Only a few days until Christmas, I am sitting at my computer, slowly wearing down a very delicious candy cane. What better time to talk about some of my favorite Christmas movies. Mind you, this isn’t an ultimate list of the best Christmas films (nor are they listed in any particular order). These are just some that makes me smile and I feel compelled to watch this time of year.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Was there no end to the conspiracy of irrational prejudice against Red Ryder and his peacemaker?
I couldn’t make a list like this without mentioning not only a Christmas classic, but one that’s set in my own state (plus the town in the film is based on Munster, Indiana, my boyfriend’s hometown). In 1940s Indiana, 9 year old Ralphie is patiently awaiting Christmas, all the while trying to convince his mother that an official Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model BB rifle with a compass in the stock would make a perfect gift and would not “shoot his eye out”. Along the way to Christmas morning, Ralphie learns (among other things) what happens when you try to lick frozen metal, that Little Orphan Annie is a scam artist and that Chinese restaurants are open even on Christmas Day. More than anything, it’s about the crazy things we remember about childhood and family and why that craziness is so important. This is also the movie that gave us the term “the soft glow of electric sex”.
All I Want for Christmas (1991)
After we get your parents back together, help me split up mine!
This one was a favorite of mine when I was a kid. A teenage boy and his little sister are celebrating the Christmas season between their two divorced parents. When she discovers her mother is planning on marrying again (to a very nasty Kevin Nealon), little Hallie decides the only thing she wants is for her parents to get back together. Her brother Ethan, with the help of the girl he likes, works out an elaborate plan to bring his parents together on Christmas Eve. A bit cheesy, but sweet. Hallie is played by a young Thora Birch and she does a great job. Plus, Lauren Becall is excellent as their grandmother.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?
No one did uplifting movies quite like Frank Capra, but this is one of those Christmas movies that isn’t just about Christmas. While Angel in Training Clarence meets and changes the life of the downtrodden George Bailey on a fateful Christmas Eve, the majority of the film takes place over the course of George’s life. We see him make sacrifice after sacrifice (from keeping his brother from drowning and losing part of his hearing in the process to saving the family business and giving up his dream of traveling the world) and by the time he’s standing on the bridge, ready to jump, we not only understand him, but really care for him. And when he gets that second chance, the joy on his face as he runs through town to get home always brings a tear to my eye. While this isn’t in the actual movie, I always like this SNL sketch about the film’s alternate ending.
Home Alone (1990)
This house is so full of people it makes me sick. When I grow up and get married, I’m living alone.
This is another movie that isn’t just about Christmas. 8 year old Kevin McCallister’s entire extended family has just flown to France for the holiday… and forgot him. Having wished that his family would disappear forever the night before, Kevin assumes that his wish came true and he’ll just live in the house alone forever. Meanwhile, his family is trying to get back to him and some local thieves (believing the house to be empty) are getting ready to break in. Most people remember the movie for Kevin’s boobytraps set up to stop the robbers, but the majority of the film is about Kevin learning to depend of himself (even standing up to the monstrous furnace) and also realizing how much he misses and needs his family. I also love the scene where he discovers that his scary neighbor is not only kind, but also needed some good advice. When Christmas Day finally comes, all he really wants is to see his mom.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It’s not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love.
The only TV special on the list, this one is especially special to me. Even back in 1965, TV executive were worried about having such a strong Christian message in a Christmas special. It’s rumored that when questioned about it, creator Charles Schultz said, “If we don’t do it, who will.” Charlie Brown questions the meaning of the holiday and tries to direct the Christmas play, only to have most of the cast demand he go commercial. And when he adopts a small, pathetic Christmas tree for their set, he is met with disbelief. Finally, faithful Linus gives the famous speech that tells Charlie Brown what Christmas is really all about. Considering Jesus himself was not the king everyone thought he’d be (even starting with his birth in a stable), it’s only surprising that the show ends with Lucy saying with awe, “Charlie Brown may be a blockhead, but he did pick a nice tree.”
Christmas Vacation (1989)
“You set standards that no family activity can live up to.”
“When have I ever done that?”
“Parties, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, holidays, vacations, graduations…”
This is hands down my favorite of the Vacation movies. Instead of sending the Griswold family to strange and crazy locations, this one keeps them close to home and all the wacky situations that they get into (from overlighting of the house to the Clark’s complete meltdown after dinner) are not that far off from what could so easily happen at holidays with family. Still, Christmas Vacation has some heartwarming moments in it while still being a National Lampoon production; my best example is when senile Aunt Bethany starts singing the national anthem instead of a Christmas carol and everyone just sort of goes with it, ending with Cousin Eddie saluting. Watching the movie is a tradition at my house every year and my dad loves to say, “Jelly of the month club: the gift that keeps giving the WHOLE YEAR LONG.”
Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
“Wait a second! You’re not Charles Dickens!”
“I am too!”
“No! A blue furry Charles Dickens who hangs out with a rat?”
“Charles Dickens was a 19th Century novelist! A genius!”
“Oh, you’re too kind.”
OK, there are many versions of A Christmas Carol and many of those are very good. HOWEVER, there is only one version that has Gonzo as narrator Charles Dickens. Plus, Michael Caine does an excellent Scrooge, both in his selfishness at the start and his overwhelming joy at the end. The story itself is timeless and the Muppets charm weaves well. Plus, Kermit and Miss Piggy fit right into the roles of Mr. and Mrs. Cratchit.
White Christmas (1954)
“We like to take care of our friends.”
“But we’re practically strangers!”
“Uh, we like to take care of that too.”
This might be my very favorite Christmas movie ever (it’s at least way up there). After two army buddies become big Broadway stars, one of them (Danny Kaye) decides to play matchmaker for the other (Bing Crosby). Through a series of mishaps, they follow a beautiful sister duo (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to Vermont for Christmas, only to discover the general that got them through WWII is struggling to keep his ski lodge afloat in a winter with no snow. The men decide to put on a show to promote the lodge and plan a special surprise for the man they look up to, while falling in love with the sisters along the way. Filled with plenty of Irving Berlin songs, this is such a fun movie. And yes, the last 10 minutes make me cry every time.
I'm so glad that AMC had White Christmas playing all day Christmas Eve.
You picked a great list, Katie.