10 Best Christmas Movies that AREN'T on all the lists

Dec 15, 2005

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The Bottom Line There's several Christmas films not on everyone's Best of lists. I've focused on them and mentioned some of the more common ones. Enjoy.

How about some Holiday/Christmas movies that aren’t mentioned on everyone’s top 10 list? Some of these are familiar, some won’t be. No particular order. Enjoy.


March of the Wooden Soldiers remains a very funny, charming, family film’ featuring comedy team Laurel and Hardy at their peak of their comic timing and abilities. It is a very dated film, with old style special effects, musical numbers, corny dialogue and all the rest which is part of the reason it works so well when you watch it today. The pace is fast, the comedy still very funny and it’s a lot of fun to watch this story of the evil Silas Barnaby (played in the best over-acted melodramatic style by Henry Brandon ) who wants to throw the old woman who lives in the shoe out of her home so he can put up a shopping mall (okay not really a mall—but do hiss at this cruel bad character). Laurel and Hardy play Ollie Dee and Stanley Dum who are toy-makers who mean well but keep getting into trouble. They are the original Dumb and Dumber of course. They really mess up an order for Santa Claus and get into trouble—especially when they try to battle against the evil Barnaby!!! There are several fairy-tale and Mother Goose characters shown throughout and those horrible awful BOOGEY MEN !!!!. Costumed performers, puppets and stop motion work are well-used—and some of it looks inventively surreal. I try to watch this classic every year. Discover or re-discover it soon. There’s a decent colorized version on DVD (if you really must watch a color version of the film).


The concept was Tim Burton’s, realized by Director/Animator Henry Sellig (James and the Giant Peach) who updated the George Pal and Ray Harryhausen Puppetoon style to create this highly stylized treat, featuring a couple of memorable songs and a great score by Danny Elfman. It’s about Jack the Pumpkin King’s desire to create a very special Christmas and be as beloved as Santa…. but the ghouls who help him create Halloween really mess up Christmas !!! The new DVD collects Burton’s short films—FrankenWeenie and Vincent too !!! BUY IT.


Accept no substitutes for the heart-warming schmaltzy original. Barbara Stanwyck is radiant playing the 1940s equivalent of a Martha Stewart named Elizabeth Lane. She writes a homespun column supposedly from a farm somewhere in Connecticut that also features a recipe. When her publisher Alexander Yardley (Sidney Greenstreet) decides it’s time to visit the farm there’s a complication. Lane actually writes from a New York City apartment and does not know how to cook!!! She needs a farm, and some cooking lessons.. quick. Oh there’s a romance and plenty of gentle laughs and warmth of course. Perfect film for the holidays and not so over-played that you’ve seen it too many times to appreciate.


Covers several holidays—not just Christmas, but was remade in color as the much inferior White Christmas. This one is a keeper when you are in the mood for the smooth crooning of Bing Crosby and the fancy smooth footwork of Fred Astaire. The plot has Crosby and Astaire as partners who open a resort hotel that puts on seasonally-related musical shows for their guests. There’s romance problems but eventually the stars are paired with Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale. Astaire has a great dance number for the 4th of July show (with firecrackers). There’s a dated and racist blackface number meant to celebrate Abraham Lincoln (that some might take offense to). Crosby sings Easter Parade and White Christmas etc. The kind of overly pleasant romantic musical comedy they do not make any more.


The ultimate cure for all things sentimental and warm. This is a crass, vulgar dark comedy about conmen who play a Santa for rent and his delightful elf they get hired as department store Santa and his helpler and then rob the store blind. These are selfish, greedy criminal characters. Billy Bob Thornton is the unredeemed horny sloppy drunk Santa and Tony Cox plays the mean dwarf Marcus—fed up with his drunk disgusting partner. The film is never ever nice and if you are in the mood that is exactly why it is a delight. It is directed by Terry Zwigoff of CRUMB and GHOST WORLD fame. The ending is not his. Do get the slightly more profane BADDER SANTA DVD if you can to experience the full effect. It’s the movie to put on after you have heard The Dead Kennedy’s F… Christmas a few dozen times.


Another Capra classic this one full of cynicism. It takes place during the holiday season so I’m calling it qualified as Christmas movie. Fired reporter Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck) prints a fake letter from unemployed "John Doe," who threatens suicide in protest of social ills. The public wants more so the paper is forced to rehire Ann and then must hire John Willoughby (Gary Cooper)to impersonate "Doe." Ann and her bosses use John mercilessly as John Doe’s philosophy creates a politicial movement that must be taken seriously which might just lead to a truly tragic conclusion. There’s a fun Walter Brennan performance here as well.


