Before I get to the list…let me answer a few questions that are sure to come up in the attempts to spurn any potential backlash. I find that Christmas movies seem to be a personal staple to some people during the holidays and contain crazy things like “special feelings” or “nostalgia.” This list is not an attempt to smash your sugar plums or douse your red-nose. Merely an observation from a talky, simple, Lutheran Drama teacher who likes Christmas.
A few things to consider when reviewing the list:
- One might perceive some of offerings on the list as “Christmas Specials” (more likely to be found on TV, rather than in the theatres or on DVD.) I say…deal with it. Anything that bring people together in one place at one time to enjoy something with a good message….that’s a MOVIE. (So, church is a movie, school is a movie…and anytime we eat at In-N-Out burger….a movie. Read the bottom of the cup.)
- I do not have any Hanukkah or Kwanzaa films on here. Not because I don’t believe they deserve to be a part of a blog post like this…but because frankly, aside from “8 Crazy Nights” (which is a cinematic masterpiece!) I don’t know any!
- I’m basing my choices on what my family and I ENJOY. So, feel free to disagree with me. I love commentary. Review your own list and challenge my views…but don’t say I’m wrong. These are opinions only.
20. MIRACLE ON 34th STREET
I like this movie. I do. But, not that much. It’s good…the drunk Santa on the float remains as one of the impressions I like to do at Christmas parties the most…and the scene where the little, bratty girl is acting like a monkey is so annoying you just HAVE to laugh at it. It certainly has stood the test of time and people sometimes go ga-ga over the movie, but I personally could never connect with the Santa. He’s kinda pushy at times. Granted he’s elderly and we should learn to be more patient with the elderly…but he’s also Santa, a man of great status. More status requires more responsibility…and a smidge more patience. Smacking people with canes…yeah…I betcha he beats the reindeer too. Rudolph’s nose is bloody red because he “accidentally fell down the stairs.” Abusive Santa. Sheesh. And that janitor guy with the thick accent (“trow it on da floa!”) Gimmie a break. This one remain a Ho-Ho-Hum for me. But….I’ll keep it on a White Christmas Noise as I bake cookies.
DUTCH GIRL / SANTA SCENE TRANSLATION:
Santa: I am happy you came!
Child: Ooh you ARE Sinterklaas!
Santa: Wlll yes of course
Child: I knew it, I knew you would understand me.
Santa: Of couse, tell me what you would like to get from Sinterklaas
(Missing from this clip is when she answers him ) I don’t want anything, I already have everything, I just want to stay with this lovely lady—
Santa: Do you want to sing something for me?
Child: SaintNicolas Little Rascal,
Put something in my little shoe,
Put something in my little boot,
Thank you little SaintNicolas!
SaintNicolas Little Rascal
Put something in my little shoe,
Put something in my little boot,
Thank you little SaintNicolas!
19. SANTA CLAUS: The Movie
You won’t begrudge me at least ONE “so bad, it’s good” movie entry, would you? This is a terrible movie, I’ll start off by saying that. However, it’s the only movie I like with Dudley Moore in it, and ANYTHING starring John Lithgow is gold. The movie’s beginning is actually quite clever in telling a unique tale of how Santa came to be. But plot lines rapidly misfire as soon as things are brought into the present. Homeless boys, lollipops that make you fly (with the help of reindeer dust, of course) and still, no one questions Moore’s silly accent. Lithgow is kinda funny at times and we all know he plays the bad guy REALLY good…but it’s one of those movies I tend to watch every now and then, because it’s so….I don’t know…inventive, at the very least. It’s a less-known movie, so subsequently people haven’t seen it. Tell me what you think.
Animal rights activists protested the movie saying that the “loop-dee-loop” scene was cruel to the reindeer. What they didn’t know is that the actual reindeer used in the film were computer-generated. In reality, the producers saved 15 reindeer from being slaughtered from a Dutch farm.
18. FROSTY The Snowman
As far as cartoons are concerned…this is simply not a well-made cartoon. I used to watch He-Man as a kid, growing up. I loved that stupid show…and recently watched a segment of an episode on the internet…and I thought to myself “why did I like this so much.” Frosty is kinda the same way. The story line is as delicate as a snowflake and offers a luke warm villain. (Kinda a cross between Disney’s Capt. Hook and an older Criss Angel in a bad tux.) The rabbit is funny…and the kid who wants to name the snowman “Oatmeal” is kinda funny…but aside from that, this is nothing more than a cartoon made from a popular Christmas song. It’s one of those shows that will be watched every year, as long as you keep putting them on television. I found myself watching it yesterday, in fact. The central theme of the movie is a good one, I’ll admit.
