The Most Wonderful Time of the Year... and the Best Christmas Movies

Nov 30, 2006 (Updated Nov 3, 2009)

The Bottom Line Yes, I know "the reason for the season". I just think we take life a bit too seriously sometimes.

The Christmas season is one that's happy for many, and sad for others. Depression is a big issue this time of year for many people who feel alone while so many others are celebrating with family. For that reason, despite the fact that I very well know the reason for the season, I think it's a great time to take things a little lightly at times.

With that in mind, my list of best Christmas films is lighthearted fare, with a couple of films thrown in to boost sagging spirits. After all, so many of us never realize how our own lives touch those around us.

10 - Elf

As much as I needed to leave my longtime home outside of New York City, there's nothing quite like the Christmas season there. Elf captures the flavor of the city very nicely.

Elf is the story of one of Santa's elves. Well, not quite. You see, Buddy was adopted and he doesn't quite fit in with all of the other elves, despite having been raised with them. He sets off to the big city to find his birthfather and along the way has some adventures. It's a nice, family film that's inoffensive and fun viewing for the holiday season.

9 - National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Right about the time I get frustrated at all there is that I "have to" do around the holidays, I can sit down to this film and laugh about it. All of the craziness of the holidays is summed up nicely in this exaggeration of a family who sets out to try to have a perfect holiday celebration, only to find things going wrong at every turn.

We first met the Griswold family when they were traveling to Wally World for a family vacation. Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo are back as the parents, although they have different children here. They also have some quirky family members on their way to visit and the result is a hilarious, almost disastrous holiday that somehow ends up being heartwarming in the end. Definitely for those of us who don't take the holidays all-too seriously.

8 - Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer

As a child this was a favorite of mine during the holidays. Having first aired in 1964, it's been a part of the Christmas season for my entire life.

The story follows the song by the same name fairly well, with a few extra characters thrown in for good measure. Rudolph finds himself an outcast among his fellow reindeer until his glowing nose allows Santa to make his deliveries one particular Christmas Eve.

It's a great film for kids who often feel like the odd one out, as it shows that what makes us different from each other can end up being an asset in the right situation. This is true not just of Rudolph, but also of the characters of Hermey the Elf and the Abominable Snow Creature. The animation is amazing, especially considering it was in the days before computers did so much of the work, and the unique style is something immediately recognizable to all.

7 - Home Alone

Essentially a live-action cartoon in the style of the Warner Brothers shorts I grew up on, Home Alone is the story of what happens when a boy wishes for something and gets it. In the end, he learns what family means, even when they drive you crazy at times.

Kevin McCallister is not having a good Christmas. His family is planning a trip and the house is crazy with aunts, uncles, and cousins. Through all of this, Kevin seems the odd one out and gets teased and picked-on the way one child in some families seem to be singled out. When he wishes he would never see his family again, he wakes up the next morning to find them gone.

What follows is the cartoon as he initially is happy to have the house to himself. he can eat what he wants, watch what he wants on television, go to bed whenever he chooses. However, he begins to miss them. When two burglars attempt to break in, he finds himself defending his home. Meanwhile his mother is frantic to get back home to her son as the film cuts between the two worlds.

Home Alone manages to entertain and deliver a message about what's important during the holiday season. The Holiday Trip doesn't matter to anyone once they realize Kevin is home alone. It's family that's important to us, not all of the decorations or having a "perfect" celebration.

6 - The Nightmare Before Christmas

A Christmas movie as only Tim Burton could do one. If you're familiar with his work, then his gothic look at the holiday through the eyes of a Halloween character who has Santa-envy.

Jack Skellington is the leader of Halloween Town that looks about as you'd expect, like Halloween is forever going on there. He's not satisfied with his lot in life. One day he stumbles onto Christmas Town and decides he could run the place better than Santa. He sets out with his buddies to kidnap Santa and take over, only they snatch the Easter Bunny by mistake.

Yes, The Nightmare Before Christmas is funny, but in a very dark way. It's claymation animation, so the decapitated heads aren't real, but it could be a scary sight to some small ones. We've found it to be hilarious, filled with black humor about the holiday season and traditions so many what to hold as hallowed and untouchable (and I'm not talking about the religious side).