Set in 1903, it revolves around the romantic trials and family life of Esther Smith (Judy Garland) who falls for the boy next door but learns that her father has has taken a job that will uproot the family from St. Louis and land them in New York at the end of the year. Eldest sister Rose (Lucille Bremer) also experiences romantic woes as she awaits a long distance proposal from New York. All the while, the Smith family awaits the arrival of the World's Fair; an event they're convinced will make St. Louis the country's main attraction. It takes place over 4 seasons and includes THE TROLLEY SONG. Vincent Minnelli composes scenes and shots of breathtaking beauty. I call it a Christmas movie because one of the best Christmas movie scenes is from is Judy singing Have Yourself a Merry Christmas.


One of Bob Hope’s best vehicles is this Damon Runyon re-make Hope is the Lemon Drop Kid who accidentally steers gangster Moose Moran's girl away from winning a bet and now the ‘kid’ has gotta come up with $10,000 fast. Good thing it is Christmas time and people are easily persuaded to give their money to worthy causes. Highlight: Marilyn Maxwell’s classic rendition of ‘ Silver Bells’


This bittersweet romantic drama was the third paring of Irene Dunn and Cary Grant. It has a strong Christmas scene so I’ve put it here as a ‘Christmas move’ since despite it flaws I like several things about it. 1- Cary Grant’s performance is among his best. 2- The set-up has Dunne’s character remembering scenes from a troubled marriage because she is going through a record collection. Every record she plays triggers memories… from how the couple meets (listening to records) to good times and tragedies.


The greatest of them all. And if you think it’s a bit too sentimental or too NICE… you need to sit down and watch it again. Yeah there’s plenty of Capra-corn in the thing, but it’s got an edge to it. A true classic that was a flop when it was first released. Jimmy Stewart is superb. My much longer review is here:


There’s several more Christmas movies that I enjoy. A lot of these are on a lot of people’s list (and for good reason too!!). I’ve snuck in some slightly out of the ordinary ones in here too.

The best CHRISTMAS CAROL is the one with Alistair Sims made in 1951 sometimes called SCROOGE, sometimes called A Christmas Carol. The television version with George C. Scott is very good too!!! There’s also the decent musical version with Albert Finney called SCROOGE which is good if your in the right mood.

The original Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, certainly the delightful Christmas Story are all very worthy holiday films. Santa Clause is much better than I expected and works very well. Home Alone is much better than Home Alone 2 and the awful #3 and is set over the Christmas holidays--I've seen it a few times and that's good enough for me, but you might want to view it yet again.

Bill Murray and Carol Kane have made SCROOGED worth watching many times. I was let down by it the first time I saw it because it was such lazy easy obvious satire… but I’ve enjoyed it since.

Other decent but overly sweet Christmas movies include PRANCER and ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS. If you’re under the spell of Christmas –try them out. The original television cartoon specials of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas are wonderful treats. I like the Simpson’s Christmas Special a lot too. Didn’t South Park do a …. I sometimes get nostalgic for the cloying Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman –but after watching them I need a dose of Badder Santa.

If you want to watch some truly awful Christmas movies than get drunk on some spiked egg nog and watch THE CHRISTMAS THAT ALMOST WASN’T, SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS and the Mexican made SANTA CLAUS that features a bargain basement costumed Devil !!!

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is worth watching a couple times (better than you think). There are Christmas scenes in movies like DIE HARD and MERRY CHRISTMAS, MR. LAWRENCE, but they aren’t by any stretch of the imagination Christmas movies. Preston Sturges’ under-appreciated comic gem (but not a masterpiece) CHRISTMAS IN JULY isn’t set during Christmas but you got a guy buying people gifts in it and the title…. Lots of funny lines and situations in this Brewster Millions/Nothing Sacred kind of flick.

SILENT NIGHT, EVIL NIGHT now known as BLACK CHRISTMAS is a decent horror film set around Christmas Time and directed by the guy who gave us CHRISTMAS STORY and PORKYS (aren’t we lucky !!!). There are also several psycho Santa movies. They are all pretty awful, there’s one I’m too lazy to look up right that’s slightly better than they truly bad series of films (5 OF THEM) with the SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT title. The best of the psycho Santa ideas is the segment in the TALES FROM THE CRYPT theatrical movie with Joan Collins which was remade as part of the HBO TALES series that starred Larry Drake.

And to end on a positive note—another enjoyable movie set around Christmas time: TRADING PLACES !!! (you know Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis).

Ho ho ho….

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