There are rare moments that The New York Times allows some air out of its balloon of arrogance. For Christmas, Scott Tobias revisited some of the most popular Christmas-themed classics, and found the Times film critics didn't always match the popular consensus. "The holidays have given us an occasion to dig through the archives to see if New York Times critics were on the right side of history when they first reviewed these films, or if they missed an annual tradition in the making."
Obviously, a critic can always dislike something the public loves. It happens all the time, but these are still fun to look over:
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), reviewed by Bosley Crowther: “Indeed, the weakness of this picture, from this reviewer’s point of view, is the sentimentality of it — its illusory concept of life. Mr. Capra’s nice people are charming, his small town is a quite beguiling place and his pattern for solving problems is most optimistic and facile. But somehow they all resemble theatrical attitudes rather than average realities.”
White Christmas (1954), reviewed by Crowther: “The colors on the big screen are rich and luminous, the images are clear and sharp, and rapid movements are got without blurring — or very little — such as sometimes is seen on other large screens. Director Michael Curtiz has made his picture look good. It is too bad that it doesn’t hit the eardrums and the funny bone with equal force.”
A Christmas Story (1983), reviewed by Vincent Canby: "There are a number of small, unexpectedly funny moments in A Christmas Story, but you have to possess the stamina of a pearl diver to find them.”
Gremlins (1984), reviewed by Canby: [Joe Dante and the screenwriter Chris Columbus] attack their young audience as mercilessly as the creatures attack the characters. One minute they’re fondly recalling Frank Capra’s sentimental classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, and the next minute they’re subjecting this Capraesque Smalltown, U.S.A., to a devastation that makes the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers look benign."
Scrooged (1988), reviewed by Canby: "As Frank Cross, the ratings-mad program chief of the IBC television network, Mr. Murray’s contemporary Scrooge is a joy as long as he’s making life miserable for everyone around him. When, finally, Frank sees the error of his ways, the movie succumbs to its heart of jelly."
Die Hard (1988), reviewed by Caryn James: “the film is largely a special-effects carnival full of machine-gun fire, roaring helicopters and an exploding tank. It also has a villain fresh from the Royal Shakespeare Company, a thug from the Bolshoi Ballet and a hero who carries with him the smirks and wisecracks that helped make ‘Moonlighting’ a television hit. The strange thing is, it works: Die Hard is exceedingly stupid, but escapist fun.”
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989), reviewed by Janet Maslin: "Fatigue is in the air. This third look at the quintessentially middle-American Griswold family, led by Clark (Mr. Chase) and the very patient Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) is only a weary shadow of the original National Lampoon’s Vacation...