Yep… Bill Murray with George Clooney, Chris Rock, Miley Cyrus, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Paul Shaffer and more. Set inside New York City’s iconic Carlyle hotel, A Very Murray Christmas opens with Murray preparing to host a live, international holiday broadcast. Directed by Sofia Coppola.
It’s the campiest, whitest, most saccharine and most wonderful album in holiday music history: The Andy Williams Christmas Album. That’s obviously a subjective opinion, but I like to think it’s a feeling worthy of conversion to fact and inclusion in musicology textbooks.
Growing up, I probably heard The Andy Williams Christmas Album seven or eight hundred times. A well-worn vinyl copy, complete with scratches, cracks and pops, was a holiday mainstay on my dad’s record player. For all its camp and saccharine sincerity, to this day, those first xylophone tinklings of “White Christmas” signify the opening notes of a season that was absolutely magical to me as a kid.
Released in 1963 by Columbia Records, The Andy Williams Christmas Album was the first of eight Christmas albums recorded by Andy Williams. Up until then, Williams’ signature song was Henry Mancini’s “Moon River,” which was the theme song from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But the Christmas album brought another signature to his identity. “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” was a song Williams performed on his popular NBC Christmas specials that featured the whole Williams clan. The show and his performance of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” became so popular that he was nicknamed “Mr. Christmas.”
Though the Christmas album was built around “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” Columbia chose William’s velvety cover of “White Christmas” as the album’s promotional single. From November 30, 1963 through December 28, 1963, The Andy Williams Christmas Album was the number one selling Christmas album, and his cover of “White Christmas” was the number one selling Christmas single. To this day, it remains one of the most popular Christmas albums ever recorded.
Opening with “White Christmas,” the first side of the record included delicious arrangements of other traditional holiday fare like “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire),” “Happy Holiday / The Holiday Season” and a ripping arrangement of “Jingle Bells.” One of the biggest surprises on side one was his re-working of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” which was renamed “A Song and a Christmas Tree” with new lyrics:
On the first day of Christmas,
My good friends brought to me
A song and a Christmas tree.
On the second day of Christmas,
My good friends brought to me
Two candy canes
And a song for the Christmas tree.
On side two, Williams pulled from the more religious selections like “The First Noël,” “Away In a Manger” and a wonderfully over-the-top version of “O Holy Night” where he abandons all restraint and just goes for it.
Then there is that album cover. Against an eye-catching backdrop of bright holiday red, in a classic black velvet dinner jacket with peak lapels and a crisp white shirt and bow tie, Andy Williams smiles at us with snow white gleamers and a California Christmas tan, assuring us that everything is going to be alright this Christmas, almost as if he’s saying, “It’s okay. I got this…”
For many reasons, The Andy Williams Christmas Album will always remain one of my favorite albums of all time. Sure, it’s campy, saccharine and white as hell, but I just can’t seem to get sick of it. I’ve even privately listened to it from time to time between the months of January and November. It’s like an old blanket – a guilty comfort that conjures up joyful memories of the wonderful Christmas seasons of my childhood.
When I woke up this morning to emails from my brother Mike and my sister Megan telling me that Andy Williams had died, I went online to get the full story. He died at age 84 at his home in Branson, MO after a battle with bladder cancer. After reading the full story, I forewent my usual tune in to NPR and had my 803rd listen to the campiest, whitest, most saccharine and most wonderful Christmas album ever made.
Based on the script alone, I cannot believe Bad Santa (2003) ever got made. It is the darkest and most irreverent take on a Christmas tale I have ever seen. The trailer really doesn’t do it justice, partly because Billy Bob Thornton drops the F-bomb in nearly every line of his dialog, including scenes with kids.
In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the story in brief… Billy Bob Thornton plays Willie, a safe-cracking, wise-cracking, chain-smoking, booze-swilling, ass-tapping thief, aided and abetted by his little friend Marcus, played by Tony Cox. Every Christmas season, the play a different mall in the country as Santa and his little elf, only to rob the mall’s safe at the end of the Christmas season. Willie’s drinking has gotten progressively worse every year… so bad that his distaste for children is glaring, particularly while they’re on his lap unloading their Christmas wishes. With his progressive drinking, his stability and reliability to complete the heists is rocky. The movie follows them on the last gig in their multi-year run.
Willie befriends a fat, clueless, but kind-hearted kid, and crashes at his house during his stint as Santa Claus. Problems ensue when the mall’s head of security (hilariously played by Bernie Mac) gets wise to the con, and Willie’s drinking, stability and overall attitude get even worse.
Thornton as Willie/Santa Clause is the meanest, darkest, raunchiest and most despicable character with absolutely no redeeming qualities. There is, of course, the requisite character shift in the third act, but the ride is absolutely hysterical. I first saw this movie in the theater with my brother and his wife. My brother’s sense of humor is almost as dark as mine, and my sister-in-law was almost embarrassed to be laughing as hard as she was at this outrageous story.
The movie also features the wonderful John Ritter in his last screen performance (the film is dedicated to him), as well as an uncredited appearance by Cloris Leachman as Grandma.
BE WARNED: This movie is NOT for children or people who have a questionable sense of humor. Bad Santa is a dark, irreverent and nasty comedy. And it’s brilliant.
Anyone who doesn’t love Pixar movies is either blind or irrevocably bitter. The stories, the humor, the emotion, the animation… I have been thoroughly charmed by every Pixar film I’ve ever seen (though I thought Cars was an anomalous misfire). My personal favorites are Toy Story (all of them), Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up and Wall-E.
Beyond the astounding technical achievement and gold standard of animation for which Pixar has become so well known, the movies excel on the tried and true component of a truly good movie: story. In fact, the story is so good in them that the animation almost seems incidental.
As for the art of the films and those of us who love it…