Wednesday, December 19, 2012

25 Essential Christmas Films

It's that time of year again. We've expanded our list of 12 Essential Christmas films out to 25. We've decided to include some non-traditional Holiday films to the list, that may not seem like Christmas films at first glance but have become annual holiday favorites this time of year. Enjoy the list, presented here in alphabetically order:

Terry Zwigoff
2003 • 91 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Columbia Pictures

Cast:  Billy Bob Thornton, Bernie Mac, Lauren Graham, Tony Cox
Screenplay:  Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Producers:  Sarah Aubrey, John Cameron, Bob Weinstein
Cinematography: Jamie Anderson

It's Christmas and the kid's gettin' his fuckin' present. 

Hilarious doesn’t even begin to describe this movie. Billy Bob Thornton is genius as the alcoholic, self-hating safe-cracking thief that poses as Santa Claus once a year to rob department stores of their Christmas-time profits. Even more hilarious is his foul mouthed “little helper” played by Tony Cox. Together these two are an epic comic tag team. In the middle of all the crudeness, violence, foulness, crime, booze and anal sex this film actually delivers a positive Christmas message. No, I’m serious.


Tim Burton

1992 • 126 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States

Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast: Michael Keaton, Michele Pfeiffer, Danny DeVito, Christopher Walken

Screenplay: Daniel Walters

Producers: Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi

Cinematography: Stefan Czapsky

A kiss under the mistletoe. You know, mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.
  But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.

Told you this was non-traditional. Gotham City has its own mystery man in an iconic suit that knows if you’ve been naughty or nice… and he ain’t jolly. While not as good as the original 1989 film or the Nolan reboots, Returns is highly underrated. It’s got a great cast, a great score and a great feel to it. Putting Batman and his demented and dark rogues’ gallery in the backdrop of a Gotham City at Christmas time is a brilliant idea. Not much of this adventure has much to do with Christmas other than the time of year the story takes place, but it’s still one of my favorite Christmas traditions.

Henry Koster
1947 • 109 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White & English • RKO

Cast: Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Gladys Cooper
Screenplay:  Robert E. Sherwood, Leonardo Bercovici based on the novel by Robert Nathan
Producer:  Samuel Goldwyn
Cinematography:  Gregg Toland

- Are you expecting a letter? 
- Well, you never know. If I did get one, the stamp would certainly be worth saving.

A true holiday classic.  A bishop is lost and without direction and desperately needs to raise money for a new church.  He prays for help and guidance, but feels he receives none.  However, he does receive help in the form of an angel named Dudley.  Dudley is incredibly charming (after all, he IS played by Cary Grant) as an assistant to the bishop.  Everyone falls for him, especially the bishop's wife (played by Loretta Young.)  Bishop Henry becomes increasingly frustrated and jealous of Dudley and what develops is a film that expertly showcases the fine acting abilities of its three leads.  It has a great holiday feel to it and both Grant and the film are incredibly charming.

Edwin L. Marin
1938 • 69 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • MGM

Cast: Reginald Owen, Gene Lockhart, Kathleen Lockhart, Terry Kilburn, Barry McKay
Screenplay:  Hugo Butler based on the story by Charles Dickens
Producer: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Cinematography:  Sidney Wagner

- Please let me stay! 
- Nonsense! You don't want to stay! 
- Yes, I do! 
- No! You don't like Christmas! 
- Yes! Yes I do! I like Christmas! I LOVE Christmas!

Reginald Owen was not the first actor to portray Ebenezer Scrooge on film, but he was the first actor to do it for a major motion picture studio. It goes without saying that this is why most people consider the first adaptation of "A Christmas Carol."  What's interesting about this, is despite being the first major filmed version of the story, it perhaps takes the most departures from the original narrative than other celluloid versions.  This actually works in its favor.  Pretty much everyone knows the story of Dickens' classic by heart, but since this version actually changes a few details it makes it a little more charming than other versions.  It's easier to get lost in a story you've seen 100 times.  Fred and the Cratchit's get more screentime in this version, which helps Scrooge's transformation have more impact.  As for Owen?  Originally this version was to star Lionel Barrymore (who had done the role many times before  on radio), but had to drop out due to health issues.  Owen proves to be a worthy replacement. Not the best on-screen Scrooge, but certainly the one who falls in love with Christmas the fastest.

