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🎄 "I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas, and we're all in misery."

Hey all — sending this week's newsletter a few days early because if I were to publish it on Christma
🎄 "I don't know what to say, except it's Christmas, and we're all in misery."
By Eric Johnson • Issue #105 • View online
Hey all — sending this week’s newsletter a few days early because if I were to publish it on Christmas, a) no one would read it; and b) I would absolutely procrastinate on writing it until Christmas Eve.
The Ellen Griswold quote in the title notwithstanding, I’d like to wish all of you the happiest of holidays and, happier still, an end to 2020. I may send a “favorites of 2020” email sometime in the next few weeks, but probably won’t send my next proper newsletter with reviews until Fri. Jan 8. I’m hoping to watch a lot of movies in the intervening weeks, so … brace yourselves.

🔪 Gosford Park
Gosford Park was the first time writer Julian Fellowes got to indulge his interest in the upstairs-downstairs dynamics of old-money English aristocrats, nine years before Downton Abbey became an international phenomenon. Although that show ran too long and gradually went downhill, it still worked a lot better in its largess than this attempt does.
The movie is overstuffed with characters and tries to juggle all of them, to preserve their various secrets and shifting allegiances, but the end result is a jumbled mess, saved only by the best efforts of talented actors like Michael Gambon, Helen Mirren, and Maggie Smith. I’m honestly baffled at the fact that this film won Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, and by the effusive praise I’ve heard for it from critics and fans alike — my best guess is that Americans who had never seen anything like it were dazzled by all the accents and costumes and overt class warfare.
I’m dancing around a big event that happens around the midpoint of the movie, which is late enough that I’m not sure if it’s a spoiler to discuss in detail, so let’s be vague: Someone gets murdered halfway through the film, and the ensuing mystery about whodunit is just unsatisfying. Skip it. ★★★
Gosford Park | Official Trailer | 2001
Gosford Park | Official Trailer | 2001
Gosford Park is currently streaming on Peacock.
⛄ The Nightmare Before Christmas
The things I love about The Nightmare Before Christmas are very similar to my favorite things about 1995’s Toy Story: Excellent animation, a parade of clever jokes, and a blissfully short runtime (in both cases, demanded by the time-consuming difficulty and cost of animation).
The big difference is that while Toy Story was the start of a new revolution in animation, Nightmare is something of a last hurrah for stop-motion, a craft nearly as old as cinema itself that defined special effects in the pre-CGI era, but was and is so impractical that few bother with it. Director Henry Selick and his team practically perfected it here, and I’m so grateful they were given four years to hone this film — and that it’s so dang weird, something that would never happen today.
The characters are all fun, even if some major players are underwritten; several of Danny Elfman’s songs are amazing earworms, particularly “What’s This?” and “Making Christmas”; and the creepy production design is beyond compare. Recommended. ★★★★½
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) Official Trailer #1 - Animated Movie
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) Official Trailer #1 - Animated Movie
The Nightmare Before Christmas is currently streaming on Disney+.
🦃 A Muppet Family Christmas
Having recently revisited The Muppet Christmas Carol, I decided “why not?” and decided to also rewatch A Muppet Family Christmas, a VHS copy of which was the Muppet holiday movie I viewed the most growing up.
This 1987 TV special still holds up today, stringing together covers of all the big carols with a simple story set at Fozzie Bear’s mother’s house at Christmas; at Fozzie’s urging, the Muppets show up uninvited, and are quickly joined by the characters from Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock, too. The only original song we hear in full, a Fraggles number called “Pass It On,” is a little annoying, but the Muppets performers do a fabulous job of updating and remixing holiday standards like “Sleigh Ride,” “Deck the Halls,” and “We Need a Little Christmas.” And it helps that the manic Muppet Show-style skits in between songs all work, too.
This special also features one of the darkest and funniest gags ever associated with Jim Henson’s characters, which I won’t reveal here (you’ll know it when you see it). Recommended. ★★★★
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987) - Full Special
A Muppet Family Christmas (1987) - Full Special
A Muppet Family Christmas is not currently streaming anywhere, but you can find multiple uploads of it on YouTube, with and without ads.
🎄 National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
One of the things that separates a four-star movie from one that gets four-and-a-half or five stars from me is the feeling, after a great scene, that better things are still to come. That happens at least three times in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which has rightfully entered the canon of classic holiday movies.
Almost certainly the best of the Vacation series for the sheer hit rate of its gags, the movie also wins because — like its breakout star Cousin Eddie, played by Randy Quaid — its heart is bigger than its brain. Even the buffoonish and insensitive Clark W. Griswold (Chevy Chase) is relatable here, as he tries against all odds to bring his family’s many visiting factions together for a traditional Christmas at home.
As in the other Vacation movies, my favorite part is watching how Beverly D’Angelo (playing the staight-woman, Clark’s wife Ellen) gets the most of her every second on screen. And the large supporting cast, including Mae Questel (née Betty Boop) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (pre-Seinfeld, pre-Veep) is strong, to a person. Recommended. ★★★★½
Christmas Vacation Official Trailer #1 - (1989) HD
Christmas Vacation Official Trailer #1 - (1989) HD
