Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What are the best Christmas movies of all time?

It may be the most wonderful time of the year for some – but for television and movie fans it can be likened to a mine field.

Holiday movies – on both television and the big screen – are big business.

More often than not, though, they’re forgettable schlock that is only meant to appease the masses for a brief few weeks before being ultimately relegated to the home of discarded holiday spirit.

There are a few holiday movies, though, that manage to transcend time and inspire even the biggest Grinches to give Christmas a chance -- and give in to the power of the season.

The top Christmas movies of all time are:

10. The Polar Express – This one is more visual than anything else for me. The premise of the movie is simple. On Christmas Eve, a young boy – who is having certain doubts – boards a magical train to the North Pole. The power in ‘The Polar Express’ comes from that fervent hope in the back of everyone’s minds that Santa Claus does exist. Maybe he’s not a man, maybe he’s an idea, and that idea is worth cultivating in our children – at least for a little while.

9. A Muppet Christmas Carol – I love Kermit the Frog. I even have his rendition of ‘Rainbow Connection’ on my iPod. I used to run around singing it when I was a little kid. The Sesame Street characters took center stage this fall when they were used as a political bargaining tool. While I like the Sesame Street characters, I love the Muppets. Now, this really is still Dickens’ beloved Christmas story, it’s just performed by our favorite puppets. Who doesn’t love that?

8. A Nightmare Before Christmas – People are never going to agree about whether or not this is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie. Since it’s got Christmas in the title, though, that’s the way I’m going. The movie itself has become something of a cult classic over the years. Personally, I’m in love with the over-the-top visuals and the subtle storytelling. My favorite thing about ‘A Nightmare Before Christmas’ is the central theme, which tells people that you don’t have to be Christian to enjoy Christmas. There are a lot of different religions out there, that doesn’t mean they don’t like this time of year as well.

7. Scrooged – This is another take on the Dickens classic. This one just happens to be anchored by the always awesome Bill Murray. He plays a cynical television executive that is visited by three holiday spirits. Of course, these spirits aren’t traditional – and the message they’re sending isn’t exactly welcomed by Murray’s Frank Cross – but when you really look at the film, the movie’s message is as simple as any other holiday classic: Help when you can. Believe when you can. Oh, and leave them laughing with your snarky one-liners and rampant cynicism.

6. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (animated) – I loathe the live action Jim Carrey movie with a passion (although, I did love the PlayStation game tie-in, for some reason). The animated Grinch, though, that’s a whole other story. Dr. Seuss created some of the most memorable characters of all time – and the Grinch is his best work ever. Sure, the story has a surreal factor – like all Seuss material does – but it’s also fun. My favorite thing about the animated version, though, is the music. I hate most holiday music – but music from the Grinch actually makes me smile.

5. It’s a Wonderful Life – I know it’s sacrilege to a lot of people that I don’t give this the top spot, but the truth is I think it’s become a little trite over the years. I’m not talking about the actual film – I’m talking about the nonstop homages to it. How many shows have used the ridiculous plot point? Be honest. I don’t hate the movie, and it does have a wonderful message – and it wouldn’t have stood the test of time if it wasn’t so good – but it’s still not the best Christmas movie out there. It's close, though.

4. Elf – I think this movie survives on the likeability of Will Ferrell – and his rampant enthusiasm – more than anything else. The movie hasn’t been out long enough to say it’s a classic – but it is one of the few modern Christmas movies that actually has the potential to become a classic. Ferrell’s elf on a quest is not only oddly endearing and weirdly naïve, but he’s also a potential teacher for children everywhere. You see Buddy doesn’t see the differences in everyone. He sees the potential in everyone – and that’s what we should want all children to be able to see. Plus, who doesn’t love the line “You sit on a pack of lies”?

3. Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer – The claymation is cheesy – and most kids today don’t get the appeal of it – but this timeless classic is still as important today as it was when it was released. I remember eagerly watching this television production in the run-up to Christmas each year. Sure, watching it as an adult is a slightly different story. You start to question some of Rudolph’s choices and, every once in awhile you want to yell at him to suck it up and stop whining. The central theme of Rudolph is just as important today – maybe moreso – as it was back then, though: Don’t hate someone because they’re different.

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – The first Vacation had a better soundtrack, but Christmas Vacation has more genuine laughs. While I love Chevy Chase’s Clark Griswold, it is actually Randy Quaid’s Eddie that makes me love this movie. Like most other Vacation movies, there is some animal humor – and that humor is not for everyone – but overall the message behind the movie is simple: If you spend time with your family, you will inevitably go crazy.

1. A Christmas Story – There is no holiday movie that I love like this one. Bar none. I even have a small replica of the leg lamp on my desk in my office. ‘A Christmas Story’ is one of those movies that manages to capture the imagination of generation after generation. There is a timeless element to the movie – which is both fun and poignant at the same time. I don’t know of any other film that truly manages to catch how a kid really feels – from adults constantly talking down to him, to the first time they get screwed (“A crummy commercial?”) to the belief that someday something bad will happen to him and his parents will feel really, really bad for whatever part they played in the depressing malady. Whether you ever wanted a Red Rider BB gun – or whatever it was that you yearned for – ‘A Christmas Story’ captures the magic of Christmas through laughter, love and some of the best narration ever put to film.

Honorable mentions go to:

A Charlie Brown Christmas – I’m actually more of a fan of ‘It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown’ but this timeless cartoon does have its own level of appeal. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t fall in love with that scraggly little Christmas tree – or the overall message of the movie.

Home Alone – This movie was never going to win an Oscar – and the plot is preposterous – yet I can’t stop laughing like an idiot for final half hour of the movie when a precocious child out thinks two lunkhead thieves. I like low brow humor. Sue me.

Little House on the Prairie – Before the weekly series, there was a two-hour movie – the highlight of which included a snow-covered Mr. Edwards bringing Laura and Mary their Christmas gifts from Santa. I usually try to avoid schmaltz, but I’ve got a weird thing for ‘Little House on the Prairie’ – even I can’t explain it.

Die Hard – Is this technically a Christmas movie? The jury is still out. It is a great action movie set at Christmas – and you don’t have to worry about any sappy Lifetime television for women moments.

Black Xmas – I know purists are ticked, but I can’t help that I love a horror movie that is so bad it’s good – and this qualifies as that. Plus, who doesn’t feel like killing random people after spending a few hours with their family?

Life of Brian – This suggestion isn’t meant to offend the religious-minded. I just happen to love this movie, and it is, technically, a Christmas movie.

What do you think? What is the best Christmas movie of all time?


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