Peter Godfrey
1945 • 102 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • Warner Bros. 

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Dennis Morgan, Sydney Greenstreet, Reginald Gardiner, SZ Sakall
Screenplay:  Lionel Houser, Adele Comandini, Aileen Hamilton
Producer:  William Jacobs
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie

- Liz, don't waste time with him. You have to decide what you're going to say to the old man. 
- What old man? 
- Oh, it's Yardley. He's sending me a sailor for Christmas. 
- Oh, how nice... A sailor? Really, Elizabeth!

Barbara Stanwyck is Elizabeth Lane, a Martha Stewart-like writer for a housekeeping magazine that writes the most amazing recipes every month. Dennis Morgan plays Jefferson Jones is a war hero who has never had a “traditional, family Christmas.”  And Sydney Greenstreet is Alexander Yardley, the stubborn and influential publisher of Lane’s magazine whose idea it was to make sure Jones gets a traditional Christmas holiday as a guest in Lane’s home in Connecticut.  Only one problem:  Lane is a fraud.  She lives in New York City, can’t even make toast and gets all her recipes from her loveable chef/uncle Felix.  To make matters worse?  Yardley’s holiday plans have fallen through and now he insists on spending it with Lane and her fictional family in her fictional home.  The film is definitely of its time, with perhaps some outdated anti-feminist ideals.  But it is certainly a charming, holiday film.  Or as Uncle Felix might say… “Everything is hunky dunky.”

Bob Clark
1983 • 94 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Color • English • MGM

Cast: Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Scott Schwartz, Jean Shepherd
Screenplay:  Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, Bob Clark based on the novel "In God We Trust All Others Pay Cash" by Jean Shepherd
Producers: Bob Clark, Rene Dupont
Cinematography:  Reginald H. Morris

- I want an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle!
- No, you'll shoot your eye out.

Every child knows what’s it’s like to want that perfect Christmas present. The longing, the pleading, the desperation of that ONE THING that you just can’t live without. A Christmas Story is the simple tale of Ralphie, a little boy who wants nothing more for Christmas than a B.B. gun. Not just any B.B. gun, mind you, but an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (with this thing that tells time.) It seems everyone is against him… his mother, his teacher… heck, even Santa thinks he’ll shoot his eye out. But Ralphie is unrelenting in his desire for this perfect gift. This film is timeless, because even though it was made in the 80s, and takes place in the 40s, everyone, young and old, can relate to Ralphie. A Christmas Story perfectly captures exactly what it’s like to be a kid on Christmas.

John McTiernan
1988 • 131 Minutes • 2.20:1 • United States
Color • English • 20th Century Fox

Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedlia, Reginald VelJohnson, Paul Gleason
Screenplay: Jeb Stuart, Steven E. de Souza
Producers: Joel Silver, Lawrence Gordon
Cinematography: Jan De Bont

- Mr. Mystery Guest? Are you still there? 
- Yeah, I'm still here. Unless you wanna open the front door for me. 
- Uh, no, I'm afraid not. But, you have me at a loss. You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he's John Wayne? Rambo? Marshal Dillon? 
- Was always kinda partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really like those sequined shirts. 
- Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy? 
- Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker. 

