Your Traditional Christmas Movie Guide
I love Christmas. I mean, Halloween is my favorite holiday, but Christmas unquestionably *looks* like my favorite holiday. We start decorating either the day before or the day after Thanksgiving; we do the ugly sweater parties; we make dozens of cookies and sweets (including my grandmother’s lukken cookies--using the iron and recipe brought over from Belgium); we do Christmas concerts, blast Christmas music, go and see Christmas lights, make mulled wine, and have a pajama exchange on Christmas eve. I should mention that we bicker and argue continuously while doing all of these things.
We also watch a lot of Christmas movies. At least a movie a day for all of December. Although Christmas movies don’t often premiere to stellar ratings and reviews, Julie Salamon has stated that, “Christmas movies are not critic movies, they are for the people.” And maybe that’s why I love them. Here are my top ten:
#10 - Mixed Nuts (1994)
I feel like this movie is SO underrated. From the back cover: “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, the only creatures stirring were a transvestite, a homicidal Santa, a serial killer, the staff of a suicide hotline and a very crazy pregnant woman.” If you’re not sold yet (and you should be), Steve Martin heads a stellar cast, it’s Liev Schreiber’s debut film, and it was written and directed by Nora Ephron.
#9 - Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
A Christmas Classic; the film grossed over four times its budget, received a “B” rating from the Legion of Decency (which was extremely influential at the time) for depicting Maureen O’Hara, a divorcee, in a positive light, and, according to Hedda Hopper’s May 3rd, 1947 newspaper column, “Looking at Hollywood,” Macy’s planned to close for a half day when the film premiered at the Roxy so its employees could see the first showing.
#8 - Krampus (2015)
Okay, not so traditional. But, I’ve loved the legend of Krampus forever. When I first heard about the release of this film, I was full of excitement (to see the mythology growing and reinvigorated) and fear (that it would completely ruin it). But I was pleasantly surprised! While Krampus is undoubtedly portrayed as more vicious than he actually is and the mythology is not deeply delved into, I feel that the film successfully treads the comedic horror line with its dark Christmas irony.
#7 - A Christmas Carol
Michael Patrick Hearn, editor of the Annotated Christmas Carol, has said that, “Our current definition of Christmas really comes from Charles Dickens and A Christmas Carol. When he published the book in 1843, Christmas celebrations were on the wane and he really created the whole genre of the Christmas book, and from that developed the Christmas movie” (TCM, Night at the Movies: Merry Christmas). A Christmas Carol has been revisioned and adapted numerous times. There is the silent, Thomas Edison version, at least two Disney versions, and the Muppet version. My favorite is the 1938 version featuring Reginald Owen, followed immediately by A Muppet Christmas Carol, featuring Michael Caine. It seems that the story that gave us Christmas should be a holiday “must see.”
#6 - How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) OR (1966)
Whether it’s the animated version of 1966 with the voice of Boris Karloff and Thurl Ravenscroft singing (which is totally my holiday ring-tone) or the 2000 live action version with Jim Carrey, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a holiday must. Animated fun fact: Thurl Ravenscroft originally didn’t receive any credit for his singing; to try and resolve the situation, Dr. Seuss sent letters to every major columnist in America identifying him as the singer. Live action fun fact: The prosthetic make-up that Carrey wore took about eight hours to apply and was so restrictive and confining that Carrey needed counseling from a CIA agent who taught him torture-resistance techniques (IMBd).
#5 - Love Actually (2003)
#4 - It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It was really hard for me not to put this in my top three (especially because I love Jimmy Stewart), but I had to think strategically. I mean, I had to think, “If I were stranded on a desert island with only three Christmas films to watch for all eternity, which ones would I bring?” So, I had to bump it to the four spot. It’s a Wonderful Life is chalk full of so much interesting trivia that one day I hope to do an annotated version. The movie is based on (adapted from) the short story, “The Greatest Gift,” it was the first film that Frank Capra made after returning from the war, Both Capra and Stewart considered it their favorite film, and it was never intended to be a Christmas movie. It didn’t become a Christmas classic until the 70s when the copyright expired and the film fell into the public domain, which meant that it was cheap to air (so it was aired a lot). Roger Ebert has a great review you can check out.
#3 - The Family Stone (2005)
I love this film, but it’s difficult for me to explain why. I think that if Christmas Vacation is about, “the season for anything can go wrong will” (Chevy Chase, TCM), then The Family Stone is about the cycle of chaos and calm; it’s reassurance that while storms are necessary (especially over the holidays), they can also be generative and redirective. In addition to the cast being stacked (I love Diane Keaton), I’m fairly sure that many of us may be able to relate to the awkwardness of having to meet our SO’s parents or relatives over the holidays.
#2 - National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
This was my childhood. Chevy Chase has said, “I consider Christmas Vacation to be documentative. It’s the stuff of Christmas that can drive you crazy that this film is about” (TCM). I totally agree. Like Clark, my father was a, “If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it the best,” all or nothing, crazy-eyed, bitingly dry and sarcastic type. I remember trudging around for the perfect Christmas tree in waist deep snow for hours on numerous occasions. This film is pure nostalgia, and it’s got some amazing one-liners.
#1 - White Christmas (1954)
White Christmas is my all-time favorite Christmas movie. It’s the last movie I watch, always on Christmas Eve, after everyone else has gone to bed and everything has stilled. I’ve always enjoyed musicals and I love Bing Crosby, but I find that it has something for everyone. It’s got some amazing dance and musical numbers, it’s got comedy, it’s got drama, and it’s inspirational. The script was actually written in two weeks, after the production had secured all the actors, sets, set designs, etc. and was ready to start filming (TCM), it was 1954’s most successful film, and was the first film Paramount produced using their wide screen process (IMBd).
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) - Is often considered a Christmas movie because of its closing scenes (which take place during the Christmas season) and because of the classic song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” sung by Judy Garland (who does it best). However, what many people don’t know is that the song was significantly rewritten (and was quite depressing in its original version). For example, Hugh Martin’s opening lines originally were: Have yourself a merry little Christmas/It may be your last/Next year we may all be living in the past, but Judy Garland refused to sing it with those lyrics and so it was rewritten.
The Santa Clause (1994) - Tim Allen’s brand of humor has really held up over time. The older I get, the more I appreciate the humor in this movie.
So there is my Christmas movie list. I hope you’ve found a new film that you want to try out this year, or a new appreciation for one that you already love. Shelby will be here next week with your Non-Traditional Christmas Movie Guide. Until then, happy viewing! And happy holidays!!