Digital Polyphony

film, games, memories & random thoughts

Top 25: Holiday Movies

It's that time of year again...

...what does that mean, exactly? You hear it during the final months of the year. For some it might mean time to be with family, friends and feel warmth and love during cold winter nights. For others its a Bah-Humbug and full of bitterness and annoyances.

Well...the Holiday Season is a little bit of both, isn't it? Nothing is perfect, especially when family gatherings are involved.

So to celebrate this Holiday season is a list of 25 Holiday Movies that perhaps can be used as a distraction for some laughs, dramas and nostalgic feelings of your childhood, and a reminder that there's nothing wrong with wishing for it again as well as a look into how the Holidays are for the adults out there where it always starts difficultly, but by the end you're glad it came once more. 

By the way, while there are plenty of films to just center on Christmas on this list, I'm including Thanksgiving as well. Similar type of ideas and themes and both events tend to run into each other anyways as the inclusive "holiday season"of family gathering, dinners, and love yadda yadda yadda.

25:  The Polar Express


I can't say I'm the biggest Polar Express fan, Zemeckis's strange and dream-like CG-Tom-Hanks vehicle, but I have to admit that is captures the spirit of Christmas about as good as you can expect. What's more is is captures it through the eyes and imagination of a child. It's a simple film, a train takes a young boy to the North Pole and it's an adventure to get there, see Santa, all the elves, and become captivated in the wonderment of Christmas Eve.

Had the character animations not been so mannequin-like, perhaps try not to take such a realistic look to it all, I think I would easily put this higher on the list. As it is, it's a charming little movie that really embraces the feeling of warm cocoa next to a fire on Christmas Eve as a child waits for morning.


24: Meet me in Saint Louis


There's one reason and one reason alone why this film is on this list: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." (Lord knows it's not that damn Trolly Song.)

You see, Meet Me in Saint Louis isn't necessarily a Christmas or Thanksgiving movie. Only a portion of it takes place during that period. But in that period, Judy Garland belts out one of the standards of Christmas melodies in a moving, tearful scene when a little girl is worried that Santa won't be able to find them next year because they're moving from their home. While there are other, even funny, scenes centering on Christmas, that scene alone puts it on this list...and this is from a guy who doesn't even like musicals that much.



23: Edward Scissorhands


A very un-Christmasy Christmas movie in this classic from Tim Burton (who would follow up with another Christmas themed film in Batman Returns). The story could have been set during any time of the year, to be honest, but having it take place during Christmas exudes that "Christmas magic" some films just tend to have. It's majestic, mysterious, even a little beautiful as it now plays in to the holiday mystique with the thematic elements many movies on this list will play off of: family, friends, and love. Edward Scissorhands takes one extra step though in going into the idea of social acceptance and that although some may think the best for others during the holidays, as a family takes Edward in, there are a lot of grinchs and scrooges out there to drive them back away just because they're different. Burton's film is bittersweet in that respect and we end up finding the most human element in someone who isn't human at all. 


22: Die Hard


“Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.”

Tell me that doesn't personify Christmas? Ok, it doesn't, but it was a great idea to set Die Hard during a office holiday party. Holiday party's suck, the one with no open bar at least, so what better to liven them up with gunfire, explosions and John fuckin McClane?  It's not merely the setting that is Christmasy, but it's the little cues here and there, such as music or decorations a part of a scene, the notion of family and friendship and, of course, gifts and money that some wish for, some get, and some wish for, then get, then get dropped out of a high-rise building.To add the element of Christmas to an action movie gave it character and identity, otherwise we just get a lump of coal.



21: Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer


I’ll be honest, I was always a Frosty the Snowman fan. I found the stop-motion of Rudolph disturbing as a child. Everything looked lifeless to me. Still, though, I can’t deny that it’s a staple of every holiday watching and, overall, is a fun and imaginative movie. I don’t think it resonates as well with audiences today as Charlie Brown or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but is a classic and should be acknowledged even if, now, I can only think of Robot Chicken when I see it.





20: Black Christmas


As strange as it sounds, Black Christmas really captures the fears of many college students during the weeks off of Christmas Holiday. Many students stay on campus during the holiday, or at least delay rushing home to parents when there are perfectly good parties to go to. Supervision is limited, most teachers are gone, and many a killer enjoys killing. Black Christmas is a classic amongst the genre because Christmas is simply a strange setting to place a horror film and there's really nothing quite like it - if you want to see it done poorly check out Silent Night, Deadly Night. Strangely enough, the director (as well as the villain in the film) of Black Christmas was quite fond of the holiday as he woudl go on to write and direct number two on this list.