By 1988 John McTiernan had directed an action classic in Predator.  Could he repeat the same success with Die Hard?  The short answer? Yes.  Not only was Die Hard more financially successful (quite a feat for the director’s third film), but it exceeded the sci-fi/horror shoot ‘em up’s action packed scenes.  McTiernan is one of the the best action director’s of all time, having also gone on to helm The Hunt for Red October, Die Hard with a Vengeance and The Thomas Crown Affair.   When it comes to action, this guy knows what he’s doing.  Die Hard is jam packed with amazing sequences… from John McClane’s escape in the elevator shaft, to the destruction of an LAPD SWAT tank (“The quarterback is toast!”) and of course McClane jumping off the top of a 40-story building to escape an exploding helicopter.  All of it looks as good in 2011 as it did in 1988.  Die Hard is a great alternative to the sugary-sweet Christmas movies that come around every December (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but also it just may be the greatest action movie of all time.  Yippee-Kai-Yay.

Tim Burton
1990 • 105 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • 20th Century Fox

Cast:  Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall, Vincent Price
Screenplay:  Caroline Thompson
Producers:  Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi
Cinematography:  Stefan Czapsky

You see, before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did. If he weren't up there now... I don't think it would be snowing. Sometimes you can still catch me dancing in it.

Edward Scissorhands is often left off "Best Holiday Films" lists, why I'm not sure.  It is one of the GREAT Christmas films.  If you go into this film as a comedy (like the producers advertised it), you'll be disappointed.  While it certainly has many humorous moments, this movie is much more of a fantasy.  A modern day fairy tale.  Edward is a creation that was built by a scientist who was trying to create a man.  Even though he was a "creator," he was the only father, and family, that Edward ever knew... and sadly he died before Edward was "finished," leaving Edward with scissors for hands.  Years later he is rescued from isolation by a kindly Avon lady, who unofficially adopts him.  At first Edward is welcomed by the small suburban neighborhood, and they take advantage of his handicap by putting him to use trimming hedges and cutting hair.  But Edward's heart truly lies with Kim, the daughter of the woman who rescued him.  What develops is a love straight out of a story book fairy tale, however without a fairy book ending.  What makes this a Christmas movie?  Other than the fact that the film takes place during Christmas, it has a charming theory on the origins of snow.  When people describe a film as "hauntingly beautiful," this is what they're talking about.  Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton's masterpiece.

Jon Favreau
2003 • 97 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • New Line Cinema

Cast: Will Ferrell, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Ed Asner, Zooey Deschanel
Screenplay: David Berenbaum
Producers: Jon Berg, Todd Komarnicki, Shauna Robertson
Cinematography: Greg Gardiner

This place reminds me of Santa's Workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms and everyone looks like they want to hurt me.

The success of the movie Elf rides purely on the shoulders of Will Ferrell.  Ferrell had succesfully been playing the "man-child" role in movies and on "Saturday Night Live" for years. The natural extension of that is to cast him as an actual maturity-stunted man (who thinks he's a Christmas elf) in a children's movie.  The movie in and of itself is not ground-breaking. You can predict the story beats and a lot of the jokes, but Ferrell brings so much energy, fun and innocence to his performance that it's hard not to love him.  The film is supported by some strong performances, notably James Caan and Zooey Deschanel, who play it straight to Buddy the Elf's wackiness, thus giving it more comedic effect.  The last 20 years of cinema have not yielded many Christmas classics, but this is a rare exception to the rule.

Joe Dante
1984 • 106 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast:  Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Hoyt Axton, Keye Luke, Corey Feldman
Screenplay: Chris Columbus
Producers:  Michael Finnell, Kathleen Kennedy (Executive), Frank Marshall (Executive), Steven Spielberg (Executive)
Cinematography:  John Hora

So if your air conditioner goes on the fritz or your washing machine blows up or your video recorder conks out; before you call the repairman turn on all the lights, check all the closets and cupboards, look under all the beds, 'cause you never can tell there just might be a gremlin in your house. 

