The ultimate Catholic guide to Christmas movies

3 mins read
Christmas movies
Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer star in a scene from the movie "The Man Who Invented Christmas." The OSV News classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. (OSV News photo/Kerry Brown, Bleecker Street)

(OSV News) — One promising way to get in the holiday mood is to watch a Christmas-themed movie. And, since yuletide films naturally tend to qualify as family-friendly, they can also provide an opportunity to gather the clan, make some popcorn and relax together.

Following, in alphabetical order, are capsule reviews of eight such pictures with their OSV News classifications and, where applicable, their Motion Picture Association ratings. Please note that movies dating from before 1968 were not rated by the MPA upon their initial release.

“The Bishop’s Wife” (1947)

A debonair, smartly tailored angel (Cary Grant) uses his heavenly powers to help the neglected wife (Loretta Young) of a busy Episcopalian bishop (David Niven) renew her husband’s ministry to those in need rather than raise the money for a new cathedral. Director Henry Koster’s sentimental Christmas fable has the virtue of a good script, sincere performances and some amusing moments with Grant’s angelic powers and Monty Wooley as a softhearted old cynic. Most of the family will find it charming entertainment. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents.

“A Christmas Carol” (1951)

This British version of the Dickens classic has worn well over the years principally because of Alistair Sim’s zestful performance as Scrooge, the old humbug whose transformation into a loving human being is a pleasure to behold. Director Brian Desmond Hurst’s period piece does well with its 19th-century London setting, and the ghostly visitations are done simply but with considerable flair. The result is dandy family viewing. The OSV News classification is A-I — general patronage.

“A Christmas Story” (1983)

Adapted from Jean Shepherd’s nostalgic piece of whimsy, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash,” the movie re-creates what it was like to be a boy (Peter Billingsley) yearning for a genuine Red Ryder air rifle for Christmas in the Midwest of the 1940s. Director Bob Clark gets some good performances from Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as the understanding parents, and the period atmosphere is nicely conveyed with what is essentially a warm celebration of a more innocent, less sophisticated America. Fleeting vulgar mutterings. (A-II) The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

“Elf” (2003)

Warmhearted yuletide comedy about a foundling (Will Ferrell) raised by elves in Santa’s workshop who travels from the North Pole to New York City in order to reconnect with his long-lost father (James Caan), a workaholic scrooge bereft of Christmas cheer. Full of goofy candy-cane humor, director Jon Favreau’s holiday film imparts a strong family-friendly message, but uses a secular sieve to filter out any religious references to the true meaning of Christmas. Minimal mildly crude language and humor. (A-II) (PG)

“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

Seasonal favorite about the joys and trials of a good man (James Stewart) who, facing financial ruin on the eve of Christmas, contemplates suicide until his guardian angel (Henry Travers) shows him how meaningful his life has been to those around him. Director Frank Capra’s unabashedly sentimental picture of mainstream American life is bolstered by a superb cast (including Lionel Barrymore as a conniving banker) and a wealth of good feelings about such commonplace virtues as hard work and helping one’s neighbor. Young children may find the story’s dark moments unsettling. (A-II)

“The Man Who Invented Christmas” (2017)

This charming fact-based historical drama tells the origin story of Victorian author Charles Dickens’ (Dan Stevens) beloved novella, “A Christmas Carol.” With his last three titles having failed to sell, Dickens fears falling into debt if his next production is equally unpopular. As he struggles with writer’s block and the endless distractions of his burgeoning family’s domestic life — a visit from his feckless father (Jonathan Pryce), whom Dickens blames for the sufferings of his childhood, is a particular source of worry and conflict — the writer fancifully summons up and interacts with his own characters, most prominently dour miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Christopher Plummer). His patient wife (Morfydd Clark) and unpaid literary agent (Justin Edwards) offer him encouragement, and the conversion story he eventually pens finds a real-life counterpart in the amendment of Dickens’ own behavior. Director Bharat Nalluri’s adaptation of Les Standiford’s 2008 book is family-friendly in most respects and will likely prove a winner with a broad range of age groups. A very vague sexual joke, a single mild oath. (A-II) (PG)

“Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)

Familiar seasonal favorite follows a department store Santa (Edmund Gwenn) as he strives to convince a lonely little girl (Natalie Wood) that he’s the genuine article, despite the objections of her rigidly pragmatic mother (Maureen O’Hara) and a court trial that hinges on the U.S. Post Office. Director George Seaton’s amusing romantic fantasy has its sentimental moments while spreading a reasonable amount of holiday cheer, largely due to Gwenn’s charming performance as Kris Kringle. Problems of single parenthood. (A-II)

“The Nativity Story” (2006)

Dramatization of the New Testament birth narratives from the Annunciation to the birth of Jesus, focusing on the relationship between Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) and their arduous trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem, with subplots tracking the journey of the three Magi and the efforts of King Herod (Ciarán Hinds) to prevent the prophecy of a messiah from coming to pass. A composite of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, embroidered with apocryphal traditions and the imagination of the filmmaker, the Bible story gets the prestige treatment in director Catherine Hardwicke’s artful, reverent and affecting retelling, with soulful performances from an excellent international cast — including Shohreh Aghdashloo as Elizabeth — and impressive production design. Mike Rich’s screenplay manages to flesh out Mary and Joseph while remaining faithful to Scripture, poignantly suggesting the humanity beneath the halos. Some violent images. (A-I) (PG)

John Mulderig

John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News.