Originally published at Cinema Sugar.
1. It’s A Wonderful Life
The once and future king of Christmas movies. I could praise a lot of things: the cinematography, the supporting cast, the dramatic depth of Jimmy Stewart’s first postwar performance. But its magic ultimately comes down to Harry’s closing line—“A toast to my big brother, George, the richest man in town.” George was rich in the end because he remembered. He remembered the barrenness of the ghostly alternate timeline where he was never born. And he remembered the meaning of family and friends and frustrating failures and small victories, all of which had accumulated into something like a wonderful life. Hot dog!
2. The Family Stone
The Rotten Tomatoes consensus of The Family Stone is that “this family holiday dramedy features fine performances but awkward shifts of tone.” Which, yeah: That’s why it’s so good. Maybe your experience was different, but “awkward shifts of tone” could be the definition of family—especially during the holidays. The film depicts a particular kind of cozy, Hallmark-approved, New England-flavored Christmastime while also vividly capturing what it’s like to spend extended time with the people you love but who are also most adept at driving you crazy. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but, to paraphrase Meredith Morton, I don’t care whether you like it or not!
3. Die Hard
True story: several years ago my wife and I were at my parents’ house for Christmas and the family was debating which movie to watch. Soon Die Hard emerged as the consensus pick. My wife hadn’t seen it and knew nothing about it, but since we told her it was a Christmas movie she was game. Turned out she definitely was not game—its brutal violence, shoeless glass-walking, and other decidedly un-cozy elements so traumatized her that she has since refused to acknowledge it as a movie worth watching, let alone a Christmas movie. To which I say: “Yippie-ki-yay, Merry Christmas!”
4. Grumpy Old Men
This movie’s combination of silliness, sincerity, and wondrously snowy northern Minnesota setting has kept me coming back every Christmastime. It’s schmaltzy to a fault, but also a showcase for the legendary comedic chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, forged over decades of working together. They fully commit to their acerbic, chops-busting banter, which is the core strength of the movie. That plus Burgess Meredith absolutely slaying as Lemmon’s horny, incorrigible father.
5. The Muppet Christmas Carol
I took an absurd amount of time trying to decide between this and Home Alone once it occurred to me that they’re pretty much the same movie. Both feature self-involved jerks who find themselves alone near Christmas and forced to endure challenging journeys of self-discovery after an encounter with Marleys—the ghosts of former business partners for Scrooge and a mysterious elderly neighbor for Kevin. Painful developments occur (spiritual/psychological for Scrooge, physical for the Wet Bandits) before concluding with joyous Christmas Day reunions and reconciliation. I ultimately went with the Muppets because they’re the freaking Muppets.