20 holiday favorites: My picks for Christmas movies

On Thursday night, the Hallmark Channel debuts Help for the Holidays, one of its 12 new made-for-TV Christmas movies (yes, there are only 12, it just seems like more).

This one features Summer Glau as “Santa’s elf Christine,” who is “sent on a special assignment to Los Angeles to help a family in need of a wake-up call.”

Here’s a preview, in which Christine helps the patrons of the Maidenhead rediscover the true meaning of Christmas:

(If you haven’t seen the video of the stunt rehearsal for that scene, it’s pretty impressive.)

I think I’ll opt for rewatching Firefly or Serenity or The Sarah Connor Chronicles before taking in Help for the Holidays.

But since it’s that time of year — and since talking/arguing about movies is always fun — here are two lists of my Christmas movie recommendations.

The first list is more on the sappy/sentimental side, while the 10 films in the second list may provide a palate-cleansing tonic for all that sugary snow.

Sappy favorites

1. It’s a Wonderful Life: “We serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast.”

2. A Christmas Story: “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”

3. The Shop Around the Corner: “If you don’t like Miss Novak, I can tell you, you won’t like that girl.”

4. Elf: “There’s no singin’ in the North Pole!”

5. The Muppet Christmas Carol: “Light the lamp, not the rat.”

6. Miracle on 34th Street: “… and a little older than my teeth.”

7. Christmas Vacation: “Squirrel!”

8. We’re No Angels: “Soon as we wash the dishes.”

9. The Bishop’s Wife: “The stamp would certainly be worth saving.”

10. Love, Actually: “Let’s get pissed and watch porn.”

Tonic for holiday sappiness

1. The Ref: “You know what I’m going to get you next Christmas, Mom?”

2. Brazil: “Mistakes? We don’t make mistakes.”

3. Die Hard: “Rumor has it Arafat buys his there.”

4. Gremlins: “Never feed him after midnight.”

5. Bad Santa: “[unprintable]”

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas: “That’s strange, that’s the second toy complaint we’ve had.”

7. The Hudsucker Proxy: “You know … for the kids!”

8. Trading Places: “Feeling good, Louis!”

9. The Long Kiss Goodnight: “I would have been here sooner, but I was thinkin’ up that ‘ham on rye’ line.”

10. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: “OK, everyone who hates Harry raise your hand!”

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  • Isabel C.

    Love the Grinch–the real version. Mom used to show that to the students during the lead up to vacation, which meant my sister and I watched it. I can probably sing at least two of the songs from memory:  “Trim Up the Tree” trips me up with a frillion Seussian words.

    I like Miracle on 34th Street (which I almost typed as Nightmare on 34th Street, the worst/best crossover ever) and thought that the “no I am multilingual and therefore Santa” scene involved sign language in the remake? But I could be wrong. Also, Netflix keeps deceiving me by having the crappy made-for-TV-version rather than the remake. Every year, I overcome my inner curmudgeon enough to admit that I want to watch Miracle, every year I queue it up and then am all “…wait, but wasn’t there another scene? But…oh, for fuck’s sake, Netflix!”

    Also, good thoughts for kitty.

  • Carstonio

    Yes, the Chuck Jones and Boris Karloff version of the Grinch is still the best video one. The Jones studio also did a good job with Horton Hears a Who two years later – the Wickersham brothers perform a song that more strongly brings out the story’s anti-McCarthyism allegory.

  • fraser

     There’s two remakes. One on TV from the seventies, and the big-screen one from the 199os.

  • Vermic

    In the words of Crow T. Robot, “Do you think it’s a good idea to jingle all the way?”

    I know that “Nightmare Before Christmas” is both a Halloween movie and a Christmas movie, but I mentally file it under Halloween.  Maybe there are people who do the opposite and consider it mainly a Christmas film.

    Have we brought up “Year Without a Santa Claus” yet?  Snow Miser and Heat Miser need their props.

  • Lori


    Have we brought up “Year Without a Santa Claus” yet?  Snow Miser and Heat Miser need their props.  

