Working under editor Bill Bruns, this reporter was assigned to put together several publications including the Holiday Gift Guide. Many of the reporters didn’t want the task, but I relished it. Not only did I go into every store in the Palisades examining different items that could be in the guide, but I also usually trotted down to the Palisades Chamber of Commerce located on Antioch (where Katie O’Neills Fine Art Studio is now situated).
While people were slaving over stories at the paper, I was chatting with Arnie Wishnick, the executive director of the Chamber, and Marilyn Crawford, his faithful assistant. There was always some sort of dessert, cookie or other goodie on the table.
While my coworkers thought they had the better job because they didn’t have to assemble the 20-page guide, I knew I was having more fun—eating cookies and chatting with Arnie—what a great way to spend an hour or two.
During one of the visits, I came up with the idea that Arnie, who at one time had also served as the film critic for the paper, should supply his favorite Christmas films. After all, I did need a story to prove I was actually working.
Circling the News is sharing Wishnick’s 2012 picks, which are still excellent choices.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Miss Piggy, Kermit the Frog, Fozzie Bear and the rest of the Muppets who interact with Michael Caine, who gives a magnificent performance.
- Gremlins (1984). These creatures must be kept away from bright light, never get wet and never ever be fed after midnight or else . . .! Joe Dante’s dark comedy/horror film is balanced against a Christmas setting.
- The Santa Clause (1994). Tim Allen is at his best as an obnoxious divorced father who becomes the real Santa.
- Bad Santa (2003). Billy Bob Thorton as a department-store Santa and an elf friends work at malls during the holiday season and then rob them on Christmas. Bad Santa, bad Billy Bob.
- The Shop Around the Corner (1940). James Steward and Margaret Sullivan play two shopkeepers who are constantly irritated with each other. The story borders on soap opera, but Christmas and love win out in the end.
- Die Hard (1988). Wishnick said, “An L.A. high-rise is about to go kaboom during the company’s Christmas party. Oh, no! Not if Bruce Willis has anything to do with it.” This film was voted the #1 action flick of all time. (And was a Final Jeopardy answer last week.)
- Love Actually (2003). A British romantic comedy about eight couples dealing with their love lives the month before Christmas . . . and you thought your life was complicated.
- The Bishop’s Wife (1947). Starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven, this is a romantic comedy about an angel (Grant) who comes to earth to help a bishop (Niven) and then falls in love with his wife (Young). No sinning allowed?
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). This film features stop-motion animated characters created by Tim Burton. Jack Skellengton, a being from Halloween Town tries to take over Christmas.
- Babes in Toyland (1934). Any Laurel and Hardy film is a good bet for laughs. The duo tries to save Bo-Peep from marrying an evil miser, but get fired from a toy shop for a simple mistake. Instead of making 600, one-foot soldiers, they make one hundred soldiers, each six feet tall.
- Holiday Inn (1942) This classic stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, with songs by Irving Berlin. One of the hit songs is song by Der Bingle.
- National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Wishnick proclaimed this a favorite because of Chevy Chase “those great sight gags and those Griswalds.” (Chevy Chase was a Palisades Honorary Mayor in 1986.)
- Scrooge (1951). Although Charles Dickens’ story has been done many times, many ways, this version staring Alastair Sim is considered the definitive version, according to Wishnick.
- Christmas in Connecticut (1942). For those lucky enough to have watched this film starring Barbara Stanwyck, it becomes obvious why this made Arnie’s list. There is nothing funnier than a woman with no domestic skills trying to pass herself off as a Martha Stewart type. “Love this film,” Wishnick said.
- White Christmas (1954). Bing Crosby and Danny Kay team up as a song-and-dance acct after World War II. Romance and beautiful songs make this a nice way to spend an evening. “Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen look awfully good,” Wishnick said.
- Elf (2003). Will Ferrell stars as a human raised as an elf, until his size causes havoc. He’s allowed to go to New York to look for his biological father and is shocked at the lack of Christmas spirit. An agreeable comedy, Bob Newhart stars as papa elf.
- Home Alone (1990). “Bad guys. Smart kids. It’s fun to be left home alone,” Wishnick said. He ranks this film as one of his favorite holiday-themed movies. Written and produced by the late John Hughes, it stars Macaulay Culkin.
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947). This movie stars Natalie Wood and is ranked ninth by the American Film Institute on its list of America’s most inspiring movies. Edmund Gwenn wins an Oscar for his performance . . .and yes, there really is a Santa Claus.
- Scrooged (1988). Bill Murray plays a cynical, but successful, television programing executive in a modernized take of Charles Dickens’ classic story.
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). This was originally a box-office dud that was panned by the critics. Audiences felt otherwise and watched James Stewart and Donna Reed celebrate life. It has become a classic, shown every Christmas. In 2012, Wishnick urged readers to decide if they agreed with critics or audiences.
- A Christmas Story (1983). Directed by the late Bob Clark, this film resonates with anyone who has desperately wanted something for Christmas, opened presents, but not received that special present. This movie is a top holiday pick for many critics and audiences, according to Wishnick.
(Editor’s note: Many may remember that Clark and his son Ariel Hanrth-Clark, 22, were killed in a head-on car crash on Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades on April 4, 2007. The crash occurred when an SUV, driven by Héctor Manuel Velázquez-Nava, crossed the median. The driver, who had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit, was driving without a license and described by federal authorities as an illegal immigrant. In October 2007, he was sentenced to six years in prison under the terms of a plea agreement.)