20 holiday favorites: My picks for Christmas movies

20 holiday favorites: My picks for Christmas movies December 10, 2012

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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  • Tricksterson

    Oh, and A Christmas Story

  • DorothyD

    I can only take Carrey in limited doses – but Truman Show and A Series of Unfortunate Events I’ve liked enough to watch several times. Eternal Sunshine I’ve only seen once, when it first came out, and remember thinking I should watch it again now that I have a clue what’s going on. And besides Carrey, there’s Kate Winslet, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunst. 

  • A Series of Unfortunate Events is worth it merely for the commentary with “Lemony Snicket.”

    “Oh, and he has friends.  Well-armed friends.”

  • Kaleberg

    My favorite is probably Christmas in Connecticut. Barbara Stanwyck is magnificent as the sentimental home columnist supposedly living and writing of her Martha Stewartian lifestyle while actually living in a Manhattan apartment. She winds up having to host a recovering soldier – This was set during the war. – and her publisher at her farmhouse in Connecticut. There is no such farmhouse, and, by the way, she cannot cook. It’s definitely the funniest Christmas movie around.

    Another great movie is The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. It’s based by the book by L. Frank Baum, the man behind The Wizard of Oz, and it is fascinatingly and refreshingly pagan while reaffirming much of what is important about Christmas. It was made by a Japanese studio which added, as best we can tell, a few non-Christian touches of their own. It’s a little tricky to find, but definitely worth it.

  • spinetingler

    “Holiday Inn” 

  • Keulan

     That clip from Serenity made me think of this: http://xkcd.com/311/

    Also, two Christmas movies I don’t think have been mentioned yet- Jingle All the Way  and Trapped in Paradise.

  • Revelshade

    A second vote for the Richard Donner/George Scott version of A Christmas Carol! An unusually faithful adaptation and an exceptional cast.

  • depizan

    Ah yes, Jingle All the Way.

    I don’t know that it’s a great movie (or even a good movie), but it was a hit with the staff of the bookstore I worked at the year it came out, and I know other retail workers (or former retail workers) who like it. It captures the consumer hell that is retail Christmas rather well, and sometimes you need to laugh at the stuff that’s adding stress to your life.

  • Lori

    “Light the lamp, not the rat.”  

    I love this line. I’m not entirely sure why, but it’s my favorite little bit of that movie, which is one of my favorite version of the story. Muppets and Michael Caine, what not to like?

  • Albanaeon

    It’s a toss up between “Muppet Christmas Carol” and “A Christmas Story” as to my favorite.

    After that “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (yes the live action one, I liked the Grinch having some pretty reasonable reasons for not liking Christmas).

    Patrick Stewart’s “A Christmas Carol” is my personal favorite version as he pulls off both grouchy and joyful very well.

    “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” to round it out, though its only briefly about Christmas, but my list of Christmas movies I like isn’t all that long  and I can barely stand “Elf” and its the only other Christmas Movie we’ve got, so there you go.


  • DorothyD

    A Series of Unfortunate Events is worth it merely for the commentary with “Lemony Snicket.”

    What, extra material I did not know about? 
    “You accidentally pointed a camera in the direction
    of actors who were reciting dialog about terrible things? I find that
    very hard to believe even from the likes of Paramount
    Pictures…Oh this is dreadful…”

  • Lori

    5.  The Grinch (the Cartoon, not the mawkish marketing disgrace live action film with He Who Has Never Been Funny)  

    I love the (real) Grinch so much*. My mom is always a little surprised by how much I adore it because she vividly remembers the first time I saw it. I cried because the Grinch was so mean to Max and mom had to do some quick talking to reassure me that it would all be OK . A few years back she told me that she still felt a little bad about having apparently allowed me to watch it a year too soon. I assured her that she needn’t worry about it any more.

    *That other thing with the same name, starring the unfunny guy doing his unfunny schtick,  is at the top of my list of movies whose very existence I bitterly resent. 

    Also relevant—#2 on the bitter resentment list is Jack Reacher, which opens the 21st. Don’t even get me started.

  • Lori

    Best wishes for your kitty.

  • EllieMurasaki

    “A Very Supernatural Christmas”. Even if the writers did say Jesus was born in the fall.

  • Trixie_Belden

    I’m hoping  Hermione will be OK

  • Trixie_Belden

    Yes, the (real) Grinch is a favorite even though I found the meanness to Max kind of hard to take and watched anxiously to see if he ended up OK..

    I also have a fondness for Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer>  The goofy stop-action animation was oddly endearing

  • Bibliotrope

    A vote here for “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”. Hilariously slapstick, but at the same time oddly very true to the Dickens. Magoo was well cast in that role — the literal nearsightedness of Magoo emphasizes the moral nearsightedness of (the pre-conversion) Scrooge.  And then, of course, there’s the Cratchits and their razzleberry dressing! “We’ll have the Lord’s bright blessing/And knowing we’re together…” always makes me cry.

  • That Devil really needs to get his shit together.  Also, shouldn’t Merlin be working for him and not the other side?

  • “Waiter, will you serve the nuts? I mean, will you serve the guests the nuts?”