This movie starts out cute and cuddly and warm and fuzzy. It’s Christmas time, there’s a boy and a girl, and they kind of like each other. There’s a cute dog. A wacky dad. A wackier neighbor. And hey, even a cute, cuddly, warm, fuzzy little creature. But then it all goes to hell. This little fuzzy creature multiplies… and it turns into hundreds of evil fucking demons that terrorize a small midwestern town on Christmas Eve. This movie is so much fun. Campy Horror/Comedy doesn’t get much better than this.

Mark Sandrich
1942 • 100 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • Paramount

Principal Cast:  Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel
Screenplay:  Claude Binyon
Producer:  Mark Sandrich
Music & Lyrics:  Irving Berlin
Cinematography:  David Abel

Open holidays only? Say, how many of them are there? 
- About 15. That gives me 350 days to kick around in!
- You would think of that!

The movie that gave birth to not just one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time, but one of the most popular songs EVER.  More on that in a second.  Bing Crosby was one of the most popular entertainers in his day, so Paramount Pictures gave him a huge budget to do a musical.  What does he spend the money on?  Hiring the legendary dance man Fred Astaire as his co-star and Irving Berlin as his song writer and they produce one of the most charming musicals ever made.  The story follows song-and-dance entertainers Jim Hardy and Ted Hanover (Crosby and Astaire respectively) as they compete for the affections of the same girl.  Jim has reason to be nervous as Ted has stolen one of his girls in the past.  Jim quits show business to run a hotel that is only open on holidays and hires Linda Mason (Reynolds) as a performer.  When Ted realizes that not only is Linda beautiful, but an amazing singer and dancer he schemes to once again steal a girl away from Jim.  Crosby is always praised for his singing, but not enough for his comedic acting... and paired with Fred Astaire, the two have great comedic chemistry.  All the songs for each holiday are fun (though you may want to skip the "Abraham" number because in 1942 doing a song in black face wasn't considered racially insensitive) but the show stealer is "White Christmas" which as I mentioned before became one of the biggest songs of all time.  It's popularity was mostly due to the requests of soldiers fighting the war in Europe who desperately wanted to be reminded of home.

Chris Columbus
1990 • 103 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • 20th Century Fox

Cast:  Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, John Heard, Catherine O'Hara
Screenplay: John Hughes
Producers:  John Hughes
Cinematography:  Julio Macat

This is my house. I have to defend it.

Home Alone in and of itself is not a great film. All of the humor in the film is slapstick, bordering on masochism.  However, it makes the list of Essential Films because, frankly, it is the most financially successful Christmas film of all time. Its cultural impact can not be understated or ignored.  It currently ranks as the 38th highest grossing film of all time (adjusted for inflation.)  The film was a national phenomenon upon its release and made a star (albeit briefly) out of child actor Macaulay Culkin.  Its connection to Christmas is circumstantial.  Kevin McCallister's (Culkin) family accidentally leaves him home alone over the Christmas holiday, and he must defend his house from two bungling burglars.  The humor works for most children, but the film doesn't age well if you watch it through grown-up eyes.  That said, a certain amount of nostalgia plays into its entry in this list and it remains a holiday favorite for families every year.


Frank Capra
1946 • 130 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • RKO Radio Pictures

Principal Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell, Henry Travers, Beulah Bondi
Screenplay:  Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra
Producer:  Frank Capra
Cinematography:  Dmitri Tiomkin

You've been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you. 

I don't care what anyone says, It's a Wonderful Life, after over 60 years is STILL the greatest Christmas movie ever made.  It may be cliche, but there is not one film better.  On top of that, it makes the Top 5 of The Essential Films' Top 100 Movies of All Time (Coming Soon.)  It's better than Citizen Kane.  Better than Star Wars.  Better than Gone With The Wind.  I watch it every single year, and so should every one.  By those who've never seen it and by those who've seen it dozens of times.  It's message is universal and timeless.  A man who sacrifices his entire life for every family member, friend and sometimes complete stranger just because it's the right thing to do... well one day, he gets in trouble.  He's so desperate he considers committing suicide on Christmas Eve.  A guardian angel intervenes and prevents him from doing so. When George remarks that perhaps the world would have been a better place had he not even existed, the angel decides to show him exactly what the world would be like.  The message of the film is that everyone matters and everyone touches everyone else's life in some way.  You should value and cherish not just your life, but all lives.  And at the end of the day, no man is failure who has friends.

