My Five Favorite Holiday Movies


I consider myself a Christmas movie connoisseur, and if I’m going to watch a flick every year, sometimes multiple times a year, it has to warm my heart (dammit!) and stand the test of time. Admittedly, I will accept a little more cheese in my cinema come December — blame it on sentimentality and/or the spiked eggnog.

Here is an unranked, absolutely subjective list of my five favorite holiday films. Pour the hot chocolate, pull up a chair, and press play.

– “Muppet Family Christmas” — 1987

Why it’s great: When Jim Henson’s entire menagerie gathers at the home of Fozzie’s mother, hijinks ensue: Animal and Gonzo sleep on hangers in the closet, the Swedish Chef tries to cook Big Bird, and Fozzie starts a routine with a wisecracking snowman (“It’s so cold out that when I opened my refrigerator this morning, there was a polar bear inside trying to keep warm, waka waka!”). Bonus nostalgia points: The only copy of this one-hour special that exists at the Hollands’ house is a VHS recording taped from T.V. and studded with vintage commercials.

Themes: Diversity, population boom, group singalong, family.

Best part: Kermit and his nephew Robin stumble into the Fraggles’ craggy underground lair and discover that instead of giving exorbitant presents, the subterranean hippies circulate a yellow pebble each year. Uh-huh-pass it on, man.

– “Elf” — 2003

Why it’s great: Will Ferrell (in fashion-forward yellow tights) is Buddy, a man raised by elves, who ventures to New York to find his biological father. Zooey Deschanel plays Jovie, the sarcastic, doe-eyed ingenue (before that role was completely played out, cough, “New Girl”) who befriends him. Enough said.

Themes: Daddy issues, addiction (to candy), group singalong.

Best part: The touching yet creepy scene where Buddy joins in on Zooey’s shower rendition of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is a frontrunner, but I have to go with Buddy’s foray into the mailroom at his dad’s publishing company. His initial reaction to the motley crew is mixed (“It’s just like Santa’s workshop! Except it smells like mushrooms … and everyone looks like they wanna hurt me”), but after a few glugs of “syrup” (whiskey, of course), he’s dancing on tables to “Whoomp! (There It Is).” Now, that’s an office Christmas party we can get behind.

– “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” — 1964

Why it’s great: Since making my peace with the once-terrifying Abominable Snowman in this claymation masterpiece, I’ve learned to truly appreciate the awesomeness of Hermey the Elf. His tribulations are a subplot to be sure, but we can all relate: Hermey makes toys but wants to pull molars, so he walks out on Santa’s workshop and takes some time off to travel to the Island of Misfit Toys (anthropomorphic playthings everywhere!) with a reindeer. It’s the North Pole equivalent of Peace Corps and when he returns, Hermey is finally allowed to open a dentist office. Also, Yukon Cornelius, the no-nonsense prospector with full and proud facial hair is the precursor to Ron Swanson.

Themes: Friendship, daddy issues, overcoming differences, group singalong.

Best part: Just try to get “We’re A Couple Of Misfits” out of your head.

– “It’s a Wonderful Life” — 1946

Why it’s great: Jimmy Stewart breaks my heart every time. This Frank Capra classic has a Lesson to impart, but never feels preachy because Stewart is so convincing as the tragic hero who forgoes a life of travel and adventure and a career in plastics to marry a hometown girl and take over his family’s Building and Loan. He feels small and trapped, yet just before the movie veers into true downer territory, George Bailey again finds his way with the help of a kooky, nightgown-wearing, mulled wine-swilling angel. “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!” indeed. Random fact: There is a Burlington, Vermont-based band called Zuzu’s Petals.

Themes: Love the ones you’re with, group singalong, small deeds make a big difference, dreams deferred.

Best part: Lionel Barrymore as the vicious Potter steals every scene he’s in. But, when George tells Mary he’ll lasso the moon for her on the walk home from the school dance (she later ends up naked in a rose bush, but no matter), I get goosebumps. Call me old-fashioned.

– “Christmas Vacation” — 1989

Why it’s great: We just watched this again a few weeks ago while addressing cards. I’d forgotten how funny it is, and not just in an ironic-late ’80s way. We all ache for the holidays of our past, when smiling family members gathered around the tree, singling “Jingle Bells,” and getting along, even without alcohol … oh, wait, they only exist in Clark Griswold’s delusional mind. It’s holiday fantasy versus holiday reality, which is territory we all have to navigate. Plus, I can’t resist pre-crazy Randy Quaid as Eddie or the turn-of-the-decade theme song, warbled by the fabulous Mavis Staples.

Themes: Family, dreams deferred, man vs. corporation

Best part: The Christmas dinner scene, with the spewing turkey, Chevy Chase’s exaggerated chewing as he eats said dry bird, the cat food-encrusted Jello-o, Juliette Lewis’s ill-advised headband-and-crimped hair, and the flaming feline, represent all that is wacky and wonderful about this John Hughes-penned gem.

Runners up: “Christmas Story,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” and “White Christmas” (if only for Bing Crosby’s snappy wardrobe &mash; ascots!)

Agree? Disagree? Tell us which holiday movies make your top five list in the comments.