Margaret Hair: Holiday countdown

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Margaret Hair

Margaret Hair's column appears Fridays in the 4 Points arts and entertainment section in the Steamboat Today. Contact her at 871-4204 or e-mail mhair@steamboatpilot.com.

— To many, the holidays mean getting together with friends and loved ones, sharing stories and food in a rare opportunity to sit back and reflect.

To me, at least in part, the holidays mean "time of the year when it is perfectly acceptable to publish Top Five lists."

It's a beautiful thing. Lists are easy to digest (even if your holiday spread isn't), they're easy to argue about, and if you make them often enough, lists provide a chance to look back on the past year and see how your tastes have changed.

So here goes, my top five holiday movies and top five holiday albums.

Top five holiday movies:

5. "It's a Wonderful Life" - Classic.

4. "Christmas Vacation" - Sure, these National Lampoon movies are goofy on the surface and rely heavily on sight gags from Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid. But when you leave behind the more ridiculous parts, "Christmas Vacation" is one of the sweeter holiday films.

3. "Scrooged" - The last five minutes of this "Christmas Carol"-inspired Bill Murray comedy are the most uplifting five minutes in 20th-century cinema. There's no setting better than New York City in the 1980s to show the kind of spiritless hedonism the original tale advises against, and there's no one who can play cynical and mirthful like Murray. So when his Scrooge finally sees the holiday spirit, there's no turnaround more satisfying.

2. "The Nightmare Before Christmas" - Forget "Edward Scissorhands." "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is modern fairytale director Tim Burton's masterpiece.

1. "A Christmas Story" - It's possible that this one gets a top spot due to repetition. TBS has played it Dec. 24 and 25 for 24 hours nonstop for as long as I can remember. Even if I don't plan to watch this movie on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, it always seems to be on in the background.

Mostly, it does the best job of capturing a slightly dysfunctional middle-class holiday through a child's eyes, without sacrificing the family's chance at happiness.

Top five holiday albums:

5. "Merry Christmas" by Mariah Carey - Whatever, she can sing.

4. "Funky Christmas" by James Brown - He was the Godfather of Soul, and he died Dec. 26. Wouldn't it make sense for his collection of holiday songs to be one of the best?

3. "Christmas Caravan" by the Squirrel Nut Zippers - Remember when swing music was making a popular comeback? Squirrel Nut Zippers were part of that GAP commercial-fueled trend, and managed to transcend it by aiming a bit earlier than everyone else - to the 1920s and '30s - and throwing in a little Southern rock. The band's holiday record is full of original songs and cheeky lyrics.

2. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" - On this soundtrack to the ultimately depressing "Peanuts" special, the Vince Guaraldi Trio makes a piano, upright bass, drums and some floated-in cartoon vocals an automatic bit of nostalgia.

1. "A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector" - Before he was appearing in court with Albert Einstein hair on murder charges, Phil Spector - who famously put a "wall of sound" behind The Beatles, and arguably thus ruined it - made rock 'n' roll's best holiday collection.

On "Christmas Gift," Spector applies his maniacal perfectionism to acts such as the Ronettes and the Crystals to create thickly arranged girl group holiday classics, including "Sleigh Ride" and "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)."

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