It’s Christmas, folks, and you know what that means: The Taste Basket writers/holiday aficionados Kevin Redding and Dan Poorman have joined forces to create another obnoxious Internet list, this time full of their personal favorite yuletide movies and TV specials. The guys sure will be watching this stuff at their homes on Christmas Day, so why don’t you join in?
Happy Holidays to you and yours from The Taste Basket Team!
Home Alone (1990)
I know it seems a bit predictable; kind of “yeah, yeah, yeah” to put this on any sort of top-Christmas list, but no matter how many times I watch Chris Columbus’s 1990 classic about little Kevin McCallister left alone during the holidays to stage a very violent war against two dopey burglars—and that’s at least a dozen times throughout December—I seem to feel warmer and fuzzier every time.
Columbus went into production striving to make the movie feel timeless, to create something that felt fresh even 20 years after its release, and that’s exactly what it is nearly 25 years later. There’s a sort of magic to the movie in that it’s a perfect collage of Christmas, so much so that it’s impossible for me to visualize what Kevin McCallister would even look like in a summer setting (I have the same problem with Ralphie in A Christmas Story).
The movie also clogs my throat with a lump every single time. Call me whatever you want (“Kevin, you’re such a disease!”) but between the old man saving the day and reuniting with his family or Kevin utilizing his alarming, potentially murderous capabilities and reuniting with his own family underneath the beautiful “Somewhere in my Memory” score by John Williams, I can’t help myself. So grab a large cheese pizza just for you, check your bed for Fuller’s pee before climbing in, and watch Home Alone for the 600th time this Christmas. You know it’s worth it.
Martin Short’s “The Fella Who Couldn’t Wait for Christmas,” SCTV (1982)
Martin Short’s comedic brilliance has made itself known since the 1970s, when he became a cast member on Canada’s delightfully bizarre answer to our Saturday Night Live: SCTV. It was on this show where Short developed the strange, high-energy, high-haired manchild Ed Grimley, I must say.
There’s not much that can be written that would explain the character better than Short in action himself. I try to watch this specific clip every Christmas Eve, a clip of Grimley all antsy and excited for Santa to arrive, sporadically jumping, having an extensive conversation with himself, and with God briefly, whom he refers to as “Thing.” It’s perfection:
Pirate Radio (2009)
While this wonderful movie about ’60s rock deejays at sea features only one Christmas portion, decked out with The Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” and a whole lot of ornamental sweaters and crowns, it always puts me in the spirit and is my actually favorite holiday movie from Love Actually director Richard Curtis.
It could be that I first watched it in December, or because of the old-fashioned coziness conjured up by a funny and very natural ensemble, featuring the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman, Chris O’Dowd, Nick Frost, and Bill Nighy. Or it could be that absolutely perfect soundtrack featuring The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, and The Easybeats. But either way, it’s a movie permanently affiliated with the snowy season for me, and one which, in 2010, put a dent in my wallet as I felt compelled to buy vibrant sweaters and a knit hat.
Criminally overlooked, Pirate Radio fell way under the marine radar and sunk down in the bottom of the dark bowels of video-on-demand, but it absolutely deserves more attention, and especially on your TV set this Christmas.
Steve Martin’s “A Holiday Wish,” Saturday Night Live (1986)
Steve Martin is an incredible artist, there’s no disputing that. Whether it’s stand-up comedy, Saturday Night Live, The Jerk or Bowfinger, Shopgirl, or banjo-pickin’ with America’s best in bluegrass, Martin has done it all—and he’s left quite the impression on pop culture.
The Steve Martin I remember most fondly is part of a very simple backdrop, and proof of “less is more” in the game of comedy. I’m talking about Martin’s subtle exaggeration of himself as featured in the 1986 SNL sketch, “A Holiday Wish.”
His film and television career is evidence of the fact that Martin does well playing both sides of the spectrum: from complete buffoon to smarmy egotist. Here’s a character who leans toward the latter in comedic voice. The send-up of Christmas as an opportunistic season for selfish American capitalist types is not heavy-handed, but base; impressionistic. Martin’s signature wry cadence and timing is present as he sorts out his own increasingly ridiculous and expansive Christmas wish, for everything from $30 million paid annually, “tax-free in a Swiss bank account,” to revenge against all his enemies (“They should die like pigs in Hell!”)
I can’t do this delightful little TV moment much justice without showing it to you as it is below. All I know is I watch it every Christmas, and I laugh out loud (literally) every time!
Black Christmas (1974)
Let this sink in: the director of A Christmas Story (Bob Clark) also directed what is generally considered to be the first slasher film. That, and the first slasher film is also Christmas-themed.
I’m talking about the 1974 cult classic Black Christmas, and I’m sorry if I’m weirding some of you “peace on Earth and good hot cocoa and cookies to men” pushers out, but I just couldn’t resist. There’s something undeniably and universally creepy about “Silent Night,” and this Canadian movie (which actually played for a short while in the U.S. in 1975 as Silent Night, Evil Night) knows that and uses it to its advantage.
I’ll spare you the gory details, but here’s a famous sequence from Black Christmas that is sure to chill your bones on Christmas Day. Just make sure that if you’re watching this one today, keep the volume down and don’t let a lot of your family members know you elected to cozy up to it. That is, unless your family’s cool about seeing some sorority girls get sliced and diced on the holiday. In that case, have a ball.
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas (1977)
I admit: my first time watching this Jim Henson TV movie (based on the 1971 storybook by Lillian Hoban), was actually just last night, on Christmas Eve 2014. I sat down with my girlfriend and her family as they streamed the special on Hulu, criminally unaware of its timelessness (even though some of Henson’s puppets don’t age too well). Regardless, it’s a pleasant little Christmas special that really means something to their family, particularly since my girlfriend had a childhood obsession with otters.
The story is sentimental, at times sickeningly sweet, but I had to chalk it all up to the brand of innocence that exudes from every Henson production—there is a vintage quality to this one, in particular, which inspires the nostalgic country boy’s sensibilities with a good ‘ol holiday moral ornamented by a few very fun song selections. As a life-long fan of anthropomorphic animals playing in jug-bands, I was entertained.
Emmet Otter and his widowed Ma are poor, with nothing but a wash-tub to their name. It’s when Emmet’s pals enlist him to play the wash-tub bass in their jug-band (for the local talent show promising a $50 prize) when things get hairy. $50 would buy Ma a new piano for Christmas, but it’d also buy Emmet that new guitar he’s been eyeing. The trouble, here— the ultimate sacrifice—is the defacing of the Otter family wash-tub in order to round out the jug-band for the show.
If I were to go full-on essayist for Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, I’d argue that central to the story is the idea that music brings folks together, but appropriately as the term suggests, only when it’s folk music. Buying that new piano, or that new guitar? It’s not always worth it when you have a cigar-box banjo and a jug on hand.
Also, even if you get beat out in the local talent show by an electric rock ‘n roll band of hooligans from Riverbottom called “The Nightmare,” your ability to collaborate and arrange a warm-hearted original tune about brotherhood while walking home on a frozen creek is going to catch the eye of Doc Bullfrog, who thinks you’re attractively Americana, and just enough for a regular slot on the bill at his town restaurant.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all: start a jug-band.