My lovely and talented RevPub colleague posted her favorite and least favorite parts of the holiday season. In the same spirit, I thought I’d do a short and less creative list of my top five favorite holiday films, with a little bonus of holiday music at the bottom.
Christmas movies tend to follow a typical pattern, usually revolving around the “miracle” of Christmas and/or togetherness. That’s all well and good, but like any cliche it can get less entertaining as it’s used repeatedly in both movies and TV specials. Of course any “Christmas” movie will have that theme somewhere in it, but the ones I like tend to be the ones that either give that a twist (without devolving into pure anti-holiday, which seems like an easy way out in films) or use the holiday premise to make what might seem like a NON-holiday movie. Here they are, my top five Christmas movies!
5.) Die Hard: I used to say this was one of my top Christmas movies in high school and people looked at me like I was crazy. “That’s not a Christmas movie!” Since then, it’s kind of become accepted as indeed being a Christmas movie. The whole movie is set around the holidays (that’s why John McClain went to visit his wife after all) and references are made to Christmas all throughout (“It’s Christmas, Theo, it’s the time for miracles,” Run DMCs “Christmas in Hollis” at the beginning, and the holiday tape John uses at the end). Though the sequels diminished the premise, the original stands as one of the best action movies, and one of the most non-traditional, but still traditional, holiday films.
4.) The Ref: During the height of Dennis Leary’s MTV/standup rant-off, this movie came out as a good vehicle for the fast-talking comedian. Starring Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, and a great ensemble cast of character actors, the film revolves around a cat burglar who bungles a job and has to take the world’s most dysfunctional family hostage. You have bickering spouses, annoyed relatives, and the mother-in-law from hell; all while we sympathize with Gus, Leary’s character, trying to remain in control. It’s far from perfect, but full of SO many great moments (two words: Sink Sprayer), and is so much fun it has always been a Christmas favorite.
3.) Home Alone: I went through a period in high school of Home Alone hate. I remembered it as Macaulay Culkin running around screaming. It wasn’t until last year that I came full circle and realized what a great Christmas movie it is. Probably the “most traditional” (whatever that means) movie on the list, everyone knows the premise and knows it has the “miracle” ending, but in between there is so many hilarious and memorable scenes; Angels with Dirty Faces used on visitors, the “Rocking around the Christmas Tree” automated party, great dialogue exchanges (Marv: “Yeah kids are scared of the dark…” Harry: “You’re afraid of the dark too, Marv…”), and of course the booby trap bonanza at the end. Some consider it schmaltzy, but it is so much fun and emotional without being overly so it holds up better than ever.
2.) Lion in Winter: I came to this film relatively late. Obviously, a kid won’t be interested in a dialogue-heavy period piece from 1968, but college-me found how amazing this film is. Starring Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, Anthony Hopkins, Richard Dalton, and a bevy of other terrific English actors, it’s set around Christmas time at the court of Henry II. He lets his rebellious wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, out for Christmas and the two of them scheme over who will inherit Henry’s kingdom (the noble but devious Richard or the dimwitted but supposedly-loyal John, middle son Geoffrey is largely overlooked). Though the premise is kinds and queens, it is actually just another messed-up family at Christmas and that’s what makes it great. I’ve never had a kingdom to bequeath, but many of us have seen parents bickering, kids taking sides, and random shocking admissions during family get-togethers. It’s an absolutely brilliant film, and one of my favorite movies, in addition to being a great holiday movie.
1.) TIE Scrooged & Nightmare Before Christmas: Richard Donner’s great retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is still my favorite Christmas movie. Perfectly cast, perfectly acted, wonderful moments of both emotion and humor. My RevPub counterpart did a masterly review on it previously and rather than just say it all again, here are her comments. I’ll just add, “I agree!” Nightmare Before Christmas is great because it’s both a Halloween and Christmas movie. It has all the terrific imagery of a Tim Burton film and explores the nature of one’s true-self and personal happiness. Even though it doesn’t have the typical “Christmas miracle” message, instead substituting a message of finding your place in your own world. It has wonderful music, a great story, and is perfect for TWO holidays!
Christmas music tends to have a grating effect on my psyche. There are only a couple notable exceptions and here they are in no particular order:
3.) Anything Heavy Metal: Raven posted a hard rock version of my favorite traditional Christmas song on her Good Things About Christmas post, and I tend to like the heavy rock versions of Christmas songs.
2.) Tales from the Crypt: Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas: My friend Kate at my previous job introduced me to this album. It is ridiculous, goofy, and sometimes so bad it’s good (the Crypt Keeper was like that…his puns…) but it’s so dark and wonderful, and a great change of pace for the holidays!
1.) John Denver and the Muppets A Christmas Together: My family doesn’t have a LOT of holiday traditions, but this is one. Every Christmas during the present opening we played this album. I know Muppet versions better than original versions of almost all of the songs on the album! I still play it at least once every year, and it’s one of those things that truly takes me back to that time when the world was simple, and sparkling lights and decorations made the world that much better of a place.