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Tuesday 09 December 2003

Christmas Movies

I just love Christmas. As I said not long ago, I love every aspect of the holiday. And Christmas movies are, for me, a big part of Christmas.

It’s almost impossible to make a bad Christmas movie. A lot of people, apparently, get all stressed out around the holidays because they feel that their real experiences can’t possibly live up to the experiences that the movies tell them they’re supposed to have. I say that no matter what happens on Christmas, it’s still a big win because, after all, it’s Christmas.

Last year, I started making a list of movies that were, at least in my opinion, Christmas movies. This year, I’m finally getting around to putting a list online. This is an incomplete list; if I tried to make it complete, or even something I could with a straight face call ‘complete’, I’d never finish. These are just some of the movies I like to watch around Christmas. If you think I’ve left something out, well, that’s what the comments are for, eh?

And: These are only movies that you have at least a reasonable chance of being able to rent or to see on TV. Some of the (inadvertently) best Christmas movies are those made specifically for television. Unfortunately, though, you can’t generally get hold of those. (That they’re only remembered through a haze of 20 or 30 years might be why they seem so good, actually.)

  • Trading Places
    Possibly the best Christmas movie ever. Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd are at the peak of their comedic powers, but it’s the production design that really does it for me. Trading Places perfectly captures the setting of Christmas.

  • Funny Farm
    Not one of Chevy Chase’s best movies, but a good chunk of it takes place in Vermont around Christmas. The Christmas part is very consciously about the ‘Christmas Season’ as Hollywood portrays it, but then Hollywood portrays it that way because that’s the perfect Christmas.

  • Christmas Vacation
    A better Chevy Chase effort, and a true classic. Like Trading Places, it features a Christmas Disaster as well as Cheer.

  • Home Alone
    This movie is probably overexposed, and Macaulay Culkin annoys a lot of people. That said, it’s another of the all-time classics. The sequels should generally be avoided, though Home Alone 2 is, to the best of my knowledge, the only movie where the crazy architecture of O’Hare’s Terminal 3 is a significant part of the plot.

  • A Christmas Story
    You’ll put your eye out! Another of the all-time classics, this movie has begun to suffer somewhat from over-exposure. One of the minor basic-cable channels tends to run it at least once a day every day in December, and so it has become something you can expect to drift in and out of while flipping through the channels, rather than a rare nugget to be savored. They have recently started producing A Christmas Story merchandise, so you can now buy a ‘collectible figurine’ of ‘The Old Man’. You should take note that this was actually originally produced for theatrical release, and that a widescreen version exists. The new DVDs have the full-frame version; older ones (older than about three months, that is) have the pan-and-scan version.

  • Metropolitan
    An UHB Christmas. This one doesn’t appear on any other Christmas Movie lists I’ve been able to find, but it deserves to be there. Most of the action takes place over a single Christmas vacation, and it involves the interaction of Tom Townsend, an upper-class but impecunious preppie with his moneyed social peers. Aside from the backdrop of Christmas, it’s an interesting look at how wealth and class are not precisely the same things in the U.S.

  • Die Hard II
    Die Hard was probably the first Christmas action movie, but the sequel is more Christmassy somehow. The movie revolves around some cloudily-motivated terrorists taking control of Dulles airport — but they make the mistake of doing so on the night that John McLane’s no-longer-estranged wife is flying back to Washington for the holidays.

  • Bridget Jones’ Diary
    Not precisely a Christmas movie, but important parts of it take place at Christmas. It represents the Family Christmas Disaster pretty well.

  • It’s a Wonderful Life
    Aside from being a good — not great — Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life is a powerful lesson in the costs of copyright not just to the culture but to the copyright-holders. Someone forgot to renew the copyright on this film in 1974, and it passed into the public domain. As one of the few pieces of good cinema that could be played on TV or sold on videotape without paying license fees to anyone, in the 1980s and early 1990s it changed from an obscure and schmaltzy film from the 1940s into an icon of American culture on a level with things like Coca-Cola, Chevrolet, and baseball. As it turns out, though, the copyright on the soundtrack had been renewed, and in 1994 Republic Pictures began threatening to sue; after some legal wrangling which included a farcical attempt on Republic’s part to sue Blockbuster Video (which was, at the time, the parent company of Republic Pictures) for renting unlicensed copies of the movie, the 24-hour showings on public access TV came to an end. It’s much rarer now that it was during its copyright-free period, but the status it attained due to all the exposure it got meant that even with license fees being paid, there’s enough demand that it’s still widely available on TV, DVD, and VHS.

  • Jingle All The Way
    Another Christmas action movie, this time starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad. It’s surprisingly good, though this statement should not be construed to mean that it’s good in any absolute sense.
  • Posted by tino at 11:44 9.12.03
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    I’m not afraid to admit this, but the end of both “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Pride of the Yankees” leave me blubbering like a four year old.

    Posted by: Twonk at December 9, 2003 03:51 PM

    Two other films I like around Christmastime are:

    Posted by: Paul Johnson at December 9, 2003 04:20 PM

    I thought Bad Santa made your list, but I don’t see it. It certainly counts as a Christmas movie.

    Posted by: Nicole at December 10, 2003 09:56 AM