    That’s my favorite of the Rankin Bass specials because I love Snow Miser and Heat Miser.  They’re second only to the Bumble in my affections. (YWASC ranks higher overall than Rudolph because Kris Kringle is a good guy, unlike the Rudolph Santa who is a bigot and a jerk.)

  • Carstonio

    Recently I encountered a viewpoint I hadn’t considered – apparently the US imagery of Christmas is northist because it excludes states that don’t get snow in December. The person accused the Heat Miser of being a token, and an anti-winter one at that.

  • Michael Pullmann

     Some people really have too much time on their hands.

  • Lliira


    While it is annoying that in Florida we are stuck with “winter” and “summer” and “spring” and “fall” clothing, and people seem constitutionally incapable of living where we live rather than pretending we live somewhere we can have green lawns without literally sinking the state, it is hardly repression that this Winter Solstice festival which was invented in northern climates acts like a Winter Solstice festival which was invented in northern climates.

    Also lots of Southern states very often get snow in December. Most of them, actually.

    And until that monument to the Confederacy is taken down from the government building I got married in (by a black woman, which was nice), I don’t want to hear any junk about “northism” from any fellow Southerners.

  • Carstonio

     “Northism” was a term that I coined because I share your disdain for the complaint. My advice to Floridians? Make up your own Christmas traditions. Have Santa dress like Jimmy Buffett and have him deliver presents on a surfboard pulled by sharks. Enjoy margaritas and mai tais instead of hot chocolate and spiced cider. The Australians do all right spending Christmas Day at the beach.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I’ve seen saguaros festooned with Wintermas lights in Arizona.  It’s pretty awesome.  No snow required. 

  • Tricksterson

    Sort, of, I filed them under general Rankin/bass.  But yeah, Snow and Heat do deserve special kudoes

  • nemryn

    I usually split the difference and watch it at Thanksgiving.

  • Liralen

     My favorite Christmas movie is “Joyeux Noel” ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0424205/ ) which is loosely based on true stories of unofficial Christmas truces declared by the men in the trenches during WWI.  The movie itself provides the antidote for too much saccharine, not the least of which are the opening scenes, where school children recite war propaganda.

  • fraser

     Oh yes, that was good.

  • eriksuperman

    Haha, why aren’t there any “favorite” votes for Eyes Wide Shut?  THAT’S a
    Christmas movie, in the loosest sense of the word, lol.  Actually,
    while I don’t like Hallmark movies very much, I DO see a lot of my
    favorites on the lists above, both “Sappy” and “Tonic”.  I like Elf as
    much as the next guy, and have LOVED Trading Places as long as I can
    remember.  I also like that a lot of these movies are showing on TV this
    season.  I got the Hopper a few months ago, and while I work late most
    nights at DISH, the Hopper is more than prepared to record anything I
    need.  Hopper can store up to 2,000 hours on the DVR, so I just flip
    through the guide and record as many movies as I want.  I lost our box
    of holiday movies when we moved earlier this year, but I’ll have them
    all back, and be able to store them all until next year!

  • fraser

    As a trivia note, the debut of 12 Dates of Christmas this month means we have three TV Christmas movies with a Groundhog Day do-over theme (Christmas Every Day and Christmas Do-Over being the predecessors). I have a feeling we’ll see more as the years roll by.

  • fraser

    My nomination for worst Christmas film: It Nearly Wasn’t Christmas from the late 1980s. Treacly even for Christmas (it’s one of those Santa Loses Hope In People stories) and the guy playing the goofy elf makes me want to self-defenestrate.

  • rizzo

    A Christmas Story: “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”
    nah, the best line is “Yippee, a Zeppelin!”

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross


    A Christmas Story: “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.”

    You know, in the movie, he explains that he’d had to drink Ovaltine for a month to get the decoder ring.

    In the book, he finds an empty Ovaltine Jar on his way home from school, and thus gains his admission to Little Orphan Annie club through “fraudulent” means.  In the book, it’s cosmic irony that the message turns out to be a crummy advertisement.


    THey just made a sequel to A Christmas Story, btw. Anyone have any salt?  I feel the need to salt the earth somewhere.

