Gov. Baker Shares His Top 10 Christmas Movies/Specials [OPINION]
I am always one who gets hit with the Christmas spirit. The meaning behind it and what it brings out in most people allows me to look forward to it very much each year.
Not that I needed any Christmas "booster shot," but with the snow on the ground, our tree now in the living room all lit up, and on top of my being aware that we are now knee-deep into December, I was feeling it last night (unless it was the Disarrono) and decided to share with my Facebook peeps my favorite Christmas movies or TV specials.
I presented my list of (mostly) movies with some anticipated TV specials, some that Americans have looked forward to since before I was born, and people responded with some fun suggestions and comments.
One of those who responded was Charlie Baker, the Governor of Massachusetts, with whom I have had a cordial and pleasant relationship going back since his first, unsuccessful bid to run for governor against Deval Patrick.
Unlike the others, our esteemed governor compared his list to mine. My list included:
1) Scrooge (1970): This musical rendition of the Charles Dickens book was the first movie theater experience of my life and a movie which possessed a near-perfect 10 of a music score (Leslie Bircusse and Ian Fraser), and whose director Ronald Neame invested a lot of time and effort into making the scenery and feel of the movie a convincing 1840s Christmas Eve in London, England. In my opinion, this is the most underrated Christmas movie in history. A cast that boasts of Albert Finney as Scrooge (for which he won the Golden Globe), James Mason as the Ghost of Christmas Present, and Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley.
2) Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone II: Lost in New York (1992): As much as I hate seeing Hollywood try to cash in by adding sequels to blockbuster movies, I have to say that this sequel was a big success for many reasons. While even most of the best movies in history have had trouble closing their stories, the original Home Alone resolved everything as neatly as a wrapped present under the McCallister's tree. ButvAmerica wanted more of Kevin! They wanted more of Marv and Harry and that holiday magic, so the iconic John Hughes obliged and hit another home run. As my friend Armond Marchand told me, it really is an adult fantasy: doing Manhattan in a five-star hotel on someone else's credit card.
4) Christmas Vacation (1989): For many different reasons, National Lampoon is held to a unique set of standards and this movie is on a list of highly-touted ones, maybe at or near the top. Chevy Chase's most successful movie character Clark Griswold and the Christmas spirit were, for millions of fans, business left unfinished. So the second sequel to Vacation made for an absolutely hilarious movie outing for my friends and I. Maybe it was the uncontrolled laughter from my friend David Oakley which made the rest of us laugh harder in the theater, but I've seen it now 30 times and don't seem to tire of it with 12 months spread between viewings since it came out.
5) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964): Probably for reasons of nostalgia more so than being in awe of the quality of the show, Rudolph is deeply rooted in my childhood memories and was a big part of my anticipation for Christmas morning. And why not? It was insider info! This allowed a kid to know exactly how things worked in the super-secret operation north of Sweden. Burl Ives as narrator and a very familiar musical score, along with a frightening antagonist in the Abominable Snowman, made this a Christmas classic since it was first aired.
6) Polar Express (2004): When Tom Hanks plays one role, the movie is generally expected to be good. When he plays five, it might be something special. Hanks plays the conductor, Santa, the dad, he as the hero kid all grown up and the hobo. The theme song "Believe" was an instant classic, sung by Josh Groban and written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri, and nominated for an Academy Award. This was a truly high-def look at Santa's kingdom in the North Pole, which would satisfy the age-old questions from any of the more sophisticated modern children of today. Very much worth watching. While the style of the animation lacked a certain warmth you should feel while selling yourself to such a story, it is otherwise beautifully done.
7) It's A Wonderful Life (1946): While the special effects are as bad as the story is good, and even though it's in black and white, this is a timeless Christmas classic and will remain as one for another 73 years and beyond. Jimmy Stewart comes to life every December as George Bailey, the reluctant heir to a savings and loan company whose mission is to be mindful of struggling families and that is always under attack by a bigger bank and its sinister founder. The untimely death of his dad stopped George from his life-long desire to see the world. The villain in the movie, "Mr. Potter" (played by Lionel Barrymore), tries to snuff out Bailey's family business and drives George to the brink of suicide. Only divine intervention can spoil Potter's scheme. The FBI actually investigated whether the movie was a communist ploy to demonize bankers and capitalism.
8) A Christmas Story (1983): Ralphie and his obsession to get a Red Ryder BB gun is etched in the minds of millions and millions of people worldwide in this holiday classic. It happens to depict the era that barely preceded my own childhood, so it struck a nerve for me. The one thing I hate in this movie is the big bulbs on the Christmas tree. It's like making me eat a mushroom or worse, listen to Poison. Gross! Otherwise, it has all the obligatory factors: the outcome, the bullies, the laughs, and the character-building that hit a home run in America.
9) The Friday After Next (2002): Easily the funniest on my list and just as easily the most inappropriate for younger audiences. Ice Cube continued his East Los Angeles character "Craig" in this hilarious Christmas setting. Craig and his cousin Day-Day (Michael Epps) find themselves short of cash after being robbed in their apartment by a crack addict in a Santa suit. The nasty landlord threatens them with her son Damon (Terry Crews), who is fresh out of jail and looking for (ahem) companions. The pair grab the first job they can, which is to work security at an out-of-control outdoor plaza in a bad neighborhood. So many great characters, cheap laughs and satisfying karma while maintaining a Christmas feel.
10) Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1970): Another Rankin/Bass production, narrated by Fred Astaire, the timeless Christmas song is brought to life in the "claymation," which followed Rudolph's success six years earlier. I could not, in good faith, leave out one of my favorite Christmas characters of all time, the Burgermeister Meisterburger. The reformed Winter Warlock and the look at Santa in younger years (barely) edges out other considerations such as Elf and Die Hard for 10th place.
Governor Charlie Baker is an unusually normal guy for a politician. More times than not, whether it's a city councilor or a president, politicians create characters of themselves to only allow you to know that part of them and not the real person inside. This is not true of Baker. Charlie lets you see the real McCoy of himself.
The Commonwealth's CEO has enormous responsibilities, and yet he finds time to make his status a forgotten thing for the few minutes that he can. He likes people and he likes connecting with them. On rare occasions, our governor will comment, as any general friend would, on social media sites.
Unlike other elected officials, anyone can see that he just wants a part of his life to be that of a normal average citizen. So, as he has in the past, he humbly posted a response to my thread on Facebook. He seemed to enjoy the topic of Christmas specials that I offered.
He then offered his own. I am happy that he joined the conversation and that he is as normal as a dude as he is. Here is our Governor Charlie's choice of Christmas movies and specials:
1) Die Hard (1988): The iconic "John McClane" character portrayed by Bruce Willis, thrust Willis into a superstar action movie icon. Willis plays a New York City cop who is visiting his family after he and his wife separated. She pursued a career in Los Angeles and he stayed on the job in NY. His first stop from the airport is to reunite with his estranged wife Holly Genaro-McClane (Bonnie Bedelia). Any hopes of a perfect Christmas with his family are soon dashed when McClane finds himself battling a group of sophisticated robbers posing as a terrorist group as soon as he arrives. A witty, shoot em' up action flick with a Christmas tree and decorations, all within an intimidatingly tall building (arguably) allows for this to be included as a Christmas movie.
2) JT (1969): A made-for-TV movie and one that I didn't even know existed. After reading the plot and seeing the ratings (8.9 of a possible 10), I'm intrigued. I plan to watch it between now and Christmas. J. T. Gamble, a shy, withdrawn Harlem youngster, shows compassion and responsibility when he takes on the care of an old, one-eyed, badly injured alley cat days before Christmas and secretly nurses it back to health.
3) Home Alone: Here the Gov and I agree, it's an all-time great.
4) Scrooge: Governor Baker read the posts from family or other friends of mine who offered various other Scrooge or Christmas Carol versions of Dickens' story, but Charlie agreed with my choice from 1970 starring Albert Finney.
5) A Christmas Story: Can Charlie Baker and Ken Pittman be wrong about the same any one thing?
6) It’s A Wonderful Life: Great minds think alike. So if Charlie can find one more to agree to this, we have a winner.
7) Serendipity (2001): Another film that I have yet to see. It stars John Cusack and (va-va-voom) Kate Beckinsale. A romantic comedy whose protagonists invest heavily in fate. Both are intrigued by the other when they originally meet in Bloomingdales in Manhattan, but not enough to abandon their established relationships with other people, so they say goodbye and leave the encounter innocently. Fate (serendipity) plays a big role in what is to follow 10 years later. Rated a seven out of 10 by the public. The governor would raise the rating if he had it his way.
8) Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: Another agreed great, almost unimpeachable, one might say.
9) A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): I can't lie. I toyed with this film as a top 10 of mine. It is engraved in so many parts of the holiday season, even by people who aren't aware of the Peanuts. So many classic moments, such as the pathetically emaciated Christmas tree chosen by Charlie Brown whilst he juggles his role as director of the upcoming Christmas play. His home was clearly out-decorated by the curiously capable pet Beagle of his, Snoopy, who somehow lit up his dog house brilliantly. Linus giving us the classic summary of the true meaning of Christmas and, of course, the epic dance that the Peanuts all do that ALL OF US has tried to impersonate at some point in our lives.
10) Bad Santa(!) (2003): It's one of those films that is so wrong, that it's great. The Gov may have been inspired by my indulgent film choice of The Friday After Next, but again, it's just great to see the honesty about who he is. The film is about two awful people, one played by Billy Bob Thornton and the other by Tony Cox, a dwarf who plays the veteran mall elf to Thornton's Santa during the Christmas season. They ride this gig at as many Santa Villages in malls as they can, cash in or steal whatever they can, and show just about the worst in humanity that one can possibly find humourous. Not suitable for, well, most people but certainly not the kiddies. Hey, Charlie, I'm not judging. I picked one that's worse.
Whether or not you agree with Charlie Baker's politics, it's very hard not to like the person. He's genuine and comfortable enough with himself to reveal it without the veiled imperfections. That is a rare thing these days. Navigating through Massachusetts politics as a Republican has many trappings and yet he finds himself at the top of the list of popular governors in America.
Merry Christmas, Governor Baker, to you and your family.
Ken Pittman is the host of The Ken Pittman Show on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon. Contact him at ken.pittman@