My Top 10 Christmas Movies

It’s the first day of the month, so it’s time for a Top 10 list! Being December, let’s go with Christmas movies. No offense to my non-Christian friends and followers, of course, and in lieu of an Honorable Mention list, I’ll shout out a few Hanukkah movies and/or specials. If you haven’t seen any of these, there may be SPOILERS AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 

#10 – Scrooged

The underlying themes of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—be nice to people, money and possessions are less important than interpersonal relationships—are universal. Scrooge doesn’t have to be set in mid-1800s England to express those themes. Here we have a modern-day (well, late 1900s) retelling of the story, with Bill Murray playing the Scrooge-like television executive Frank Cross. It’s Murray in his 1980s snark, not too far off from roles he played in more classic films like Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, so it works. There are a lot of great cameos in the movie, and the doomsday trailer for the TV special they’re making is inspired lunacy. The movie as a whole is probably a little meaner than Dickens’ intentions, but it is enjoyable.

 

#9 – It’s a Wonderful Life

There are a handful of “classic” Christmas movies that just don’t do it for me, but It’s a Wonderful Life somehow works for me. I think it’s the alternate timeline plot where George Bailey doesn’t exist that gives it just enough additional fantasy. Also, it’s hard to go wrong with Frank Capra directing and James Stewart acting, although its original release was met with mixed reviews. It wasn’t until it started showing up on television that it developed its classic status—more so than Miracle on 34th Street, released the following year. In the week leading up to Christmas, you can find a showing of the movie somewhere on your cable dial, and I believe there are sometimes channels that show 24-hour marathons just of the film!

 

#8 – The Muppet Christmas Carol

A second Christmas Carol adaptation on the list? Well, it’s the Muppets. Now this isn’t my favorite of the Muppet movies—the original one, Great Muppet Caper, and the recent Muppets movie have better plots, music, and gags—but with this one and the following Muppet Treasure Island, they tried something different. Here, they tell the story with Muppets in most of the key roles. Kermit the Frog plays Bob Crachit, and Miss Piggy plays his wife (with male frog children and female pig children). Fozzie Bear makes sense to play Scrooge’s first employer Fezziwig—changed to Fozziewig! Curmudgeons Statler and Waldorf appear as brothers Marley and Marley. The three Christmas ghosts are new creations for the film. Starring as Scrooge, in a comparatively understated performance, is Michael Caine. But the real stars of the show are Gonzo the Great (as Charles Dickens) and Rizzo the Rat, who narrate the story! Their antics are hysterical.

 

#7 – Elf

I’m only a half-fan of Will Ferrell. I think that in some of his movies, he plays the same kind of one-note buffoon. But there are some where his man-child buffoonery really works. Elf is near the top—if not the top—of that list. He plays one of Santa’s elves who’s actually a human. Upon learning this, he ventures to New York to meet his biological father, played perfectly by James Caan. Ferrell is at his most wide-eyed here as he navigates the cynical city and bringing joy to many. The supporting cast of Zooey Deschanel, Bob Newhart, and Peter Dinklage (his boardroom scene is phenomenal) is top-notch. It’s now among Christmas classics that regularly air, and it has since spawned a stage musical! If that’s not cultural significance, I don’t know what is! The film doesn’t require much thinking, but it definitely has a lot of heart.

 

#6 – The Santa Clause

First off, I love the punny title. Secondly, I love the premise that Santa isn’t just one individual—it’s a job that gets passed on to whomever next wears the suit. Third, Tim Allen in his Home Improvement days had just the right look, charm, and comedic timing to pull it off. There’s great visual comedy as his body slowly starts transforming into a more Santa-like shape, and when he accepts his destiny, it’s actually quite heartwarming. It’s not mean-spirited at all like some modern Christmas movies; it’s just good-natured family fun. The sequels aren’t as good, but I like the pun of part two where he has to find a wife (The Misses Clause). Part three introduces Martin Short as Jack Frost who wants to become Santa, making the North Pole into a commercialized tourist destination, but it doesn’t have the good cheer that the original does.

