It’s a lot like (my) Christmas.

We all have our own personal movie favorites to watch at Christmas time. For most the preferred film is It’s a Wonderful Life. For me it’s an eclectic mix of expected and unexpected films that fills me with holiday cheer.

So here is my obligatory top ten Christmas movie list. This is not to say that this list summarizes what I consider to be the best movies made about Christmas, but more which movies are the ones I watch every year. So, though Christmas may not be the overall theme, it does play a part in the film somewhere.

Perhaps the time of year abates my testosterone so you won’t find Lethal Weapon, Die Hard or Die Hard 2: Die Ridiculouser on the list. Although Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is a mighty close also-ran.

Nor will you find popular classics like White Christmas or the aforementioned Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra collaboration. In fact, only one film predating the 1990s makes an appearance here… and that movie isn’t really a movie at all.

Probably the most glaring omission would be Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story. Yes, I love the film. However, for some reason, I have not fully revisited it since I initially experienced it as a nascent teenager. Each year I keep threatening to get it on DVD and each year I neglect to do so. Until that time, I can’t really put it on my list of annual viewing choices.

But enough prologue. Let’s begin…

  1. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

    I didn’t grow up watching the original Natalie Wood version. In truth, this Les Mayfield remake was the first incarnation I ever viewed. Though the climax is completely at odds with what are my politics regarding US currency, Richard Attenborough’s positively charming Santa Claus more than makes up for any faults that this film may have. When he talks to the little girl in sign language, it’s absolutely touching.

  2. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

    For some reason, this holiday gem was released in April. A pleasantly unassuming romantic comedy that features wonderful performances by Sandra Bullock — in her first starring role — and Bill Pullman, who graduated from love interest to ass-kicking, fighter-piloting leader of the free world the following summer.

  3. Beauty & the Beast (1991)

    Yes, I know. Technically, this Oscar nominee has absolutely no association with Christmas. However, I’m going to sneak it in on two technicalities. First is that I watch it every year at Christmas time. Second is the fact that the direct-to-video Beauty and the Beast: An Enchanted Christmas purports to take place within the timeline of this film… So there.

  4. Star Trek: Generations (1994)

    Many people revile this film simply in and of itself. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this torch-passing adventure. Think it has no connection to Christmas? Think again. When Captain Jean-Luc Picard disappears into the nexus, he finds himself smack-dab in the middle of a gloriously Dickensian Christmas holiday with the family he’s always wanted.

  5. Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone (2001)

    The first two Harry Potter movies in general, and Chris Columbus in particular, get a bad rap for piling on spectacle in place of story. Ordinarily, I would agree with such sentiment. However, in the case of the first adventure of the boy who lived, the spectacle is the story. Never mind the silly little scenario of the Sorcerer’s Stone and Voldemort regaining his power and the painfully convenient Deus ex machina ending. The real story is the awe-inspiring wonder of the magical world itself. Columbus does a fantastic job of taking the audience on the same thrilling journey of discovery as Harry himself.

  6. Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

    Cry “chick flick” all you want. This amusing adult fairy-tale is full of charm, humor and one of the best fight scenes ever put on film (“It’s a real fight!”). Wrapped beginning and end in Mother Jones’s Turkey Curry Christmas party, it’s a sweet, crass and sassy holiday indulgence whose only real crime is having us believe that Bridget herself is somehow fat.

  7. Love, Actually (2003)

    The first time I saw this film I didn’t really care for it. Most of the storylines still don’t ring true. Some are flat-out ridiculous (the young Brit who heads off to Wisconsin for orgiastic sex with eager, gorgeous American girls is the most blatant example) while others are downright depressing (you know the one I mean). But over the years it’s grown on me, warts and all. The key to the whole flick is the relationship between Thomas Sangster and Liam Neeson. Makes me cry every time (stupid heartwarming story).

  8. Little Women (1994)

    The most obvious “chick flick” on the list. Watch it mainly for the heartwrenching Claire Danes, in fine form as Beth March. When she comes downstairs Christmas evening to find the gift of the charitable Mr. Laurence’s piano, her performance will make you break down in sobs.

  9. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

    Technically not a movie, I have it on my list not just because I watch it every year but because I watch it several times each year. It’s amusing in that it makes little sense and offers some of the most ridiculous dancing this side of a reality TV talent show. But it’s those little foibles that make it so endearing. It would be a crime to exclude it from any Christmas list.

