There’s about as much Christmas ephemera as there are stars in the galaxy, including countless Christmas movies. But just because It’s a Wonderful Life (overrated and depressing) or A Christmas Story (has not aged well) happen to be screening doesn’t mean you have to sit through either of them. Even amid a pandemic your time is precious and some holiday flicks are far better than others.
We’re not encouraging you to abandon mid-fall and jump head-first into winter. There’s lots to savor in the meantime, from candy-themed cocktails to a new type of wild game this Thanksgiving. Yet, before you know it, your neighborhood will be aglow and festive music will light up the FM dial. And yes, your Netflix queue will be chock-full of holiday options.
Here are the best Christmas movies to put on your radar, when the time comes:
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Most of what John Hughes touches turns to gold, which is why he’s on the list twice here. He wrote the screenplay for this 1989 classic, a hilarious holiday misadventure starring Chevy Chase. The best character hand’s down is the delightfully backwoods Cousin Eddy, played by Randy Quaid. Anybody who’s accustomed to the stress and absurdity associated with a giant family Christmas will find comic joy in this movie.
The world is a better place with Bill Murray. Here, he plays a television executive given the A Christmas Carol treatment. The film basks in Murray’s energy and sheer wit, as it should given that it came after the actor took a four-year acting hiatus after filming Ghostbusters.
It’s hard to know if anybody thought this Will Ferrell comedy from 2003 would offer real lasting power but it certainly has. A little heartfelt, plenty funny, and full of seasonal cheer, Elf is a worthy addition to the esteemed list. Its greatest gift is making you feel like a kid again.
Home Alone (1990)
Here, John Hughes plays director, putting together a real masterpiece. Sure, Macauley Culkin is cute and cunning but the best viewing involves the villainy of the wet bandits, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. If you’re looking to incorporate a drinking game while viewing, take a sip every time you notice just how Christmas-y the McCallister home is (spoiler alert: it’s very much so).
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Die Hard tends to get most of the credit when it comes to classic movies that just sorta happen to be about Christmas. But Edward Scissorhands is even better, showcasing the cinematic magic Tim Burton is thoroughly capable of. And, given that it dabbles in a lot of late-fall darkness, it’s a good one to ease you into the holiday season.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
It’s hard to call this one a movie given its short length but the list deserves its presence. Incredibly, the animated special turns 55 this year but it continues to deliver. From the quiet antics of Snoopy and the epic dance party that unfolds during play rehearsal to the flawless Vince Gauraldi soundtrack, this one is perfect for all ages and multiple viewings.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Another vintage piece of animated greatness, this one never gets old. Given that it’s a Dr. Seuss joint, the writing is wonderful and it has a way of softening up even the least festive among us. There have been many remakes and adaptations but the 1966 original is still the best of the bunch.
White Christmas (1954)
This year especially, we’re pining for the old times when you could just break into song in public without being worried about infecting an entire community. Ah, nostalgia. This 1954 film is warming even if you’re watching it from your COVID-approved bunker. It’s got post-war optimism, lovely sets, and the incessant crooning of Bing Crosby.
Bad Santa (2003)
Billy Bob Thornton is one of the best actors out there and he just keeps getting better. This 2003 comedy dodges the stereotypical joy and cheer of the holiday season and instead goes for the darker, more interesting material. It’s a must-watch for all of the Scrooge’s out there, full of not-so-appropriate jokes and general grumpiness.
Ernest Saves Christmas (1988)
Didn’t see this one coming, did you? It’s another bit of 8os gold and easily the best of the Ernest movie series. Ernest leads a quest to replace a weathered old Santa and hilarity ensues. It’s not so much thoughtful or overly festive as it is a little bizarre and unexpected, kind of like 2020 as a whole.
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