The Gene Autry cover of the song went to #7 on the contemporary charts the year is was released in 1950. In 2007, Kimberly Locke released a cover of the song and it bolted up to #1 on the US Hot Adult Contemporary Charts.
17. A NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
This is such a clever, revolutionary film that brought back the lost art form of stop-motion animation. Tim Burton is a genius and everything he touches turns to gold in my book. I love this movie and hope that it someday makes its way to the stage in some form. (Like Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.) This film earned a lower standing on the list only because it’s not a movie I readily think of when I think Christmas. It’s probably better suited as a stand-alone “good movie.”
Disney REALLY pushed Burton to allow the making of a sequel. They wanted to do a computer animated sequel where Jack visits Thanksgiving town. Burton responded quickly saying that computer animation would have never been an option, and that he’s very protective of Jack and the other characters. He felt that any sequels would cheapen the purity of the characters. I love Tim Burton.
16. HOME ALONE
Home Alone is one of those movies I could watch over and over. Not because I believe it is a cinematic masterpiece, but rather it falls into the same category as Caddyshack, Ghostbusters of Dirty Dancing. (I know…insert joke here.) But, every time it’s on TV, I stop and watch part of it. I say the reason the show is such a success has to do with the post Ferris Bueller genius of John Hughes and a wonderful comedic team of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern (who is under appreciated, in my book.) The scene where a tarantula is placed on Harry’s face…I still say is the world’s BEST onscreen scream ever. Brilliant. But, I like this movie as a holiday favorite because of the scenes involving the mysterious old man who salts the sidewalks in the neighborhood. Kevin and the old man’s eventual relationship eventually brings forth a genuine moment later in the film when the old man’s family greets him for the first time in years, that ALWAYS brings tears to my eyes. It’s gold.
The movie Kevin watches in the film “Angels with Filthy Souls” pays tribute to the James Cagny film “Angels with Dirty Faces.”
15. SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN
Here we are. I have a feeling my wife will be slighting upset that this particular show is lower on my list. It has become nothing short of a tradition in my house to watch this movie curled up on the couch, covered with our pets, sipping cocoa and admiring the roar of our gas fireplace that I turned on with a festive flick of a switch. I do like the story and find myself singing “..put one foot in front of the other…” at the weirdest times…but it’s not exactly my favorite. Which is odd, because I can’t imagine a Christmas without it. The one thing it DOES have going for it…I hate the villain. Burgermeister Meisterbuger is just heartless and stupid (bad combo.) In the movie when they say “and the Burgermeister’s kinda died off…” I’m like WOOT! (And if you’re ever face to face with the biggest threat to Christmas or good will….just gift him a choo-choo, and life is good.)
Watch the kids in town square when the Burgermeister is burning their toys. All of them are crying…but the one who says “We’ll never play again” is smiling…and remains smiling. What the stink is that about?
I might upset a few with this one as well. While I wouldn’t gather the kiddies around to watch this one on Christmas Eve, I would say that it’s one of the coolest of the “bad” monster movies. Great concept for a little monster set in the most innocent of settings. That creates instant mayhem. Keep in mind, I’m NOT a horror movie fan. Don’t like em. But this is just more of a creepy monster movie…and who can forget the infamous microwave scene?
There’s a plot hole at the beginning of the film. At the beginning of the film we have kids coming home from school. It’s Christmas Eve! Boy, school in that district must really stink!
13. A CHRISTMAS CAROL (George C. Scott Version)
There are a billion Christmas Carols out there. (Everything from a halfway decent Patrick Stewart version to a hyped-up musical theatre version with Kelsey Grammar to a Mr. Magoo version that’s boring after like two minutes.) One of my favorites has always been the George C. Scoot version. If you haven’t watched it, I would highly recommend it. It’s good, old fashioned storytelling at it’s finest, and Scott and darn good at playing the money-grubbing miser. The kiddies will find it boring, because anything in black and white is unwatchable, right? But, this is Christmas movie material to drink Egg Nog by, for sure.
Maybe I’m missing something…but in the movie Scrooge says that his father always held a grudge against him because his mother died after giving birth to him. And yet…he has a younger sister. What the….? The milkman?
You gotta love Bill Murray. He’s a great Scrooge, and the contemporary take on the tale is exactly what the 80’s needed. It has all the elements. FUTURE: Murray’s career has certainly take a HUGE booster shot since those days and is considered one of the greatest comic/tragi-comic minds of our time. PRESENT: Rarely does a Christmas go by that I don’t watch the movie at least twice. It’s on TV all the time and is still very funny today. PAST: Look at the cast of washed-up comedians who at that time were considered forces to be reckoned with. Carol King, Buster Pointdexter, Bobcat Goldthwait….there’s even a reference to Mary Lou Retton!! Hilarious.
