I know, I know – everyone is doing a “Best Christmas Movies” list right now. The thing is that this list is not the “best” anything. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on film making or acting or screenwriting. This is merely a list of my favorite holiday movies that I will watch pretty much any time they are on, if I don’t own them on DVD already.
There won’t be any surprises here, I’m sure – anyone who knows me can probably name my top two or three Christmas films without hesitation. Nevertheless, here is my personal Top 10 Favorite Holiday Movies!
10. Last Holiday This cute little film stars Queen Latifah as a meek and mild salesperson in a department store. She lets people push her around and keeps a secret “Possibilities” notebook full of all the things she would do if she could. After a bump on the head at work, a visit to the ER, and a terminal diagnosis, she decides to live what’s left of her life to the fullest. In the process, she changes the lives of the people she meets. It’s a cute movie and I love Queen in it – Also includes LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Giancarlo Esposito, and Alicia Witt.
9. While You Were Sleeping Every single character in this movie is adorable and the relationships are sweet and sad and fun. Lucy (Sandra Bullock) is a lonely Chicago Transit token collector who has developed a secret crush on Peter (Peter Gallagher), a commuter she has never met. He is mugged and pushed onto the tracks on Christmas Day and Lucy saves his life, although he remains in a coma. Through a misunderstanding at the hospital, his family thinks that Lucy is Peter’s fiancee and every attempt to tell the truth is thwarted. The love that builds between Lucy and Peter’s family – especially with his brother, Jack (Bill Pullman) – is so pure and sweet I fall in love with them all, too.
8. The Family Stone This movie is full of star power and is a fun ensemble story. With Diane Keaton, Craig T. Nelson, Dermot Mulroney, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Luke Wilson you know you’re in for a treat. The Stone Family is gathering at Christmas, with a host of interesting characters, including Dermot Mulroney’s girlfriend that only Rachel McAdams has met – and doesn’t like. She is awkward, uptight, and always seems to say the wrong thing. There is a dinner scene that I actually have to skip through because it’s very painful to watch, where she keeps trying to explain what she means and it just gets worse every time she opens her mouth. It’s funny and sad and has great character development and I watch it anytime it’s on.
7. Die Hard No Christmas movie list is complete without this gem, and mine is no different. You have Bruce Willis, the late and amazing Alan Rickman, explosions and some of the best one-liners out there – you can’t go wrong! NYPD detective John McClane comes out to LA to reconcile with his estranged corporate wife and happens to arrive at her work Christmas party at the same time as a band of international terrorists led by the delightful Hans Gruber (Rickman). Yes, there is lots of violence, gruesome deaths, and blood – lots of blood – so it’s not necessarily for the youngsters. But I still love it.
6. Elf This is one of the most family-friendly films that is loved by all ages. Will Ferrell gets to show off his physical comedy and is delightful (there is no other word) as Buddy, a human who was raised as an elf at the North Pole, and has come to New York City to meet his biological father. If there was ever a film that embodied the joy and wonder of the Christmas season, this one is it! Lots of laughs, adorable moments (Zooey Deschanel wins a lot of these) and a nice little lesson about Christmas spirit.
5. Scrooged This isn’t as family-friendly as Elf but I still love it! A retelling of A Christmas Carol where a television executive is airing an extravagant live production of A Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve, Frank Cross (Bill Murray) gives plenty of examples of what a selfish, cheap, insensitive “Scrooge” he is. The iterations of the three spirits are a lot of fun – David Johansen as the gross taxi driver of Christmas Past and Carol Kane as a sadistic fairy of Christmas Present – and there are a lot of physical gags and terrific lines. Bobcat Goldthwaite, the appealing Karen Allen and the talented Alfre Woodard are just some of the other big names here. Not a huge fan of the “breaking the fourth wall” at the end, but the rest of the movie is worth it!
4. The Year Without a Santa Claus If you don’t know this stop-motion classic, than what did you even do with your childhood? There are a lot of Ranking and Bass holiday shows out there, but this one is the best, in my opinion. Micky Rooney, of course, plays the jolly old elf who has a cold and is saddened by the lack of Christmas spirit in the world. He decides to take the year off. A couple of goofy elves, Jingle and Jangle, try to help and end up making a bigger mess of things. Mrs. Claus has to come clean things up and the scene with the half-brothers Cold Miser and Heat Miser is the BEST. I own this and will watch it whenever the mood strikes me. (Yes, I AM a giant child.)
3. The Holiday I can’t think of another movie with Cameron Diaz where she is as adorable and endearing. Her chemistry with the dreamy Jude Law is amazing and you can’t go wrong with Kate Winslet and Jack Black, who also are very believable together. Two women on opposite sides of the world are both dealing with heartbreak at the holidays and decide to swap houses. Iris (Winslet) takes a vacation from Surrey, England to a mansion in sunny LA while Amanda (Diaz) travels to Surrey and sets up in Iris’s charming and tiny country cottage. Iris’s brother shows up at the cottage, drunk, not knowing his sister has left, and the sparks fly with Amanda. Iris quickly makes friends in LA and learns that she is worth so much more than she ever thought, as she imparts this same wisdom to the people around her. Such a sweet, charming story and I love the characters and the stories.
2. Love, Actually Now, I know there is controversy about this film and that people either love it or hate it with a burning passion. I, obviously, LOVE it. Another ensemble cast including Hugh Grant, Laura Linney, Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Martin Freeman, Andrew Lincoln and many other names you’d recognize, there are several stories that slightly intertwine and each one is a love story on its own. There is something for everyone – a love triangle, a widower and his stepson, an older married couple, a single woman devoted to her ill brother, an aging rock star, a chaste couple who meet as porn stand-ins, a single Prime Minister (and a sleazy American President), and so much more. I love the character development, the laughs thrown in to counteract the despair, and, above all, the message of hope that permeates the whole thing. I’m a sap, what can I say?
1. It’s A Wonderful Life This is the ultimate holiday film whose appeal has stood the test of time. Directed by Frank Capra, this 1946 movie received 6 Oscar nominations, winning only for Technical Achievement. I cry at the end every time – sometimes even just thinking of Harry Bailey’s line near the end is enough to start the waterworks. There is so much comedy and heartbreak here. James Stewart and Donna Reed play perfectly together as George and Mary Bailey. The evil Mr. Potter gets me riled up every time, shaking my fist at the screen and wondering when he will get his comeuppance. I am in love with the idea that we have no idea how many lives we have touched and that each one of us is valuable, even if we don’t see it, ourselves. I will never get tired of this film.
The thing about this list, for me, is that these movies are uplifting at any time of year. Whenever the ugliness in the world around me starts to get me down, I can pull out one or more of these films to restore my faith in humanity. I hope some of them do the same for you.