Top 10: Christmas Films
Ho ho ho! ‘Tis the season for holiday cheer, which here at Viddy Well, we naturally fill with cinema’s many seasonal offerings.
Since the spirit of Yuletide is all about sharing, togetherness and gifts, we thought we’d share with you our favorite Xmas flicks that can be enjoyed with those closest to you — most of which can be watched with the whole family. More often than not, we favor a fresh take over the holiday standard, so quite a few of our picks include what others may deem “alternative” Christmas films. Still, all of these are near to our heart and are a part of our regular holiday ritual. If anything, this list shows how the Christmas film has metamorphosed over the years, spilling the contents of its stocking into many different genres.
We hope you share the same sentiments, but if your favorite Christmas film didn’t make the cut, be sure to give us a shout in the comments below!
Though Gremlins ’ Christmas setting isn’t super pertinent to its core plot — it could just as easily be set on a child’s birthday, than Xmas — it’s filled with quite a few classic holiday hallmarks (the town is done up in Christmas decorations, It’s a Wonderful Life is on TV, and carolers are singing). It’s definitely a darker slant to the happy, lighthearted norms that generally constitute a holiday picture, and it proved to audiences that a Christmas film could operate within a more ominous spectrum, taking on a horror sensibility while still maintaining family-friendly fun. Its biggest Christmas theme is one of family, but it’s most charming feature is that it never takes itself too seriously, baking up on a fun-filled holiday caresole covered in cheese.
9: Home Alone
Home Alone takes holiday debauchery to its extreme, and it’s always a joy to watch unfold, year after year. Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin McCallister is a charming and hilarious 8-year old troublemaker who literally holds his own against the cartoony Wet Bandit trespassers, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. Kevin is the typical smart alecky kid with a tough exterior, but underneath there’s a fragility (which Macaulay lands like a true professional) that makes him a fully-rounded and complex character. With a script penned by the great John Hughes, Home Alone also has a strong emotional core that counterbalances the comedy and creates a different kinda “I’ll be home for Christmas” story, as the emotionally wrecked mother (played by the fantastic Catherine O’Hara) frantically tries to get back to her left behind son. The film’s themes range from family to redemption, and Hughes imbues it with the right amount of laughs, sentimentality, and sweetness. Even after all these years, the gags still feel fresh, and the cherry on top of everything is John Williams’ sweepingly magical score. For some fun facts about Home Alone check out our article here.
8: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
It’s no secret that we love this one (we’ve got a fun facts article you can read here and a drinking game that you can play here). After all, it’s the hap-hap-happiest Christmas film since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny @#%$ing Kaye! As the National Lampoon’s Vacation films have shown us, the gags are strong in the Griswold family, and Christmas Vacation is no exception. It’s perhaps the most watched film out of the Vacation canon, and Clark’s position is an endearing one; all he wants is a classic family Christmas with everyone together (except for maybe cousin Eddie, that is). That’s not too much to ask for, but the film goes to great lengths to speak to those disastrously less-than-perfect Christmas gatherings (which I’m sure we’re all a bit familiar with) and how the holiday spirit prevails, no matter how bad the circumstances may be. It’s one of those special holiday films that makes our crazy families seem a little bit more normal by comparison, and it provides an infinite source of holiday quotes; yet another testament to John Hughes’ screenwriting legacy.
7: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Shane Black loves Christmas and dark comedy, so there’s little wonder that one of his films would wind up on our list. While we dearly love Lethal Weapon’s brutal action tale of family and salvation that uses Christmas as a backdrop, we’ve got to tip our Santa hat to Black’s 2005 twisted and irreverent modern noir, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Not only is it the ultimate antithesis to the more cliché Christmas fare that tends to dominate the season, but it also gives us the gift of Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer in one of their best roles, and Michelle Monaghan as a sexy Santa, too. The film is set during Christmas in L.A., and it’s filled with enough holiday imagery and festive themes to count as a seasonal flick (barely). It uses “the most wonderful time of the year” as a backdrop for its noir plot, dirty jokes, violence, and hilarious hijinks.
