Best Christmas Movies of All Time
What makes a Christmas movie? Is it finding the goodness inside your fellow humans? Is it about the story of baby Jesus? Is it about priests and nuns guiding delinquent children? Is it about how to get the hot item before it sells out? Or is it all of the above placing those events sometime in the the last month of the year?
As the debate about whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie will attest- and it is on my list- Christmas movies are an eclectic lot. They can be about everything. But, again, what makes a Christmas movie?
The easy and obvious answer is a movie that takes place during the last month of the year. Like the Christmas Spirit that exists throughout that month there is an energy and excitement that exists every where that adds a dimension to the time and makes the cold bearable. Case in point, a great film “The French Connection” takes place during the same time period but leaks over to the following months. The difference? That spirit is gone. The cold remains. The lights and decorations are gone, replaced by an icy grey.
So for these films they may not all be about being good to your fellow human or do unto others as others would do unto you but rather tackle any number of genres but exude a warmth that could only come from that small window that's open during the holiday season.
10. A Christmas Carol ( 1951)
One cannot have a list of Christmas movies- or Christmas books for that matter- without the quintessential Christmas story Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol on it. A tale about the pit falls for the soul when money becomes more valuable for you then your fellow human beings. Its been made countless of time so why did the 1951 version stand out for me. Old Hollywood knew how to make films. They could have made good butchers because they knew how to trim the fat and get right to the meat of a story. This film comes just under an hour and a half and it doesn't veer off. There are no back stories to any characters or unnecessary relationships as there has been in newer contemporary versions.
The other plus for this adaption is Scrooge himself played deliciously by Alastair Sim. He's seems born to play a soulless businessman but completely believable as a loveable old uncle he turns into at the end. His transformation is what carries the film and not since the Grinch has it been this enjoyable watching a character's heart grow three times too big.
9. Holiday Inn (1942)
Most people don't realize that this was the first film to showcase that iconic Christmas song "White Christmas" and not the film of the same name "White Christmas" (1954) although it was the sequel to "Holiday Inn." But "Holiday Inn" does have the edge over "White Christmas" because the story is alot more heartfelt and original where as "White Christmas" was what it was, a sequel trying to cash in. Also its a lot more fun watching the two leads, titans of their eras, Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire play off one another. The film is dated in some parts but its songs and story have enough warmth to overcome.
8. The Ice Storm (1997)
A film that takes place during Thanksgiving weekend "The Ice Storm" doesn't have your typical holiday themes in it. Instead its about people breaking from typical norms and behaviors as they did in the seventies when this film takes place. This is in starch contrast to "Holiday Inn" where the code of behavior was very much in line with the other films of that era and of what was expected of people as well. But "The Ice Storm" explores people acting out on their feelings, sexual mores and just opening themselves up to be more human. No longer do they suppress natural feelings that were once deemed inappropriate. The myth of Thanksgiving is even challenged at the family dinner table when its reminded that the natives were slaughtered instead of thanked for helping those pilgrims get through their first year in a new land. Christmas time is also a time for growth which "The Ice Storm" captures well.
7. The Bishop's Wife (1947)
This has all of the ingredients of a typical Christmas movie; helping your fellow humans, the wealthy learning that love is more important than greed and baby Jesus. Add to that mix Cary Grant as an angel and David Niven and Loretta Young and you get a story that is still fun to watch no matter how many times you've seen it. There is not much suspense in it but like a glass of red and an active fireplace during a snowstorm it is comforting to sit through.
6. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Please, no one under ten read any further! This was a brilliant concept: what if Santa Claus really did exist and come back to modern times, albeit 1947? The story never gets old. For one thing we got a guy who's trying to keep all kids from being bad so he "bribes?" them with toys at the end of year only find out that they're not so much better as adults. His first clue is when he shows up at the Thanksgiving Day parade, he finds a guy shucking his duties, playing Santa Claus of all things, with a bottle of liquor. It gets worse when the whole idea of Christmas is used for commercial advantage while throwing the "true meaning" of the holiday on the back shelf.
Santa takes matters into his own hands and through the American legal system wins a victory for Christmas and saves his own name. This film has a lot of enjoyable moments. William Frawley, the future Fred Mertz on "I Love Lucy," is perfect as the judge's advisor who advises him not to take the case, to take a vacation, not to touch this case with a ten-foot pole. And to back up his council the judge's grandson won't even talk to him which gets a Frawley "I told you so" nod. And the competition between Macy's and Gimbel's across the street (anyone remember Gimbel's- I do) got so fierce they started sending customers to their competing stores just to save face. This film is not only about whether or not Santa exists or not. It has several layers that keep getting discovered after every viewing.
5. Meet John Doe (1941)
Talking about layers, director Frank Capra's masterpieces always come deep. "Meet John Doe" is no exception. It makes statements on the wealthy, politicians, the media and just your average citizen and without the trumpts and parades to get the point across. The characters are so layered and well defined that the story keeps your attention off what the moral of the story is until you've walked away and had some time to think about it. It deals with some dark subjects but finishes strong with hope for humanity winning out in the end.
4. Die Hard (1988)
Yes, its loud, violent and action packed but it does take place during the office Christmas party. The lights are there along with of terrorists getting their comeuppances. What makes this work is Bruce Willis who plays a New York police officer out of his element and shoes having to save his ex-wife and associates. His dry humor and ingenuity make our time with him a thrilling ride. We also get a Christmas rap from Run DMC along with a sure-fire way to get rid of jet lag. Always a perfect gift.
3. Moonstruck (1987)
The most romantic of Christmas movies. A story of Loretta who falls in love with her fiancé's brother. Who said love wasn't messy? Of course that brother is Nicholas cage who shovels bread in and out of the wall and lost his hand and fiancée. We get everything in this classic from small Italian eateries to Puccini's La Boheme to the reason why married men chase women. The screenplay maybe one of the best originals of all time. We get the cold but nothing like the beginning of the snow fall can warm a potential lover's heart.
2. Shop Around the Corner (1940)
The second most romantic Christmas movie. But with a lot of depth. It covers about everything anyone has delt with during the holidays: whether you have a job or not, new romance, adultery and suicide. But the ending is upbeat and so to is the whole film and the spirit of Christmas and love itself comes out on top in the end.
It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
What can I say? A film I've seen every year and when I think I'm tired of it, if I turn it on, I stick with it. Each moment is real and so too are the characters. No matter when this film took place its depiction of humans dealing with each other is right on. Good is triumphant over the bad and on Christmas to. What a film!