The Bock’s Office: ‘Darkest before dawn’ is key in holiday movies

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Andy Bockelman

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press. Contact him at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

Find more columns by Bockelman here.

You can’t have good things happen without bad things also happening. Well, you can, but good things without any obstacles are less meaningful.

Such is the conundrum faced with Christmas. Do you remember the holiday experience where everything went as planned or the one where one disaster after another tried your patience and left you ready to say, “bah, humbug” to the next happy person you saw only to realize at the last second that it didn’t matter as long as you and yours were together?

Hopefully, the latter hypothetical rings true, and if you saw perfect Christmases year after year, then goody for you. The point being that the innate goodness of the yuletide season often is most palpable for those whose holidays look their bleakest, an idea Hollywood has been able to capture, sometimes horribly, but other times just right.

Somewhere between the cutesy nostalgia of “A Christmas Story” and the vileness of “Gremlins” are the best holiday films that exemplify how much Christmas can change your whole outlook. You might not think about how depressing some of your favorite flicks appear, but that’s because by the end, all is well even after the worst circumstances.

“Home Alone”

An 8-year-old boy declares “families suck” and wishes his relatives would just disappear. When they apparently do — accidentally leaving him behind as they travel to Paris — his joy at getting exactly what he wanted is short-lived, particularly when he is faced with a pair of persistent burglars and a creepy old man in the neighborhood.

The level of discord in the McCallister household at first makes us wonder how they’re still together at all, but such was the normalcy of 1990s suburbia, hopefully minus the easy access to acetylene torches for little kids. However this family might act 364 days of the year, it all comes down to that tearful reunion Christmas morning when Kevin has learned his lesson and seen how his mom has gone through hell and back to get home to him.

Still, even after all that, his parents are dumb enough to let it happen again two years later?

“Miracle on 34th Street”

A cheerful bearded man who goes by the name Kris Kringle volunteers to fill in at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and goes on to become the regular Santa Claus at the department store. When he begins to insist that he is the real deal, he eventually is institutionalized and put on trial to determine his sanity.

A twinkle in your eye and a few white whiskers on your chin may not make you the true St. Nicholas, OK. But a girl only in second grade who’s more cynical than most adults about the wonder of Christmas? Come on…

Besides this feature’s sense of whimsy — the 1947 original, anyway — its message that anything can happen if you just believe is timeless, even if a bundle of mail bags may not be the best legal precedent.

“Bad Santa”

A longtime crook’s racket of posing as a mall Santa and then robbing the place blind each year is starting to wear on him. His latest gig likely will be his last, but taking up residence in the home of a naive kid has him feeling guilty about his past for the first time.

This isn’t one for the whole family, to be sure, but if you feel you’ve been lax on the Christmas cheer, seeing a drunken foul-mouthed deadbeat traipse around in a red and white suit certainly will make you feel better about yourself.

Seriously, though, what it has to offer is that it’s never too late to try to redeem yourself and make a difference in someone’s life, whether it’s getting a child a pink, plush elephant or savagely beating up the kid that’s been giving him wedgies.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

A hate-filled hermit decides to finally put an end to the commotion of Christmas once and for all by ransacking the town of Whoville of all its gifts, decorations and any food bigger than a crumb for a mouse.

Dr. Seuss hit the nail on the head with a loose adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” where the biggest villain is the main character, at least at first. The Chuck Jones cartoon got it perfect while the live-action version takes a longer route to the same conclusion, somehow making the Whos appear to be a bunch of elite racists — the Hulk and Kermit the Frog can empathize that it’s not easy bein’ green — that the holiday is about much more than crass materialism.

That hymn-like chant performed at the end — I still have no idea how to spell it — will warm your heart even if it’s two sizes too small.

“It’s a Wonderful Life”

A small-town man at the end of his rope on Christmas Eve decides suicide is the only way out of his financial predicament. However, some divine intervention may show him differently.

There’s always going to be some debate about which holiday flick is the best, but anyone who tells you this isn’t at least in the top 3 either hasn’t seen it or doesn’t get it. Only once you get out of your own head and see the effect you have on people’s lives, good and bad, can you appreciate the significance of friendship, love and community.

Most of us won’t get the same opportunity George Bailey receives, but the purpose of this season isn’t to have one day where we’re decent to each other but to remind us how great it feels to carry on that consideration for all of humanity year-round.

Merry Christmas, you old movie house, and Merry Christmas, Northwest Colorado.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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