  • http://whitepaintedwoman.wordpress.com/ Mary Contrary

    I can happily watch Winnie-the-Pooh Christmas specials with my son, but once he goes to bed, on goes ‘Scrooge’ (yes, that 1970 version of ‘A Christmas Carol). Albert Finney (Scrooge) and Alec Guinness (Marley) blow the socks off anyone else who tried the same, before or since.

    Oh, and where’s ‘The Polar Express’, hmmm?

  • Lori


    Oh, and where’s ‘The Polar Express’, hmmm?   

    Deep in the Uncanny Valley giving me a full bodies wiggins, that’s where.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Really, Fred? Elf?

    They put this on at work today, and I found myself begging my wife to find a way to euthenize me via email.

    Seriously, is there someone I can blame for modern comedy’s decision to center itself around adult men who act like toddlers with hypergonadism? Preferably for values of “blame”  approaching “punch”?

    Also, they sing ‘Baby it’s cold outside’ which is a strike against it straight up, (even if they do frame it with the “sexual-liberality-requires-plausible-deniability-as-cover” angle, which is at least the lesser of the all-terribly-problematic interpretations of that song)

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    Shouldn’t a few of the many many film versions of Neil Gaiman’s short story “Nicholas Was” be on this list?


  • Lliira

    Are there any Christmas movies which center around women? Miracle on 34th Street comes closest. And that is the only one I can think of.

  • Tricksterson

    Well, Year Without A Santa Claus has Mrs Claus consider stepping in as Santa and she’s actually the one who sends out the elves and fixes the problem by bringing in Mother Nature to set the Misers straight.  Other than that there are a couple of bad movies with Jenny McCarthy as Santa’s daughter and one or two Christmas Carol revisions with women in the Scrooge role.

  • Tricksterson

    Oh, and there was a semi-decent one with Dolly Parton playing, basically, herself by another name, a big name country star who decides to get away from it all for the holidays and goes to a small town where she gets tangled up with a wicked witch.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    I’ve seen that one!  It’s hilarious but also kinda not-bad.

    Also, there are several versions of A Christmas Carol where Scrooge is a woman:

    Susan Lucci:

    Cicely Tyson:

    Tori Spelling:

    Vanessa Williams:

    Emmanuelle Vaugier:

  • EllieMurasaki

    The Barbie version, too.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    Thank you for reminding me–I’ve never seen it.  Just requested it from the library.

    Yep, my holiday season is a fantastical journey that never ends…

  • GDwarf


    Are there any Christmas movies which center around women? Miracle on
    34th Street comes closest. And that is the only one I can think of.

    Well, two of the three protagonists in Tokyo Godfathers are women, as are at least half of the characters they meet.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    In case you haven’t seen the “Hogfather” mini-series adaptation, it has a female protagonist, though it’s a bit of an ensemble cast.

    Alas, that’s all I can think of so far.

  • http://twitter.com/AbelUndercity Abel Undercity

    Captain: What does that mean?
    Amy: It’s Christmas!

    (cue theme music)

  • reynard61

    Kudos to all who mentioned Albert Finney’s Scrooge! Where else can you hear the line: “See them on their indolent asses, drinking from their indolent glasses…”

    My favorite Rankin-Bass Christmas show is probably the little-known (and rather misleadingly titled) The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow. I was going through some tough times when I first saw it (in the late ’70s) and Lucas’ predicament reminded me that there were those who were a lot worse off than I was.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    I would mention Tokyo Godfathers, but several people already have.

    Here’s a preview, in which Christine helps the patrons of the Maidenhead rediscover the true meaning of Christmas:

    This scene reminded me of something The Bedlam Bards said in a live performance of their filk album “On The Drift”.  They said, “We absolutely promise that we did not embed subliminal messages in our music that will compel you to walk into the Fox Network headquarters, say ‘Miranda’, and start beating up random executives.”  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Iain-King/514746942 Iain King

    I commend you on Die Hard, Trading Places and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.  I seek only to add: Lethal Weapon