Great Holiday Films

by Pris

There are many reasons to hate the Christmas season. Fortunately, cinema isn’t one of them. For sure, there are many turkeys out there, but we have been blessed with some fine holiday films through the years.

So, what are your favorite holiday films?

My top three:

3) Scrooged. “You’ve got a program featuring America’s favorite old fart. Reading a book in front of a fireplace. Now, I have to kill all of you.”

A Modern-day retelling of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Let’s be honest: the story itself–not that great and played out. But with Bill Murray, back before he got all serious on us? Whoa, number 3 on the list. Also, it’s got Robert Mitchum in it, which…I love me some Robert Mitchum. And Karen Allen–why hasn’t she done anything good in the last 15 years?

But also, it tells us the true meaning of Christmas:

Frank Cross: I want to see her nipples.
Censor Lady: But this is a CHRISTMAS show.
Frank Cross: Well, I’m sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.
Guy who works on set: You can barely see them nipples.
Frank Cross: See? And these guys are REALLY looking.

2) Die Hard. “All right, listen up guys. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except for the four ***holes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.”

You can keep your George Baileys–John McClane is the true hero of Christmas films. And yes, it is a Christmas film.

It has everything a good Christmas needs: family, heart, blood, explosions…and quality one-liners that exemplify the Christmas spirit:

  • “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”
  • “Oh my God, the quarterback is toast.” (Especially this year, when the Packers (hopefully) beat down on the Bears on Christmas day.)
  • And, of course, the one that I can’t print here that starts with “Yippee…”

1) Bad Santa. “You know what I see when I look at you? America’s got a sad future ahead of it.”

I like my heroes “anti-” and, if possible, drunk. Because, at heart, I am truly a sentimentalist. That’s why this is #1. I’d like to say more, ’cause I love this movie so much, but I feel like I’d spoil it for those who haven’t already checked it out. So, when you’re sitting around with the family and wondering what to do, pop in this film and have some holiday cheer.*

* These choices may actually be detrimental to family relations. Use with caution.

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39 thoughts on “Great Holiday Films

  1. Somebody has to say it and it might as well be me. It’s a Wonderful Life is #1. (I hoping D. will back me up on this what with his love of all things old). Don’t anybody tell me that it’s hokey or sentimental. I know that. But I have more affection and admiration for George Bailey than any other fictional character. I love the guy.

  2. It’s a great movie for sure, but I think it’s played out. Also, I have some philosophical problems with it. And it’s the obvious answer (part of what I’m doing is fishing for movies to watch I haven’t seen).

    Besides, I’d rather watch any on my list before It’s a Wonderful Life again. Good movie, but a little tedious.

  3. It’s a Wonderful Life is obvious, but I can’t help but mention it. I watch it at least once every year. There are others that come to mind that everyone has seen multiple times, but that’s the only one for which I have a lot of affection.

    As for something that most people haven’t seen, the one that comes to mind is What’s Cooking? It’s actually about Thanksgiving specifically, but about families coming together generally, so it works for Christmas. It’s not super entertaining but it’s thoughtful and has a nice message about family and about America.

    I guess I prefer holiday films that are nice. I’d watch The Muppet Christmas Carol (which I actually like) again before any of those on your list. Well, maybe Scrooged would beat the Muppets.

  4. I haven’t seen all of the Muppet Christmas Carol, but I liked what I saw.

    And my list is nice…just nice in a different way. A way that many may not interpret as nice. But nice nonetheless.

  5. I am so glad Pris mentioned BAD SANTA which is a film I heartily endorse. However, I do not want to be held responsible by anyone who actually chooses to see it.

    But to the brave who can tolerate dark, dark, dark, I mean really dark, comedy, I would however, recommend BADDER SANTA, the director’s cut, which is even better. I actually saw it first and after seeing BAD SANTA again this year (I decided I should make it a tradition, albeit a tradition I don’t admit to respectable people (knowing of course that no one who regularly reads Kulturblog is that respectable)) I can say that BADDER SANTA is the better of the two versions.

    I have two favorite parts. The first is when the kid walks in and says, “Hi, Santa. Hi, Mrs. Claus’s sister.” and the other other is when he gives Santa the wooden pickle with his blood on it. I also like the part when he picks the candy corn out of the advent calendar.