JOYEUX NOËL (Merry Christmas)
Christian Carion
2005 • 116 Minutes • 2.35:1 • France
Color • French, German, English • Sony Picture Classics

Cast:  Diane Kruger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet, Daniel Brühl
Screenplay:  Christian Carion
Producer:  Christophe Rossignon
Cinematography:  Walther van den Ende

Tonight, these men were drawn to that altar like it was a fire in the middle of winter. Even those who aren't devout came to warm themselves.

You may not have heard of this European film that had a very limited release in the United States.  The story revolves around a miracle that took place during Christmas Eve, 1914 in the middle of World War I.  Four characters are profiled:  a priest in the Scottish army, a French lieutenant, a German soldier who is also a famous tenor and his wife.  On the night before Christmas, hostilities temporarily cease and the soldiers leave their trenches and spend Christmas with the enemy.  Writer/Director Carion and the excellent cast do an amazing job of bringing this film to life.  Even more amazing was that film is based on a true story.  The true strong point of the film lies in the fact that you can take what you want from this film.  Whether the soldiers stopped fighting was brought on by God, Christmas or just the disgust with the horrors of war is up for interpretation.  Whatever you take from it, realize that this is a new classic in holiday films.

Frank Capra
1941 • 122 Minutes 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • Warner Bros. 

Principal Cast: Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan
Screenplay: Richard Connell & Robert Presnell Sr.
Producer: Frank Capra
Cinematography: George Barnes

Why can't that spirit, that warm Christmas spirit, last all year long?

After being fired from her job as a newspaper columnist, Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) forges a letter to the editor from the fictional “John Doe,” a disgruntled and unemployed would-be prophet who threatens to kill himself on Christmas Eve because of his dissatisfaction in the state of the country.  Unexpectedly, “Doe” gains a huge following and the paper is forced to re-hire Mitchell as well as hire a homeless man, John Willoughby (Gary Cooper), to portray him for public appearances.  Initially both Ann and John are in it for the money, but they are soon caught up in the same rhetoric and philosophy they are selling to the public.  The country unites behind John Doe, but DB Norton, the sinister newspaper publisher, has other ideas for Doe… Meet John Doe is an often-forgotten gem that should be watched every Christmas season to remind us what the season is all about.

Vicente Minnelli
1944 • 113 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Color • English • MGM

Cast:  Judy Garland, Margaret O'Brien, Mary Astor
Screenplay: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe based on the book by Sally Benson
Producer: Arthur Freed
Cinematography: George J. Folsey

Have yourself a merry little Christmas, let your heart be light. 
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight.

Unlike most of the films on this list, Meet Me in St. Louis is a film that doesn't primarily take place DURING Christmas.  In fact, the only extended Christmas scene doesn't happen until towards the end of the film.  However, much like Holiday Inn, this film was responsible for another immortal Christmas song that you hear every year:  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  Most people don't realize that song is not a "happy" Christmas song, it's actually bittersweet as it is sung at a very sad and poignant moment in the film.  The film follows a close-knit family in suburban St. Louis through the year of 1904 as they live pleasant lives, fall in love, celebrate holidays and have good times with each other.  It is the perfect picture of Middle Class America.  Everything is perfect in this little corner of the world.  There is a pall over the year, however, as the head of the family wishes to move the entire family off to New York where better financial opportunities await him.  On the eve of their departure, at Christmas, Judy Garland tries to comfort her younger sister by singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  The message of the song being, "Don't let this move ruin your Christmas.  Don't mourn the loss of your home, but cherish the memories you have."  This film is essential holiday viewing not only for its classic song, but also for its strong themes of the love of your family and how there is no place like home. (A message Judy Garland isn't unfamiliar with.)

