I see a lot of lists of the best or least disposable Christmas movies floating around these holidays. I figured I would go ahead and post the definitive one. I broke them into tiers but did no ranking within the tiers, just random orders as they came to me. The first tier has 9 movies which I think are more or less essential to the experience. You can easily fit 9 movies in the four weeks from now until Christmas. Just my opinion, there. Also, my opinion below.
9 Essential Christmas Movies:
The Santa Clause
This is the good thing Tim Allen did. It is such a strong Christmas movie that manages to be playful with fantasy and sentiment without becoming cynical.
It’s A Wonderful Life
Obviously, it’s really a great movie even if I’m not a huge Capra fan. I recently discovered by accident that it had been colorized, so just don’t watch that version. Bleh.
Holiday Affair (1949)
The Preacher’s Wife
Maybe controversial here, but I say this movie is more enjoyable than its source material (The Bishop’s Wife ). The music is definitely better and the preacher feels more understandable than David Niven’s priest. Both are good. I just like Whitney Houston, maybe.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
If you’re reading this, you know me. So, I don’t really need to say much more on this one. I will, though. This is the best ‘Christmas Carol’ adaptation. It is one of the only ones to really get how silly and funny Dickens’s book was while still telling the cold hard tale. You also get Michael Caine talking to puppets.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Folks sleep on this one, but really shouldn’t. This is a quintessentially Christmas movie as Christmas has been understood in America since the 1940s.
There’s a whole genre of Santa family line movies out there. Many are bad and weird. This one imagines it as a British officer class of increasingly aloof and militaristic opportunists mixed with one classically lovable Aardman character. It’s touching and memorable while actually being funny.
It Happened on 5th Avenue
Folks, just look up the plot for this one and tell me how good it is or why you haven’t seen it.
I had a hard time putting this here, because in many ways this flick doesn’t hold up so many years later. But it’s such a nostalgia catalyst and so memorable and so perfectly cozy. I really enjoy watching it just about every year. Take it as a relic of the 90s and love it.
Some Made-for-TV Specials Worth Watching:
A Muppet Family Christmas
The Trailer Park Boys Christmas Special
Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas
How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Yogi’s First Christmas
Blackadder’s Christmas Carol
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
A Christmas Carol (1999)
A Smoky Mountain Christmas
Niche and/or Genre Flicks I like That You Might Also:
A little self-righteous without taking too strong a stance, but a genuinely beautiful movie. Partially in a foreign tongue.
I call it niche because of its R rating, advertised cynicism, and its Billy Bob Thorntonism. It’s actually a fine Christmas movie with some heart to it.
I don’t much care for the Christmas horror genre. But this is a stark Finnish movie, so I’m on board. It’s oddly fun.
Another dirty Christmas movie with just many curse words and problematic actors. Christmastime hostage situation with no blown up skyscrapers but lots of relationship issues.
I like it. It’s Michael Keaton as a dead guy come back as a snowman to CHILL with his kid. Why not like it?
This is very very much an indie movie. So much so that even Richard Brody liked it. I like it too, but like I said, quite indie.
Frederick Wiseman’s narrationless documentary of Neiman Marcus during the holiday season. I adore this very slow movie that some wrongly think has no plot.
Movies That Are Either Technically Bad Or Maybe Have Some Other Issue But Which I Still Find Reasons To Enjoy:
How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Hard to look at, very loud. Lots of inventive scenery and I think Carrey is actually funny in it. Amazing performance in all the latex, if nothing else.
Horrible movie. So easy to watch because nothing real or sensical actually happens. My favorite part is when President Billy Bob Thornton and Prime Minister Hugh Grant can’t come to terms on something which is never explained in even the slightest bit of detail yet serves as the problem driving Grant’s memorable little go UK speech. It’s truly lazy storytelling at its most effortful.
Ernest Saves Christmas
I have fond memories.
The Shop Around the Corner
I love this movie, but I don’t think it’s a Christmas movie like some people say. I list it because you should watch it and maybe you’ll disagree with me.
The Bishop’s Wife
As mentioned above, this is a good movie. I simply prefer the Houston/Washington one. I put it in this tier because it belonged somewhere.
I Don’t Like These Movies:
A Christmas Story
The Polar Express
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
The Bells of St. Mary’s
Christmas in Connecticut
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
White Christmas (And the other ones like it)
Note: Die Hard and Batman Returns are Holiday action movies for which the Christmas setting is a key, essential element. Both are good action movies. Neither is a particularly strong Christmas movie.