of this bacchanalia, it has occurred to me that while many of us have our go-to perennials, there are some new classics out there worthy of being put on your holiday checklist, as well as some other ones that easily deserve to go the way of the fruitcake.
Movies: Don’t get me wrong, I love watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Story” this time of year too, but if Clarence getting his wings and Ralphie getting his Red Ryder b.b. gun (spoiler warning!) fail to move you for the billionth time, then pop one of these babies in the ol’ Betamax.
“Love Actually”(2003) – Ok, so maybe there are a few too many storylines in this hilarious British heartwarmer, but what’s a Christmas bird without the extra stuffing? The scene where Alan Rickman’s aspiring adulterer tries to get his work crush’s Christmas gift wrapped by Rowan Atkinson’s over-eager retail clerk is truly classic.
“The Holiday” (2006) – I have to admit to totally shunning this movie on its initial release, despite being an avid fan of both Jack Black and Kate Winslet. I caught it on cable not too long ago and found it to be surprisingly engaging and entertaining, even though it’s a good half hour too long. Think of it as the cinematic equivalent of hot apple cider on a cold winter’s night. But really, guys, two and a half hours?
“The Royal Tenenbaums” (2002) – This is in no way, shape, or form a traditional holiday movie, but Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic tale of an urbane, but goofy, tribe of upper crust New Yorkers has the feel of a heartwarming winter’s tale. Maybe it’s the fact that the theme from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is used in the film, but the movie features a dysfunctional family, and isn’t that what the holidays really are about?
Not so classic: “Wacky” Christmas comedies such as “Christmas With The Kranks,” Surviving Christmas,” and “Deck The Halls” that have plagued the multiplexes over the past several years. This year’s lump of coal, “Four Christmases,” dismally looks like it’s keeping the trend alive.
TV Specials: Sure, it ain’t the holidays unless Linus once again tells us the true meaning of Christmas and Rudolph makes all the conformist reindeer eat his wake, but there are a few new specials that should earn a spot in your jam-packed DVR queue.
“A Colbert Christmas…The Greatest Gift of All” (2008) – This aired on Comedy Central just before Thanksgiving and as far as I’m concerned, its the funniest, if not best, holiday TV special to come down the chimney in quite a while. Colbert and his usual crack staff of writers hilariously lampoon the Andy Williams/Dinah Shore/Bob Hope, celebrity-centric, TV specials of yore while offering a Whitman Sampler-esque collection of truly inspired songs and sketches. Did you know that every time a bell rings an angel gets his balls?
“The Office Special” (2003) – It helps if you’ve seen Seasons One & Two of Ricky Gervais’ and Stephen Merchant’s brilliant, BBC, TV series. This special is anything but treacly, yet it has one of the best pay-offs in all of TV history. Nothing the NBC version has done has come close to this enormously satisfying tree-topper.
Any Original Holiday TV Movie on ABC Family or The Hallmark Channel – A few Christmases ago, some friends and I started a tradition of watching really, really, bad holiday cable TV movies. The tradition continues to thrive today, albeit in a “Mystery Science Theater 3000” type of setting. If you don’t mind a little cheese on your holiday turkey, I whole-heartedly recommend the neo-classics “Santa Baby” (2006) in which Santa’s daughter (former Playboy Playmate Jenny McCarthy) must mind the North Pole while dear ol’ dad recovers from an illness he contracted (after reading the teleplay no doubt) and “Holiday in Handcuffs” (2007) starring Melissa Joan Hart as a girl so desperate to bring a boyfriend to her parents’ house for Christmas that she kidnaps Mario Lopez and cuffs him to her in order to pull of the charade. The operative word here is “desperate.” Funny for all the wrong reasons.