George Seaton
1947 • 96 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Black & White • English • 20th Century Fox

Cast:  Maureen O'Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Natalie Wood
Screenplay:  George Seaton based on the story by Valentine Davies
Producer:  William Perlburg
Cinematography:  Lloyd Ahern, Charles G. Clarke

I believe... I believe... It's silly, but I believe.

One of the most warm-hearted films ever made, Miracle on 34th Street depicts the trial of a Macy's store Santa Claus who truly believes he is THE Santa Claus, but at its heart, it's a film about faith.  Not just for the other characters, but for the audience itself.  When we are first introduced to Kris Kringle, he is walking the streets of New York on Thanksgiving Day.  You don't see him with any reindeer, you don't seem him at the North Pole and the only sleigh he rides in is the one in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade.  Naturally, since he is the hero of the story, there is an implied trust between the protagonist and the viewer.  We believe what he presents to us.  No matter how ludicrous it may seem.  Unlike most movies about Santa Claus, this film has no magic moments.  Heck, the most amazing thing Kris does is speak Dutch to a little Dutch orphan.  Something certainly anybody with a proper background could do.  He brings people together at Christmastime, and slowly convinces every one around him that he is the real deal.  Most of this of course is due to the wonderful acting abilities of Edmund Gwenn, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Kris.  "Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to."  That is a line repeated in the movie... and by the end of the film, we as the audience truly believe that Kris IS Santa, despite having no proof.  And there in lies the true miracle of the film.

Brian Henson
1992 • 85 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Disney

Cast:  Michael Caine, Frank Oz, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire
Screenplay:  Jerry Juhl adapted from "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens
Producers:  Martin G. Baker, Brian Henson
Cinematography:  John Fenner

- You're a little absent-minded, spirit.
- No, I'm a LARGE absent-minded spirit!

Michael Caine is Ebeneezer Scrooge. Kermit the Frog is Bob Cratchit.  Miss Piggie is Mrs. Cratchit.  Fozzy Bear as Fozzywig (get it?)  Statler and Waldorf as Jacob and Robert Marley.  And The Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens.  The Muppet Christmas Carol remains to this day my favorite adaptation of Dickens' classic story.  Caine is absolutely vile as the iconic Scrooge, which makes his transformation at the end of the film far more effective than other interpretations.  What makes the film so wonderful is the effortless blending of the story everybody knows with the signature Muppet humor.  Don't let the fact that there are Muppets in the film fool you, it's still very effective as a heartwarming holiday film.

Jeremiah S. Chechik
1989 • 97 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Color • English • Warner Bros.

Cast:  Chevy Chase, Beverly D'angelo, Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis, Johnny Galecki
Screenplay: John Hughes
Producers:  John Hughes, Tom Jacobson
Cinematography: Thomas E. Ackerman

Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.

If you don’t like the Vacation movies, then you have no sense of humor. (OK, I’m not counting Vegas Vacation, we all know that blew.) Just like the otherVacation movies, this focuses on the immortal movie dad Clark Griswold trying his God damn hardest to give his family the best vacation in the world. Instead of Wally World or Europe, in this film Clark takes on the biggest of all holidays: Christmas. Pretty much everything here is hilarious from Clark’s attempt to create the greatest Christmas light display of all time to the redneck white trash relatives crashing the holidays, there’s something here everyone can relate to. This film manages to be heart-warming, but accomplishes this without sacrificing the laughs.

Henry Selick
1993 • 76 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Disney

Cast:  Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O'Hara, William Hickey, Glenn Shadix
Screenplay:  Tim Burton (story), Michael McDowell (adaptation), Caroline Thompson (screenplay)
Producers: Tim Burton, Denise Di Novi
Cinematography: Pete Kozachik

Kidnap the Sandy Claws, / beat him with a stick, / lock him up for ninety years, / see what makes him tick.