5 - How The Grinch Stole Christmas

First aired in 1966, this is another animated classic that's bee a part of the Christmas season for as long as I remember. It delivers a message of what Christmas is all about in a very subtle way, without being overly preachy.

The Grinch lives high on a mountain above Whoville and he just can't stand all of what happens over Christmas, in particular the noise level. he gets the bright idea that if he can steal all of the decorations, presents, and even the food that Christmas won't come. So he dresses up as Santa and hitches his dog, Max, to a sled an sets out to do this.

What he learns, however, is that Christmas doesn't come from a store. It's in the heart of the people who celebrate it and it comes whether or not the decorations are there. In our modern day, it should also be noted that it comes whether people wish us "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays" and the Grinch makes that point so many years before all the recent hoopla.

4 - A Charlie Brown Christmas

I've always loved the Peanuts characters, perhaps because so many times in my life I felt as if I could identify with Charlie Brown, although I didn't have as cool a dog as Snoopy.

In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown is depressed around the holiday season. The happiness that others around him seem to be feeling just isn't coming to him. Lucy gets the idea that having him direct the Christmas pageant will get him in the holiday mood. Even there, however, things go wrong as he searches for the true meaning of Christmas that will lift his heart.

The message in A Charlie Brown Christmas is strong and very much based in the Christian faith, although non-specific to any denomination. It serves to remind us what Christmas is all about as we ourselves get caught up in shopping, pageants, plays, concerts, and decorating. At the same time, it's fun for kids to watch and enjoy.

3 - Muppet Christmas Carol

The Muppets were always favorite characters of mine, and their take on the Charles Dickens classic is funny and eccentric, in the style of their shows and movies through the years. Live actors mix with the Muppets as naturally as if it were everyday life in a tale that's timeless.

The Muppets portray various characters from the tale, with Kermit and Miss Piggy as Bob Cratchit and his wife. Just about all of your favorites are here as Gonzo narrates the tale as Charles Dickens, Waldorf and Statler appear as two ghosts, and Fozzi the Bear makes an appearance as Fozziwig. There are more favorites making cameo appearances.

If you've enjoyed the show or the movies, you will certainly enjoy Muppet Christmas Carol - don't miss it this holiday season!

2 - It's A Wonderful Life

I have the DVD and watch it every year, usually just after Thanksgiving. And yet, I will also usually tune into It's A Wonderful Life again when it's shown on television. It's a heartwarming story that is something I've always tried to hang onto even in low times. We never realize how our seemingly unimportant lives touch others.

George Bailey is having a bad day, I mean a really bad day. It's Christmas Eve, the bank examiner is there, money is missing, his daughter is getting sick... you get the picture. He's just thinking about throwing himself off a bridge and leaving his family with his life insurance policy when an angel arrives. Clarence is rather quirky and soon gets the idea that showing George just what would have happened to his friends and the town around him if he had never been born.

Although many of us may not have the impact George Bailey has on others' lives, we do touch people in so many ways we never realize it. The film died off with little notoriety back in 1946, but soon grew to be a beloved Christmas classic due to the many airings it received on television during the holiday season. James Stewart is excellent as George Bailey.

1 - Scrooged

My favorite by far of any Christmas film, Scrooged is another take on the Charles Dickens classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. It's somewhat dated from the time in which it was filmed, but at the same time there's a dark comedy to it that is timeless.

Bill Murray is Frank Cross, a network executive fixated on ratings above all else. He treats his employees like garbage and is condescending to all those around him. His network is about to air it's biggest Christmas special in years and he will do just about anything to garner ratings and appease his boss. Into this comes a former mentor who died. Yes, he died. He's a rotted corpse that appears to Frank and tries to warn him to change his ways.

The tale is funny in a dark way, and definitely isn't family-friendly with some rough language. However, for adults who need a good laugh during the holiday season, it's a perfect remedy. it also serves as a reminder that some of us who can't put a pile of presents under the tree are often richer than those who can.

Other Christmas fare worth noting:

Christmas with the Simpsons ~ It's Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown ~ Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) ~ The Polar Express

© 2006 Patti Aliventi

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