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!”

"Scottish Fold is such an obvious euphemism."

‘A kind of resentful nostalgia’
"No, the problem with fraternities is the problem with authoritarianism in the broad sense. Meaning ..."

‘A kind of resentful nostalgia’

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Michael Pullmann

    Oh, poor Summer. Amy Acker was in one of those last year, and my heart went out to her, too.

  • I vote for Tokyo Godfathers.

  • GDwarf

    My favourite Christmas movie has to be Tokyo Godfathers. It’s often-hilarious, poignant, and strange. It’s kinda what you’d get if Tarantino made a Christmas cartoon, with less blood.

    It’s also very different from most Christmas movies simply because it’s very Japanese. There’s all of one Christian character in the film, and they’re a homeless transvestite. That said, they also provide pretty much the only explanation for all the (hilariously) improbable coincidences that fuel the plot: Opining that it must all be some plan from God.

    For all it’s out-there-ness, the movie also has lots to say about friendship, family (both metaphorical and literal), and doing the right thing. It’s very often heartwarming, which isn’t what you’d expect from a comedy about three self-admitted bums just trying to survive a cold Christmas eve.

  • stardreamer42

    My favorite Christmas movie is the LOTR trilogy. Thank you, Peter Jackson, for giving me something I can associate with the holiday season that doesn’t make me want to hurl. 

  • GDwarf


    I vote for Tokyo Godfathers.

    Hah, great minds think alike, while fools seldom differ, it would seem. :D

  • Mine used to be Lethal Weapon, but Mel Gibson’s current behavior retroactively ruins his movies for me now.

  • JohnB

    My action film Christmas favorite is ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’.

    ‘Tokyo Godfathers’ borrows its plot from another favorite of mine, ‘Three Godfathers’.

  • Asha

    Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather is one of my favorite Christmas movies. Just because I love how it tries to give a good reason for believing in Santa Claus.

  • Bificommander

    The Muppet’s version is my Christmass tradition. Though I would also add the Blackadder Christmass Carol to the tonic list.

  • Vermic

    Got to holla for my boy Scrooged.

  • “Miracle on 34th St” the original. The remake is awful – and the fact that they decided to take the Dutch DP girl who spoke no English and make her … Hispanic?? A store Santa in New York who speaks Spanish??  ¡Dios mío! ¡Es un milagro! They couldn’t have made her Hmong or something? The whole thing is at that level.

  • Nequam

    If people– and a rather sizable contigent of people at that– can declare Die Hard to be their favorite Christmas film, then I nominate, by similar logic, The Lion In Winter. 

    “What shall we hang, the holly or each other?”

  • ProfWombat

    ‘Comfort and Joy’–Bill Forsythe in Glasgow, Scotland.  Funny, wry.  You haven’t seen it.  You should.  

  • B

    I’ve always liked Emmit Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.

  • Kiba

    I’m going to second the Hogfather. I really need to get that on video since the one station here no longer shows it. 

  • Brad

    We watch the Ref every year.  One of our favorite Christmas movies.  

  • Jessica_R

    YES! I *love* The Lion in Winter and didn’t make the seasonal connection until you mentioned it. 

    So many of my faves (Scrooged, Die Hard, Trading Places, The Shop Around the Corner) have been mentioned. So for variety,

    The marvelously mad Mexican Santa Claus, one of my favorite MST3k episodes, and well worth watching uncut, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKS85RT94sk

    Speaking of MST3K, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZyJCV_dyug

    The lovely musical version of Shop Around the Corner, She Loves Me, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WZrcox0WfQ

    And an earworm because I’m terrible, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yon2YuXssvo

  • connorboone

    My father-in-law *loves* those Hallmark Channel movies.  To the point of purchasing them on DVD in bulk.

    He is also incapable of understanding that people have different tastes than he does, so every time I go to visit, he will ask me if I’ve seen this one or that.

    I’ve been saying Die Hard was my favorite Christmas movie since 1998 or so, though.  Does that make me a hipster?

  • pharoute

    Futurama’s Xmas episodes are good too.

    Bad Santa – a heartwarming tale of the redemptive power of love. Really!

  • GDwarf


    The marvelously mad Mexican Santa Claus, one of my favorite MST3k episodes, and well worth watching uncut

    Oh man, that is such a strange movie. Santa’s workshop is more demonic than hell…Not all that hard, admittedly, given that the movie’s version of Satan is about as menacing as a concussed duckling.

  • CrazyF

    No Children of Men? I know it belongs in the second half, but I’ve always thought of it as a great Christmas movie. 