  • Fusina

     Thank you for talking to Bast. Highly appropriate as Hermione has a lot of Egyptian Mau in her (looks, conformation, voice–everything but a pedigree, really) so of all deities you could speak to, Bast is the One.

    And yes on the Rankin and Bass. Rudolph, Frosty, pretty much anything made in the sixties I think. And Charlie Brown Christmas–love the music from it.

    Added the Hogfather back when it came out on TV, so got it when it became available, which was good since they don’t show it anymore. Also watch Tinman round about now as that was first shown during Christmas season.

    And for my new favorite Christmas movie, that I haven’t even seen yet, The Hobbit, part 1! Four more days (or thereabouts)!!!!!

  •  Allow me to share my perspective with you, re: Mel.  It might make you feel better.

    Mel Gibson has lost his damn mind.  Of this there is no doubt.  However, I maintain that Mel’s contributions to our culture as one of the world’s finest purveyors of onscreen violence (seriously; he’s in the top 10) mustn’t be ignored, but more than that, he has a free pass with me — a Roman Polanski-level free pass, though I sincerely hope he doesn’t abuse it.  The reason he has this free pass is because he starred in a relatively little-known movie called “Conspiracy Theory.”  In it, there’s a scene where Patrick Stewart has him tied to a chair and is in his face asking him what he knows.  We’ve all seen this scene in dozens of movies, and while I am not the sort to shout warnings and instructions to movie characters*, when this scene inevitably lays itself out in front of me, I’m often compelled to say just one thing: “Bite his fucking nose off.”  They never do.  Except Mel.  Patrick Stewart has him doped up on truth serum and is getting up right in his grill, and Mel bites his fucking nose off and escapes.  Patrick Stewart even spends the rest of the movie with a hilarious bandage over his nose.

    That right there earned Mr. Gibson his free pass.  He listened to me.

    *I used to tell this story “I don’t talk over movies,” but MST3k ruined my brain for that.

  • The Guest Who Posts

     I am terribly sorry, and I hope your cat makes a full recovery.

  • The Guest Who Posts

    “Now, some of you may say that ‘Die Hard’ isn’t a Christmas movie. To you, I have one thing to say: FUCK YOU IT’S ‘DIE HARD’!” – the Nostalgia Critic

    While I love the novel “Hogfather”, I didn’t think the TV adaptation was very memorable. It was OK, but I don’t have any particular desire to see it again.

  •  A Christmas Story – the movie endures, I believe, because of a combination of Darren McGavin’s amazing performance as the Old Man, and Jean Sheppard’s narration.  Peter Billingsly was a cute kid, and no discounting his enthusiasm, but he really was just a child actor.  On the other hand, listening to the Old Man’s obscene tirades are an excellent way to collect words you can use if you intend to stop using actual curse words.

    MST3k – There are two Christmas episodes, and the advent of Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic has given us even more Christmas material, such as Rifftrax presentations of “The Star Wars Holiday Special” and “Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny,” plus a whole slew of Christmas-themed shorts, and CT’s re-riff of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.”  I know no better cure for seasonal depression than Mike Nelson.

    I’m also another vote for “The Ref,” “Die Hard” and “Gremlins.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Michael Pullmann

     Oh, good. It’s not just me who prefers the version in their head.

    One of my all-time favorite Christmas books, though.

  • Ross Thompson

    “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??

    I recall her being deaf in the remake; not that knowing sign language is that impressive, either, but it’s better than the nation’s second language.

  • 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.

  • fraser

     I’ve seen it and yes.

  • fraser

    Real Ghostbuster’ Xmas Marks the Spot is a hoot–the Ghostbusters wind up going back in time, busting the Three Spirits and then having to put right what went wrong.

  • fraser

     I love the Finney musical version myself (particularly the glimpse of Scrooge in the netherworld in Christmas Future). Meet John Doe gets overly sappy for me.

  • fraser

     For Christmas horror Rare Exports is a hoot. Particularly since the mercenary let’s-make-money conclusion shows nobody’s learned any lessons.

  • fraser

     I’ve seen that, but I much prefer Rankin-Bass’s version of the story.

  • fraser

     A hand for each hand is the way it was planned/Why won’t my fingers reach?
    A million grains of sand in the world/Why such a lonely beach?”
    That song has the same effect on me.

  • fraser

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

  • Kaleberg

    Sounds neat, I’ll check it out this Christmas. There’s always room for more Christmas movies.
    – K

  • 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.

  • 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

     Oh yes, that was good.

  • 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.

  • Tricksterson

    Whay, Merlin has usually been associated with, more or less, white magic, espcially the stupider versions.  In fact Merlin was the fly in the ointment for me as regarding the whole “magic is evil” trope back when i was around six or seven.

  • Tricksterson

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

  • rizzo

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

  • @Vermic:disqus I have a possibly unreasoning fondness for the scene where the young heroes need to slip through a broken window, and he’s too bashful to place his hands in the necessary position to help her through, so she says “Am I going to have to make every first move in this relationship?” then grabs his hands and places them herself.

  • Also, Silent Night, Deadly Night is awesome.

    Ahem. Garbage day!  That is all.