MOVIE BUFF-ET: Greatest Christmas Movies Tournament – Part 1: The Candy Cane Classics bracket


It’s Christmastime, folks.

Even the Grinchiest of the Grinches and Scoogiest of the Scrooges have to admit it.

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we’ve all survived Black Friday. The Polar Express is barreling downhill, and it’s not going to stop until Dec. 25th.

As a movie buff and a Christmas fan, this truly is one of the most wonderful times of the year for me. There are so many great Christmas-themed films and TV shows, but sadly not enough time to watch them all even if you started now. Believe me, I’ve driven myself crazy trying to do it before.

Even narrowing down the list to a few favorites is tough. If you asked me today what my favorite Christmas movie is, I might tell you “The Bishop’s Wife,” but if you asked tomorrow, I might say “Holiday Inn” or “Elf” or “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”

Well, maybe not that last one.

Still, it’s complicated for me even to pick a top 10. So, I’ve opted for a Top 64, and to make it fun — or complicated — I’ve broken those 64 yuletide classics or near classics into four brackets for a NCAA Basketball Tournament-style showdown to help me select my favorite Christmas films.

Call it Christmas Madness!

The Fayetteville Flyer is running one of the four brackets twice each week through mid-December.

Today is the Candy Cane Classics bracket. On Nov. 30, the Mistletoe Modern bracket runs, followed by the O Tannenbaum TV bracket on Dec. 5, and the Egg Nog Neo Classics bracket on Dec. 7.

The winning picks from the four brackets meet for a Yuletide Final Four, resulting in the crowning of the Movie Buff-et’s Greatest Christmas Movie.

In the comments, please let us know what you think. With subjectivity, there is always controversy, just like the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

Which of your favorites were left out? Where did the seeding go wrong? And what would you have picked?

Have fun and share your opinions, but be kind.

Remember Santa is watching!

Candy Cane Classics

1. It’s a Wonderful Life vs. 16. Lemon Drop Kid

I like the “Lemon Drop Kid,” which stars Bob Hope as a Christmas scam artist. The movie introduced one of my favorite Christmas tunes “Silver Bells,” but come on, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is not only a great Christmas movie, but it also was voted the No. 11 American film of all time by the American Film Institute. “It’s a Wonderful Life” wins, and it’s not even close.

Winner – It’s a Wonderful Life

8. Scrooge/A Christmas Carol (Alastair Sim, 1951) vs. 9. A Christmas Carol (Reginald Owen, 1938)

The toughest choice in the initial eight parings is of course the No.8 and No. 9 matchup between MGM’s 1938 version of “A Christmas Carol” with Reginald Owen as Scrooge and the 1951 version of the Charles Dickens’ classic titled “Scrooge” in the U.S., but “A Christmas Carol” in Great Britain with Alastair Sim as the mean ole miser. Most critics prefer, the No. 8 seed “Scrooge,” but the MGM version was my first exposure to Dickens’ wonderful story of repentance and redemption, so in an upset, MGM’s 1938 version of “A Christmas Carol” takes the paring.

Winner — A Christmas Carol (1938)

Bracket Quarterfinal: No. 1 It’s a Wonderful Life vs. No. 9 A Christmas Carol (1938)

As much as I love the story of “A Christmas Carol,” I have to go with Frank Capra’s tale of the selfless George Bailey. He really did have a wonderful life, and it’s just a better movie.

Winner — It’s a Wonderful Life

5. The Shop Around the Corner vs. 12. Christmas in Connecticut

“The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) is a tight, beautifully shot romantic comedy by Ernest Lubitsch, starring old friends Jimmy Stewart and Margret Sullivan as pen pals who fall in love with each other through their words, but unknowingly dislike each other as co-workers. It’s set during Christmastime, and inspired remakes “In the Good Ol’ Summertime” (1949) and “You’ve Got Mail” (1998). “Christmas in Connecticut” is a bit whackier romantic comedy with the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck and Dennis Morgan. Stanwyck plays a food writer with a fake persona of a perfect homemaker, who dispenses dishes and delight in her columns. That gets her in trouble when she has to host a military hero and her boss for a an old-fashioned Christmas. I love both of these films, but “Shop Around the Corner” really tugs at my heartstrings.

Winner — The Shop Around the Corner

4. Going My Way vs. 13. Meet Me in Saint Louis

Here’s another tough pairing of films, which only deal with Christmas on a cursory level; however, Christmas is pivotal at the climax of each movie. “Going My Way” was nominated for 10 and won seven Academy Awards in 1944. It stars Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley a priest sent to take over a parish from the elderly Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), but in a kindly way. “Meet Me in St. Louis” is a musical dramedy about a Midwestern family struggling with a move to New York City. Also shot in 1944, it stars Judy Garland and introduces the song “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Both are excellent movies, but I have to go with the Academy.

Winner — Going My Way

Bracket Quarterfinal: No. 4 Going My Way vs. No. 5 The Shop Around the Corner

It’s really hard to top Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan in The Shop Around the Corner. It boast a fine supporting cast, but when Father Fitzgibbon’s 95-year-old mother, whom he has not seen in 45 years, shows up at the end of “Going My Way,” you’d have to be the Grinch not to shed a tear.

Winner — Going My Way

Bracket Semifinal 1: No. 1 It’s a Wonderful Life vs. No. 4 Going My Way

“Going My Way” is an Academy Award winner, and Bing Crosby is great as Father O’Malley, but “It’s a Wonderful Life” with Jimmy Stewart’s performance as George Bailey just means Christmas to so many, and one of them is me.

