Our producer-at-large Fr. Vince Kuna, C.S.C., a 2016 graduate of USC film school, has a list of viewing suggestions for your holiday downtime. They're chosen from five different categories and are listed in no particular order.
Directed by Frank Capra, it's the best classic Christmas film. If I was ranking the films, this would be the greatest ever, both for thematic and explicit depiction of Catholicism. We often forget the Christmas message amidst the birth of a cute baby. But that baby grows up to save us from our sins, especially the “to be or not to be” sin that George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) contemplates. Thus, the stakes could never be higher. I give extra credit for the film tackling the fantasy genre, one of the hardest to pull off without irony. The same can be said for the non-cynical consideration of guardian angels.
Written & directed by Christian Carion; in French and German with English subtitles. Best foreign Christmas film. The film begins on the Western Front during the Christmas season of 1914. Reasonable soldiers from both sides fraternize in No Man’s Land, exchanging cultural foods, football passes and carols. That their officers send them “over the top” to fight each the next week shows the true absurdity of war. The Christian-revert philosopher Peter Hitchens (yes, the brother of atheist Christopher) famously said before WWI, churches were full; after, half full; after WWII, empty. Those concerned with the plight of Christianity in the Old World might take a hard look at this brief moment in European history when the Prince of Peace reigned.
PG-13 rating for some war violence and a brief scene of sensuality.
Written by Charles Schulz, it's the best animated Christmas film. The title character directs his school’s Christmas play. In the process, Charlie finds the true meaning of Christmas, much different from the usual commercialization of the feast day. The message resonated in the 1960s as much as it does this day. The film pairs well with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving (1973). I admit some bias in the animated category. My first job after graduating college consisted of consulting for MetLife, which licensed many of Schulz’s characters for the promotion of their financial products.
Directed by Bob Clark, it's the best modern Christmas movie. Christmas rings nostalgic for a lot of people. This film balanced a healthy nostalgia with humor and an understated drama. In the liturgy, we look back to a past event in the Christmas story of our Lord’s birth, that it might be lived anew in us today. Clark’s film accomplishes something similar, as the narrator recounts his favorite Christmas as a formative marker to be better in his current day.
Created by John Favreau for streaming service Disney+, it's the best long-form series with Christmas as the subtext. A baby of a species all his own possesses supernatural powers. His vulnerability demands the conversion of hardened hearts of those he comes across. He defeats evil characters intent on massacring the young. Sound familiar? And if the Mandalorian isn’t the most St. Joseph-like character in the Star Wars universe, I don’t know who is.
For parents, click here to see the family-focused review from Common Sense Media.
Click here to visit Father Vince Kuna’s IMDB page.