6: In Bruges
Another film counterbalancing the tacky fireside warmth and rosy cheeriness of the holiday is Martin McDonagh’s fantastic debut, In Bruges. The season, most likely due to its many long, cold nights, has always maintained a certain melancholic undercurrent filled with existential contemplation (about regrets, the past and the future), and McDonagh’s story about two hit men hiding out in Bruges after a botched job perfectly captures this feeling. Though it only mentions the word “Christmas” a handful of times, it occupies the pensive nature that comes with the holiday, similarly to classics like A Christmas Carol. Using a lighthearted veneer, it ultimately argues that no one’s soul is behind saving, and it does so with biting humor, witty dialogue, and a masterful use of setting.
5: Edward Scissorhands
Notorious for imbuing his projects with a darker, more Halloweeny feel, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands might not seem like the most holiday centric film, but it totally counts in our book. Though Christmas doesn’t make a big appearance until the last third of the film, the setting is pretty crucial to the film’s plot and themes. Ironically, nearly everyone treats Edward with kindness and respect until Christmas enters the picture; it smartly twists the magical season of goodwill by using it as the setting for Edward’s persecution by the town. It focuses heavily on family and love, with extra emphasis on treating those that appear as outsiders with kindness. Edward also takes on many Christ-like qualities, with his mysterious birth, self sacrifice, external life, and persecution through fear. Framed by a story a grandmother tells her grandchild about why it always snows on Christmas and filled with a lot of moments of wonderment that go hand in hand with the holiday — chief a month them being Winona Ryder dancing in the “snow” of Edward’s ice sculpture — Edward Scissorhands fits our criteria for Xmas fare.
4: A Christmas Story
No Christmas list would be complete without A Christmas Story somewhere on the list! Even though we’re a little sick of the film playing 24 straight hours on cable during the holidays, we still love the hilarity of little Ralphie and his crazy family. Like Christmas Vacation, it’s one of those holiday films that makes us feel a little more normal by comparison. It embraces both the fantastical wonderment of the holiday and the misery it simultaneously seems to inflict. It shows us that not everything we may desire is all it’s cracked up to be, and it’s given us the gift of great lines of dialogue we can seemingly toss out at random once Christmas time arrives — like “You’ll shoot your eye out!” The film is full of nostalgic warmth while maintaining a darkly humorous tone, and it still holds the title for greatest Santa visit ever in our opinion.
3: The Nightmare Before Christmas
Hotly debated as a Christmas film or a Halloween film, we consider The Nightmare Before Christmas to be a seasonal treat that applies to both holidays, and we like to include it in our viewing rotation for each. Though it’s full of ghoulish characters and takes place primarily in a place called Halloweentown, Christmas is a pretty integral part of the plot and characters. Specifically, it’s the occasion for Jack Skellington to put aside his selfish artistic expression and to learn how to love and appreciate the people that love him. Over the course of the film, Jack learns the true meaning of Christmas and that it has its own ethos that is completely separate from the holiday he already fully understands. Without it, Jack wouldn’t have any arc to his character.
2: Die Hard
It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve for us unless we drop the Hans! Though many debate if this classic action film constitutes as a Christmas film, we definitely think it is, especially for adults. For us, it’s a “I’ll be home for Christmas” story at its core filled with lots of guns and gore. The film is set on Christmas Eve, and it’s about John McClane coming home for the holidays to be with his family that he’s been separated from. The central themes are that of family, friends and togetherness, which are very Christmas-like; it just so happens to be covered in more blood and bullets than most Xmas films. It’s a part of our yearly Christmas Eve traditions, and Christmas wouldn’t quite be the same for us without it. We’ve even got a drinking game you can play while you watch it!
Before we get to the number 1 slot, here's a few bits of holiday cheer that just narrowly missed the cut:
The Santa Clause
And without further ado, our favorite Christmas film is...
1: It’s A Wonderful Life
Made over an astonishing 70 years ago, It’s a Wonderful Life continues to maintain its status as one of the best Christmas movies of all time. Frank Capra’s holiday classic about a suicidal businessman may not seem like the most obvious source of Christmas cheer, but with the help of a guardian angel, Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey learns the importance of family, happiness and the preciousness of life. It’s impossible to not be charmed by Stewart’s performance and overcome with emotion by the film’s incredibly heartwarming conclusion. It embodies everything that we like about the holiday; its laughter, pensiveness, melancholy and cheer. It’s also loaded with so much wisdom and life-changing quotes that we turn to this gem each and every season.
Well, that’s our list! We hope you’re now full of holiday cheer, but if we left off your favorite Christmas film, be sure to let us know in the comments section below. As always, remember to viddy well!