I admit it: I hate Christmas. I hate the gifts, I hate 90% of the music, I hate the phony good will, I hate the obligatory social gatherings, I hate the decorating, I hate getting fat when I’m already fighting some sort of Seasonal Affective Disorder proclivity (maybe just psychobabble and a lack of exercise), I hate the traffic, and I really hate the child-centric myths. But I do like some of the movies. In fact, I like some of the most in-your-face, Christmas-ate-Christmas-and-then-puked-up-extra-Christmas-with-eggnog-bile, festivity-covered schlock that ever made its way to the silver screen.
And it’s an odd idiosyncrasy I’m willing to accept. How’s that for a New Year’s Resolution? Accept at least one bizarre and contradictory trait in yourself and others. Done.
With no further ado, here’s a list of ten holiday flicks (in no particular order, and by no means extensive):
(1) A Christmas Carol—the George C. Scott version, 1984: This is one of those stories that uses Christmas as a prop. It’s an old one, and it’s a good one. Christmas is just a catalyst here. In reality, the fact that a mean-spirited and stingy man is nice on the biggest holiday of the year simply because he had some unexpected visits from specters means that he just became the nicest man in the entire world. Screw you, Santa. If Scrooge can convert, you may as well retire. Despite Charles Dickens’ inclusion of ghosts and flashbacks, this always seemed to be the least cheesy of almost any popular Christmas tale.
(2) National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, 1989: Otherwise known as the Christmas film for people who love Chevy Chase and hate cats, this is one of those films that’s more about family and the absurdity of trying to plan anything with a large group of (crazy) people. It’s also hilarious.
(3) It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946: This is on my list of top five favorite films ever. Capra intentionally left the spirituality vague, with the angel Clarence being more like a cross between Jiminy Cricket and one of Dickens’ ghosts than anything resembling a truly religious figure. He’s relatable, and he’s that break from the empty, desperate, loneliness George Bailey is going through. The point of the film is simple, and that’s probably why it’s so powerful. You don’t know what part you have to play in life, or what impact you have, and it’s arrogant to assume otherwise. Enjoy the company of those you love, who love you. After all, “no man is a failure who has friends.”
(4) Mixed Nuts, 1994: Steve Martin works for a suicide hotline during the holidays while the Boston Strangler runs loose. If that doesn’t sell you on this movie, go drink some spiked eggnog. You need it, ya fun killer. No, no…In all earnestness, this is an odd film. It’s no masterpiece and it may just be too low brow for a few film buffs out there, but it goes well with that spiked eggnog. And ukulele music. (Don’t ask. Just watch the movie.)
(5) Gremlins, 1984: They’re cute and ferocious. They have good habits that we should model during the holiday season, like staying dry and not eating after midnight. Mostly, they’re just good fun, even when they’ve turned into murderous balls of fluff. And this movie is a break from the hard-hitters that make you ponder your existence and wonder if you should have been nicer to the Salvation Army bellringer. On the other hand, you’ll question your decision to buy your niece a Furby.
(6) Scrooged, 1988: Can we keep this movie on the list when it’s a parody of the first film listed? Oh well. There are no rules in “holiday-movie fluff piece world.” This movie is funny, it’s strangely emotional, it’s bizarrely effective, and Bill Murray is a national treasure. From the memorable ghosts to the snarky lines and the psychotic, Goldthwait-filled finale, it deserves at least one viewing per year.
(7) Die Hard, 1988: Do you remember when action movies and Bruce Willis made you happy? Now, they just make me want to kill people. But back then, this was a gift worth unwrapping. It’s not pretentious. It doesn’t try to be anything other than a fun, adrenaline-inducing 2 hours with the element of “Awww, it’s Christmas! And look, he has a family…on Christmas!” tacked on for good measure.
(8) A Christmas Story, 1983: The filmmakers had to fight to get the studios on board for this quirky little post-Depression era tale, but it paid off. Not a minute is wasted (in my humble opinion), and all the little stories illustrating childhood desires and logic rings true. Additionally, it’s now acceptable to give one of your relatives a “leg lamp” for Christmas—in reference to a great film, of course!
*Note: I’m realizing that the late ‘80s were a good time for Christmas movies.
(9) Home Alone, 1990: Other than prolonged scenes of violence and the unsettling fact that Kevin McCallister’s parents are obviously negligent jerks, this is just another heartwarming Christmas flick. If you want to watch a bunch of big name actors give over-the-top performances and improve insanely funny lines with tinsel in the background, this is your best bet for rewatchability.
(10) Elf, 2003: This was the film that sold me on Will Farrell and Zoey Deschanel. Well, it didn’t sell me on them as a couple, but as entertainers who could do more than just annoy me. Everyone is so fully invested in this openly ridiculous premise that it’s heartwarming…in the same way as a sweet yet inappropriate wedding toast is heartwarming. Someday, you’ll look back and laugh. In this case, that someday is today. Look back and laugh.
*Honorable Mention: I hate this movie, because it’s about the importance of blind belief and kindness and seems to make the argument that the two are nearly synonymous, but people love Miracle on 34th Street, and it has its merits. Between the charm of the actors (particularly a young and precocious Natalie Wood) and the villainy of those who are anti-St. Nick, it’s a good story.
The price of Admission? $2.99 if you can find any of these at Goodwill, or whatever Netflix charges these days. The look on your great aunt’s face as you all watch Steve Martin dance with Liev Schreiber, in full transgender get up, while checking out “Mixed Nuts?” Priceless.
Happy Holidays, and to all a good night.