Ho! Ho! Ho! The Yuletide is upon us and so is the need for great holiday fare to relax and unwind with the family after work. So if you’re looking to get your Christmas on, here are my favorites for your viewing pleasure.
Before we get too carried away with this merry sleigh ride, I have stuck to actual movies. I left off the cartoons because they should be their own category. Plus, they’d make good lead-ins to each night’s main feature. I love the holiday cartoons; I did not ignore them because I am a humbug. The rest of this list is presented in a way that builds to the greatest Christmas movie of all time…in my opinion.
12) Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) — C’mon, we’re twelve days out and don’t want to get too serious, yet. There’s something to be said for a race of alien beings abducting Santa and two little kids to help the children of Mars enjoy some Christmas cheer. Besides, there’s nothing quite like a sardonic Santa battling the foes of the good Martians!
11) Christmas in Connecticut (1945) — A scrappy journalist (Barbara Stanwyck) is leading the perfect lie by writing her fantasy of a perfect marriage and motherhood in the ideal house in the country for a leading women’s magazine as reality. When the magazine’s owner invites himself and a recovering war veteran over for Christmas dinner, she’s got to find a way to make her lie a reality. Gleeful mayhem and romance ensue.
10) Miracle on 34th Street (1947) — When the real Santa steps in to save Christmas in Manhattan, everyone thinks he’s just a nutty old kook who needs to be locked away. But with the help of a little girl and a lawyer who still believe, maybe Christmas can be saved. (I’m a remakes Grinch. The original is great with young Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara.)
9) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) — Relive the holidays of your 1980s’ youth with the Griswolds. Trying to have the perfect Christmas was never more difficult than in this hilarious attempt.
8) Holiday Inn (1942) — Der Bingle and Fred Astaire fight over the same dame, while Bing semi-retires from a life in show biz to open up an inn that is only open on holidays. Boffo numbers celebrate the most important dates on the American calendar, and Irving Berlin first gives us the Christmas song to top all Christmas songs: “White Christmas.”
7) It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) — After a life of always doing the right thing and helping others out while sacrificing his own dreams, George Bailey (James Stewart) is at the end of his rope. About to commit suicide, he encounters an angel who shows him how life would be without him in the world in one of the most uplifting Christmas movies of all time. The time-honored Frank Capra classic.
6) The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)/Lethal Weapon (1987) — If you started this list on a Monday, now it is Saturday and you might be getting a little Christmas’d out. Thus it is time for an action-packed double feature. The holidays are rough on a lot of people, but when a school teacher (Geena Davis) with amnesia finds she’s being attacked by world-class assassins during the holidays, she remembers who she really is and attends to the deadly unfinished business of her old life in the first of these two films. Up next are Danny Glover and Mel Gibson as L.A. cops taking on a heroine ring that is related to their service in Vietnam, many years previously. Set during the holidays, it is the first film of one of the best buddy-movie franchises of the ’80s and ’90s.
5) Elf (2003) — To make up for the kiddies being shut out of last night’s movies. An adult human, raised from infancy on the North Pole and mistakenly thinking he is an elf, is sent back the land of humans to find his real father. Will Ferrell captures the child-like glee of his title character as he tries to navigate New York, only find he must save everyone’s Christmas spirit before it is too late.
4) Love Actually (2003) — Even the most stone-hearted will their hearts growing three sizes larger with this British entry into the canon of holiday films. Following the lives of nearly a dozen characters as they navigate love and loss during the holidays, you can’t help but cheer on their endeavors in this feel-good classic.
3) White Christmas (1954) — It’s time to bring out the big guns for more show-stopping holiday fun and romance. Singing and dancing war buddies Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye have found everything they want in life except for love. When they stumble into the beautiful singing and dancing Haines sisters (Rosemary Clooney & Vera Ellen) they attempt to take a holiday following the girls to their next gig in Vermont, only to find that a little more singing and dancing can help save the inn owned by their former general.
2) A Christmas Story (1983) — I couldn’t have identified more with a movie character as a child if I had tried. I was Ralphie Parker, forever on a quest for a BB gun at Christmas. The only difference was that I never had to wear a bunny suit. The rest was about the same, just four decades later than the setting of the movie. The humor, the gift obsession, the familial angst and love. You can’t go wrong with this holiday classic.
1) A Christmas Carol (1951) — There are dozens of renditions of this Charles Dickens’ classic that tell the tale of a miser who is visited by three ghosts who help to save his soul and redeem his humanity, but none are as poignant as this 1951 version that stars Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. The use of camera angles, shadow and light are eerie and mysterious, evoking the fear of a ghostly encounter with the era’s minimal effects. And, yet, it also sparkles with the joy of the redemption. Sim is incredible dark and cruel and believably “as giddy as a school boy” by film’s end. So many of the movies that do Dickens just seem to go through the paces. This one completely lives and breathes the story.
Have fun this holiday season with these and many other great films. These are my favorites. What are some of yours? Feel free to share in the comments below.
Nathaniel Cerf knows he’s going to get roasted over an open fire for not listing “Scrooged” in the top 12 or elevating “It’s a Wonderful Life” to a higher rank, but he just doesn’t care. It’s his list and he’ll do with it as he pleases. You can reach him at Nathaniel.Cerf@aent.com.