19: The Ref


Nothing says "Holiday Cheer" like Dennis Leary with a gun. An angry (when isn't he?) Dennis Leary at that. Frustrated and annoyed, I think Leary's character of Gus was a mouthpiece for the way a lot of people feel around the holidays. So let's a have him explain the tone and style as only Leary could with a movie quote.

"Presents? Is that what you said? Presents? We'll open them when we get there. No, in fact, I'll save you the trouble. Your present is a giant fucking canon. And you're gonna crawl in it. Then I'm gonna get 2 pounds of gunpowder and I'm gonna shoot you right out of Jersey! And then I'm gonna drive to Jersey, and pick up all the parts of your body and put them in a plastic bag. Then I'm gonna drive to my house with you in the bag and toss you into the fireplace. I'm gonna get my glass of whiskey and watch the Charlie Brown special with your ashes burning IN MY FUCKING HOUSE! "

18: Gremlins


Like many kids in the 1980s, I have to assume at least, I was incredibly jealous of Billy Peltzer's Christmas present he receives from his dad. Who didn't want their own, cute little Mogwai. Gizmo is just adorable. He talks, smiles, squeaks, plays with toys and is just incredibly cuddly. Gremlins, though, are something else and embody the utter debauchery that Christmas can sometimes fall into if someone doesn't check their eggnog intake. Everything screams winter Christmas in Gremlins and seeing snow-covered small town whitebread society completely overtaken by little green monsters on the most beloved Holiday of the year.

I still want a Mogwai, though. You know you do too.

Just make sure you aren't friends with Corey Feldman...he'll ruin everything.


17: Home Alone


Sure, the bumbling burglars, traps and slap-stick gets top billing, but let's not forget that all of that only happens in the final portions of the film. A majority of Home Alone combines two things: a kid with a huge house to himself on Christmas, and a kid realizing what is really important on Christmas (hint, it's family). Much of it as actually rather heartwarming, such as the subplot of old man Marley where he's scarier at first, rumors of his past swirling around the neighborhood, yet we find he's full of charm, love and wants to see his son again, or segments of Kevin, alone, simply feeling lonely on the holiday that is about coming together before being pelted in the head with a paintcan. 




16: Elf


I never would have expected myself saying this, but Elf is really a great Holiday movie. Why? Enthusiasm, that's why. Will Ferrel embodies the utter joy of Christmas from head to toe, but also shows the wonder and joy a child find in it and doesn't understand why anybody wouldn't love the holiday. While a tad by the book in many respects for a fish-out-of-water comedy, Ferrel simply makes it incredibly fun with his desire of sweet candy, elaborate decorations, Christmas music and, of course, lots and lots of presents.




15: A Muppet Christmas Carol


How many adaption and retelling of Charles Dickens' tale has there been? I don't know, but I know there's only one with singing and talking puppets. To many, I bet that's all that matters. 

A Muppet Christmas Carol is simply fun from beginning to end and reminds us just how awesome the Muppets once were. Many were worried the Muppets were never be the same after Jim Henson's death. To an extent, something was lost with his passing, but this was one last hurrah for the Muppets in one of their better movies despite not being as good as the previous ones, it was still a hell of a lot better than those that came after. It's charming and funny and a pretty decent retelling of A Christmas Carol to boot.



14: Bad Santa


The winner of most vulgar yet incredibly hilarious Holiday movie goes to the instant classic, Bad Santa. Directed by indie director Terry Zwigoff of all people (Crumb, Ghost World) this completely balls-to-the-wall raunchy comedy is for the R-rated crowd during the holiday season. Those exist, right?

In similar fashion to Gremlins, Bad Santa is ehre to turn Christmas on its head. As strange as it sounds, it finds the spirit of Christmas by not giving a damn about the spirit of Christmas...thus we, the viewers, remember what the spirit is because we're seeing something that would make us even cringe. I mean, who tells a kid to go fuck off...especially a guy in a Santa suit? In a way, it's kind of a visceral release for some people because we know we probably wouldn't dare do the things we see Billy Bob Thorton do in this movie. That makes us appreciate the holiday even more.


