Christmas films, much like Holiday music, have the same ability to divide and polarize normally rationale people when it comes to their selections.
Everyone I know has a favorite Christmas film, the one movie that they must watch every year to help them get into the spirit of the season. But, unlike Christmas music, the stakes are much higher when it comes to choosing that singular special film, because of the larger investment in ones time.
The selection itself is surprisingly critical because our choice of film often reflects how we experience or want to experience our version of Christmas.
Presented here for your consideration is a list of 15 Christmas films from the past several decades that have been carefully chosen by a man who has enjoyed a cigar and a single malt scotch with each and every film and found them to have complimented and enhanced his Christmas experience.
There were only two caveats for these selections. One, that they were originally released theatrically, and secondly, that they were live action, as opposed to animation.
These are the Christmas movies that your parents enjoyed every year and at some point probably tried to get you to watch with them. To some they may seem “old fashioned”, but to my mind they have endured for a reason, their stories, and in some cases, their music, possess the timeless quality associated with that elusive Christmas spirit.
Holiday Inn (1942) – Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby and the debut of the Christmas Song – White Christmas by Irving Berlin. It’s a very show biz tale of friends trying to start a lodge/club that celebrates the season in song and dance.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – Jimmy Stewart stars in this classic film as the despondent man whose thoughts of suicide bring about the intervention of his guardian angel on Christmas Eve.
Scrooge aka A Christmas Carol (1951) – The British faithfully adapt Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol with the help of Alastair Sim in the title role of old Ebenezer himself. For many this is the Christmas film.
White Christmas (1954) – A Technicolor remake, more or less, of Holiday Inn, starring Mr. Crosby again and featuring some more classic songs from the talented Irving Berlin.
A Christmas Story (1983) – A recent film for this category, but one that feels “old fashioned” in the best sense of the word. A film set in the late 1940’s that tells the story of a nine-year-old boy who just wants a bb gun for Christmas. Of course all the poor kid hears from everyone is the inevitable, “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”
Let’s face it Christmas is a lot of things to many people, but the one thing everyone can agree on is the potential that the holiday has to be stressful. These films capture both the spirit and the insanity of sometimes trying to maintain that good cheer at any cost.
Scrooged (1988) – Bill Murray stars as a cruel, self-absorbed television executive who mounts a live version of A Christmas Carol with interesting results.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) – Chevy Chase is the type of actor that unfortunately always plays the same note – the bumbling, slightly out of it guy. But in this film it actually works. Chase along with Beverly D’Angelo and Randy Quaid team up to show how a holiday can turn into a nightmare in just a few short days.
The Santa Clause (1994) – Yes it’s a Disney film, but it’s a clever re-working of a legend, and Tim Allen is spot on as the divorced dad who finds himself inheriting the mantle of possibly the coolest gig in the world – being Santa Claus.
Elf (2003) – Will Farrell has this incredible physicality and naivety that he brings to every role. It was never better suited than in this hilarious film in which he plays a human raised at the North Pole, who then travels to New York City to find his real dad.
Fred Claus (2007) – Vince Vaughn and Paul Giamatti team up to tell the story of Fred Claus, the jealous, bitter older brother of Santa, who has fled the North Pole and now lives in Chicago. For some reason this film never caught on, but it deserves a second look.
These are movies that are about or take place in and around the Christmas season, but have a quality to them that place them outside of the realm of normal Seasonal films.
Holiday Affair (1949) – A romantic comedy that stars on screen “tough guy” Robert Mitchum as a sales clerk working in a busy department store during Christmas who helps a war widow and her son recapture the holiday spirit.
Scrooge (1970) – A musical interpretation of A Christmas Carol that features Albert Finney of Miller’s Crossing fame in the title role of Mr. Scrooge.
Love Actually (2003) – A British film that is equal parts sentiment, part romance, and part tribute to the human spirit that seems to have the most potential around Christmas time. Featuring a cast of excellent UK actors.
Bad Santa (2003) – There are dark comedy films, and then there is this one. Billy Bob Thornton is an alcoholic con man who makes his living by playing department store Santa’s and then robbing those same stores in which he works at night on Christmas Eve. This is not you mom and dad’s Santa.
Hopefully this column will inspire you or your loved ones to pick one or two from the list, and than just maybe that film will become a part of your own unique holiday tradition.
Please keep in mind that each of these films have been proven time and time again to be that much better if one enjoys them with a hand-rolled cigar and a dram or two of scotch. If for any reason the people that you are watching the film or films with give you any grief, just tell them that an expert said it was the only way to properly appreciate them.