  • Anything with Muppets wins by default Hooray for Muppet Christmas Carol! (Though I like Muppet Treasure Island even more >_> not that that’s holiday appropriate… but how can you not like awesome songs like Cabin Fever? <_<

  • Amaryllis

    Sentimental favorites:

    A Child’s Christmas in Wales (“Go on to the Useless Presents.”)

    The Snowman (“we’re walking in the air, we’re floating on the midnight sky…”)


  • No wonder I disagree with Fred so often.

    Neither Mixed Nuts nor the George C. Scott A Christmas Carol are on these lists.

  • I have kids so I get excited for Christmas movies they watch that I don’t hate.  Of Rankin and Bass our favorites are Jack Frost and then Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  

    My favorite family Christmas movie is Muppet’s Christmas Carol. I watch it all year!

    I am going to consider Scrooged a family friendly movie but I think it will scare my kids so we’ll wait a bit longer.  Maybe.

    Love Actually – agreed

    Hogfather – just starting it for the first time now, previewing before I show the kids.  I think it is going to be too long for their enjoyment, but it looks great.

    Nightmare Before Christmas is great because it is pertinent from Halloween through Christmas.   Same with Edward Scissorhands

    How the Grinch Stole Christmas, yeah even the new(er) one with Jim Carry. I like it and the kids love it and we can make fun of my husband who is just like the Grinch and hates Christmas stuff.  

    I also liked Family Stone and The Holiday but I understand why other people might not. 

    My other favorite thing to do is watch all the Scrubs Christmas episodes but I just love Scrubs.

  • Daughter

    I never got the appeal of  “Elf.” Can someone explain it? I found it to have the same schmaltz that the Hallmark movies tend to have.

  • Ben English

    Die Hard is great.

     I’m kind of a sucker for Home Alone/Home Alone 2 because I grew up with them. 

  • connorboone

    The kid from Home Alone grew up to be the villain from Saw.

  • 1.  Gremlins 2. (Much more Sontag civilized than the original)
    2. Bad Santa
    3.  Godfather Part II (Ehh.  It’s usually on over ther break, and one of the key scenes happens on New Year’s Eve) 
    4. Original Simpsons Christmas Special
    5.  The Grinch (the Cartoon, not the mawkish marketing disgrace live action film with He Who Has Never Been Funny)

    Jamoche:  Out of honest curiosity, what specific thing has Mel Gibson done to turn you off from his classic roles as wrathful, torture obsessed psychopaths? 

  • aunursa

    My favorite is Love, Actually.

    I’m kinda suprised that Home Alone/Home Alone 2 didn’t make the list.

  • LL

    This weekend, I watched “The Borrowers,” which has kind of a Christmas theme (kinda). I believe it’s a remake (from 2011), but still very charming and sweet. Christopher Eccleston and Stephen Fry are the big stars in it. 

  •  Out of honest curiosity, what specific thing has Mel Gibson done to turn you off from his classic roles as wrathful, torture obsessed psychopaths?

    Well, if you’re going to put it that way – he’s crossed the In Character/Out Of Character line.

  • Carstonio

    I never finished Elf because I finally had enough of Will Farrell. I feel embarrassed for his man-child characters, almost like the films are making fun of the mentally disabled. 

  • An atheist’s list of favorite Christmas movies:

    1.  A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott): “For a time, I forgot how much I loved her.  Perhaps I chose to forget.” 

    (Makes me cry every. single. time.  Not least because George C. Scott both looks and sounds a great deal like my wonderful, deceased grandfather.)

    2.  Love Actually: “I’m actually yours.  With love, your Natalie.”

    3.  Mixed Nuts: “I am jot your type!  I am short and my hair is…short.  I am attractive, I suppose I do fit that part of the description.  But I am not young.  I have never been young!” 

    (Quick break–need to put in the DVD RIGHT NOW.)

    4.  A Christmas Carol (Alistair Sim): “I must stand on my head.”

    5.  Muppet Christmas Carol: “It’s a tradition for us to take a little nap!”

  • Viliphied

    I cannot believe no ones mentioned white Christmas. That movie brings me to tears without fail.

  • ReverendRef

     Lots of good suggestions and favorites here; but at my house, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (original version with Boris Karloff and Tony the Tiger) is mandatory watching on Christmas Eve. 

    I used to watch it as a kid on TV back when Christmas specials included the Grinch, Charlie Brown and all those Rankin Bass things (and were aired not more than two weeks before Christmas).  As an adult, I still love it and now we usually watch it between services (since I have to work both — job hazard I guess).

    And how can you not love Cindy Lou Who? 

    “But Santa . . . Why?  Why are you taking our Christmas tree?  Why?”