In the movie when Claire gives Frank a business card it reads “Operation Reach Out.” When Frank visits the shelter, he walks by a sign that says “Operation Outreach.”
11. THE GRINCH
Jim Carrey as the Grinch seems like a perfect fit. Most people I talk to who are younger than me LOVE this movie. Most of the people older than me, hate this movie. I’ll agree that the plot is padded like a down-pillow to stretch it to two-hours. (I mean, does anyone REALLY care that the sex-pot Who winds up with the Grinch later? And, really…what’s the attraction?) The story revolving around Cindy Lou Who looking for the real reason to celebrate Christmas is a better choice and I would have been happy with just that plot line. (Any moment involving the “young Scrooge” which is obviously a little person in make-up….is just plain boring.) But every moment with Carrey in the cave…or interacting with Max…is very, very fun. (“Max! Pick out a bow!”) The one-liners are fast and hilarious…and I love watching it. I suppose every movie has slow parts, right?
Carrey sat in the make-up chair every day for hours to get “Grinch-a-fied” and was known to hum Christmas carols in a “dream-like” state as it was applied.
10. RUDOLPH, THE RED-NOSED REINDEER
All I have to say is “they can’t ALL be at the top of the list people!” People LOVE Rudolph. I do too. But, this particular stop animation has such a deep nostalgia (I would argue) because of the cheesy-ness of it all. I love the Burl Ives link (who I still think sounds a little flat when he sings. Just me.) and the credits at the beginning that lists all the songs that he sings. I betcha that was in the contract negotiation. Such a big name, Burl Ives…now he tours with Lady GaGa.
I like in the movie how all the reindeer are JERKS. I mean Comet is every P.E. teacher us wimps hated in high school. (You know who I’m talking about…the teacher that would side with all the jocks an make fun of the weaklings.) Again…we have a jerk of a Santa. Why people like this guy in this movie, I have no idea. He back-talks Mrs. Claus (and check out the food on the dining room table….grey. Ick.) He disses on the elves during choir practice and makes a big deal over his one-man musical number “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle.” (“I’m the King of Jingle-ling!” Really? Where’s your crown?) I’ve met several Kings of Jingle-ling…and they’re usually performing one-man musical acts too. (They’re more like Queens…but whatever.)
Gotta love Yukon Cornelius…”I changed my mind!” (I still shout that throughout the house sometimes!) The Bumble is a fascinating character and the only beast I’ve known to be stopped dead in his tracks because of swift dentistry. And….finally, let’s brake the ice on Hermie. Ah, Hermie. Where do I begin? Purists will refuse to hear anything remotely insinuative about this character. (After all, it wasn’t unknown to mock those light in the loafers back in the day…take a look at the Cowardly Lion, another character I adore more than words.) But, we LOVE how eccentric Hermie is and it wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t witness him fixing the doll’s teeth or performing amazingly bad pig impressions. God bless Hermie.
All the female reindeer in the show have no antlers. Reindeer are the only deers where the females also grow antlers.
Elf is one of those movies that came at the height of one actor’s career and at the time was lumped together with other silly movies like Blades of Glory, Bewitched and Wedding Crashers. At the time…was it funny, sure…but was it considered anything MORE than that? Absolutely not. Just take a trip back in time and see what I’m talking about. One-hit Christmas wonders, who attempted to make a long-lasting Holiday movies that just didn’t “stick” after its first go. “Fred Claus”-Vince Vaughn…”Deck the Halls” – Matthew Broderick….”Surviving Christmas” – Ben Afflick…and dare I go there…”The Santa Claus” with Tim Allen. The only reason this lump of coal got so many sequels and airtime is because of the attachment to Disney. For the love of all that is holy, have you seen how many AIR BUD and LAND BEFORE TIME sequels there are??
Elf on the other hand has legitimate staying power in my opinion. It successfully satirizes the stop-motion animation of the late 50s and 60s (down to the Elf costuming!) and it has an endearing plot with a semi-decent ending. (Plus it has about a BILLION one-liners that are said throughout the household time and time again. Someone in your house at some time has said “Buddy, the elf…what’s your favorite color?” I guarantee it.
Originally, Jim Carrey was signed to play the part of Buddy. Also, in the beginning scenes at the North Pole, the elf Ming Ming….yup, that’s Peter Billingsly who played Ralphie in “A Christmas Story.”
