Best Christmas Movies
If you want to incorporate family movies as part of your Christmas tradition, here are three ways to count down that final week, or you can mix and match, depending on how old your children are and how tolerant they are of older movies:
BEST CHRISTMAS WEEK FAMILY (PG) MOVIES
Dec. 19: Home Alone
Chris Columbus and John Hughes struck gold with this 1990 family comedy about a boy who’s inadvertently left behind when his family flies to France for the holidays, leaving him to defend the home against bungling burglars.
Dec. 20: The Preacher’s Wife
Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston sparkle in this 1996 remake of The Bishop’s Wife that’s considered inferior by movie critics, but is the superior choice for families. In it, an angel is sent to earth to help a troubled minister and his family, but falls in love with the wife in the process. The music is great, the religion and sentiment are there, and it’s all in glorious color.
Dec. 21: Nativity!
This one comes from the U.K., with Martin Freeman starring as a burned-out teacher who hates Christmas because it reminds him of when he was dumped. When he’s saddled with a man-child classroom assistant (Marc Wootton) and is forced to direct the school’s Christmas pageant, major laughs ensue. Plus the kids are so gosh-darn cute (and precocious).
Dec. 22: Scrooged
In this 1988 comic adaptation of the Dickens’ classic, Bill Murray plays a jaded and abrasive TV executive who makes people work on Christmas . . . until he’s haunted by three spirits who teach him the meaning of Christmas.
Dec. 23: The Santa Clause
Forget the two inferior sequels. This 1994 minor classic comedy stands alone, with Tim Allen having to take Santa’s place after his slippery roof accidentally kills the jolly old elf. But life gets complicated when he starts developing Santa characteristics and has to juggle North Pole obligations with being a father to his estranged young son.
Dec. 24: Elf
In this 2003 comedy, Will Ferrell is flat-out hilarious as a human raised by elves at the North Pole who travels to New York in full elf attire to confront the man who might be his real father. There’s lots of silliness here that appeals to all ages, and like the Christmas Day pick it gets better with age.
Dec. 25: A Christmas Story
The king of family holiday comedies is that “you’ll shoot your eye out” montage of growing up in 1940s, in which Ralphie’s obsession with a Red Ryder Range Shot 200 BB Gun loosely ties together Jean Shepherd’s recollections of Christmases past. Peter Billingsley and Darren McGavin star in this episodic classic that’s become so popular it’s shown on TV as a marathon.
Conspicuously absent: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, because it’s rated PG-13 and a little raunchier than these family movies, but a great one to include if you have teenagers.
BEST CHRISTMAS WEEK CLASSIC B&W MOVIES
Dec. 19: Remember the Night
Barbara Stanwyck and Fred McMurray star in this 1940 Preston Sturges comedy-drama about a shoplifter from a poor family background who’s taken home by the prosecuting attorney to spend Christmas. But everyone’s feelings for her complicate what the attorney has to do in the upcoming trial.
Dec. 20: Christmas in Connecticut
Stanwyck stars again as a Martha Stewart-style food writer who has been pretending to be the perfect housewife for years, but has to fake it when her boss invites a returning war hero and himself over for a traditional family Christmas. Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet also star in this 1945 romantic comedy.
Dec. 21: The Bishop’s Wife
An angel (Cary Grant) is sent to earth to help a bishop (David Niven) who is trying to get a new cathedral and has been ignoring his wife (Loretta Young) in the process. Complicating matters: the angel develops feelings for the bishop’s wife in this 1947 comedy-drama-fantasy. But nothing happens, mind you.
Dec. 22: A Christmas Carol (aka Scrooge)
Charles Dickens’ classic novella has been adapted for film dozens of times, but this 1951 version with Alastair Sim as the old miser is the best of the bunch. God bless us everyone!
Dec. 23: Holiday Inn
Forget White Christmas. Holiday Inn is the superior film, and the one that introduced the Irving Berlin song “White Christmas” to the world. It’s a lively triangle story about entertainers Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, who compete for the attentions of one woman first, then another, with most of the picture set at an inn that’s only open on holidays. This 1942 film is a great mixture of laughs, music and sentiment.