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is currently streaming on fuboTV and DirecTV.
🔢 Every Movie I've Seen in 2020, Ranked
(new additions in bold)
  1. The Godfather
  2. 12 Angry Men
  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  4. Get Out
  5. Do the Right Thing
  6. Knives Out
  7. Parasite
  8. Arrival
  9. My Neighbor Totoro
  10. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  11. Airplane!
  12. The Silence of the Lambs
  13. Dick Johnson Is Dead
  14. The Lives of Others
  15. Hot Fuzz
  16. Boys State
  17. Hamilton
  18. Groundhog Day
  19. All About Eve
  20. Ocean’s Eleven
  21. West Side Story
  22. The Avengers
  23. The Farewell
  24. Vertigo
  25. 12 Years a Slave
  26. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  27. What We Do in the Shadows
  28. Spotlight
  29. Booksmart
  30. Her
  31. Moana
  32. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?
  33. The Matrix
  34. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
  35. Moonrise Kingdom
  36. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  37. Your Name.
  38. North by Northwest
  39. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  40. The Incredibles
  41. Lost in Translation
  42. The Nightmare Before Christmas
  43. Looper
  44. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
  45. The Wrong Trousers
  46. The Old Guard
  47. American Psycho
  48. Thank You For Smoking
  49. Little Women
  50. Marriage Story
  51. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  52. La La Land
  53. Sunset Boulevard
  54. Ford v Ferrari
  55. A Fish Called Wanda
  56. Bringing Up Baby
  57. Gremlins
  58. Apocalypse Now
  59. The Hidden Fortress
  60. Hell or High Water
  61. Moneyball
  62. Hacksaw Ridge
  63. I, Tonya
  64. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
  65. The Lunchbox
  66. Heat
  67. Little Miss Sunshine
  68. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
  69. First Blood
  70. Coming to America
  71. Hustlers
  72. Shrek
  73. Wet Hot American Summer
  74. The Muppet Christmas Carol
  75. It Follows
  76. Dolemite Is My Name
  77. Good Will Hunting
  78. Palm Springs
  79. The Grapes of Wrath
  80. Fantasia 2000
  81. First Cow
  82. Kedi
  83. Honey Boy
  84. A Muppet Family Christmas
  85. The Great Escape
  86. Ed Wood
  87. Isle of Dogs
  88. Annihilation
  89. The Hunt for Red October
  90. Wordplay
  91. Boyhood
  92. It Happened One Night
  93. The Hunger Games
  94. 1917
  95. Animals Are Beautiful People
  96. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood
  97. The French Connection
  98. The Philadelphia Story
  99. Dark Waters
  100. Elf
  101. Hail, Caesar!
  102. The Death of Stalin
  103. The Irishman
  104. Zoolander
  105. 50/50
  106. Paddington
  107. Hannah and Her Sisters
  108. Horse Feathers
  109. Enemy of the State
  110. Captain Phillips
  111. Uncut Gems
  112. Independence Day
  113. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  114. 9 to 5
  115. Frost/Nixon
  116. The Incredibles 2
  117. How the West Was Won
  118. Almost Famous
  119. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  120. Broadway Melody of 1940
  121. Bad Education
  122. Godzilla
  123. Just Mercy
  124. Kahaani
  125. Iron Man 3
  126. Midnight in Paris
  127. Da 5 Bloods
  128. High Fidelity
  129. Guardians of the Galaxy
  130. My Fair Lady
  131. Iron Man
  132. The Invisible Man
  133. Iron Man 2
  134. The Hateful Eight
  135. Happy Gilmore
  136. Gates of Heaven
  137. Emma.
  138. Men in Black
  139. Thor
  140. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
  141. Home Alone
  142. Gremlins 2: The New Batch
  143. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
  144. Braveheart
  145. Bicycle Thieves
  146. Captain America: The First Avenger
  147. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
  148. Bottle Rocket
  149. The Addams Family
  150. Frankenstein
  151. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
  152. Hugo
  153. All the Money in the World
  154. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
  155. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
  156. Live From the Space Stage: A Halyx Story
  157. John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch
  158. Onward
  159. Hidden Figures
  160. Pain and Glory
  161. Bambi
  162. The Great Dictator
  163. Lemony Snicket’s a Series of Unfortunate Events
  164. Anastasia
  165. Easy Rider
  166. Hot Rod
  167. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
  168. Animal House
  169. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  170. You’ve Got Mail
  171. The 39 Steps
  172. Thor: The Dark World
  173. The Princess and the Frog
  174. Elysium
  175. (500) Days of Summer
  176. Gosford Park
  177. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  178. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
  179. Modern Romance
  180. The Incredible Hulk
  181. H.M.S. Pinafore
  182. Shakespeare in Love
  183. Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
  184. 3:10 to Yuma
  185. The Big Country
  186. Ghost
  187. 28 Weeks Later
  188. History of the World: Part I
  189. The African Queen
  190. Greyhound
  191. Bamboozled
  192. Bullitt
  193. Dracula
  194. The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer
  195. Bride of Frankenstein
  196. Howard the Duck
  197. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  198. The Descendants
  199. The Hangover
  200. Joker
  201. Kingpin
  202. 28 Days Later
  203. Bridesmaids
  204. The Great Gatsby
  205. 13 Assassins
  206. Creature From the Black Lagoon
  207. Benny & Joon
  208. Bad Moms
  209. High Anxiety
  210. Kentucky Fried Movie
  211. Hang ‘Em High
  212. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
  213. Ice Age
  214. Romancing the Stone
  215. Crocodile Dundee
  216. The 40-Year-Old Virgin
  217. Hard Ticket to Hawaii
  218. Gods of Egypt
  219. The Gentlemen
  220. Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
  221. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  222. The Last Airbender
  223. Manos: The Hands of Fate

Did you enjoy this issue?
Eric Johnson

I'm reviewing every movie I watch, and watching every movie I own. Settle in, this is going to take a while.

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