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The holidays are stressful enough without worrying about which holiday re-release is best. With that mind, the B-List Bargain Bin Crew compiled this holiday survival guide to Santa's DVD library, along with the special editions to enjoy - and the over-priced re-releases to avoid.
It's a Wonderful Life
For all the impact this holiday mega-classic has had on pop culture, it's amazing how few people have seen it. Nearly everyone call tell you what happens every time a bell rings, but surprisingly few people recall the part where James Stewart leaps off a bridge. Directed by Frank Capra, the movie has angels taking a birds' eye view of the life of one George Bailey (James Stewart). Bailey forsakes his youthful dreams to become a philanthropic small town businessman, only to slide into depression after a cruel miser (Lionel Barrymore) jeopardizes everything. Believing the world to be better off if he never existed, Bailey unwittingly receives a wake-up call when the bumping angel Clarence (Henry Travers) grants his wish. If you're getting this movie on DVD, spring for the two-disc collector's edition which features both black & white and color versions as well as a making-of featurette and a tribute to Frank Capra from his son.
Hilariously enough, you have to be 17 or older to order this since the DVD is "not rated", but I can reasonably assure parents, the harshest word you'll hear in this movie is "gosh-darn."
Much like "It's a Wonderful Life," nearly everyone knows the famous Bing Crosby tune - but not many people know what it's about. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star as two war buddies who take their variety show on the road. En route to Maine for the holidays, the pair meets a sister-sister duo of entertainers (Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen) and eventually discover the Maine hotel they're staying at is owned by their former commanding officer. In a ploy to bring business to the fading hotel, the four entertainers put on a variety show in the general's honor - and from there the movie diverges into so many elaborate numbers that it kinda forgets its called "White Christmas." Fortunately, the whole movie is held together by virtue of Danny Kaye's dance moves and comic timing. Romance, comedy and complications all ensue before the movie's eponymous closing number. For DVD purchase, you can't go wrong with the Anniversary edition, which features backstage stories, profiles and several other making-of features.
A Christmas Story
Unlike the above movies, this is the one Christmas movie where everyone knows what happens - I'm risking no spoilers by saying the boy shoots his eye out. Based on the novel by Jean Shepherd, the movie chronicles a boy (Peter Billingsey) and his quest to attain a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Darren McGavin of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" fame stars the Old Man, the father of the boy whose also out to attain a certain shapely lampshade no matter what - with both father and son enduring humorous consequences as a result of their Christmas obsessions. Jean Shepperd narrates the tale, while future B-movie star Zack Ward is Scut Farkus, the crazy red-headed bully terrorizing the protagonists and his friends. The DVD releases seem almost identical across the board - from Full Screen to Blu-ray - and virtually every one released over the last ten years features the same awkward and vaguely creepy cover of Peter Billingsey smiling with a deer-in-the-headlights gaze for no apparent reason. So with that in mind, don't be swayed by "Collector's Editions" or what not's - you can buy the ultra-cheap 2000 DVD release of this Christmas classic and still not miss much in the special feature department.
Before he reinvigorated the Marvel movie with "Iron Man," Jon Favreau reinvigorated the Christmas movie with "Elf." Will Ferrell stars as Buddy the Elf - a human raised by a foster elf (Bob Newhart) in Santa's (Ed Ashner) Workshop. When it becomes clear an adult Buddy isn't a good fit in the pint-sized Elven setting, he goes looking for his biological father - a high-strung publisher (James Caan) in New York. Between bonding with his father's new family and romancing a department store worker (Zooey Deschanel), Buddy has his work cut for him, but his biggest test as his joyful Christmas attitude strains the relationship - and career - of his work-driven father. Before the film's end, multiple characters learn the true meaning of Christmas, while Buddy learns what it means to be an Elf while helping Santa flee the Central Park Rangers on horseback. You can see the blueprints of "Iron Man" in "Elf," but the film's real draw is Ferrell, who brings a sense of innocence in stark contrast and often conflict to the world around him. As far as editions go, your best bet is probably the 2003 InfiFilm edition, which has deleted scenes, several featurettes and several DVD-ROM extras. The blu-ray has identical special features, so you aren't gaining much with the newest version.
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