Christmas season is a beribboned box filled with a myriad of emotions, memories, and good cheer. It’s an amalgam of family get-togethers, harried shopping schedules, furiously-paced decorating, warm hugs for those we know and don’t know, festive events and parties, and perhaps a few well-chosen moments to remember those with whom we used to spend these glorious holidays.
In and amongst all this glee, frivolity, stress, and for some, anxiety, there are the entertainment options to accompany us along our merry way. For many, the Christmas movie has become a staple of the Christmas season. Carving out time for the annual viewing of “It’s A Wonderful Life” has become a national family pastime each December.
There are many films that adorn our collective Christmas consciousness. To be certain, there is no way to characterize the best ten, since so many of these movies might represent an emotional tug for some and not others. Compiled below is a list of ten favorites, each of which would probably wind up somewhere on just about everyone’s top ten Christmas movie list. There are some classic treasures many of us grew up watching and to which we became inexorably connected, and other surprisingly good offerings which are more recent with potential to be future classics.
#10 – A Christmas Story
Author Jean Shepard penned this recollection of a boyhood Christmas that features nine year-old Ralphie Parker’s obsession with receiving an air rifle under the tree. This central plot line is augmented with several Shepard stories both related and unrelated to the Holiday, none more comical than the Chinese Christmas dinner sequence.
#9 – The Holiday
Yes, it’s recent…2006, to be exact…but it’s wonderful. Much of the quality results from stellar and heart-warming performances from Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and Jack Black. Diaz and Winslet engage in a vacation home exchange for Christmas to rid themselves of the bad taste of bad boyfriends. Of course, this leads to opportunity, new relationships, and tears of joy all around.
#8 – Elf
Another recent film to make an impact, “Elf” is a humorous premise gone wild in the hands of Will Ferrell. He’s not everyone’s comedic cup of tea, but here he’s brilliant as the son of James Caan, raised as an elf at the North Pole headquarters of Santa. The film, directed by Jon Favreau, is enormously enhanced by Caan’s performance, and the presence of Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, and rising starlet, Zooey Deschanel
#7 – The Muppet Christmas Carol
After all this time, it’s difficult to find quality ways to interpret the Charles Dickens ultra-classic, but the Jim Henson Company managed nicely. Everyone’s favorite Muppet characters have a spirited good time here, sharing the stage with live actors, among them the great Michael Caine as Scrooge. In a wonderful story-telling technique, Gonzo the Great narrates as Charles Dickens, with occasional commentary assistance from Rizzo the Rat. Some variations to the original story exist…Scrooge’s sister, Fan, is not portrayed, and Jacob Marley is joined by his brother, Robert, giving hysterical Muppet characters Statler and Waldorf an opportunity to steal a scene. The music is pedestrian, but the film is fantastic.
#6 – Polar Express
Polar Express, based on the book by the same name, is another recent addition to this very exclusive list, and it clearly deserves to be here. The film conjures memories about that transitional time where we all make the decision to take the leap from our childhood belief in Santa Claus to Santa as the embodiment of the true spirit of Christmas. Everyone who has ever had children on one side or the other of this transition will understand the emotion. If only everyone had a Polar Express trip to the North Pole at that age to help. Tom Hanks, as the “performance captured” conductor, is brilliant.
#5 – White Christmas
Christmas is all about tradition, correct? This 1954 musical stars megastars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as performers who come to the aid of their old commanding officer at his new inn in Vermont. Generations of families trimmed their tress while this classic played on the living room television. And what film featuring the all-time legendary Christmas song, “White Christmas,” wouldn’t be memorable?
#4 – Miracle on 34th Street
Despite the various well-meaning attempts at remaking this classic, there is only one “Miracle” and it features Maureen O’Hara, Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood. Another annual can’t-miss around Holiday time, the existence of Santa Claus is ultimately verified in a court of law by the United States Post Office. So there. Great supporting performances abound, particularly by William Frawley, the city of New York, and Macy’s Department Store.
#3 – A Christmas Carol (1938)
There is very little to distinguish between this 1938 adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic starring Reginald Owen and the 1951 version. Both, of course, are wonderfully acted and presented. Oddly, though, some elements from the novelette are missing from this version, including the starving children “Want” and “Ignorance,” Scrooge’s fiancée, and some of the darker features that, at the time, were not considered family film fodder. Nevertheless, it is timeless and legendary.
#2 – A Christmas Carol (1951)
You’ll get a spirited debate from “A Christmas Carol” fans about the quintessential version of this classic, but a not-so-clear majority seem to favor this one, originally titled “Scrooge” with Alastair Sim in the lead role. This adaptation contains a bit more depth, featuring Scrooge’s background as a businessman, more details about his troubled youth, and a visit to his nephew’s home on Christmas day…not seen in the 1938 film.
# 1 – It’s a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra’s work of art resides at the top of many people’s Christmas movie list, and also at or near the top of many all-time all-genre movie lists. It is the prototypical feel-good, inspirational motion picture epic with big stars, memorable characters, and scenes that are forever etched in our minds. It is also the model for countless other film, book, and television stories since its release in 1946. Of all the 100+ films in which Jimmy Stewart appeared, this is his favorite, and that should be enough for all of us.
You can purchase all of the above at http://www.amazon.com, http://www.dvdplanet.com, and http://www.walmart.com.