"I'm Dreaming of a Blu Christmas…Again" by David Krauss
It's hard to believe it's that time of year again, but the holiday season will soon be upon us, so it's time to start pulling the decorations down from the attic or up from the basement, and dragging those beloved holiday Blu-rays out of the cabinet. As the popularity of high-def discs continues to grow, so do the number of specialized releases, and this holiday season, some notable gaps in the Blu-ray canon have been filled. And if you didn't have the time or funds to stock up on yuletide discs last year, seize the moment right now. Make that list, check it twice, and begin compiling a collection of seasonal films and television programs that will surely be watched and enjoyed over and over again for years to come.
The following list contains some bona fide classics, as well as a crop of new releases. So mull that cider (or wine), cuddle up under your favorite Christmas blanket, and add some serious blu to the reds and greens that color your holiday!
All-Time Classics: The biggest classics news this season is the release of 'White Christmas,' the tuneful Irving Berlin musical starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen, and Rosemary Clooney. With high-spirited numbers galore, along with two renditions of the iconic title song, this breezy tale of romance and friendship ranks right up there with Hollywood's best holiday fare. Of course, Christmas just wouldn't be Christmas without 'It's a Wonderful Life,' and what a gift this Blu-ray edition is for classic movie fans. With an impeccable transfer that delights the eyes – before they well up with tears – and a marvelous story that no matter how many times we've seen it (and I've lost count myself) never fails to brighten our perspective, this beloved production deserves a fresh look this year. Ditto the definitive edition of Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol.' Produced in England in 1951 and starring the best Ebenezer Scrooge ever, Alastair Sim, this faithful adaptation captures all the bitter angst, rueful melancholy, and unabashed joy of this holiday ghost story. Best of all, the spanking new transfer renders the previous DVD obsolete. (Other versions of 'A Christmas Carol' available on Blu-ray this year include Disney's 2009 blockbuster 3-D interpretation starring chameleon Jim Carrey [available in both 3-D and flat versions] and an acclaimed 1984 television adaptation featuring the esteemed George C. Scott as the irascible Scrooge.) And no discussion of classic Christmas tales would be complete without a nod to the original 'Miracle on 34th Street.' It's impossible not to believe in Santa Claus after watching this charming, surprisingly incisive comedy that gently reinforces the season's true meaning. Though the video quality isn't a huge upgrade from DVD, it's good enough to stuff this little beauty in your holiday stocking.
Modern Classics: Sometimes age alone transforms a run-of-the-mill movie into a classic, and that seems to be the unfortunate fate that's befallen 1985's clunky, elephantine Kris Kringle biopic, 'Santa Claus: The Movie.' I remember loathing this bloated behemoth when it was first released, but Lionsgate is banking on short memories and an insatiable hunger for all things Santa to fuel this 25th anniversary release. Fonder (or at least more realistic) Christmas memories are explored in the nostalgic 'A Christmas Story,' the darkly comic 1983 adaptation of humorist Jean Shepherd's fictional memoir. Who among us can't identify with nine-year-old Ralphie and his dogged pursuit of his dream toy? With both wide-eyed wonder and a mischievous twinkle, this fan favorite deliciously skewers the season. And if you can't identify with Ralphie, then surely you've fantasized at least fleetingly about making your parents and/or siblings disappear, like Kevin McCallister does in 'Home Alone.' C'mon, admit it. Cute-as-a-button Macaulay Culkin battles bungling house burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern after his family leaves on a Parisian vacation without him, learning a lot about independence and the meaning of Christmas in the process. Deftly juggling uproarious slapstick with honest sentiment, this John Hughes production makes us laugh and cry and appreciate the simple pleasures that make this holiday special. And speaking of Christmas vacations – or should I say "stay-cations" - no yuletide celebration is as wacky or wacked out as the one Chevy Chase and family experience in 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.' Running a close second, though, would have to be Buddy the Elf's Big Apple odyssey in Jon Favreau's surprisingly sweet, festive, and hilarious Christmas comedy, 'Elf.' As the orphan child raised at the North Pole and now on a quest to find his real family, Will Ferrell captures the essence of wide-eyed innocence, while James Caan makes a fine foil as his crusty, Scrooge-like dad.
Romantic Comedies: Christmas is certainly one of the most romantic times of the year, and two films blanket us with that warm, fuzzy feeling only a good love story can provide. 'Love, Actually' takes a mosaic approach as it chronicles the exhilaration and heartache of several couples as they navigate love's treacherous minefield. The all-star cast includes Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, and Keira Knightley, and though I'll never forgive Alan for what he does to Emma, it's impossible not to embrace this well-crafted film. I also really like 'The Holiday' (sssshhh! Don't tell anyone!), Nancy Meyers' chick flick supreme about two lonely women (Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet) who trade houses at Christmas and find unexpected love with Jude Law and Jack Black. (I won't spoil who hooks up with whom.) It's a bit predictable and trite, but also strangely irresistible, especially if you've got the tree lit and a roaring fire in the fireplace. It's also one of the few movies in which I don't find Diaz to be annoying.
Animated Fare: When I was a kid, one of the few things that could help speed the interminable wait between Thanksgiving and Christmas was the steady stream of children's holiday specials that flooded the network airwaves, and as of this year, almost all my favorites are now available on Blu-ray! The newest edition is a must-have box set called 'The Original Christmas Classics.' And classics they are! 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' (narrated by Burl Ives), 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town' (narrated by Fred Astaire) and 'Frosty the Snowman' and 'Frosty Returns' are all included. Also new this season is another top-notch entry, 'The Year Without a Santa Claus,' featuring the talents of Mickey Rooney and Shirley Booth as the beleaguered Mr. and Mrs. Claus. There's even a cartoon adaptation of Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' starring the myopic Mr. Magoo – 'Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.' Of course, such immortal classics as 'A Charlie Brown Christmas' and 'Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas' are still available, but for those who prefer more modern, innovative animated fare, there's Tim Burton's ghoulishly delightful 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' and Robert Zemeckis' magical 'The Polar Express,' which is available in both flat and 3-D versions. Remember, it's never too early to get your kids addicted to high-def discs.
Dozens of other holiday Blu-rays are available to brighten (or darken) this Christmas, from traditional Yule log presentations and concerts to irreverent black comedies and, yes, even horror films. But for those who desire a well-balanced, family-friendly selection that plays well from year to year, you can't go wrong with any of the above choices (well, maybe with the exception of 'Santa Claus: The Movie'). So plop a few marshmallows in your hot chocolate, grab a comfy blanket, light that fire, and let these movies infuse you with seasonal spirit. Happy Holidays!!