One of my favorite Christmas movies. Also one of my favorite Halloween movies. While marketed as Disney kids movie, this film is actually quite dark. The whole story revolves around Jack Skellington, a resident of Halloweentown who gets so bored with the darkness and dreariness of his little world. One day he stumbles upon Christmastown and gets a great idea. This year he’ll kidnap Santa, and take over Christmas. This Halloween/Christmas mash-up is a essential viewing every year… for BOTH holidays.

Brian Desmond Hurst
1951 • 86 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United Kingdom
Black & White • English • United Artists

Principal Cast:  Alastair Sim, Mervyn Johns, Michael Hodern, George Cole, Francis de Wolff, Brian Worth
Screenplay:  Noel Langley from "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens
Producer:  Brian Desmond Hurst
Cinematography:  C.M. Pennington-Richards

Before I draw nearer to that stone, tell me! Are these the shadows of things that must be, or are they the shadows of things that MIGHT be?

The Muppet Christmas Carol is my favorite adaptation of this story, however, Scrooge is perhaps the best and most faithful retelling.  That says a lot, considering the story has been adapted 53 times on film and in television since 1901.  Even more impressive is that Sim is, in this blogger's opinion, the best on-screen Ebeneezer Scrooge of all time.  This includes a diverse list of actors ranging anywhere from Albert Finney to Patrick Stewart to Jim Carey.  He excels at being both cruel and menacing as well as childishly hilarious.  It leaves no part of the story untouched and gives more back story to Scrooge in the "Past" segment than any other film has done to date.

Richard Donner
1988 • 101 Minutes • 1.85:1 • United States
Color • English • Paramount

Cast:  Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait
Screenplay:  Mitch Glazer, Michael O'Donoghue
Producer: Richard Donner, Art Linson
Cinematography: Michael Chapman

The Jews taught me this great word: Schmuck. I was a schmuck, and now I’m not a schmuck!

Bill Murray is a comic genius. That’s not up for debate. So what happens when you take Bill Murray, make a archetype of Ebeneezer Scrooge (this time as a corporate TV executive), update the story a little, and add some sweet make-up effects? One of the funniest and most original adaptations of A Christmas Carol ever. Bill Murray is Frank Cross, the president of the IBC Network which is airing a live showing of the famous Dickens story on Christmas Eve. Cross is an evil, selfish prick who, much like Scrooge, gets visited by three ghosts in order to show him the error of his ways. Murray is hilarious as the dickish Cross, and the first two ghosts are pretty hilarious as well. If you’ve never seen this film, you owe it to yourself. It’s dark, it’s funny and it is full of Christmas spirit.

Ernst Lubitsch
1940 • 99 Minutes • 1.37 : 1 • United States
Black & White • English • MGM

Principal Cast:  James Stewart, Margaret Sullivan, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut, Felix Bressart
Screenplay:  Samson Raphaelson based on the play by Miklós László
Producer:  Ernst Lubitsch
Cinematography:  William H. Daniels

Oh, my Dear Friend, my heart was trembling as I walked into the post office, and there you were, lying in Box 237. I took you out of your envelope and read you, read you right there.