Winner — It’s a Wonderful Life

6. Holiday Inn vs. 11. Babes in Toyland

“Holiday Inn” stars Big Crosby and Fred Astaire as romantic rivals for the hand of lovely Marjorie Reynolds. The 1942 film introduces several Irving Berlin standards, the most of important of which is “White Christmas,” the best-selling Christmas song in the U.S. of all time. “Babes in Toyland” is a slap-schtick fantasy starring Laurel and Hardy as toy makers in a 1934 film based on the operetta by Victory Herbert.

Winner — Holiday Inn

3. The Bishop’s Wife vs. 14. Remember the Night

“The Bishop’s Wife” might be seeded too low. It stars Cary Grant as the angel Dudley who comes to Earth to help a wayward minister David Niven at Christmastime, and while doing so, Dudley falls in love with his bride, played by the lovely Loretta Young. Few things say Christmas like the opening scenes of the film, and the rest is awfully good, too. “Remember the Night” stars Fred McMurray as a prosecuting attorney who gets roped into to taking fetching shoplifter Barbara Stanwyck home with him for Christmas in this sentimental and uneven, but fun Christmas romantic comedy.

Winner — The Bishop’s Wife

Bracket Quarterfinal: No. 3 Bishop’s Wife vs. No. 6 Holiday Inn

Personally, I love both of these movies. I probably have seen “Holiday Inn” more times than any other movie, but I’ve grown to love “The Bishop’s Wife” more and more over the last decade. I would not argue with anyone who opined that it is the BEST Christmas movie. The entire movie is centered around the holiday, where as Christmas is one of many holidays touched upon by “Holiday Inn.”

Winner — The Bishop’s Wife

7. Holiday Affair vs. 10. Meet John Doe

In 1949’s “Holiday Affair” Robert Mitchum plays against type a veteran who falls for a single mother Janet Leigh, when he meets her while she is comparison shopping in the department store where he is working. There is a connection but a reticence on her part because she has a boyfriend who would like to be her fiancé. Circumstances lead them all being together for Christmas, where Mitchum surprises everyone and pops the question. “Meet John Doe” is a populist dramedy, directed by Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Stanwyck is a newspaper columnist who pens a lie that catches on with the public during the Great Depression. Cooper is a hobo and a former minor league pitcher whom Stanwyck convinces to pose as the fictional John Doe character from her column. Circumstances leads him to the verge of suicide on Christmas Eve. “Meet John Doe” is a fine movie, but in a Christmas Movie Tournament, “Holiday Affair “ gets the advantage.

Winner — Holiday Affair

2. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) vs. 15. White Christmas

When a charming, elderly man (Edmund Gwenn) named Kris Kringle steps in for an inebriated Santa Claus to save the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, he quickly charms himself into the full-time gig. The film stars Maureen O’Hara as Macy’s parade director, and Natalie Wood, in her film debut, as O’Hara’s daughter. John Payne plays the lawyer taxed with proving that Kris is the one and only Santa Claus, and how he does is a genius piece of writing that I will not spoil. “White Christmas” is a 1954 remake of sorts of “Holiday Inn” with Danny Kaye playing the hoofer to Bing Crosby’s crooner. Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen are a sister act that hook up with Crosby and Kaye for Christmas at a Vermont resort, but there is no snow. What will they do? Put on a show, of course. Gwenn won an Oscar for his performance as Kringle, and that’s just one reason why “Miracle on 34th Street” gets the nod.

Winner — Miracle on 34th Street

Bracket Quarterfinal: No. 2 Miracle on 34th Street vs.No. 7 Holiday Affair

Holiday Affair is a darker more realistic film that has a distilled version of the Christmas spirit. “Miracle on 34th Street,” however, is overflowing with the essence of Christmas, and it answers that oft-asked question of whether Santa sleeps with his whiskers under the covers or with them out. Out is the answer according to Kris. The cold air makes them grow.

Winner — Miracle on 34th Street

Bracket Semifinal 2: No. 2 Miracle on 34th Street vs. No. 3 The Bishop’s Wife

“The Bishop’s Wife” is an enchanting movie with some wonderful moments. I’d argue it is a top-five Christmas movie, if not even better. However, “Miracle on 34th” is woven into the tapestry of Christmas as we understand it. Edmund Gwenn’s eyes twinkle in the role of this career as Kris Kringle, and little Natalie Wood is such a charmer as the child who wants so badly to believe that her dreams can come true.

Winner — Miracle on 34th Street

Bracket Final: No 1 It’s a Wonderful Life vs. No. 2 Miracle on 34th Street

Without a doubt, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” are the two best known of all the classic Christmas movies, and likely the two most beloved. I dearly love “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’m not sure if a more romantic scene has been committed to film that its telephone scene where Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are cheek to cheek talking to George Bailey’s old buddy Sam Wainwright on the phone. The romantic tension is palpable. Certainly, the final scene of “It’s a Wonderful life on Christmas Eve where Bailey’s friends bail him out is a joyful one.

However, I’m not sure any movie captures the wonder and magic of Christmas quite like “Miracle on 34th Street.” When Natalie Wood sees the home she has always dreamed of, and John Payne and Maureen O’Hara see Kris Kringle’s walking cane in the corner of its living room, some part of you must believe there is a Santa Claus.

Winner — Miracle on 34th Street

All the other brackets

Part 1: The Candy Cane Classics bracket, (movies from 1930-1959)
Part 2: The Mistletoe Modern bracket (movies since 1990)
Part 3: The O Tannenbaum TV bracket (made for television)
Part 4: The Egg Nog Neo Classics bracket (movies from 1960-1990)
Part 5: Yuletide Final Four & The Movie Buff-et’s Greatest Christmas Movie of 2017