December 23, 1988

Article at Dallas Times Herald - Dallas Observer - Lynchburg (Va.) News & Advance

Family fare best for communing at video hearth

Christmas means family, Gifts for the family. Dinner with the family. Arguing with the family. And, of course, sitting in front of the TV with the family.

But families (especially the extended kind, with grandparents, little kids, teenagers and eccentric uncle) hardly get together anymore, making choosing an appropriate movie for your VCR rather difficult. In this R-rated age, you might come home with "Tarzan" and find Bo Derek crawling around nude on the beach, or pop in an Oscar-winner like "Platoon" and see people get their faces smashed in with rifle butts.

So, to fill this need and help you avoid embarrassment, here's my top-ten list of Christmas video rentals. I tried to pick films that are for the whole family, but aren't "family films." They’re uplifting, but never sappy.

“Sounder” — Forget Benji and Lassie: Sounder acts the fur off other cinema canines in this touching, thought-provoking film about a black sharecropper and his family. Made in 1972, it’s the best kid-and-animal movie ever; others you might try include "The Black Stallion," "The Yearling” and, of course, “Old Yeller."

"Cinderella” — Recently out on video, the animated classic is one of Disney’s finest. Little boys who hate all things mushy might be better served by "Lady and the Tramp" or Spielberg’s "An American Tail."

“Oliver!" — A musical to rival "West Side Story" and "The Sound of Music," this 1968 adaptation of Dickens' “Oliver Twist" is perfect for the holidays, and a far better choice than “Scrooge," the 1970 musical based on another Dickens work.

“Hope and Glory" — Last year's Oscar-nominated tale of a working-class boy growing up in World War II England is a delight, perhaps the most accomplished film narrative from a child’s perspective since “To Kill a Mockingbird." The story is so subtly, humorously and realistically rendered that even grandma won’t be offended by the movie's single, brief explicit scene.

“True Grit” — The Duke (and that does not mean Michael Dukakis) at his best. Even those who dislike John Wayne will fall for this 1969 film, which won Wayne his first Oscar for his portrayal of hard-drinking marshal Rooster Cogburn. Wayne’s best non-western, if you’re in a Duke mood, is 1952’s "The Quiet Man.”

‘Hoosiers’ — Everyone likes to root for the underdog, and. boy, does Hollywood know it. This 1986 story of a high school basketball team is one of the more satisfying of the manipulative genre, outstripping — yes — "The Karate Kid.” “Rocky” remains the champ, but all that blood and guts in the ring might be slightly unsettling after Christmas dinner.

“The Bad News Bears” — Another underdogs-who-triumph movie, this story of a renegade Little League baseball team makes the list because it is also the most acceptable of the bunch-of-yowling-brats genre that the kids seem to love, but that the rest of us usually can’t stand (a la, “The Goonies.”)

“Crocodile Dundee” — Old-fashioned entertainment, 1986 style. It’s worth seeing again.

“A Soldier's Story” — One of the great underrated, under-viewed films, “A Soldier’s Story” ought to be seen by everyone. A murder mystery and an intellectually compelling drama, this 1984 tale of black soldiers in the South is nevertheless suitable for everyone; the violence is not explicit, and the heady talk can be, and should be, explained to the children.

“It's A Wonderful Life” — The one Yuletide classic that is worth watching every year, if only so you’ll stop complaining, accept life for what it is, and live it.

Which reminds me — don’t spend too much time in front of the TV this season if you can help it. And Merry Christmas.

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