13: Scrooged


On a personal level, this one would probably be in my top two or three favorite Christmas movies. Odd it didn't even crack a more comprehensive, if not attempted-objective list such as this. Still, I love Bill Murray in this movie. This, Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters are quintessentially Bill Murray films and to have him playing an absolute asshole, scumbag is pitch-perfect for him. His character of Scrooge, I mean Frank Cross, is so realized even I started to hate the guy. It's a modern retelling that still tackles material so relevant today (such as media and television, homelessness) and combines it with the timeless themes from the original source material (family, love, etc...). It all does this with a wry sense of humor and incredible characters, the ghosts especially, not to mention some solid special effects. 



12: Miracle on 34th Street


Well, it was bound to happen. The "Staples" of the Holiday movies make their first official entry here at number twelve with the classic, Miracle on 34th Street. Santa is on trial, and it's about time as he's probably going to be going to jail with all the breaking and entering he's done over the years the damn German bastard. Actually, it's a story, taking place from Thanksgiving into Christmas, about a man who becomes institutionalized because he claims to actually be Santa Claus. It's up to his lawyer to prove that...and you know the rest. It's actually an extremely well done film across all front, and was even nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars(it won three, i should note). It's just a classy picture that may be taken for granted sometimes but as common on TV as It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story come the gift-giving season.


11: Home for the Holidays


One of only two Thanksgiving-related films on this list (if you don't know the other one shame on you). The best holiday movies seem to always be centered on families, more specifically the dysfunctional oddities that are family gatherings. What makes a great holiday movie, though, is how well these families can just as easily been yours. Characters, situations, even settings can draw out your own memories of past gatherings. Home for the Holidays isn't as big on the comedic front as other Holiday movies. Rather, it walks the line between funny, relatable and dramatic. Great cast, directed by Jodi Foster of all people, and overall a very personal film in many respects.




10: A Charlie Brown Christmas


If there's one thing Christmas is known for, other than when Zombie Jesus eventually rises and feats upon the living, it's music. A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the most beloved classics not just for Charlie, Snoopy and the gang, but the heart-warming and nostalgic Vince Guaraldi score. There are many classic moments, some of which are quite Politically Incorrect in today's society (such as Linus's monologue on Jesus, most Holiday specials these days won't bring JC in to the picture at all - focusing on more broad ideas such as family or love). 




9: How the Grinch Stole Christmas


And to follow up Charlie Brown comes one of the best animated Holiday film of all time. Well, I have a fondness for Little Match Girl and had that not been merely seven minutes, I surely would have included it if anything for the "Most depressing Holiday Movie." Nonetheless, How the Grinch Stole Christmas is pretty much required viewing. Dr. Seuss is a part of nearly every generation, and thus this movie transcends those generational boundaries to where parents, kids, aunts, uncles...pretty much anyone and everyone can love it.




8: A Christmas Carol (1951)


According to IMDBpro, there are, at least, over 40 version of A Christmas Carol (and note, those are just the ones called A Christmas Carol in the title) across film and television movies. What sets this one apart from all those.

Nothing, that's what. 

So, I just decided to put the most popular version here. The source material makes adapting to the screen so incredibly easy, and the story has always been wonderful, compelling, fantastical and even moving (especially as old Scrooge takes a trip into his past). It's the greatest Christmas Story every written, well, next to that one with the Virign and manger, of course.



7: White Christmas


If you're going to make a Christmas musical, you might as well go all-out in every degree. White Christmas is full of Holiday music, all of which were original songs written for the film with White Christmas, naturally, being the biggest one and becoming a part of Christmas soundtracks ever since, right up there with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Jingle Bells. It's Irving Berlin. It's Michael Curtiz. It's Bing Crosby. It's snow and lights and romance and song. I guess you could call this the "ideal Christmas" to some as it presents the fantasy Christmas most wish they could have, especially the beautiful ending.




6: It’s a Wonderful Life


Is there anyone who hasn't, even accidentally, seen this movie over the years? It's hard to not catch it, even in small segments, every week during December. It's like ornaments and twinkling lights. It's hard to believe so many people didn't like this movie when it first came out. It had the pedigree with Stewart, Reed and of course Capra, and has a beautiful story of a man viewing the world had he not existed. Maybe that fantasy element was something many weren't ready for, but overtime it grew into one of the most beloved films of all time. And right fully so.




