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My Essential Christmas Movies

Updated on December 13, 2013

I am one of those people obsessed with Christmas-not just the day, the whole season. I love to make my list of cookies- some new recipes, some old ones and bake the entire month of December. I love decorating the tree, listening to the Christmas music, spending time with family and friends, seeing all the Christmas lights, and of course watching Christmas movies. Here is my list of picks.

1. The Christmas Trilogy- A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and Elf.

Elf, to me, is the quintessential Christmas movie and it is my favorite Christmas movie hands down. I’m not sure any actor other than Will Ferrell could have pulled it off. He is perfect, the role is his and his alone. Between the physical comedy and the dialogue, I recall when I first saw it laughing from scene to scene to scene throughout the entire film. There are so many great lines in it and I love how his too cool half-brother comes around to his charm and gets into the Christmas spirit, learning that in the end it’s all about spending time with family. And yes upon each yearly viewing I still get teary at the end when everyone chimes in and sings ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town.’ Christmas Eve wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without the 24 hour marathon of A Christmas Story, I love that you can catch one scene out of context in one viewing, then other scene in a subsequent viewing. Admittedly this one doesn’t evoke that warm Christmas feeling but it’s still an essential. National Lampoon’s has grown on me, I thought it was strictly in the vein of the not-so-fuzzy Christmas Story but re-watching it made me realize it has heart as well as high-jinx.

The Family Stone Trailer

2. The Rom-com Trilogy- Love, Actually, The Family Stone, and The Holiday.

If you have read my romantic comedies article you’ll know I’m not the biggest fan. But love conquers all during the holidays and I love these three sappy movies. Love, Actually is the definitive Christmas/love movie, one that on further viewings reveals more and more layers to peel back. For me I seem to focus on a different subplot on each additional viewing. Although The Family Stone has some plot issues, the way everyone is coupled up at the end so neatly for example, I love this big clan coming together for a quintessential family Christmas in the snowy, country house. I love that they are a real family with real problems. When I first heard about The Holiday I wanted nothing to do with it, but then I saw it on a plane ride. And I loved it- what seemed to be a contrived plot- two women through with love, swapping homes for the holidays-has a few layers added on that make it great. The subplot of Kate Winslet and Eli Wallach’s friendship elevates the whole movie, as well as Jude Law’s backstory. Plus I love the two settings- bright and sunny California and warm and cozy Surrey, England.

3. ABCFamily-ABCFamily really does the holidays right, I love the 13 days of Halloween and I love the 25 days of Christmas. At any given time I can turn on this channel and a classic Claymation will be on or one of their cheesy but cute made-for-TV movies with familiar TV faces, like Santa Baby with Jenny McCarthy or Holiday in Handicuffs with Mario Lopez and Melissa Joan Hart. The 25 days of Christmas is the perfect station to have on in the background while decorating the tree, making cookies, or wrapping presents.

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year Trailer

4. Made for TV movies- In addition to ABCFamily both Lifetime and the Hallmark Channel have pretty much 24-hour Christmas programming in the month of December. There are three on my list that I need to stalk the listings to catch, #1-A Diva’s Christmas Carol (2000) with Vanessa Williams. There are two major plotline options for made-for-TV Christmas movies- the main character is Santa’s kid or is visited by three ghosts a la Dickens's A Christmas Carol. But even with all the Dickens retellings this is one of my favorites. Vanessa Williams is at her best as Ebony, the self-absorbed, greedy pop star and the three ghosts are great- John Taylor of Duran Duran, Kathy Griffin, and VHI-Behind the Music (you may recall this was made for VHI back when Behind the Music was the station’s most popular show). The second is The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (2008) starring Henry Winkler as Brooke Burn’s uncle who brings a complete (handsome) stranger (Warren Christie) to his niece’s home for Christmas. He drops in to remind them about what Christmas is really all about. It’s cute- sticks to a pretty safe formula ‘She’s beautiful but a terrible cook!’ but it has some not so goody-goody moments-to get the only present her son wants, Burns and Christie attempt breaking and entering and resort to brawling in the alley with the cranky toy store owner. The third, Recipe for a Perfect Christmas (2005 and yes the title is terrible) stars Christina Baranski as the free-spirited mother of uptight Carly Pope. Pope, a food critic, barters with Bobby Cannavale, desperate for a good review to save his new restaurant. She agrees to review his restaurant if he will take her visiting mother out to get her out of her hair. You can probably see where it is going but the cast is good and it is just enough of a departure from the standard Christmas made-for-TV movie.

The actual TV commerical for The Night They Saved Christmas.

5. Oldies but Goodies- Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)- starring Dudley Moore and John Lithgow, A Muppet’s Christmas Carol (1992), an insanely cheesy made-for-TV movie The Night They Saved Christmas (1984) and of course It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Santa Claus: The Movie has this great opening showing how Santa Claus is selected and brought to the North Pole to lead the elves and deliver all the toys on Christmas. To be honest sometimes I just watch this part and skip the rest of the movie. The Night they Saved Christmas stars Jaclyn Smith of Charlie’s Angels fame as a mother of three children who must save Christmas since her husband’s company is drilling for oil so close to the North Pole it is causing its destruction. It is everything one could hope for in a made-for-TV Christmas movie made in the 80s. One can’t help but feel hope when all the townspeople file into George Bailey's house on Christmas Eve to give him their money to save the bank in It’s a Wonderful Life. And of course as a Muppets fan I love their spin on the classic, Michael Caine is really the star of it as Scrooge with the Muppets playing supporting roles.

With all the holiday activities I love to take part in it is not really achievable to see all of these movies every year, but I do my best to see at least one from each of these categories. Feel free to weigh in on your favorites in the comments section and Happy Holidays!


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