Back in 2012, I wrote up a quick list of my favorite Christmas movies of all time. Of course, this was coming from a movie fan who grew up Jewish. And who didn't see many of the classics. Yeah, I was really not one to put out a Christmas list. But since then, I married a nice Irish Catholic girl, and I've now spent at least a decade celebrating Christmas with her (our) family. I've also spent the last 8 years filing in the gaps of my Christmas movie knowledge. As my wife can attest, Christmas is now one of my favorite holidays. I love this time of year. But one thing I'm still down on are Christmas movies. As I didn't grow up on them, I'm not nostalgic for many of the films that the rest of you goyims deem as "classics". As such, I'm convinced that many of the holiday films are beloved because you loved them as a kid. Sure, there's something about a great Christmas films that ties into the wonder you felt as a young kid waking up on December 25th and running to see what Santa brought under the Christmas tree, but there's a difference between a film evoking an emotion out of you, and one where you enjoy it because you used to enjoy it. Without the "benefit" of nostalgia googles, but now an unabashed Christmas fan, here is my list of the 10 Best Christmas Movies Of All Time.
Directed By: Brian Hensen
Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz & Steve Whitmire
RT Score: 76%
Why It's Great: There are no shortage of films based upon the Charles Dicken's classic A Christmas Carol (most notably Scrooged and the 2009 animated film of the same name starring Jim Carrey and directed by Robert Zemeckis) but the Muppets version of the story is by far and away the best. Not only does it have an injection of the classic goofy muppets sensibility, but it's one of the only films that consistent throughout its entirety. Most adaptations fall apart, especially once the Ghost of Christmas Future shows up, as the film moves along, but The Muppets Christmas Carol, and its brisk 85 minute run time, manages to still stay funny and good - even after most adaptations fall flat after a great start out of the gate.
Directed By: Sergio Pablos
Voices Of: Jason Schwartzman, JK Simmons & Rashida Jones
RT Score: 94%
Why It's Great: American culture now is extremely nostalgic, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Christmas movie genre. Despite the fact that Hallmark (and now Netflix too) puts out like 20 new generic Christmas movies a year, and Hollywood pumps out three versions of the Couple-Comes-Home-To-Dysfunctional-Family-Dinner-But-Learns-To-Love movie each year, new Christmas movies cannot seem to pierce to zeitgeist of the holiday watching experience. As mentioned in my opening, we're fond of the films we grew up on, and that's that. But also, basically every Christmas movie produced since 2003 has just been outright bad. Enter Klaus, the Netflix film that was so good it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Klaus works because it's not about Santa per se, but about mythmaking. It's like the Wicked of Christmas films. It introduces a (semi) realistic look at how many of Christmas traditions got started, but using its own original take, and its that originality - with a dash of holiday sentimentality - that makes Klaus an instant Christmas classic.
Directed By: George Seaton
Starring: Maureen O'Hara, John Payne & Edmund Gwenn
RT Score: 96%
Why It's Great: I feel like I was trained to not enjoy this film. It's from Old Hollywood that people seemingly love just because they grew up on it about a film where a man wins a trial by proving he is "Santa Claus". But god damn if this movie isn't filled with so much charm that it made my tiny heart grow five sizes too big. Even outside of the third act which consists of the trial, Miracle on 34th Street is so fun and enjoyable to watch.
Directed By: Henry Selick
Voices Of: Danny Elfman & Catherine O'Hara
RT Score: 95%
Why It's Great: Maybe I love this film because I can relate so well to the protagonist Jack Skellington (Elfman) who discovers the joy of the Christmas spirit later in life. Christmas movies that that try to teach you "the true meaning of Christmas" are often bad. For starters, it's a nonsensical phrase; there's no such thing as the "true" meaning of the holiday. But also, it tends to just be code to mean don't be selfish for receiving presents. But the joy of the holiday season is that ineffable feeling you have once Thanksgiving ends and you now have permission to put up your Christmas decorations and start celebrating for the next month. It's that same joy that Skellington feels when he enters Christmas Town. The film works so well because it plays on that emotion as opposed to something silly about Santa Claus. (I mean, the film does do something silly about Santa Claus when the man himself is kidnapped... but you know what I meant).
