Top 20 Holiday Movies
The holidays are powerful. Whether you await them with giddy anticipation or a little ball of dread in your tummy, the holidays have the power to thaw even the chilliest heart. Which is, by the way, a common theme in many many holiday movies. Plus, if family gatherings are awkward or tense, popping a classic holiday film into the old DVD player can provide a welcome distraction. From the silly to the sentimental, from the sublime to the inane, here are my personal Top 20 Holiday Movies.
20 White Christmas (1954)
Nothing says holiday spirit like singing and dancing a failing Vermont inn to financial health. Directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen, White Christmas is a belated follow-up to the 1942 hit Holiday Inn. You could string the corn from White Christmas and hang it on the tree.
I know. I KNOW. Still, this tale of a little boy left home alone and having to fend off two inept crooks is still charming, sweet, and very funny. Watch Home Alone with a kid and take delight in their delight at one little boy’s ingenuity and independence.
It’s hard to beat Christmas Vacation for a more worthy send up of the love/hate relationship we all have with the holidays, not to mention the perils of family dysfunction.
Holiday Inn is a maybe a little thin on plot, but so what? It’s got Bing Crosby! And Fred Astaire! And classic songs from Irving Berlin! Plus, this movie introduced the holiday standard “White Christmas.”
Though Will Ferrell is pretty funny in small doses, he usually grates my nerves in features. Not so with Elf. This story of an orphaned human raised by elves in Santa’s workshop, is both touching and just surreal enough not to be utterly inane.
Cary Grant plays the world’s most urbane and suave angel in The Bishop’s Wife. Returned to earth to help a bishop who’s lost his way, our erstwhile angel finds himself tempted by earthly pleasures, chiefly the bishop’s wife (Loretta Young). Sound familiar? The movie was remade as The Preacher’s Wife with Denzel Washington.
Barbara Stanwyck as Martha Stewart! Oh, fine – a Martha Stewart like columnist who’s made a mint on writing about her perfect Connecticut home, husband, and baby and her delicious recipes. Of course, there’s no home, husband or baby and she’s can’t cook a lick. Which, of course, requires an elaborate ruse!
It’s your classic holiday tale – homeless man moves into 5th Avenue mansion abandoned for the winter, invites fellow hobos to bunk with him, and falls in love with the rightful owner’s daughter who’s pretending to be a runaway. It’s all about the spirit of giving in the lovely (and socially conscious) It Happened on 5th Avenue.
Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustanov, and Aldo Ray, three escapee’s from Devil’s Island, might not be angels, but they sure are helpful. Put a friendlier spin on the “home invasion” genre this season with We’re No Angels, and – whatever you do – do NOT confuse this movie with one by the same name, starring Robert DeNiro and Sean Penn.
One might think that by 1988, there would be little mileage left in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray, with his signature blend of comedy and pathos, proves one wrong in this update of the classic. Of course the Scrooge of the late ’80′s would be a TV exec. OF COURSE!
Basically, you could swap out any of about a billion classic and faithful adaptations of A Christmas Carol here, but Alastair Sim and this black and white Brit version will always be my go to version for the holiday season.
And again it’s Dickens and his enduring classic, this time with 100% more puppets. Oh and Michael Caine. It’s an excellent intro of A Christmas Carol for kids and a classic in its own right.
It’s not a holiday without a little Mitchum, I say. While this loose adaption of John D. Weaver’s Christmas Gift wasn’t so successful upon release, TCM has managed to breathe new life into the movie via repeated holiday airings, making Holiday Affair a classic.
Guess what happens when Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are the production managers in the toyshop that supplies Santa Claus? Utter mayhem, that’s what! Also known as Laurel and Hardy in Toyland, Revenge Is Sweet, March of the Wooden Soldiers and Wooden Soldiers, Babes in Toyland is a delightful little piece of holiday fun.
My desire to own a Mogwai was so keen when I was 8, it cause me physical pain. And though I saw this as a child, I’m still on the fence about whether Gremlins is a kid’s movie or not. Adult viewing has revealed it be far more complex than I thought and make it an enduring holiday fav.
I won’t even bother to say anything about A Christmas Story because I know you’ve seen it at least 20 times. Perhaps consecutively, thanks to marathon showings via cable networks. The bunny suit! The flagpole! The leg lamp! Q.E.D.
If you ask in June if I think Miracle on 34th Street is a good movie, I’ll say no. And yet… and yet… I ALWAYS get sucked into the story of one crazy department store Santa who insists that he’s really real and the little girl who kinda believes him.
These three Rankin/Bass claymation classics are holiday television staples. As a child I waited with bated for the annual airing and, frankly, I still do.
Frank Capra’s epic tale of a man who gets the chance to see what life would be like for his family and friends without him is wonderful itself. Hard to believe It’s a Wonderful Life was a total flop upon release, especially as it now defines the term “holiday movie.”
Oh sure, any man can string up lights, carve the turkey, and stack presents under the tree. But it takes someone special to rescue his wife and mother of his children for a group of international terrorists – without shoes on – on Christmas Eve. Seriously, Die Hard is the best.holiday.movie.ever.