5: Love Actually


There's no doubt here, Love Actually is one of the best films of the past decade and, thanks to a smart script and fantastic cast, ended up being one of the best movies for the Holiday. Christmas itself isn't fully prominent, the central theme is love and the various stories surrounding some Londoners during the Holiday. Relationships, family, romance and some heartwarming moments on a very, very well made film skyrockets it to the top of the Holiday movies you could ask for.




4: The Nightmare Before Christmas


Original. Artistic. Memorable. This classic animated movie is utterly timeless. Jack Skeleton discovers Christmas for the first time and, loving it so much, wants to bring it to the denizens of Halloween Town. Of course, that doesn't work out as well as he'd like as explaining Christmas to anyone who has no idea what it is is pretty difficult if not ridiculous sounding on paper. "You have a tree...and you give presents...and stuff stockings." Why?

To bring joy and happiness?

But that's the caveat in this story, because nobody in Halloween Town understand joy and cheer, they get joy from being scary, not this whole "giving presents" bunk. Combined with amazing music, this is deservedly regarded as one of the best Christmas movies (and Halloween movies to an extent) but also one of the best animated films of all time.


3: Planes Trains and Automobiles


It's easy to forget just how great John Candy really was. It's even easier to forget, sometimes, how great of a comedic actor Steve Martin was and still is. Here, you have both in one of the greatest Holiday classics ever about a man just wanting to get home in time for Thanksgiving (also known as Christmas without presents). Both are at the very comedic best, Candy as the lovable loser and Martin as the uptight cold shoulder but really has a heart of gold. Of course, I still consider this to be John Hughes comedic masterpiece as well, originally meant to be an epic 3 hour romp through the land of America on one hell of a road trip trimmed down by the studio to a measly hour and a half. Beautifully subtle and warming, especially the final scene, and like all of Hughes movies has characters that act and feel real, a story that is always moving ahead and a great balance between heart and laughs.


2: A Christmas Story


Cliché, perhaps, but good Lord is this a timeless masterpiece of holiday filmmaking. I think adults find a fondness with it more than children from reminiscing of their own childhood, but I think kids find the appeal of Ralphie and his dealings with his parents, bad Christmas gifts, school bullies and dumb dares that kids go through. All Ralphie wants is the gift he's always wanted. He daydreams about it, among other things, and always has his hands full dealing with the school bully, his parents, his brother, Little Orphan Annie and decoder rings and the bunny pajamas. It's hard to not like this movie.




1: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation


Nothing says "Happy Holidays" like looking out your front window to see your brother in law in his wife's bathrobe draining sewage from his camper and cheerfully explaining "Shitter's full." 

It's the series of small scenes like that that really make Christmas Vacation an absolute timeless classic. Almost anything can be related to by the viewer (as AS Christmas Story is as well, although perhaps to an older generation). A bundle of knotted Christmas lights, power that never works right, a wrongly measured tree and fire hazards, senile grandparents, annoying animals chewing on everything, asshole neighbors, hoping for a big bonus and trying to keep some goddamn smile on your face the entire time as your rage builds up, you lose it, kidnap your boss and hold him hostage. Every scene in Christmas Vacation is hilarious and remarkable, but let's also remember it still keeps the tradition of Christmas films alive by remember it has a heart, loves family and periodically enjoys electrocuting cats.

Honorable Mention

Mickey's Christmas Carol

I simply didn't konw where to put this classic. Technically, it's a short running time with only a little over 20 minutes, still that's close to the running time of some other entries such as Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, one being about 35 minutes the latter being 26 minutes. Yet Mickey was a short before the actual feature back in 1983 and the two TV programs are considered features due to the commercials adding another 30 minutes to the runtime. So, let me say that if you consider it a part of the the "movies" listed here, I would put it squarely at #7 and push everything back a step (sorry Polar Express, I wasn't a huge fan of you anyways). The film itself is beautifully animated and just a joy to watch every year, even if doesn't get nearly as much play as Rudolph, Charlie and Grinch.


Yuletide watching: Tokyo Godfathers, Trapped in Paradise, The Ice Harvest, The Preacher’s Wife, The Bells of St. Mary’s, Frosty the Snowman, The Little Match Girl (a short, but check it out), Joyeux Noel (Thanks, NC) 8 Crazy Nights, Trading Places.




  AddThis Social Bookmark Button