Not so classic: NBC’s “Christmas at Rockefeller Plaza.” (1998 - present) I’ve tuned into this so-called" special” for the last two or three years and I don’t know why I bother. Al Roker is no doubt a likable presence on the small screen, but this hour-long perennial feels more like a sixty minute commercial, as a new celebrity is introduced every two minutes and –surprise, surprise- they have a new CD dropping or TV show coming up. Watching Harry Connick Jr. shamelessly plug his new holiday CD this year was enough to sour anyone’s plum pudding. The climax of the show is lighting the world’s largest damn Christmas tree, which doesn’t really look that impressive on a small screen. I dunno, maybe it looks better in HD.
Music/Audio: Nat King Cole’s “Christmas Song?” Check. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas?” Double check. “ “Deck The Halls” by…Twisted Sister??? Well, why not? Here’s some other off-the-beaten path Christmas candy to delight your eager ears.
“Holidays on Ice” by David Sedaris (1997) – Not a holiday CD per se but a hilarious audiobook of holiday themed essays spoken by the wonderfully nasal and deadpan Sedaris, which is the best way to enjoy his numerous other works. His chronicles of being a Macy’s Christmas elf is the stuff of Christmas comedy legend. I’m also very partial to “Front and Center with Thaddeus Bristol” in which Sedaris writes from the perspective of a snooty theater critic attending an elementary school pageant (spoiler warning – he pans it.)
“Christmas Island” – Jimmy Buffett (1999) - If you don’t mind a little extra rum in your holiday nog, then Buffett’s reggae/calypso-themed holiday CD will be right up your alley. Perfect for folks who dream of tropical climates during the stress-filled holiday season. Ja, mon!
“Things I Want” – Tenacious D/Sum 41 & “Little Girls and Hobos” – Naked Trucker and T-Bone (2001) - These lil’ Christmas ditties were both featured on L.A. radio station KROQ’s annual holiday charity CD a few years back and I continue to play them around the holidays. The D & Sum 41’s collaboration channels vintage Iron Maiden while Naked Trucker & T- Bones are more for the CMA crowd. Not sure if they’re available on iTunes, but I’ll gladly burn them for you on a CD. What can I say? I’m a giver.
Not so classic: I’m sorry, Josh Grobin fans, but while we can all agree the dude has some pipes, his holiday offerings just aren’t cutting it. “Believe” from “The Polar Express” just might render you bi-polar while his cover of “O Holy Night” I keep hearing on the 24-hour Christmas music station sounds like a funeral dirge on DayQuil. Perfect, however, for the insomniac in your life.
Food & Beverage: Got nog? Yawn! Candy canes? Not with these expensive inlays! Here are a couple of worthy, sustainable, substitutes.
Holiday drinks from Starbucks/Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf – Yeah, they’re overpriced and a tad too sugary, but man, they go down smoother than Santa Claus in a butter-lined chimney. I’m partial to the gingerbread lattes and, yes, the egg nog lattes from $tarbucks, but CB&TL has better pumpkin spice lattes. Rumor has it these places actually serve coffee as well.
Holiday Hershey Kisses – They just came out with these in the past year. I dug the Candy Corn and Pumpkin Spice ones around Halloween, so I’m dying to try the Candy Cane and Mint Truffle flavored ones. Some might find the continual unwrapping of aluminum foil annoying, but to me, each one is like a confectionary striptease. Yeah, I don’t get out much.
Christmas Cap’N Crunch – Strictly for those who like a sweet breakfast (or late-night snack.) Many of you will be appalled by the sight of Cap’N Crunch cereal dyed red and green, but me, I say Merry Crunchmas! And what kid doesn’t love green milk? You know you want it. Ain’t nothin’ merry ‘bout no damn granola!
Not so classic: Not to bite the hand that pours my lattes, but those Christmas Blends sold by the very stores that ran your favorite coffee shop out of town don’t taste at all Christmasy - they taste like coffee! Just load up my latte with some more of that artificial egg nog flavor and I'm happy. However, if they start brewing red and green coffee beans, then we’ll talk.
Have a classic Chrismukwanzaa, readers!