 

#5 – National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

The Griswolds’ first Vacation movie is a hysterical cross-country farce. Their European Vacation wasn’t as good, so I was skeptical at the prospect of a third movie. It’s the only one in the series (forget Vegas Vacation) that matches the zaniness of the first. It’s hard to say which one is better because they’re structured differently. Instead of having misadventures while traveling, the misadventures come home for the holidays. Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, with their rotating door of kids Audrey and Russ (this time Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki) are crazy enough, but the rest of the family? Completely bonkers. Throw in the humor of really bright Christmas lights, a few short circuits, and Clark getting locked in the attic. But I draw the line at the squirrel in the Christmas tree. That freaked me out.

 

#4 – Home Alone

I was in college when the first Home Alone movie came out. When I first saw the previews for it, I had no desire at all to see it. Maybe I didn’t like the premise of a little kid being left behind for a family Christmas vacation. Maybe I didn’t like Macaulay Culkin. Who knows? But it went on to become both the highest-grossing Christmas movie of all time and the highest-grossing live action comedy (until beaten by The Hangover Part II). People obviously responded to the film, so I gave it a chance on cable. And you know what? It’s a fantastic film. The message of family is strong, the slapstick comedy with burglars Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern is hysterical, the little bit of fear with the elderly neighbor man adds dimension, and the subsequent reveal about him is sentimental without being schmaltzy. I got teary eyed.

 

#3 – Die Hard

Don’t go telling me this isn’t a Christmas movie. Sure, it came out as a summer blockbuster, but it’s set during Christmas time. It deserves to be on every Best Christmas Movies list because it’s a fantastic movie. One of the best action movies ever. And to think that when it came out, people doubted Bruce Willis as an action star. He was a popular small-screen figure at the time for the romantic comedy Moonlighting, so I can understand the doubt. But it’s his likeable persona from that show and in this movie that make him such an unlikely and likeable hero. And it made him into a superstar. Also, the movie boasts one of the best villains in cinematic history in the late Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber. The chess game the two of them play with each other is superbly acted, especially in the scene when Gruber pretends to be an employee of the hostaged building. If you’re looking for some non-denominational holiday fun, you can’t go wrong with Die Hard.

 

#2 – The Nightmare Before Christmas

Again I’m thinking a little outside the box for this one. Is this a Halloween movie pretending to be a Christmas movie, or is it a Christmas movie pretending to be a Halloween movie? It doesn’t matter, and it’s one of the best movies Tim Burton has ever been responsible for. The animation and music are outstanding, particularly when Halloween Town resident Jack Skellington first finds Christmas Town and asks What’s This? Just the idea of each holiday having its own town is cool, but seeing the Halloween folks capture “Sandy Claws” and mess up the delivery of Christmas is frightening and funny. But there’s so much heart, as Jack realizes it’s better to be who he is than be something he’s not.

 

Before I get to my favorite, here are a few Hanukkah movies and TV specials that deserve mentioning:

A Rugrats Chanukah – The Rugrats are adorable, and their retelling of the Hanukkah story is worth a look

Friends: “The One with the Holiday Armadillo” – Fearing Ben is only getting the story of Christmas from his mother, Ross tries to teach the story of Hanukkah. It involves dressing as an Armadillo. Chandler and Joey also dress up, and the combination of costumes is funny.

Eight Crazy Nights – Adam Sandler’s contribution to Hanukkah celebration goes beyond his awesome song. This cartoon isn’t always family friendly, but it is one of his best movies.

 

And finally, MY FAVORITE CHRISTMAS MOVIE…

#1 – A CHRISTMAS STORY

At first glance, the movie is about Ralphie Parker (played beautifully by Peter Billingsley) and his quest to get a Red Ryder Carbin Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle for Christmas back in the 1940s (-ish). He faces tremendous obstacles to reach his goal: parents, teachers, even a department-store Santa (in a really surreal scene) all telling him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” But it’s so much more than the quest for that gift. It’s like watching a memory of childhood. Just think of all the iconic images: the fishnet-stocking-leg lamp, the kid’s tongue frozen to the flagpole, the dogs ruining the dinner. It’s got comedy, nostalgia, family, and a lot of Christmas. And that’s why it’s the best.

 

Agree? Disagree? Naughty? Nice? Start a list. I’ll check it twice.

Speak Your Mind

*