  6. I’m sorry. I really am! But I have to say It’s a Wonderful Life too! And the original Miracle on 34th Street with Natalie Wood as a little girl. And the animated film The Snowman. What can I say? I’m a purist (even though I love the Die Hards as much as the next guy…)

  7. How about Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation”? I loved it. I also love the “Charlie Brown Christmas”, and, of course, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (cartoon version). “Elf” is okay for a few laughs (but not many). I just put “Bad Santa” in my Netflix queue, but looks like other people have the same idea, because I have a “Very Long Wait” to have it mailed to me.

  8. Brian, I’m there with you on Badder Santa. The wooden pickle was a stroke of genius (and I, SUPERgenius, should know). As for candy corn in the advent calendar:

    Kid: Candy corn?
    Willie: Well, they all can’t be winners!

  9. ….of course, Bad (and badder) Santa is morally reprehensible filth that no one should watch. Really. Just like Team America: World Police.

  10. Your endorsements are great, though I still have to see Bad Santa. Love Actually is a wonderful film. I have never seen It’s A Wonderful Life because my family always watched the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol (which is easily the best version). Maybe this is the year to see IAWL. I also love the Christmas Vacation, it’s a classic.

  11. Rusty, thou speakest falsely. The best version of A Christmas Carol is NOT George C. Scott. The best is the 1951 classic, “Scrooge,” with Alastair Sim. See here.

  12. Super, you *might* have linked to our own Christmas Carol discussion.

    The best one is indeed, 1951, but the George C. Scott one is right up there, superior in some ways.

  13. D., you beat me to it. Here is D.’s post on different versions of “A Christmas Carol” from last year, and here is my own personal Christmas Carol list.

    As for other Christmas movies, there’s nothing new which can be said about the greatest of them all–namely, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” People who refuse to see it for what it is–a very skilled mixture of dark pathos and populist/Christian redemption, a wonderfully structured story, and one of James Stewart’s finest, funniest, and most intense performances–will just have to dwell in their own lonely little Christmas hole. I pity them.

    I’m also a partisan of the original “Miracle on 34th Street,” but I acknowledge that the remake has its fans as well.

    I haven’t seen “Bad [or Badder] Santa.” Is there any midget tossing? I’m not going to bother renting a purposefully foul and degrading movie that features a midget if the midget doesn’t, at one point or another, get tossed through a window or something. I want my money’s worth, after all.

  14. erg. well, even supergeniuses fail at times, D.

    Russell, there is indeed dwarf tossing, along with graphic depictions of dwarf sexual intercourse in public places. It’s really, really foul, but immensely awesome. Terry Zwigoff (sp?) is the man who brought us “Ghost World,” which I recommend as a warmup for the type of experience. Bad Santa, I should add, is John Ritter’s last film, and his performance is superb. A good ending (unlike Raul Julia, for example, whose last film was I believe Street Fighter).

  15. The classics:

    “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” Cute. Not the best by far, but a must watch for Christmas.

    “Rudolf the Rednosed Reindeer.” Ignore that some marketing guy decided to mine this for all its worth. It’s a great animated Christmas show with fantastic music.

    My best memory is David Letterman from back when he was funny. He had a skit of this with Letterman setting on an obvious college apartment couch watching the show on TV. (You know the ones – the look like a scottish kilt maker high on LSD in the 70’s designed the couches with a taste of orange) He’s laying back with a 2 liter bottle of Diet Pepsi and a bag of Doritos. They have the scene in the fog where Rudolf’s nose lights up. Rudolf says, “I’ll guide your slay.” Letterman, on the couch deadpans, “Damn that Rudolf is one brave son of a bitch…”

    Everytime I think of it I break down laughing still, after more than 10 years.

    “Charlie Brown Christmas.” Come on, one of the best soundtracks ever. I can’t believe some people think the Charlie Brown music isn’t Christmas music. A classic.

    “Elf” A modern classic and pretty funny, despite a kind of weak third act.

    “A Christmas Story” Hilarious. I double dog dare you.

    “Die Hard.” I agree. We watched it last Friday. It’s funny how much satire there is in it. I never noticed how every character is intentionally a stereotype. A surprisingly well made movie.

