Honorable Mention: Elf (2003)
This movie is side-splitting hilarious. I’m not a Will Farrell fan but he’s really funny here (not to mention clean as sometimes Farrell’s brand of comedy can be a bit too blue for me). I love the slapstick humor but equally so I adore Buddy the Elf’s heart. He’s innocent enough to make him endearing but not so naive that he’s moronic. While the scenes where hardened New Yorkers display their belief in Santa are a bit cheesy to me (though I figure that was to cater to a younger demographic), that’s the only caveat I find with this truly funny flick.
10. The Snowman (1982)
This is probably the most artsy of the films on my list but that doesn’t make it any less important. To be fair, its original source material (a picture book) had no words in it either, so it makes sense to not incorporate dialogue. But the story still comes through plainly and poignantly. I watched this special every year as a kid until, for some reason, my local PBS station ceased airing it. But that’s a shame because it’s a pure delight and its signature song, “Walking in the Air,” is beautiful and haunting. Unlike most children’s movies that have happy endings, The Snowman isn’t entirely cheery. It’s not horrific by any means but if you don’t shed a tear, you’re a Grinch indeed. If you’ve never seen The Snowman, give it a viewing. Kids will appreciate the visuals and adults can love it for being a work of animated art.
9. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
I’m talkin’ the original, not that Jim Carrey-led monstrosity. Nobody can beat Dr. Seuss’ way with words or Boris Karlof’s vocal talent. There is a reason why this animated classic gets replayed year after year. It possesses wit, charm, colorful animation, and a great message about Christmas not being wrapped up (no pun intended) in material things. As a side note, that’s my biggest beef with the 2000 live action version where the Whos are, at first, upset that the physical trappings of their holiday have been stolen, meaning they put too much stock into stuff. But in the original, the Whos instinctively know that “Christmas doesn’t come from a store.”
8. A Garfield Christmas (1987)
I practically grew up on Garfield. There were numerous “Garfield” TV specials but this stands out as the best and I’m proud to include it in my Christmas line up. This is classic Garfield, from the witty dialogue to Garfield’s display of heart (as well as his ever-present appetite). Even the musical numbers are clever and fun to listen to without cringing. Once more, this flick has some somber moments when a character mourns over a long-passed loved one, but, rather than brood, it causes children to understand that Christmas isn’t a fun and happy time for everyone. But ultimately this holiday classic shows that love and family are truly where the heart is.
7. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Wouldn’t you want to spend the holidays with the Griswolds? Well, maybe not but it’s my firm belief that everyone is at least a little dysfunctional. This hilarious holiday comedy never fails to put a smile on my face with its outrageous humor and fun cast. Yet even beneath all of the sight gags, it’s a comedy with heart as Clark tries to keep his family at the center of the holiday, even when all of his plans for the perfect Christmas go hilariously awry. Kind of like real life. Only minus the squirrel-infested trees and weird, green Jell-O.
6. Home Alone (1990)
I don’t care how many entries they have in this franchise, the only two “real” Home Alone movies for me are the first two. To be fair, I like them both but this is the first one so it takes a special place on my list. Comedy-wise, this movie hits the mark but it also has a good story, as implausible as it seems. Kevin makes a great protagonist as he starts off as a bratty, selfish kid but, by the end, starts caring more about the world around him and other people. The character dynamic here is fun to watch and, of course, the movie plays on every kid’s fantasy of being home alone. Makes me want to go grab some popcorn and jump up and down on the bed!
5. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Again, the modern remake just can’t compare to the original, which is light-hearted, funny, and warm. I love this movie for its depth and simplicity. The casting is brilliant and I deeply appreciate the message that we should always keep believing in the impossible and have hope. Much to my surprise (primarily because most Christmas movies don’t achieve this), this film won three Academy Awards, two for writing (which it definitely deserved) and a Best Supporting Actor statue for Edmund Gwenn, who plays Santa…uh…I mean Kris Kringle, and he rightfully earned that coveted statuette with his performance here.
4. The Polar Express (2004)
In terms of animation, no doubt The Polar Express wins the prize on this list. It’s gorgeous to look at with fluid movements, soft lighting, and realistically-rendered environments and characters. Most scenes will have you wondering what exactly is “real” and what’s animated, which, considering its “age” (not that I think 2004 is that old), is quite a creative feat. It captures the look and spirit of Chris Van Allsburg’s book and I love everything about this movie – from its design, look, and feel to its music (which isn’t cheesy) to its fun, thoughtfully-created and acted characters. Not to mention its chief message that “sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see.” Powerful stuff, man.
3. A Christmas Carol (1999)
There are a plethora of adaptions of Charles Dickens’ classic, from animated, to the Muppets, to live action. But the tops in my book is this probably little-known, made-for-TV version staring Patrick Stewart. I’ve seen my fair share of Christmas Carol adaptations and this is by far the best. As in the best. For one thing, it showcases Stewart as Scrooge, which, next to Captain Picard, is one of my favorite performances of his. Not to mention, he, too, is a fan of the book, and it shows – Stewart gets Scrooge and he gets this story. He’s not just reciting lines and I love the element of theatrics he brings to this role. Likewise, the movie itself follows the book almost to the letter, literally. It includes the more obscure, lesser-known scenes from the novel as well as incorporates dialogue lifted straight out of the text. Basically, it’s like watching a book come to life, and when it comes to adaptations, you can’t get any closer to perfection than that.
2. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
It would be certifiably insane to not include good ol’ Charlie Brown on any list of holiday movies, so I’m proud to award him the second spot from the top. A Charlie Brown Christmas is small-screen perfection with an awesome score, simple yet profound story, and, of course, the whole “Peanuts” gang. I think a world without Charles Schultz would have been a very different world in a bad way, so thank goodness he gave us Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and Co.! This film proves why “Peanuts” stands the test of time. Not to mention that Linus gets to deliver one of the most poignant moments ever to be created via cel animation:
1. A Christmas Story (1983)
What other movie warrants to be played on Christmas Day 24 hours? Christmas movies don’t get any better than A Christmas Story, which has risen far higher than cult status, if you ask me. It’s been a tradition with my family and I to watch this movie every Christmas Eve ever since I was little. It just isn’t Christmas without Ralphie and his BB gun! Does this movie have any deep or special message? No, and that’s fine as it’s only message is that Christmas, hopefully, should be a fun, joyous time spent with people you love and doing the things you love. Sure, nothing is perfect, but in the end these missteps can make the time memorable. A Christmas Story is as close to Christmas movie perfection as you can get. So, I dare you to hate this movie. Go head, I triple dog dare you!