Dec. 24: Miracle on 34th Street
Some might rank this one at the top, but until it gets its own TV marathon, Frank Capra’s beloved film will hold its position. Still, this 1947 family comedy-drama is a charmer. Young Natalie Wood plays the daughter of a woman (Maureen O’Hara) who runs the Macy’s Christmas Parade each year. But the practical side her single mother cultivated in her is challenged by the loveable old man (Edmund Gwenn) who steps in to play Santa and is later institutionalized and brought to a hearing because of his claim that he really IS Santa Claus.
Dec. 25: It’s a Wonderful Life
An unselfish man who spent most of his life trying to keep his father’s savings and loan company operational thinks about ending it all after a large amount of money turns up missing. But an angel-in-waiting named Clarence is tasked with showing the man what a wonderful life he really has, and that every good person touches so many others with his/her actions. James Stewart and Donna Reed star in this 1946 classic, with Lionel Barrymore playing the Scrooge-like Potter.
Conspicuously absent: White Christmas, because it’s in color and not as good as Holiday Inn, and Pocketful of Miracles, because it’s also in color and also frankly not as good as the above, though both are still fun.
BEST CHRISTMAS WEEK ANIMATED MOVIES
Dec. 19: Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town
Rankin and Bass were responsible for a string of stop-motion animated Christmas movies, and this 1970 entry is an amiable one, with “mailman” Fred Astaire narrating an origin story about Santa (Mickey Rooney) that includes a Winter Warlock (Keenan Wynn).
Dec. 20: Mickey’s Once upon a Christmas
This three-story 1999 anthology from Disney features a great riff on Groundhog Day in which Huey, Dewey and Louie wish Christmas would come every day, and it does . . . until they learn a valuable lesson. Then there’s a wonderful variation on O. Henry’s “Gift of the Magi” starring Mickey and Minnie as a couple who sell prize possessions so they can buy a present for their significant other. In the third segment, Goofy goes all out to convince his son Max that there really is a Santa.
Dec. 21: The Year without a Santa Claus
Don’t confuse this with the awful live-action remake. In this 1974 Rankin-Bass cartoon, Mickey Rooney returns as the voice of Santa, who has decided to take a vacation . . . until two elves search for a community to show Santa that the Christmas spirit is still strong enough to warrant his making his annual rounds.
Dec. 22: Mickey’s Christmas Carol
This 1983 offering is the best animated adaptation of the Dickens’ story, edging out The Muppet Christmas Carol because the Disney characters are so well cast in their parts. Scrooge McDuck (who else?) plays Scrooge, while Mickey Mouse is his overworked employee Bob Cratchit, Donald Duck is the nephew, and the ghosts are friendlier for youngsters, played by Goofy, Willie the Giant, Pete, and Jiminy Cricket.
Dec. 23: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Sam the Snowman (Burl Ives) tells the familiar story of the reindeer with the bright red nose, who, in offbeat Rankin-Bass fashion, runs into a prospector and an elf that aspires to become a dentist, and they encounter the Abominable Snowman and discover the Island of Misfit Toys. And to think that this wild 1964 tale was inspired by the simple Gene Autry song.
Dec. 24: A Charlie Brown Christmas
This 1965 TV short from Bill Melendez and Charles M. Schulz is a classic as it gets, with the appearance of the “Charlie Brown tree” and Charlie getting dejected because he thinks materialism has overwhelmed us.
Dec. 25: How the Grinch Stole Christmas!
Don’t confuse this original 1966 cartoon with the inferior Jim Carrey remake. Horror icon Boris Karloff is perfect as the narrator and Grinch in this story about a green curmudgeon who dresses up as Santa and steals all the Christmas presents from the village so they can be as bitter as he. But of course, not everything works out the way he planned.
Conspicuously absent: The Nightmare before Christmas, because Tim Burton spends as much time in creepy Halloween Town as he does Christmas Village; The Polar Express, because of the creepy, waxy CGI faces; Arthur Christmas, because of an overly exhuberant militaristic aspect; and Disney’s A Christmas Carol with Jim Carrey because it’s just not as effective as the traditionally animated version with all the House of Mouse characters.