8. MUPPET FAMILY CHRISTMAS
I’m surprised at how many people HAVEN’T seen this particular special. It follows the Muppet Show gang to Fozzie’s mother’s country home for an “old fashioned” Christmas. Of course there is a blizzard, and havoc ensues…but what is unique is that it brings together all of the Muppet worlds which, at the time, remained quite segregated. Doc and the Fraggles, along with Sesame Street favorites are all part of the festivities. It’s fun to see the Swedish Chef and Big Bird have a dialogue about Christmas dinner…and all the while the Chef is fixing to cook up the giant bird! (It’s also funny to see how alike Henson and Oz’s collective voices are when you put their characters in such close proximity. Ernie and Kermit…Bert and Fozzie….wow.) It’s a simple storyline filled with gags…and sure there isn’t much substance, but again it’s only 1/2 hour of merriment. It’s good fun, and I have to watch it every year.
By the way…this year “Muppets: Letters to Santa” came out and is available on DVD. Not bad at all! I really liked it! (I love PEPE LA PRAWN. One of my new favorites!) It’s a decent offering with a fun storyline. I recommend it. “A Very Merry Muppet Christmas” however….skip it. New aged mumbo jumbo mixed with a healthy holiday dose of political correctness. Add Whoopi Goldberg…and you’ve got a taste in your mouth like bad egg nog.
This special has been riddled with edits since its original release. Entire songs of “Sleigh Ride,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and “Home for the Holidays” were cut due to complaints regarding music rights. While these cuts are unfortunate, this Christmas special remains quite enjoyable.
7. HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (Animated)
The Grinch is one of my favorite bad guys. He’s so upset and “heartless” because he’s forgotten about and isolated on a mountain top. That’s everyone’s biggest fear, isn’t it? Being alone. Especially at Christmas. I love how sympathetic this particular bad guy is and I’ve always had a connection to the story as a result. The narration is fun and Boris Karloff is brilliant. This, the original adaption of the book, focuses solely on the story of the Grinch only tying in Cindy Lou at one point. There’s something really okay about this in the sense that the later Jim Carrey version fails in having too much going on at once. I mean…who care about the Mayor in the Carrey version…and do we need another bad guy? This version is just right, and I cannot get enough of poor Max the dog. The shot of him as the Santa coat mannequin, clinching the pin cushion in his teeth is classic.
The lyrics to the song “Fahoo Forays” were made to imitate classical Latin. After the special aired, the studio received letters asking for a translation from people who believed them to be real Latin.
6. A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS
Everyone’s favorite blockhead always turns up around Christmas time in this whimsical special that follows the Peanut gang in their attempts to put on a pageant-like show. I love this show because the message is so very relevant and the characters (while little children) are still very much like everyone we associate with every day. There’s the domineering Lucy who has to be the Christmas Queen…Schroeder, the under-appreciated artist, Linus the one everyone’s quick to disregard, but the one with the most foresight, and of course, Charlie Brown…who can’t understand why Christmas has become so materialistic. I find the show charming, heart-warming and funny. (And my wife paid me the ultimate compliment the other night when we were watching the show and identifying the characters with our friends…and she said I’m Snoopy.)
Linus’ single-spotlit telling of the coming of the Christ-child is poignant and beautiful. One of the most magical, memorable moments from ANY Christmas movie and one I will cherish always. I fear one day, in a whirlwind of distraction, some executive will edit that part of the special out. At that point, my friends, from a media / commercial standpoint, Christmas will be lost.
During his famed speech, Linus, who is well known to be dependent on his security blanket, actually lets go of it when he recites these words: “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy,” which is from Luke 2:10.
5. CHRISTMAS VACATION
Chevy Chase. You either love him or hate him. Regardless of your feelings, one must admit that Christmas Vacation has earned a coveted spot in the traditional Holiday movie line-up. In my opinion, it’s the very best of all the Vacation movies (which, in hind sight, isn’t saying much….Vegas Vacation=barf) but it’s also very true to the burdens we all encounter from time to time in hosting family and tradition. Clark’s unwavering determination to make sure his family meets a “good old fashioned family Christmas” is nothing short of inspiring and in the end, (*spoiler alert*) while the Christmas miracle comes with a promise of a bonus check…and that’s about it…it still leaves you with a warm gushy feeling in your heart as abundant as cousin Eddie’s one-liners. A fast favorite for those who have never seen it. (It does have some swear words…but the name-calling scene is hilarious and rivals the swearing scene from “What about Bob?”)
The only Vacation movie to not feature the Lindsey Buckingham song “Holiday Road” throughout the entire film. Also, the actress who played Aunt Bethany (Mae Questel) was the original voice of “Betty Boop.” This was her last appearance in a film. She passed away shortly afterward.
