When it comes to choosing Christmas movies, there are a surprising number of options.
There are the beloved classics, films that have stood the test of time, like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “A Christmas Carol.” (Dickens’ classic is in a category unto itself with dozens of different versions for the picking.)
Then there are the childhood favorites, including “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” “Home Alone” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
And there are Christmas movies to be found in virtually every genre: comedy (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”), romantic comedy (“Love Actually”), action (“Die Hard”), period drama (“Joyeux Noel”), horror (“Gremlins”), animation (“The Polar Express”) and more.
If you want to get carried away with the yule-tide themed viewing, things can start to get weird. A list of the “50 Best Christmas Movies of All Time,” compiled by gamesradar, includes such unlikely selections as “Go,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Batman Returns,” “Eastern Promises,” “Life of Brian,” “Eyes Wide Shut” and “In Bruges.”
Christmas viewing is an extremely personal activity. Every family has its traditional favorites. Every person gets sentimental about different films. Some people live for cheesy holiday movies on Lifetime. Others love “The Santa Clause” just as much as “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
So this season, I offer a list of my 10 favorite Christmas movies (in no particular order). I’m not going to pretend they’re the best holiday films ever made. You won’t find Jimmy Stewart’s perennial favorite here or many other traditionally cherished flicks.
This is my guilty pleasure list. These are the movies I return to year after year and never grow tired of watching.
When you’re done reading, I’d love to hear your list of Top 10 Christmas flicks.
1. “Mixed Nuts,” 1994: Nora Ephron’s quirky little Southern California Christmas comedy just may be my favorite seasonal pick of all time. Last year, I wrote this ode to the movie, which depicts the wacky Christmas Eve shenanigans of the staff of a Venice Beach suicide hotline.
“Mixed Nuts” features a hilarious cast, including Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber (in drag), a very young Adam Sandler and the sublime Madeline Kahn. This is the one film my family watches every Christmas without fail.
2. “Love Actually,” 2003: When I’m doing my holiday shopping and hear the high notes of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” coming out of the P.A. system, I get a hankering to watch the most addictive holiday rom-com ever. With its cheeky humor and stiff-upper-lip melodrama, writer-director Richard Curtis’ roller-coaster ride of yuletide emotions is especially appealing to anglophiles. The film turned 10 last year, sparking debate about its merits or lack thereof, but that doesn’t change the fact that it has become a legitimate classic in only a decade. It doesn’t hurt that the cast, which includes Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Rick Grimes from “The Walking Dead,” is both talented and wildly attractive.
3. “The Holiday,” 2006: I’ll admit there are a lot of “chick flicks” on this list, but that’s hardly surprising considering I am, gasp!, a chick. Second only to “Love Actually,” Nancy Meyers’ decadent and delicious rom-com is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, as comforting as a cup of cocoa. It stars Cameron Diaz and a too-adorable-for-words Kate Winslet as a couple of sad grinches who get an unexpected dose of seasonal spirit when they swap houses for the holidays. The film may be as over-stuffed as a Christmas goose, but it’s chock full of goodies, including an unbelievably blue-eyed Jude Law and the late Eli Wallach as a rascally Hollywood screenwriter who encourages Winslet to be the heroine of her own life.
4. “Die Hard,” 1988: Here’s one to counteract all those ooey-gooey romantic comedies. This ’80s action classic is fun to watch at Christmastime precisely because it doesn’t trade in holiday cliches. Instead of peace on Earth and good will toward men, it features clever, hostage-taking terrorists (or are they?), volleys of machine gun fire, a hefty helping of adult language and the wanton destruction of an L.A. high-rise. Plus, it stars a wise-cracking, tank-top wearing Bruce Willis and a smooth-as-eggnog Alan Rickman.
5. “Elf,” 2003: I don’t know a living soul who doesn’t appreciate Will Ferrell’s instant Christmas classic. The silly, sweet-natured story of a displaced North Pole helper manages to remain funny and heartwarming after countless viewings. With his green and yellow spandex, perpetual grin — smiling’s his favorite — and irrepressibly sugar-plummy disposition, Buddy the Elf is impossible not to love. The comedy is insanely quotable — “You sit on a throne of lies.” — and will, however improbably, stay atop the list of best loved holiday movies, right alongside “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
6. “Christmas in Connecticut,” 1945: When it comes to classic movies, screwball comedies are my favorite, and as far as I’m concerned the queen of screwball comedy — second only to Katharine Hepburn — is Barbara Stanwyck. As a New York City food writer forced to go to extremes to maintain the charade that she’s the perfect country homemaker, Stanwyck is gorgeous, amusing and oh-so-sly. “Casablanca” alums Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall provide merry support. The madcap antics are coated in a dusting of Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas Americana, and you’ll learn how to flip the perfect pancake just by watching.
7. “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” 2001: This adaptation of Helen Fielding’s laugh-out-loud read is perhaps not technically a Christmas movie, but it is bookended by two unforgettable yuletide scenes: one involving humiliating jumpers and questionable hors d’ouevres, the other a snowy kiss with everyone’s favorite Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth. Renee Zellweger is awkward and adorable as a London singleton trying to get her stuff together in time to find Mr. Right for the holidays. Firth is snobbish and gentlemanly in a way that makes Jane Austen fans swoon. As warm and cozy as a well-worn pair of Christmas pajamas, this one never gets old.
8. “White Christmas,” 1954: Because nothing gets you in the holiday spirit quite like Bing Crosby crooning Irving Berlin’s atmospheric yuletide classic. Because my grandmother loved this film and showed it to me and my siblings over and over again. Because it’s helmed by “Casablanca” director Michael Curtiz. Because few comedy duos are as smooth and quick-witted as old Bing and the incomparably funny Danny Kaye. Because never were there such devoted sisters as Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Just because.
9. “Edward Scissorhands,” 1990: When you grow tired of Christmas movie cliches, Tim Burton’s sublime suburban satire hits the spot. Johnny Depp first demonstrated his flair for eccentric characterizations in this macabre but poignant fairy tale about an innocent young man with blades for fingers and a talent for avant-garde hairdos and topiary sculptures. There are two scenes in this film that have me crying like a baby every time. The first features Vincent Price and the most wonderful cookie-making machine ever dreamed up. In the second, Edward carves a snow angel for his crush (a crush-worthy Winona Ryder) and transforms the mundane into holiday magic. That sound? It’s my heart breaking.
10. “A Christmas Story,” 1983: This one goes on the list in tribute to my dad, who never grew tired of taking writer Jean Shepherd’s trip down memory lane. Having grown up in the 1940s in the very region where “A Christmas Story” takes place, my father harbored a deep nostalgia for this hilarious warts-and-all depiction of a working-class family celebrating the season. Even if you can’t relate, the story of precocious Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun will send you flashing back to your own childhood misadventures. Ralphie may be the star and narrator, but it’s his pop, The Old Man (Darren McGavin), who steals the show with his unholy passion for a certain leg lamp. Fra-gee-lay!
Photos: http://www.tasteofcinema.com, the-gaggle.com