Author’s note: if you know of any terrific winter holiday movies that don’t revolve around Christmas, please let me know. I’m always glad to expand my horizons.
#12: Miracle on 34th Street (1947): A classic by any yardstick. Doris (Maureen O’Hara, that most beautiful of women), plays a divorcée so damaged, she believes in nothing. Yet her boyfriend John Payne, plus a mysterious man who calls himself Kris Kringle, and her own child Susan teach Doris the folly of unbelief. Watch and try to be unmoved.
#11: While You Were Sleeping One of those movies that validates the existence of both Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman as movie stars. A charming romance about a loser (Bullock) who lets her cat eat out of her bowl, because she hasn’t Found the Right Man. Except in this case, the Right Man includes the Right Surrogate Family. Try and resist this one, you stone-faced troll.
#10: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Animated version) A movie that affected me deeply as a four-year-old. How would the Whos down in Whoville respond to the theft of Christmas? WHAT would they do? Let me tell you, the response (to my secular toy-cherishing four year old heart) was a surprise.
#9: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer A stop-motion animated feature from the primordial mists. Herbie is a transparently gay elf, though he never asks or tells. There’s an amazing amount of sexism, re: the “women and children,” as the frozen emasculated narrator explains. Still, the bunnies do a cute little palms-up dance while the principals sing. Besides, I’ve always had a soft spot for Yukon Cornelius.
#8: Lethal Weapon Yes, I remember the days before Mel was a scary zealot/anti-semite who called a police officer “Sugar ___”. This was 1987, when I was 18 years old and Mel’s agony, as a widowed detective THIS CLOSE to eating a bullet really meant something to me. Besides, it’s a fun cop story, with Mel, Danny Glover and Gary Busey at their best.
#7: The Vicar of Dibley: Christmas Okay, this is just a shameless attempt to get you to watch the entire BBC series. But the Christmas special is really good, too!
#6: Bad Santa: I dare you not to laugh. The black elf (played by Tony Cox) is reduced to wearing white plastic elf ears, because apparently black-toned plastic elf ears aren’t in wide circulation. Santa (Billy Bob Thornton) is a safecracker at the end of his rope. And then he meets a boy…
#5: Christmas Vacation: Okay, I admit it. I am not a huge fan of Chevy Chase. Having said that … everything Randy Quaid says and does in this movie makes me laugh. Especially the huge trouser snake, bag of Ol’Roy Dog Food, and visible dickey.
#4: It’s A Wonderful Life: Think what you will. Deride Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed as you will. But remember that moment when Clarence says, “Every man on that transport died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry?” See if you can face up to that without tears.
#3: The Nightmare Before Christmas: I dare you not to marvel at this one. What’s truer to the Christmas spirit? Jack Skellington wants to be top gift-giver and thinks he has the stuff. But when Santy Claus is taken, Jack realizes his mistake. A true classic.
#2: Arthur Christmas: A modern take on the old chestnut. Is Santa Claus real? Yes, of course, but excessively mechanized, digitized and consumerized. Leave it to bumbling Arthur, St. Nick’s youngest son, to rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.
#1: A Christmas Carol, starring George C. Scott, David Warner and Roger Rees. I defy you to find a more correct or accurate version, especially with regards to Victoriana. As perfect as TV is very likely to get.