It’s the same thing every year: broadcast television more or less shuts down during the holidays and even cable goes into reruns. There’s no sense in wasting advertising rights to a first-run show when it’s up against old favorite Christmas shows like “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (cue the wah-wah trumpets) or Burl Ives narrating “Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer” – talk about a blast from the past, Burl passed on almost twenty years ago! And then, of course, there are four or five million football bowl games to try to dodge.
Be thankful, then, that there are almost as many Christmas movies out there to watch as there are bowl games. Now’s the time to start making your list and checking it twice: got the DVD or BluRay disc? Is it on your Netflix wish list or your Amazon.com watch list? Have you seen all the best the season has to offer? Never mind some of the truly GOOFY films places like RottemTomatoes.com include in their “best Christmas films of all time” list – you know you can’t trust anyone who
1) Insists on saying “film” instead of “movie”
2) Includes Batman Returns or Stalag 17 in a list of “Christmas” movies!
But, hey! You can always trust me! Here are fifteen favorites (not all of them mine, by the way) to add to your watch list or, if you’re like me, dust off the correct disc and slap it in the player.
Elf(2003): Will Ferrell and James Caan – normally I hate any movie in which Will Ferrell has been cast, but even he can’t spoil the holidays in this “mistaken-identity” comedy about an oversized elven character.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000): Jim Carrey, Taylor Momsen – Well, I’m by Jim Carrey like I am by Will Ferrell – is it possible to be so over-the-top that you come back around from the bottom? But it would take even more than Carrey’s hyperkinetic antics to spoil this heartwarming tale based on the Dr. Seuss classic. It does come pretty darned close, though
Bad Santa (2003): Billy Bob Thornton and Bernie Mac – I blame this movie for a run of “bad” content, including such clinkers as this year’s short-lived TV shows “Bad Teacher” and “Bad Judge.” Still, the tale of a conman posing as Santa Claus does feature Lauren Graham back in her “Gilmore Girls” days and a glimpse of one of John Ritter’s final on-screen roles.
Gremlins(1984): Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates – “Don’t get them wet, don’t feed them after midnight, and no bright lights!” Who can forget Hoyt Axton’s three rules? Well, Zach Galligan does – leaving him and his lovely love interest, Phoebe Cates, inundated in greedy, destructive little furballs that bear a striking resemblance to Furby…
Die Hard (1988): Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia – About the only thing “Christmasy” about Die Hard is that the action takes place at a Christmas Party. Oh, and Bruce Willis sure hands out a lot of “gifts” to the villains. Trivia question: on what current television show does Bonnie Bedelia (Holly McClane) play the mother of Lauren Graham from Bad Santa?
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation(1989): Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo – Chase and D’Angelo reprise their roles as the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Vacation) in this holiday movie. It’s the Griswolds and even if they’re not headed for WallyWorld, you can expect disaster piled on disaster. Keep an eye out for Johnny Galecki (“Big Bang Theory”) who replaced Anthony Michael Hall as Rusty Griswold.
Holiday Inn (1942): Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire – two showmen compete for the affections of one lovely lassie on the stage of an Inn that only opens on the holidays. If the audience had voted in this talent contest – singer vs. dancer – it could have been the first edition of American Idol!
White Christmas (1954): Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye – male song-and-dance duo teams up with a female song-and-dance team (with Rosemary Clooney, George’s aunt) to bring down the house – and the snow – at a Vermont ski lodge owned by the guys’ former commanding general, played by Dean Jagger. The real classic tune from this movie? “Sisters”…)
A Christmas Story (1983): Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin – It’s the ‘40s, and the one thing Ralphi wants more than anything in the world is that Red Ryder BB Gun. Sure, he’s dumb enough to stick his tongue on a frozen flagpole and he gets aroused by a leg lamp, but this one is still beloved of almost anyone who went through puberty in the late 70s or early 80s.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore – George Bailey, despondent and frustrated at his humdrum life, learns with the help of his guardian angel Clarence just what he’s brought to the lives of the people around him. Remember, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings!”
Scrooged(1998): Bill Murray, Karen Allen – This retelling of the timeless Charles Dickens tale, “A Christmas Carol,” is one of the first to feature a TV show within a movie, with producer Bill Murray casting the likes of Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim. Keep an eye out for the scene-stealing Carol Kane as the Ghost of Christmas Present – she’s a knockout!
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): Animated – When Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, stumbles over Christmas, he just doesn’t get the concept. Nevertheless, he decides that he and his people – and I use the word “people” loosely – should hold the franchise on this holiday, too. No more visions of sugar plums for good little boys and girls when that happens! Trivial pursuit: Sally is voiced by Catherine O’Hara, who played Kevin’s mom in Home Alone.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947): Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara – A young lawyer takes on the case of a jolly, bearded fat man named Kris Kringle, who claims he’s the real Santa Claus in this classic tale. Without a doubt, this is one of the best-loved Christmas movies in history.
The Santa Clause (1994): Tim Allen, Eric Lloyd, Wendy Crewson – Divorced dad Scott Calvin (note the initials…) makes the mistake of putting on Santa’s suit when he finds the old guy dead on his front lawn, and manages to become the hero to his son he always wanted to be. Classic line: “We’re your worst nightmare: elves with attitude!” Watch for David Krumholtz (“Numb3rs”) as the head elf, Bernard – but don’t ever, ever, ever watch The Santa Clause 3!
Home Alone (1990): Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern – Accidentally left in his suburban Chicago home when the rest of the family flies to Europe for the holidays, Kevin manages to survive just fine on his own, even with a couple of wannabe burglars and a spooky old man next door. You just can’t have a better Christmas than that!
So there you have it – fifteen, count ’em, fifteen! of the most fun and/or heartwarming Christmas movies ever made. Note: your mileage may differ…