  • Jessica_R

    On the classic tip, Meet Me in St. Louis is just wonderful, and with its other great seasonal set pieces can be a perfect Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Easter movie too. 
    I’m touch and go with Capra, IAWL has always been too bleak for my tastes, I prefer Meet John Doe with the one two punch of Stanwyck and Cooper. 

    As for the other Christmas-y Gilliam movie, I love The Fisher King to bits. 

    And for other Muppet Christmas specials, I thank a friend very much for tipping me off to The Christmas Toy, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctp3B9fXveg

    And from the guilty pleasure files, the not very good musical version of A Christmas Carol from 1970, yes this song features the lyric “If life were a woman she would be my wife”, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpTxBuo8zno

  • Jessica_R

    AH! The Thin Man! Can’t believe I forgot The Thin Man! 

    “Next person says Merry Christmas to me I’ll kill ’em.” 

    Edit, and The Apartment! Especially on New Year’s Eve.

  • Carstonio

    He Who Has Never Been Funny


    While I love that title for Carrey, his Grinch film was better than I expected, but mostly because of the supporting cast like Tambor and Baranski. Ironic that I liked him best in a drama, The Truman Show.

  • connorboone

    Because I *hate* White Christmas.  It is simply oozing with paternalism (“Imagine a girl in show business who still wants to settle down and have kids!”) and, well, the Minstrel Show song.

    It doesn’t even pass the ‘fair for its day’ mark.

  • Fusina

    For any who are so inclined, I would really appreciate prayers for my cat Hermione. She has not been eating and I had her to the vet this morning for a look see. Vet took blood and urine samples and gave her some subcu fluids as her urine was very dark yellow. Have had a miserable year starting last December when another kitty had to be put to sleep due to renal failure–but she was almost 18, and Hermione is only 5. Not dealing well with the added stress.

    Back to favorite films, Love the Edmund Gwenn “Miracle on 34th Street”, hate “It’s a Wonderful Life” but like James Stewart in other things–most notably “Harvey” which has some of the best advice I’ve heard in a movie–

           “Years ago, my mother used to say to me, she’d say “In this world,
    Elwood, you can be oh
           so so smart, or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I
    was smart… I recommend pleasant. You
           may quote me.”

  • P J Evans

    ps. I HATE your commenting system. WHY must they assume I want to sign in with Facebook???

    I generally post as a guest, because it’s easier than logging in. It usually remembers my name….

  • ohiolibrarian

    The 1951 A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim. I love his Christmas morning antics.

    About Carrey, in addition to The Truman Show, I liked Liar, Liar. I understand that Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is also very good, but I haven’t seen it yet.

  • Mary Kaye

    My husband and I are both roleplayers, and occasionally we amuse ourselves by inviting a roleplaying character to a movie with us.  So one day we took Vikki, my raised-by-aliens SF character, to see the live-action _Grinch_.  After the movie my husband asked her to explain the plot.

    Wow.  I had never realized that it’s a tense story of political intrigue with Cindy Lou Who as the ambitious protagonist and the Grinch as the half-mad older male whom she exploits to overcome her ach-enemy the Mayor.  But it all made perfect sense.  I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to see that movie straight-up….

    (Our other noteworthy experience with this was taking my 1920’s Call of Cthulhu character to see _The Mummy_.   When asked about it afterwards he said, rather shakily, “In my days these were the sights that shattered men’s minds.  In yours they’re…entertainment?”  Which was a perspective I hadn’t really grasped before, having grown up with modern cinema.)

  • Tricksterson

    Creepiest. Santa. EVER!

  • Vermic

    This year I need to watch Santa’s Slay, a slasher film starring wrestler Bill Goldberg as St. Nick.  (It’s apparently a horror-comedy.)  Santa is actually a demon who, having lost a bet with an angel, was forced to spend 1000 years giving toys to kids.  Now the 1000 years are up and he can go back to killing people.  There’s no way this isn’t the best film ever.

  • Actually, I’ve always liked White Christmas for many reasons, including the exchange the guys have about how they would like to date intelligent women.

  • Tricksterson

    I will talk to Bast.

    Love the Original Miracle on 34th St.

    Like both <i< How the Grinch Stole Christmas and The Grinch

    The Sims version of Christmas Carol is my favorite but like the Muppet version too

    My favorite Christmas movie is defintely Nightmare Before Christmas though

    And I love all the old Rankin/Bass claymation Christmas specials.

  • It is even more hilariously horrible than you can imagine.

    Also, Silent Night, Deadly Night is awesome.

  • Katie

    I’m a sucker for any and all sentimental Christmas movies, with the exception of the Hallmark ones.  I have to draw the line somewhere.
    As a side note, Hogfather is on Netflix streaming.