It’s about this time of year that people start shouting out what they believe to be the “essential” Christmas movies. What makes my list any more significant than anyone else’s? Nothing. And so I’ll begin. These are roughly in order from least Christmas-spirited to most Christmas-spirited. Enjoy.
1. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: It’s A Very Sunny Christmas — A word of warning: don’t watch this if you are a pure and innocent person. This show is about charming sociopaths. They are awful people. They do terrible things. The Christmas special is hysterically funny, but only for the thick-skinned. When I described the order of this list, I was serious. This will not help you have Christmasy thoughts, or fill you with warmth or fuzziness. As I said before, the characters in this show are horrible, horrible people. But if you’re a sometimes cynical and often twisted person (like me), you should probably go watch this before the season progresses much further (i.e. preferably before you have grandparents staying in your house.)
2. Invader Zim: The Most Horrible X-mas Ever — I love this show. This is the last episode of “Invader Zim” ever made, and as such, ends up telling what must be one of the only Christmas Apocalypse stories ever. You’re either the kind of person who likes this show or you’re not. If you are, this should probably be your favorite episode. I’ll give you an appetizer — think maliciously sentient Santa suit made of nanobots.
3. The Nightmare Before Christmas — Don’t tell me you’ve been watching this on Halloween! This is very much a Christmas movie. It’s about the least likely characters being touched by the spirit of Christmas. On top of being a stunning and impressive feat of animation, it is also a very effective Christmas story. And this film’s representation of Santa Claus still stands as one of my favorites.
4. A Christmas Story — I adore this film. It’s always been one of my favorites, stretching further back into the nostalgia of my childhood memories than I can easily access. In other words, I don’t remember the first time I saw this film. It’s probably safe to say I’m not alone in loving this one. I think almost everyone includes this on their list of top holiday movies, and it’s not because it makes people feel cozy about Santa Claus and Christmas trees. In fact, those familiar festoons end up becoming somewhat nightmarish at different points in the story. Instead, the “Story” focuses on family, and so has survived the vast majority of other would-be holiday “classics.”
5. Elf — This movie took me totally by surprise when I saw it in theaters. Few films have as successfully walked the lines between satire and homage, fresh and traditional. Elf is at once familiar and relevantly contemporary, bitingly ironic and sweet enough to put mist in our jaded eyes. Casting Will Ferrell as the title character was a stroke of unmitigated genius. He’s never filled a role better, and not one other person could have done as well.
6. A Christmas Carol (1951) – Look for the one with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. This is the closest and loveliest adaptation of Dickens’ brilliant text. If you can get past the fact that it’s “old” and in black and white, you’ll get to appreciate the best, bar none, portrayal of Scrooge ever — and there have been many. My generation seems to be enamored with A Muppet Christmas Carol, but as wonderful as the Muppets are (and they are wonderful), Michael Caine may actually be the most boring iteration of that character. I love him as an actor, but he’s an empty shell in that film. One wonders if he was creeped out by the puppets. I probably would have been.
7. It’s A Wonderful Life – Whenever I even think about this film, I lose my ability to describe how perfect it is. It is not only my favorite Christmas movie, it is one of the greatest films ever made. Sometimes people who think they’re clever like to say subtle, condescending things about the story, and I always get the nearly overwhelming urge to break their fingers. This film is nothing short of a masterpiece — the world is a sorrier place since Frank Capra left it. This is the one film that I will always encourage everyone to see this season. And even though the majority of the film isn’t about Christmas at all, it is absolutely everything a Christmas movie should be.
It’s cold outside. Regardless of whether or not you have any interest in any of the titles I just listed, you will have wasted the season if you don’t spend a significant portion of it enjoying some great Christmas films with some hot chocolate and some great friends and family.
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