It seems like Christmas comes around every year nowadays. And that means that every year you have to sit down and spend a couple solid hours listing the Christmas movies that you’re going to watch, the Christmas movies that you refuse to watch, and then comparing your list with your spouse/significant other/dog and having a lengthy argument about why it’s important that both of you sit down and watch them together instead of separately Netflixing them in different corners of the house. NO I do NOT want to watch A Christmas Story for the 127th time!! Anyway, here are our picks for the best and the worst Christmas Movies. Plan accordingly.
#1) The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings
While I know that there is nothing explicitly Christmas about this movie… it is set in a time before the birth of Jesus and all… I still can’t help but associate it with Christmas. It also takes place in March. Which is weird that the Hobbit calendar has the month of March since this also predates Rome and, subsequently, all months named after the Roman god of War. But it came out in December and, as part of my family’s long-standing tradition of seeing movies on Christmas, I got to see it at Christmas. It was great. Possibly the best of the LotR series and the first to prove that it was possible to bring it to the screen.
#2) Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang
Of the two Shane Black-directed movies starring Robert Downey Jr. set during Christmas, KKBB is the best. It is a wonderful send-up of the hard-boiled detective thriller that, like all great send-ups, simultaneously mocks and celebrates tropes. It makes them fresh and new again. It certainly helps to have a foul-mouthed Val Kilmer chewing the scenery as private detective Gay Parry giving “acting lessons” to fake-actor and real small-time crook Robert Downey Jr. as they unravel a convoluted mess of a murder mystery. It all holds up, but it is worth a repeat viewing or two to actually figure out what the hell happened.
#3) A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott version)
Yes, I do have a completely non-ironic pick on my list. We’re all very shocked. Anyway, it was a tradition of my Dad’s to watch A Christmas Carol every Christmas Eve. I did not grow up loving the movie so much as I just remember it always being a thing. But I have come to really love the classic story, and no rendition has done it as well as the BBC’s 1984 version starring George C. “Patton” Scott, David “Bad Guy from Tron” Warner, and Michael “Bib Fortuna” Carter. Yeah, I just found out that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was played by Jabba’s major domo. That’s pretty cool. Anyway, this is a straight-up Christmas classic that takes its material seriously without being stodgy. Watch it you hipster doofus!
#1-3) A Christmas Story
What, the intro didn’t tip you off on this? Look, there are a lot of awful Christmas movies and you can find them with a pretty quick search. But I either haven’t watched them because they were so self-obviously bad (Fred Claus, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, etc) or I just didn’t form any lasting connection even of hatred to them (Prancer, The Santa Clause 2-whatever). I remember hating Jingle All the Way as a kid, mainly because I couldn’t believe that Arnold couldn’t just beat up Sinbad. Anyway, the one Christmas movie that I really, REALLY hate has always been A Christmas Story. This “classic” is just awful. It is full of awkwardness and uncomfortable interactions between a family that seems to have only a shred of familial love between them. Every character is frankly shitty, from the idiot father “fra-gil-ay” to the disgusting younger brother to the braying and evil-cackling shopping mall elves. What is there to like in this movie? I can’t laugh with Ralphie and I don’t want to spend the movie laughing at him and his working-class family, but that seems to be the only thing the movie wants me to do. And why does TBS insist on marathoning this monstrosity for 24 straight hours? Put on some Bond movies or something!
(A Christmas Story ranked #11 on Rotten Tomatoes list of BEST Christmas movies – Josh)
I have loved Gremlins since childhood and its setting at Christmas time solidifies it as a Christmas movie in my book, though it has little to do with the holiday itself. But everything from the music and the snow covered town and Mrs Deagle’s broken snowman and Corey Feldman dressed as a Christmas tree qualifies this as a holiday classic. And, as someone who loves the creepy and weird, this is a perfect pick over the trite, if not somewhat overrated Nightmare Before Christmas.
#2: It’s A Wonderful Life
It’s just not Christmas without this holiday classic, the story of a desperate man searching for meaning and hope at Christmas and learning that every life matters and no man is poor who has friends. We’ve seen it parodied a million times since, and with good reason. It’s an enduring film with brilliant performances and direction, and a touching story of redemption as we watch
I could tell you all about the tried and true classics like Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Home Alone (which really is my favorite), etc, but instead I’d like to share with you some great Christmas movies you may NOT have picked up or heard of before.
#1) Rare Exports
Like Gremlins, another all-time favorite of mine, and this year’s Krampus, Rare Exports rides the fence between creepy, other-worldly and holiday spirit. Things go awry in a Finnish town when the grave of the original Santa Claus is disturbed in a mining excavation. I won’t tell you any other details to avoid spoilers, just prepare yourself for a good original story and some twists and turns. And reading subtitles. Totally worth it though.
#2) Bad Santa
Another out of the ordinary Christmas movie. A cantankerous mall robbing crook, expertly portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton, is executing his yearly heist only to almost foil it with his reckless behavior, get double crossed by his partner (and girlfriend, played by Lauren Tom aka Amy from Futurama) and somehow end up an endearing anti-hero. Black comedy at it’s best, this is not for the whole family. Although your kids might recognize ‘The Kid’ from another Christmas movie, Unaccompanied Minors.
#3) Love Actually
Numerous intertwined stories of people finding out the love in their lives in modern day London during Christmas time. An all-star cast of British talent, along with some great US actors, discover everything from romantic to brotherly to puppy love in this 2003 flick. I wrote it off for years, opting to re-watch old favorites instead of gambling on something that seemed too mushy and featured the awfulness that is Keira Knightley. But last year I finally took the plunge and found out why it is so often on the ‘Best Christmas Films’ lists. It’s also interesting to see Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor and decade before The Walking Dead & 12 Years a Slave made them both major stars.
What is bad is truly subjective. What seems awful to me could be right up your alley. What I deem as garbage, you call The Beatles. (Had to say it) And a lot of what I enjoy watching at Christmas-time, has actually been deemed rotten by Rotten Tomatoes’ critics and user ratings standards (ie Ernest Saves Christmas, Jingle All The Way, Friday After Next, etc) But for my worst choices I feel we can really say that these films really are considered terrible, all across the board. (And not just a matter of opinion like Dustin and A Christmas Story 😛 )
#1) Saving Christmas
Saving Christmas is a ham fisted attempt to validate uptight Christians’ involvement in modern day Christmas celebrations, trying to bring everything from consumerism, Christmas trees, & hot cocoa into a Biblical context. It’s more of a lecture or after school special than a 3 act story arc. And while the acting wasn’t as bad as I imagined (still not good), the directing, blocking and just about everything else about Saving Christmas is low-rate at best. It’s preachy and boring. I found myself spacing off on several occasions because not only is it bad, it’s not even bad in an entertaining way, like, in a B movie way, it’s just bad. And to make it worse, they add in a dance montage to a Family Force 5 track. *gags* I hate to say it since director Darren Doane created some of my all time favorite music videos throughout the 90s and 00s, but Saving Christmas really is the big stinky turd that won’t flush.
#2) Surviving Christmas
Acting giant James Gandolfini, Hollywood superstar Ben Affleck, comedy Queen Christina Applegate & classic Christmas mom Catherine O’Hara (Home Alone) in a Christmas comedy about a millionaire who pays the family who now lives in his childhood home to let him spend Christmas with them. Sounds like box office gold, right? An instant classic, no? On paper, yes. In reality…. no. Surviving Christmas was a huge flop. Reportedly troubled from the start, (Gandolfini demanded rewrites, good call James!) the film was released years later and just didn’t turn out right. Everything about it falls flat. Try to watch this turd and see if you can survive.