It’s time for a quick blog post. And contrary to my usual posts, this one is not political. This is a list of my favorite Christmas movies.
I’m not making any claim that these are the best. These are simply the ones that I would want to watch again if I sat down to watch a Christmas movie.
First, the list that are clearly Christmas movies:
- Arthur Christmas
This is possibly my favorite movie on this portion of the list. It’s a wonderful story that takes the mythology surrounding Santa Claus and presents a variation of it that is really enjoyable. Santa Claus is not a permanent fixture. Instead, it’s a family position passed down from one Santa Claus to his successor.
The current Claus is nearing the end of his term, and due to age is considering stepping down. But, like all the men who have occupied that role, he really enjoys the job, and has not decided for sure to step down.
Santa has two sons. Steve is the oldest is being groomed for the position. His goal is 100% efficiency, and he approaches that in a methodical, organized way. Meanwhile, the younger son Arthur is a disorganized clumsy person who has been tasked with reading the mail since that is one of the few tasks he can do without bungling things too badly.
For Steve, delivering one more gift is about getting one tiny fraction closer to 100%. For Arthur, it’s about making sure that one child does not wake up on Christmas morning and being disappointed because they were forgotten by Santa.
The movie is funny (many of the funniest scenes come from grand-Santa, the father of the current Santa who held that post, and still misses it). It also presents characters that you genuinely care about, and want to see succeed. There is never a villain… simply a mistake in which one gift doesn’t get delivered, and Arthur sets out to correct the mistake.
I highly recommend this one.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
The older animated one (NOT to be confused with the Jim Carrey live action version) is probably the best adaptation of a Dr. Seuss story.
Pretty much everyone has seen this, but it’s always a welcome addition to the season.
I am a huge Dr. Seuss fan. He tell wonderful stories in such a unique and distinctive way, and they are so enjoyable that you almost (but not quite) forget how important some of the messages that his stories address are. His stories talk about the difficulties in getting old, about the downsides of fame, about the cold war, about accepting diversity, and many other very adult themes, and all of them are done in a way that really forces you to consider your own personal feelings.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is perhaps the most effective story from this list about making you examine the true meaning of giving and receiving.
- It’s a Wonderful Life
Not much needs to be said about this one. It’s perhaps the most widely played Christmas movie of all time.
I rarely sit down and watch the entire movie, having seen it so many times, but I never skip past it if I see it. I’ll at least watch it for a few minutes.
I love the scenes where James Stewart is falling in love and getting married. His interaction with the angel, and looking into a present where he was never born rival any other movie that presents an alternate history.
It’s a little cheesy… but that’s easy to overlook considering what a beloved actor James Stewart was.
- Little Drummer Boy
I had to consider whether I wanted to include more of the old Christmas animations on this list. It’s hard to imagine a Christmas without Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman. But as enjoyable as they are, none of them compare to the Little Drummer Boy.
It’s also hard to imagine a story telling about love and forgiveness more effective than this one. In many respects, it reminds me of Ben Hur, a huge monumental movie that explores the same theme. But as good as Ben Hur is, I think this movie does it better.
- Mr. Krueger’s Christmas
Another James Stewart movie. This one is so sad! It’s hard to watch this movie due to the themes of loneliness that pervade it. And yet, it is a wonderful reminder of how much the little things that we do can impact others.
If there’s a movie that is better at reminding us that we need to be friends to those around us, and to make sure that we contribute to their lives, even if it’s only in the form of a smile, a carol, or a brief visit, I can’t think of what that movie would be.
- Scrooge (1951)
There are lots of versions of the Christmas Carol. So many that I couldn’t even name them all. But the best (in my opinion) is the 1951 version.
When I watch movies from the 50s, I often feel like the acting is just that… acting. Growing up in a more modern era where the goal is to be more realistic rather than acted, movies from an earlier era often seem awkward, over-the-top, unrealistic, or hokey. The acting seems absurd, even if it’s supposed to be serious.
However, watching this, everything works perfectly. The message presented in this story is a powerful reminder of our responsibility towards others. I think that Alastair Sim (the actor who played Scrooge) believed the message, and wanted to tell it in the only way that he knew how. There’s something in his presentation that transcends the old-style acting and presents a universal story that all of us need to hear on a regular basis.
There are lots of other versions of the Christmas Carol that I can watch and enjoy… but this is the one that is, and always will be the definitive version.
Now, a second list of movies that may, or may not be, Christmas movies.
- Rise of the Guardians
Of all of the movies on both lists, this is my favorite. In some respects, it’s the least valid as a Christmas movie of all of them. It takes place at Easter time, NOT Christmas. However, it features Santa (a VERY unusual Santa at that) and was released at Christmas time, so it has become a Christmas movie in my mind.
There are a handful of movies that I will watch over and over and over, and I don’t think I’ll ever tire of them. This is one of them. I love the characters. Santa Claus is perhaps my favorite (though very non-traditional) Santa of all time. The Easter bunny is hilarious. Jack Frost is such a compelling character. And when the unthinkable happened to the Sandman, it was unexpectedly emotional. I enjoyed the tooth fairy, though that role was the least interesting (to me) of the guardians. And the boogeyman was unexpectedly scary.
I highly recommend this one!
Another “is this really a Christmas movie?” movie. But sooooo fun to watch. Being a huge horror movie fan, I really like it when horror is mixed with other genres. As odd as it sounds, humor is the genre that mixes best with horror, and there have been a number of excellent horror comedies.
Gremlins represents one of those. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
- While You Were Sleeping
Another movie that really isn’t a Christmas movie except that it is set at Christmas.
This is the movie that (in my mind) took Sandra Bullock and elevated her to the Meg Ryan level in the romantic comedy. She is cute and funny and likable, but she brings a depth to her role that allows her to explore loneliness and loss in a meaningful and sincere way without ever detracting from the overall light-heartedness of the movie.
Lucy’s (Bullock) interactions with the family are marvelous, and now, when I watch the movie, I love it when she’s in the hospital room for the first time and the “family theme music starts” and the family rushes in to signal the start of a circus/roller coaster ride.
Lot’s of funny silliness, but with some really simple scenes that tug on your heartstrings. The scene where Lucy is at Christmas with the family and the camera pans over the stockings ending on Lucy’s to show that she has been welcomed in is so simple and yet so effective. And the wedding confession where Lucy talks about loneliness should have been melodramatic, but was instead really moving.
Anyway, enough of that. This is another highly recommended movie!
- Die Hard
And a final move that is set at Christmas, but definitely not the traditional Christmas movie. Lot’s of swearing. A high body count. Violence galore. But one of the best action movies of all time, with perhas the single best hero/villain combination ever filmed. There have been a handful of movie heroes that I would rate higher than John McClane… but he’s certainly in the top 10. And there may have been one or two villains that were better than Hans, but there’s no way he’s not in the top 5. Combine the two, and you have a combination that I don’t know if it’ll ever be topped.
Add in one of the best heist stories ever, a good set of interesting supporting characters that add to the story rather than detracting from it (even the ones who are purposefully annoying), perfectly choreographed action, and throw in a little bit of Christmas cheer (and the perfect ending song), and you get one of the great movies of all time. So great that I had to include it on this list.
Anyway, go watch a few of these this Christmas.