4. A MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL
Okay…I have a thing for Muppets! Seriously, though, this is a fantastic version of the classic Dicken’s tale. (Of course, featuring the famous Muppet craziness and charm.) The Henson writing team is very clever and how they wrap a story around their army of kooky characters. (Fozziwig…The Marleys, Robert and Jacob, played by Statler and Waldorf…and of course, if you’re going to have a telling narrator, who better than the great Gonzo.) The role of Scrooge being played by Michael Caine (who was BORN to play the role) is a great idea. I believed his every move…unlike some special guests to the Muppet specials who look like they’re just going through the punches. It’s a warm, classic retelling that I love more than mistletoe and homemade gingerbread.
This was the first feature-length production in which Kermit’s voice was not provided by Jim Henson (who had recently died). Steve Whitmere took over the role. Also, Michael Caine to this day, considers Scrooge to be one of his favorite roles.
3. A CHRISTMAS STORY
Stand back! Prepare yourself. This movie remains to be the most quoted movie in my household and one of our favorite movies of all time! It’s a brilliant and simple story with iconic characters we can identify with nuzzled in a time somewhat forgotten by today young ones. It’s nostalgia personified. The Red Ryder BB Gun is always at the top of my Christmas list, and I wouldn’t know what to do with the thing if I ever received one. But, just like the “Christmas Story,” our narrated character lays it all out for us in the hopes that we may connect in similar plights in our collective family / holiday journeys. Randy is such a lovable little dolt, Mrs. Shields is everybody’s elementary school teacher and the Old Man…if you can’t find something about this character that reminds you of growing up with your own father, then maybe you need to watch the movie again.
According to Director Bob Clark, Jack Nicholson was given the script and was very much interested in the role of Mr. Parker, “The Old Man”. However, Clark didn’t learn of this until later and the studio didn’t want to pay Nicholson’s fee anyway, which would have doubled the budget. Regardless, Clark says that Darren McGaven was still the better choice and was born to play the role.
2. WHITE CHRISTMAS
Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye’s offering is a brilliant old-school movie musical that never gets old. I love the off-beat shenanigans of Kaye, the droll set-ups of Crosby…and the goofy review-style productions they offer in grandiose fashion. The theatre geek in me would love to be transported back in time to just see the movie sets for these types of movies. Amazing, and a great story. True the buttermilk by the fire “counting your blessings” scene is cheesy…and I still get miffed at the nosey receptionist who misinterprets a phone call and turns events on their ears. But, what would an old-fashioned movie musical be without the sudden conflict and inevitable resolve at the end. The songs are some of my favorite of the season and I will follow this “old man” wherever he wants to go!
The “Sisters” comedy act that Crosby and Kaye perform was not originally in the script. They were clowning around on the set and the director thought it was so funny that it was written in.
1. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
I think Jimmy Stewart is so wonderful in this role, and this iconic story is one that will forever be the reason I get going when the going gets tough….look past the negative…and always be thankful for what I have in life. A bit overly dramatic? Perhaps, but seriously, this remains my favorite film of all time. The sentiment in each moment and the warmth in George’s devotion to the company and his family and the resolve that find him literally saying grace at the head of the table with his family and friends surrounding him. It’s a beautifully filmed movie with a brilliant script. Clarence, although goofy, is still simple enough to be thought upon as what an innocent, on-looking being from heaven might actually be like if among us. And the villain…the crippled Mr. Potter…is superb. He’s horrible in his selfishness and with an air of Scrooge and a hoarse rumble of the Grinch…he helps to generate a character we can all relate to. We get behind George from the very beginning and rally him at the end. It’s one of my favorite traditions to watch this movie on Christmas Day. I love it.
As Uncle Billy is leaving George’s house drunk, it sounds as if he stumbles over some trash cans on the sidewalk. In fact, a crew member dropped some equipment right after Uncle Billy left the screen. Both actors continued with the scene (“I’m all right, I’m all right!”) and director Frank Capra decided to use it in the final cut. He gave the clumsy stagehand a $10 bonus for “improving the sound.”
For the scene that required Donna Reed to throw a rock into the window of the Granville House, Capra hired a marksman to shoot it out for her on cue. To everyone’s amazement, Reed broke the window with true aim and heft without the assistance of the hired marksman
Well, there you have it folks. I would encourage you to think about your top 20 Christmas movies (or top 10, or top 5) and post them here in the comments section. Maybe I forgot one or two, and the point of this blog post is to shine some light on some amazing movies that you and your family might enjoy this holiday season. I would like to wish you and yours Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!