    “South Park” Come on. Their Christmas specials are hilarious. The send up of the Charlie Brown Christmas with Mr. Hankey, the Christmas poo? (Not to mention the music) But my favorite is still the one where Santa Claus gets shot down by Sadaam Hussein prior to the invasion and has to be rescued by Jesus and the kids. People forget that South Park started as a Christmas short with Jesus and Santa fighting over who Christmas was about. They had an other special with Santa and Jesus in a bar singing Christmas songs and Santa getting jealous that so many were about Jesus rather than him. Hilarious satire.

  16. Supergenius is slipping. John Ritter’s last film was definitely Clifford’s Really Big Movie (good for really big yawns — even my kids didn’t make it through to the end). He was a perfect Clifford. I miss him. (not joking).

    My new favorite Christmas movie is About a Boy. If you think about it, it really is a Christmas movie — Santa’s Super Sleigh, and the movie includes two pivotal Christmas scenes. Make it a part of your holiday rotation, just like The Sound of Music.

    I agree with Susan M — A Christmas Story is one of the few movies that you can show for 24 straight hours on TBS and find viewers that will watch for at least 6. I love that movie.

    This year I’m planning on getting around to seeing Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers finally. I’ll let you know.

    Everyone should see Holiday Inn at some point during the year. For us, it’s the Fourth of July for Fred Astaire’s firecracker dance. But it works well for Christmas — Irving Berlin wrote “White Christmas” for this movie, and Bing Crosby made it a classsic.

    Hopefully we’ll get a review of The Family Stone and The Ice Harvest here.

  17. What about “Nightmare Before Christmas”? It’s on most of the Top Ten Holiday Film lists. I’ve never seen it, though.

    And, um, Pris? I’m still waiting to hear your explanation about the soap.

  18. I’ve never understood why “The Sound of Music” should be considered a holiday movie. “About A Boy” makes more sense, and is a great movie I can heartily recommend. And Clark, I agree that “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is awesome.

    But I’m shocked, SHOCKED!, that nobody’s mentioned “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” It’s all-around greatness, and one of the few movies-based-on-a-(good)book that is even better than the book.

  19. I’m going to clarify for Allison that she’s talking about the Chuck Jones/Boris Karloff animated special, not the horrible Ron Howard/Jim Carrey version.

    Completely OT, but how many Kulturbloggers are aware that Sufjan Stevens has a new Christmas album (“Hark! The Songs of Christmas”). I downloaded it and burned it last night. Jealous?

    Maybe Allison will post a review.

  20. BTD Greg, thanks so much for the heads up on the Sufjan Christmas album. I’m listening right now. I think I just heard the all-time best version of “What Child is This?”

  21. Elisabeth, I don’t know how I missed that. Sorry.

    Also, just FYI and in case Santa’s elves are taking notes, I was joking when I called my spouse a jerk. He’s really a very thoughtful and fun individual.

  22. I finally saw Elf on Saturday. About what I was expecting — mostly harmless fun. Ultimately it’s not on my best all-time Christmas movie list, mostly because I’m not a big fan of the “Believe in Santa Claus” theme (Miracle on 34th Street is the exception to that rule).

  23. Tom, it really is amazing. (See also, his version of “I Saw Three Ships.” Or anything else on the album, actually.) When I heard about this, I thought it sounded perfect. And it is. It’s so nice to hear contemporary arrangements of traditional carols.

  24. Can we get “What Child is This” for the radio.blog?

    I didn’t think The Grinch cartoon counted as a film, or any of those old specials you see on tv. But they’re all the best.

  25. Susan, I’ll email it to you when I get home from work. Or, if you want to download the whole thing, just do a Google search for “Sufjan Hark! Songs for Christmas.” It’s available for download several places and (I think) this is the only way you can get it. I haven’t been able to determine, but I think Sufjan put it out there for free download. (I’ve got a link over at BTD to one of the places you can get it.)

    In addition to “What Child is This?,” I’d recommend putting “I Saw Three Ships” and “Once In David’s Royal City” on the radio blog. (I’ll email you all three.)

  26. My favorite line of all time from Christmas specials is, “An elf that wants to be a dentist?!?!” That gets me every time. It kept running through my head in our last ward in which half the people seemed to be dental students.

  27. I think some of my favorite arrangements of Christmas carols are found on Rondo Veneziano’s album “The Magic of Christmas”. Still traditional, almost classical feel to them, yet also a contemporary, modern groove. I recommend you check it out.

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