The holiday season is finally upon us. With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror, The People’s Critic has been asked to re-post the Top 10 Holiday Film list. Like my Top 10 Thrillers list posted in October, I made a few minor updates on the list, but I continue to stand by the rest.
At this festive time of year, people need guidance on how to make the most of the precious hours they will spend watching holiday movies. Unlike Halloween movies, holiday movies suddenly feel weird once January rears its ugly head. Thus, here is your guide to assure you make wise choices for your holiday entertainment. I have pain-stakingly devised a secret list of criteria designed to assure a reliable systematic ranking. (And yes, I am aware that I neglected to include A Christmas Story, The Polar Express, and a host of classics and musicals – if you don’t like it, make your own list. Merry Christmas! Where’s the Tylenol?)
10. Edward Scissorhands – Now hold on there! Edward Scissorhands, a holiday film? The film was released December 19, 1990. It also has Christmas scenes and a beautiful “snow” motif. But most importantly, it is a film about accepting differences – even if those differences involve robotic-like anatomy linked to scissor appendages. Tim Burton’s masterpiece fits nicely under the holiday-guise and is a gothic allegory for society’s corruption!
9. The Ref – Denis Leary strives for the main stream in director Ted Demme’s hilarious film about a cat burglar who takes the wrong couple hostage as he attempts to evade the police on Christmas Eve. Leary finds himself the victim as his husband/wife hostages continuously drive him nuts with their bickering and fighting. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are delightfully venomous as the couple and Leary is in fine form as the tortured criminal!
8. Trading Places – Based on a rather high-brow social experiment, Trading Places finds the lives of socialite Dan Aykroyd and street-bum Eddie Murphy suddenly switched as part of a wager between two rich CEOs. The nature vs. nurture wager revolves around whether Aykroyd will resort to crime when he loses everything and whether Murphy will become a responsible executive when given opportunity. As serious as this may sound, the movie is a triumph of the comedy legends.
7. Gremlins – “No bright light, don’t’ get him wet, and whatever you do – don’t ever feed him after midnight.” These are the three rules that are sure to be broken when Randall Peltzer brings his son Billy home a strange new pet for Christmas! In no time Gremlins are unleashed on Kingston Falls. In the same vein as Edward Scissorhands, this film dances the line between horror and comedy with great results. A classic!
6. Home Alone – We all have Macaulay Culkin’s shocked face frozen in our cerebral cortex from when he slapped on too much aftershave. However, John Hughes’s Christmas blockbuster is both a holiday film as well as a solid entry in the Hughes tradition. Even with an 8-year-old protagonist, Hughes doesn’t let up on the youthful angst, creating a coming of age story wrapped up with a nice bow (and a few black eyes for those wet bandits).
5. Planes, Trains, and Automobiles – Ok, so we’re in the top five, so I will curb my dark sense of humor that has clearly influenced the previous five entries…at least until number 2. It’s John Hughes again with the film that made Uncle Buck possible, which in turn made Home Alone possible. Although I’m sure the pitch meeting went something like this: “So John Candy and Steve Martin – SOLD!” the movie gives the two comedy icons plenty of material as they must reluctantly travel together to get home for Thanksgiving. I don’t care who you are – if you don’t tear up the first time you see the final scene, you’re not human!
4. Elf – Perhaps the first of the modern classics, John Favreau directs Will Ferrell who plays Buddy the elf who was raised by Santa only to discover he is actually human. Favreau brilliantly balances the tone between silly and genius creating a film that is as enjoyable for children as it is for adults. Ferrell is joined by James Caan, Zooey Deschanel, and Bob Newhart who all contribute to this film’s success. This film has become virtually unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean it’s not good.
3. It’s a Wonderful Life – Not just a great holiday movie, but one of the best films ever made. Frank Capra’s crowning achievement finds Jimmy Stewart playing George Bailey who just can not get out of Bedford Falls. In a film class I took, a professor made a very compelling case for how this film fits nicely in the horror genre in a twisted, Twilight Zone kind of way. Nonetheless, the classic story about a man being shown what the world would be like if he never existed takes Dicken’s Christmas Carol to a new more relatable place where Scrooge is replaced by a nice guy who lets life get him down.
2. Scrooged – Ok back to dark comedy territory. I was told that for my “holiday movie list” Groundhog Day was not an appropriate title as the title “holiday movies” implies films that take place during or around November/December. I will agree to disagree, but fortunately, there’s an easy alternative – Scrooged! Bill Murray plays Frank Cross (“a thing they nail people to”), a TV executive who has let greed get the better of him. This film is a showcase for Murray as it would likely be terrible without him. However, because of him, it’s so good that it’s my #2 holiday film! And with the recent trend of NBC airing live musicals in December (last year’s The Sound of Music and this year’s Peter Pan), I have to wonder if NBC president Jeff Zucker keeps this film’s lesson in mind! On a side note – if you are looking for a Christmas-y Groundhog Day, it’s been brought to my attention that ABC Family created an absurd rip off called The 12 Dates of Christmas with Amy Smart and Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar).
1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – This film has it all: memorable characters, big laughs, emotional moments, and quotable lines. Chevy Chase attempts to host a family Christmas that promises to blow up in his face, even literally! There is no getting tired of the jewel in the Griswold franchise crown; you’ll be sure to have the “hap-hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny F@#kin’ Kaye!”
Honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the list: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Arthur Christmas, Love Actually, and Die Hard.
What do you think? Did I get it right or did I miss your favorite holiday film? Let me know!