BWP's Top 10 Christmas Movies Worth Watching
When George Prax mentioned he was thinking of doing some reviews of Christmas movies, I immediately horned in on the act. I know what you're thinking - Prax and I rarely agree on anything - but really that's only when it comes to hockey. We actually did manage to compile a list of our 5 favorite holiday flicks each, and even agree on their pecking order. And there is our gift to you this yuletide season: proof positive that miracles do happen. Prax and I finally agreed on something!
10. Die Hard
You should know that here at BWP we like to start things off with a bang. And what bigger “bang” than a little Die Hard to get you in the holiday spirit? Sure, Bruce Willis’s iconic John McClane isn’t the most conventional of holiday characters, and one could argue that while Christmas seems to serve as more of an ironic setting than anything else, especially in the first film which takes place in an office building in Southern Calofornia, Die Hard wouldn’t be Die Hard if it wasn’t for the role of Christmas in the first two films. And if you really pay attention, you might actually see more than just a testosterone-filled action movie for the boys. Not only one of the best action series of all time, but Die Hard 1 and 2 make our list of best Christmas movies together at a reasonable number 10.
9. The Muppets Christmas Carol
I know what you’re going to say. Out of all the versions of the iconic Charles Dickens take “A Christmas Carol”, we’re going the one which replaces half the characters with talking puppets? Well, ya. Dicken’s story has spawned over 20 films over a century of movie making, from silent films to animated features and even a 3D performance capture version starring Jim Carrey from last year. Hollywood has done it all with this one, and for me, the one that bores me the least is the one with Kermit, Gonzo, Fozzy and the rest of the gang. It follows the story fairly closely and gives us the ever so awesome Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. We all know the story, why not watch the Jim Henson version?
There have been plenty of comedic attempts at holiday cheer over the last twenty years. Besides Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Jingle All the Way from 1996, which I’ve decided to spare you from on this list, Elf is likely the one original Christmas story that most consistently stays in my Holiday playlist. Starring Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, a human raised by Elves in Santa’s workshop (most notably his adoptive Elvin father, played by Bob Newhart), Buddy eventually discovers that he’s not exactly like the other Elves, and ventures to New York City to find and reconnect with his real father, played by James Caan, falling in love (and saving Christmas) in the process. It’s as straightforward a Christmas tale as it gets, but Ferrell’s well known off the cuff and zany comedy has made it a holiday classic.
7. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
If there is one thing that made Charles Schultz’s characters so well-loved it is that they always spoke simple truths and wisdoms without downplaying dialogue and interaction to childlike levels. When Charlie Brown is repulsed by the commercialism of Christmas, he accepts Lucy’s suggestion he directs the school play. The usual characters and their silliness – Snoopy and Woodstock in particular – afford some lighter moments, but in no way diminish Charlie’s search to find the ever elusive true meaning of Christmas. In the end he does so beautifully along with a little help from his friends. His journey is both funny and poignant, and represents some of Schultz’s best work. Even if you’re not a Peanuts cartoon fan, this movie will likely make you into one.
6. The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971)
This little seen but well done movie was actually not a whole lot like The Waltons, the TV show it gave birth to a year later. For one thing, Patricia Neal’s portrayal of matriarch Olivia Walton was much colder, sterner and yet no less loving and compassionate than Michael Learned’s. She had much greater depth as an actress, and it is her strength and presence that anchor and carry this movie.The hardships of the Great Depression are much more stark and evident in this film. It was toned down an awful lot for the TV show, but instead of just being an afterthought or mentioned by the John-Boy character the Depression here is cold, ugly, real and affects this family daily.The story is simple – John Walton the father is late home to Christmas, and his son John-Boy attempts to keep his siblings entertained with stories until he is forced out to find his wayward father. The bitterness of mountain life, the economic crisis the country and the family were facing and the key that the bonds of love played in surviving it are well-written and beautifully performed by a strong and underrated cast. The TV show itself was gimmicky by contrast, but this movie is anything but. There is no overplaying of sentimentality or pandering to the audience. This is a simple story with a powerful message about how important family is, especially in times of great need, and as such it is well worth the time spent watching.
5. Home Alone
What holiday movie list would be complete without Home Alone? Everyone’s seen this movie (and it’s equally good sequel) many times, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few kids even tried to recreate some of Macaulay Culkin’s hijinks and pranks from the films. We’ve all imagined what it would be like to be home alone, away from our parents when we were kids. Well, this kid got to do it, and learned a valuable lesson in the process. Who can forget the memorable roles of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the villains in the first two films, and what kind of holiday lover doesn’t have this series in their yearly playlist?
4. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
In a fit of truly brilliant casting, actor Boris Karloff – better known for his work in horror movies - was tapped to narrate this animated holiday classic and give life to one of Dr. Seuss’s best known creations.The Grinch hates Christmas for no apparent good reason. He makes Scrooge look like a lightweight, and conspires with his reluctant but faithful pooch Max to swipe all of the holiday decorations and presents from the town’s populace of Whoville on Christmas evening. There is a lot of hilarity combined with some truly genius writing, but the message about how Christmas can have a magical effect on even the most jaded of us comes through loud and clear. Avoid Ron Howard’s live action travesty reboot and treat yourself to this animated gem instead.
3. It’s A Wonderful Life
We’re starting to get to the point in the list where there isn’t much to say about these films that hasn’t already been said. This 1946 classic definitely falls in this category. Even if you’re not the biggest fan, there’s no way you haven’t seen this heart wrenching film starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. George Bailey is maybe one of the most iconic film characters of all time, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” definitely belongs on every top Christmas movie list, and even a lot of greatest film lists!
2. A Christmas Story (1983)
There’s always one special item that a child craves above all others, and for Ralphie Parker it’s a Red Ryder BB gun. Of course his mother is horrified by the thought and he hears the all too familiar refrain of how he’ll shoot his eye out. Above and beyond Ralphie’s desire for this off-limit toy this movie touches on the trials of being a child at Christmastime, complete with bullying and what happens when you put your tongue to a metal pole (yeah I’ve done it). The resulting humor is as much of a treat as the memories it brings back. Ralphie’s parents are portrayed Melinda Dillon and Darren McGavin, who bring a fine level of affectionate nuttiness to the whole mix. For a lot of humor and a good reminder of what it’s like to be a kid at Christmas waiting for Santa to come, this is a great movie to curl up in front of on a snowy winter evening.
1. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
There’s a reason this movie is considered the classic when it comes to Christmas flicks. Edmund Gwenn won a well-deserved Oscar as a highly-likeable Kris Kringle, and the movie picked up two others for Best Screenplay and Best Original Story.
The message it delivers is about the meaning of the holiday versus the commercialism that has overtaken it. The cynicism that Susan Walker (beautifully played by child-actress Natalie Wood) has been raised with courtesy of her no-nonsense mother Doris (the always solid Maureen O’Hara) starts to erode in the face of Kris Kringle’s endless faith.
All of the actors are superb, and the script plays it safe while managing not to go overboard with the sentimentality. New York City here is a nice backdrop well before its Sex and the City days. Throw in a low-key romance with Kringle’s attorney and Doris, and this a delightful movie that while it holds no surprises, will still tug on the heartstrings and pay dividends for your time.
If you’re only going to watch one holiday movie, this is my biggest recommendation. Just be sure to avoid all of the truly inferior remakes.
So what do you think? What ones did we miss? And has the shock of us agreeing on something restored your faith in Santa Claus?