Directed By: Terry Zwigoff
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Lauren Graham, & Tony Cox
RT Score: 79%
Why It's Great: Bad Santa is obviously not one of those films that will make you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. It's a Christmas film for people who don't like Christmas films. But hot damn if it's isn't wildly funny and entertaining. Sure, it has the storyline about the foul-mouthed mall thief (Thornton) who Breaks Good after he helps a kid fight off his bullies and fulfills his Christmas wish, but it also has plot points about murdering a store manager who stumbles across the heist and Lauren Graham's character who has a Santa fetish.
Directed By: Bob Clark
Starring: Peter Billingsley & Jean Shepherd
RT Score: 89%
Why It's Great: A Christmas Story first and foremost is the story of being a child. It's the dumb little things you remember like your friend getting his tongue stuck to a cold lamppost or eating enough of a foodstuff to earn its special prize (and the disappointment when it obviously didn't meet your high expectations). As a kid, you identify with Ralphie when all he wants for Christmas is a Red Rider BB Gun, and as an adult, you understand why everyone tells Ralphie "you'll shoot your eye out kid" - which he inevitably does. The film has the glossy sheen of the sweet innocence of the 1950's (as long as you were a White Person) which makes the film charming and inoffensive and easy to re-watch multiple times a day where TBS airs it for 24 hours straight on Christmas Day.
Directed By: Chris Columbus
Starring: Macaulay Culkin, Catherine O'Hara & Joe Pesci
RT Score: 65%
Why It's Great: Speaking of Christmas films seen through the eyes of a child, we have the great Home Alone. I don't understand how a film that generated almost half a billion dollars worldwide and that's an American classic can only have 65% on Rotten Tomatoes, because this film is god damn delightful. It's able to convey the theme of "the importance of family" without being saccharine or feeling inauthentic thanks to script and personal character touches of the great John Hughes. Hughes and Columbus are able to strike the perfect balance between realism and cartoony to make a Christmas film that everyone can enjoy. Nowhere is that more evident than the Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern Wet Bandits characters. They're able to be mean enough to be threatening, but filled with enough stupidity and slapstick as to not be outright horror villains. Home Alone is the perfect film to rent at any time of the year, and you can keep the change ya filthy animal.
Directed By: John McTiernan
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, & Bonnie Bedelia
RT Score: 95%
Why It's Great: Growing up Jewish, I have a lot of Jewish friends. One of them posted a list of of his favorite Christmas movies, and they were basically all films that took place at Christmastime, a la Die Hard, but not actual Christmas films. I understand the notion that there's not a whole lot of things inherently Christmas-y about this action film, but regardless of your personal feelings about whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not, too many people have co-opted it as now a part of their Christmas traditions, that it's definitely a Christmas movie. Feel free to fight me on this. And now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.
Starring: High Grant, Alan Rickman, & Colin Firth
RT Score: 64%
Why It's Great: Truthfully, the premise of Love, Actually is something that bugs me in Christmas films - the notion that 'tis the season to tell your crush you love them - but Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, About Time) is just a master of this genre that he makes this film a god damn delight. Love, Actually is a classic Rom Com That Guys Enjoy because it's filled with all-time great British actors at the top of their game imbuing Curtis' dialogue with heart and love. Further, I enjoy that not all the stories end well. While most of the Love Stories end with happiness and hope, that's not how love works. Laura Linney's character goes to bed with her crush just to have it lost at the last second thanks to her devotion to her mentally ill brother, and Alan Rickman's and Emma Thompson's characters split thanks to the former's infidelity. Sure, there's a heightened, movie sense of Christmas Love in the film, but the variety of stories and endings to mix-up the monotony help make Love, Actually a holiday staple.
Directed By: Jon Favreau
Starring: Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, & James Caan
RT Score: 84%
Why It's Great: Elf rounds out the 2003 trilogy (Love, Actually and Bad Santa) in the last great year for Christmas films. It's one of the rare films on this list that works as a Christmas film, as well as just a regular film in the zeitgeist. It's legitimately funny as Jon Favreau uses Will Ferrell's brand of upbeat childish to the film's advantage. Sure it has the traditional Christmas tropes (melt the heart of an Ebenezer Scrooge character, climax convincing random people that Santa is real), but it's Ferrell's Buddy character that turns Elf into an all-time classic. It's the first film my wife and I watch every Black Friday (the day you're legally allowed to start getting into the Christmas spirit) and it's one of those rare films that's actually perfect for people of all ages.