I have often said that I hate romantic comedies.  I feel they are formulaic, dull and predictable.  Furthermore, just as Playboy give men unrealistic expectations of women, romantic comedies are just as guilty of giving women unrealistic expectations of men.  The exception to this rule, of course, is any romantic comedy made before 1950.  This was a time when they weren't formulaic (well, maybe a little), the characters were fleshed out and developed, the stories were tight and well scripted, and, of course, the two leads were incredibly charming.  I mean, can you really compare Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart with Ashton Kutcher and Robert Pattinson?  No.  You can't.  I digress.  The Shop Around the Corner is a romantic comedy, plain and simple.  It's Christmas time and Klara (Margaret Sullivan) and Alfred (James Stewart) are both employees at the same baggage store, constantly competing for customers and THEY CAN'T STAND EACH OTHER.  Here's the kicker, though:  Each one of them has a pen pal that they've never met... and it just so happens that it turns out that they are each other's pen pal.  They write love letters to each other, not knowing that the person they are professing love to is someone they'd like to throw in front of a bus.  If this sounds familiar it's because it was unremarkably re-made in 1998 as You've Got Mail, this time with an e-mail angle.  Skip that one.  Watch this one.  Not very Christmas-y other than it takes place during the holidays, but it's charming, fun and probably one of the best romantic comedies ever filmed.

Michael Curtiz
1955 • 106 Minutes • 1.37:1 • United States
Color • English • Paramount

Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Aldo Ray, Peter Ustinov, Joan Bennett, Basil Rathbone
Screenplay: Ranald MacDougall
Producer: Pat Duggan
Cinematography: Loyal Griggs

- I’m going to buy them their Christmas turkey.
- “Buy”? Do you really mean “buy”?
- Yes, buy! In the Spirit of Christmas. The hard part’s going to be stealing the money to pay for it.

Unless you’re a film dork like me, you probably haven’t even heard of this one. But trust me, it’s hilarious. The film is about three escaped convicts (led by Humphrey Bogart) who end up on a small French colonial town right before Christmas. They find a store that gives supplies on credit, so they hatch a scheme to pose as roofers to fix the store’s roof in exchange for food/supplies/clothes. Their plan, however is to never actually fix the roof and just rob them once night falls. Eventually, the three criminals have a change of heart when the family that manages the store is exceedingly nice to them and feel even guiltier when they realize the store is already in financial dire straits. They decide to stay on as “roofers” and fix the books to make the store profitable and even go so far as murder the true owners of the store so the generous family can keep their living. A rare black Christmas comedy from 1950s Hollywood.

Michael Curtiz
1954 • 120 Minutes • 1.66:1 • United States
Color • English • Paramount

Principal Cast:  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen, Dean Jagger
Screenplay:  Norman Krasna, Norman Panama
Producer:  Robert Emmett Dolan
Music & Lyrics: Irving Berlin
Cinematography:  Loyal Griggs

- We're booked for the holidays. 
- Vermont, huh? 
- Oh, Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, with all that snow. 
- Yeah, you know something... Vermont should be beautiful this time of year, with all that snow. 
- That's what I just said. 
- We seem to be getting a little mixed up. 
- Maybe it's the music. 
- Maybe it isn't only the music.

12 years after "White Christmas" became a huge hit, Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin teamed up again and made it the title of another Christmastime musical.  This time around Danny Kaye replaces Fred Astaire as the dance man.  Kaye, while not as "legendary" as Fred Astaire, still did not disappoint as all his dance numbers with Vera Allen were a hell of a lot of fun to watch.  Rosemary Clooney played Crosby's love interest and will leave a great impression on you with her magnificent voice.  Crosby and Kaye play two old army buddies that teamed up as a song and dance duo turned producers after the war.  They are so over-worked that Phil (Kaye) is just getting plain sick and tired of constantly being around Bob (Crosby.)  He never misses an opportunity to play matchmaker with any pretty girl that walks into Bob's life just so that he can get some time away from his partner.  Enter the Betty & Judy Haynes, a pair of sisters hoping that Bob and Phil will give them a shot in one of their shows.  After the getting the girls out of a jam, the four entertainers head to Vermont for the holidays where Bob and Phil realize that the ski lodge they're staying at is being run by their old army general.  Seeing the sad state of affairs the lodge is in, Bob, Phil, Betty and Judy start planning a big Christmas spectacle to hopefully attract visitors.  The big closing number?  You guessed it.