BRENDAN: The top 10 best Christmas movies (according to me)
Once the presents are wrapped, the tree is trimmed and the cooking is done, it's nice to settle down, take it easy and turn on a classic Christmas flick.
... Or if you're like me, and it's Dec. 24 and you're still desperately trying to get those last few presents wrapped, it's nice to turn on one of those same movies to help calm the growing panic. What to watch, though? There have been hundreds of movies made for Christmas, some good, some bad and some you watch every year and you're not quite sure why.
Here are my top-ten picks (in no particular order) for the best Christmas movies:
A new classic. Will Ferrell's brand of frantic, in-your-face comedy isn't for everyone, but it's a perfect fit for the giddy feel-like-a-kid-again Christmas season. A funny thing happens as this Jon Favreau-directed gem goes about poking fun at corny classic Christmas movies: it becomes one of the best ones ever made. And if you don't smile at least a little when Buddy the Elf gleefully exclaims "SANTA!!!" in the middle of a department store, then you just might feel for the protagonist of the next entry.
9. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"
Avoid at all costs the over-the-top, trying too hard, live action version from 2000 starring Jim Carrey, and stick with the classic 1966 cartoon. At only 26 minutes long, it's a perfect film to watch with the kids and gets ever more relevant as each season seems to get ever more materialistic. With the fantastic bass voice of Boris Karloff and animation by Looney Toons' mastermind Chuck Jones, it truly is a classic.
Even next to classics like "Ghostbusters" and "Caddy Shack," this is one of Bill Murray's best movies. Aside from Murray, who plays a perfect modern (well, 1980's) Scrooge, it is a fantastic retelling of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. Seeing Murray's own run-ins with the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future is made even more hilarious when inter-cut with the slap-dash, hackneyed adaptation of "A Christmas Carol." Murray's corrupt and cynical TV executive is filming on Christmas Eve (Mary Lou Retton doing back-flips as Tiny Tim! Scantily clad dancers! Buddy Hackett as Ebenezer Scrooge!). It's one of the rare cases where an adaptation can revel in irreverent humor but isn't irreverent to the spirit of the source material.
7. "A Christmas Story"
As adults we all do our best to remember the reason for the season, but as little kids it's all about getting that one, perfect gift under the tree. For 9-year-old Ralphie Parker, that gift is a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle BB gun. This movie perfectly captures the experience of going through the not-quite-ideal life of a kid during the Christmas season as well as life in a little Midwest town in the middle of the 20th century. A lot of Christmas movies focus on the meaning of Christmas, this is one of the few which shows what Christmas is actually like ... and gets it right.
6. "It's a Wonderful Life"
This movie has been ripped-off and parodied for 60 years, but for good reason. No one can beat that perfect, everything-is-awesome ending. What really makes the classic Christmastime tale of George Bailey realizing the difference one life can make special is when viewers look a little closer, it's a Twilight Zone episode masquerading as a Frank Capra feel-good-fest. With its alternate reality premise, be careful what you wish for message and one-man-against-a-world-he-doesn't-understand attitude, it's only a stone's throw away from being a good science fiction flick. But what makes it one of the best movies for the Christmas season is it's one of the few films that can actually help restore a little of your faith in humanity.
5. "Home Alone"
A necessary flick to catch if you're suffering from an overdose of family during the holidays. John Hughes always knew how to mix humor and heart and he does one of his best jobs with the simple tale of young Kevin McCallister getting forgotten by his family when they leave to spend Christmas in Paris. His slow realization of how much he misses his family is bursting at the seams with Christmas joy, but the real draw? Watching Kevin outwit (and outright torture) two would-be burglars trying to rob his house. Is it a little sadistic to get that much joy from watching two people getting repeatedly injured? Probably. Is it hilarious anyway? Absolutely.
4. "A Christmas Carol"
People certainly have a variety to choose from for which version is their favorite: theatrical, musical, dramatic ... Muppet. There have been many adaptations of Charles Dickens' classic tale (including another entry on this list, "Scrooged") but for my money, the best bet is the 1970 version starring Albert Finney. With one of the best performances of Ebenezer Scrooge by Finney, great music and fantastic production design, this straight-forward telling of Dickens' story might be the best ... or maybe it's the one with Mr. Magoo.
3. "Christmas Vacation"
Maybe not the most reverent entry on the list, but a favorite for many people during stressful holiday season. Who can't empathize a little with Chevy Chase's perpetually suffering Clark Griswold as he tries and tries again to give his family the perfect Christmas? A few power outages, kidnappings and fireballs later, he succeeds; just not the way he thought he would. Christmas is a time for family and laughter, and "Christmas Vacation" brings plenty of both.
2. "Love Actually"
This movie isn't necessarily about Christmas, although it's set during the weeks leading up to the holiday. The film is chock full of famous British (and a couple of American) actors and actresses whose stories intertwine through each other. Love, of course, is the overriding theme, but it's about love in many forms - new, old, lost, unrequited, fleeting, mutual, friendship, family and romantic love. Unlike a chick-flick, "Love Actually" is not overly mushy, but straddles both sentimental and humorous lines well enough for both men and women to enjoy. As it's rated "R," the movie is not for children, so enjoy the flick after the kids are in bed dreaming of reindeer and gifts under the tree.
1. "A Charlie Brown Christmas"
My personal favorite. Everything about this cartoon screams Christmas: the joy, the classic animation, the quotable dialogue. There have been several adaptations of Charles Schultz's "Peanuts" comic strip over the years, but none captures the heart and soul of the strip as this one does. Linus' climactic speech about the true meaning of Christmas is as heartfelt and relevant today as it was when the special premiered in 1965. The best part, though? The music. The unconventional — even for that time — jazz soundtrack by the Vince Guaraldi Trio has become a benchmark for Christmas music. In my family, it isn't really Christmas until the soundtrack to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" gets played at least once. In short: no movie captures the spirit and meaning of Christmas the way this one does.
Honorable Mention: Die Hard
Okay, okay, it may not technically be a Christmas movie, but it's set during Christmas so I'm counting it. Besides, if you've had too much Christmas cheer and good will towards men, watching Bruce Willis take down a team of elite terrorists may be just the gift you need to make it through the holiday season. Yippie-kai-yay.