My 12 Favorite Christmas Movies

We’re one week away from Christmas and everybody’s making lists of their favorite movies. As always, some are debating whether or not Die Hard belongs on the list. Don’t be silly, of course it does. What says Christmas more than “Now I have a machine gun, ho, ho ho”…? Here are my 12 favorites, a mix of seasonal light and darkness. 

1 Fanny and Alexander

1982-Sweden-France-West Germany. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Pernilla Allwin, Bertil Guwe, Gunn Wållgren.

What I wrote: “The opulent portrait of turn-of-the-century bourgeois Christmas festivities has captured the imagination of anyone who’s ever seen the film. In Sweden, ‘a Fanny and Alexander Christmas’ has become a familiar concept.”

2 It’s a Wonderful Life

1946-U.S. Directed by Frank Capra. Cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore.

What I wrote: “There I was again, blubbering, as neighbors and friends poured into George Bailey’s home to help him out. I realized that the power of this film’s sentimentality just sweeps away any legitimate complaints about Capra’s penchant for simple clichés.”

3 Die Hard

1988-U.S. Directed by John McTiernan. Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia.

What I wrote: “The highrise concept reminds me of The Towering Inferno (1974) and that whole trend of disaster movies. The drama of this film certainly is catastrophic in nature, and Die Hard would itself inspire many inferior films. Nothing is truly original, I guess. On the other hand, how many action movies can lay claim to being a Christmas classic?”

4 National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

1989-U.S. Directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik. Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Randy Quaid.

What I wrote: “There is sappiness, but on a reasonable level. Slapstick sequences are uneven; some great, others pointless.”

5 A Christmas Carol

1984-Britain-U.S. Directed by Clive Donner. Cast: George C. Scott, Nigel Davenport, Frank Finlay.

What I wrote: “It is a distinguished version where the filmmakers succeed in creating an atmosphere soaked in the emotions of Christmases past.”

6 Holiday Inn

1942-U.S. Directed by Mark Sandrich. Cast: Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, Marjorie Reynolds.

What I wrote: “The seasonal changes add an extra spark, much like the splendor in some of the production numbers. Variation and playfulness along with Sandrich and Astaire’s professional experience make this musical a triumph.”

7 Home Alone

1990-U.S. Directed by Chris Columbus. Cast: Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern.

What I wrote: “Most Christmas Eves my brother and I have ended up watching another kind of blockbuster. Not because it’s the best Christmas movie ever made (it isn’t), but simply because it was available. Still, every time we have chosen to watch Home Alone, it’s been great fun.”

A Christmas Tale

2008-France. Directed by Arnaud Desplechin. Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Jean-Paul Roussillon, Mathieu Amalric.

What I wrote: “The story takes place on December 22-25 and cinematographer Eric Gautier creates a warm, cosy Christmas atmosphere in the bourgeoisie home that envelops everyone even as they move from one crisis to another.”

9 Scrooge

1951-Britain. Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst. Cast: Alastair Sim,  Jack Warner, Kathleen Harrison.

What I wrote: “One doesn’t have to sympathize with the almost cartoonishly miserly Scrooge to recognize the patterns that will eventually send you to your grave with bitter regrets about what could have been. We should all be so lucky to wake up on Christmas Day and feel the joy of a new beginning.”

10 The Nightmare Before Christmas

1993-U.S. Directed by Henry Selick. Voices of Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon, Catherine O’Hara.

What I wrote: “The visual feast in the clash between Halloween and Christmas is almost a little too over-the-top, but fun.”

11 Joyeux Noël

2005-France-Germany. Directed by Christian Caron. Cast: Diane Kruger, Benno Fürmann, Guillaume Canet.

What I wrote: “Perhaps the most fitting Christmas movie to watch this year is the ten-year-old Joyeux Noël, a call for brotherly love in the worst of times.”

12 The Muppet Christmas Carol

1992-U.S. Directed by Brian Henson. Cast: Michael Caine.

What I wrote: “Charles Dickens’s Christmas carol is virtually reinvented by Henson’s son Brian and gets a wonderfully wintry look, its spirits lifted by a bundle of terrific new songs by Paul Williams that perfectly illustrate the various chapters.”

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