  10. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

    Without question or hyperbole, this is the best adaptation of Charles Dickens’ book that ever was and quite possibly ever will be. I know most people swear by the 1951 version with Alistair Sim as Scrooge. But Michael Caine imbues the man with more necessary humanity than Sim’s grim old man ever does, even after his redemption… and all alongside a bunch of puppets!

Disagree? That’s fine by me. Offer your Christmas favorites below.

  • Mark

    It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
    It’s never fully resonated with me, but the baby boomers just eat this one up. I’m a sucker for Jimmy Stewart though, after all.

    White Christmas (1954)
    Because it just isn’t Christmas without Bing Crosby. And it’s always good to have one Technicolor film on the list.

    Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
    I’m surprised there are no Rankin/Bass classics on the Raines list. Rudolph and all the wonderful sequels (I can’t do without my Heat Miser and company).

    Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979) & Meaning of Life (1983)
    Python classics that poke fun at religion in a heart-warming kinda way.

    Fanny & Alexander (1982)
    My personal favorite (particularly the extended TV version). The opening (or first episode) has a gorgeous Christmas feast that is truly magical.

    A Christmas Story (1983)
    Glaringly omitted on the Raines list. I can’t think of a film more fitting for most people on the holidays–TCM even has a 24 hour marathon devoted to it.

    If I ignore items 4-9, this is a great list. I look forward to seeing Muppet Christmas this year for the first time.

    Happy Holidays!

    • I intended to mention A Christmas Story in my prologue. I have since corrected the matter.

      In regard to the Rankin/Bass classics, as I mentioned with Charlie Brown, they’re not technically movies. Charlie Brown is the only television special that earns recurrent viewings in the same 25 day period, so I made special concessions for its inclusion.

      • Mark

        In terms of the animated classics, I suppose it’s a matter of semantics. TV specials like these can be considered movies, albeit TV movies. Especially in this case, since you or anyone else wouldn’t actually be watching them in a theater anyway. Besides, there’s no use excluding one for the other. Charlie Brown and Rudolph are both wonderful!

        • True enough. But Charlie Brown is the only one I never fail to see.

  • Mark

    Without question or hyperbole, you clearly have not seen Lean’s adaptations of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist.

    • No, but I was referring specifically to “A Christmas Carol” and not Dickens’ other works.

  • Mark

    As for A Christmas Story, you have plenty of opportunities to see it again this year:

    The TCM 24 Hour Marathon:
    http://www.tbs.com/stories/story/0,,163119,00.html

    • Not really, as Kym and I got rid of our cable some many months ago. I’ll have to get it from the library, I suppose.

  • Mark

    Other candidates would be religious epics. Particularly:

    The Ten Commandments (1956)
    As Hitchcock would say: a film is only as good as its villain. Yul Brynner is excellent as Rameses. The old-school effects (like the Red Sea of Jell-O) are charming and its 70mm Technicolor–absolutely beautiful. I find that kids eat this one up too–there is much spectacle to enjoy.

    Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
    Technically a mini-series, but easily the best adaptation of The Gospels. Zeffirelli’s treatment is far more subtly crafted than George Steven’s The Greatest Story Ever Told or Nicholas Ray’s King of Kings (and let’s not even bother with Gibson’s Passion).

    Ben Hur (1959) is a classic and considered a “Tale of the Christ” but it simply doesn’t feel like a Christmas film–much more in the sword-and-sandals category.

    • It’s not remotely a “Tale of the Christ” but Ben-Hur is still a pretty solid film. Nothing Christmas-y about it, though.

      Still have yet to see The Ten Commandments though I have it on DVD. I’m waiting until I can see it on a big screen.

      I just can’t imagine a circumstance where I would watch Jesus of Nazareth.

  • Mark

    Have you seen the ’38 version of A Christmas Carol?
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0029992/

    I look forward to comparing this version to that with Sim as well as the muppet film.

  • Barbara Raines

    May I politely suggest you see the original Miracle on 34th Street with Margaret O’Brian and Maureen O’Hara, as well as the original Little Women with June Allyson and Katharine Hepburn. I’d like your opinion as I have seen both. Prefer the originals, of course. 🙂

    • Margaret O’Brien wasn’t in the original Miracle on 34th Street, which I have seen.

      I haven’t seen the Katherine Hepburn Little Women.