Want to get into the holiday spirit? For me, there’s no better way than with a classic movie. The following is a list of my top 10 favorite holiday flicks.
Some are sentimental favorites because I grew up watching them; some are more recent discoveries, and a few are, admittedly, guilty pleasures. If you haven’t seen them, I urge you to give these films a try:
“Elf” (2003, PG).
— Will Ferrell stars as Buddy, a clueless but highly enthusiastic human adopted as a baby by one of Santa’s elves and raised at the North Pole. Ferrell is equal parts silly and sincere as he goes on a quest to finds his birth father, a grumpy book editor lacking in Christmas spirit played by James Caan.
“The Bishop’s Wife” (1947, NR).
— A debonair angel named Dudley, played by Cary Grant, is sent to help an Anglican bishop so obsessed with raising money to build a new cathedral, he ignores his family. As Dudley uses his power to infuse the joy of the season into those around him, the bishop, played by David Niven, becomes jealous, and starts a war of wills that nearly costs him everything.
There are so many film versions of “A Christmas Carol,” it’s almost impossible to recommend a single movie. So, here I have a tie between two musical versions: “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) and “Scrooge” (1970).
— The Muppet version is, in my opinion, not only the best of the Muppet movies but the best version of the story for children, with alternately catchy and heartfelt songs, a standout performance by Michael Caine in the lead role and plenty of comedy to balance out the sad and scary parts (it is a ghost story, after all).
— “Scrooge,” on the other hand, is too dark and scary for most young children. However, for music lovers, it’s incomparable, as is the acting genius of Albert Finney, which is on full display in the role of the miserly Ebenezer (Finney was only 33 when the film was made, and held his jaw at an angle to complete the illusion of the elderly Scrooge). Stick around until the end, and you’ll experience one of the biggest and best finales of any musical ever filmed.
“Miracle on 34th Street” (1947 NR).
— Edmund Gwenn stars as an elderly department-store Santa who is defended in court by his friends after he risks being institutionalized for claiming to be the real thing. Co-starring Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood, the original black-and-white version is the best in my opinion. However, the 1994 remake, starring Richard Attenborough, isn’t too shabby.
“White Christmas” (1954 NR).
— The epitome of a Technicolor classic, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney sing and dance their way through a series of crises, ultimately saving the day the best way Hollywood knew how in the 1950s — by putting on a show.
“The Nativity Story” (2006 PG).
— The religious story of Christmas is told in this superbly directed film by Catherine Hardwicke. Starring Oscar Isaac as Joseph, Keisha Castle-Hughes and Mary and Ciaran Hinds as King Herod, it features first-rate cinematography and a compelling musical score.
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989, PG-13).
— Chevy Chase reprises his role in the “Vacation” comedy series as Clark Griswold, who wants to hold “an old-fashioned family Christmas” but is constantly thwarted by his own bad luck, obnoxious family members and sheer incompetence. Skip this one if foul language makes you search for the headache medicine. Otherwise, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
“The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1942, G).
— This nonstop comedic farce begins when famous radio critic Sheridan Whiteside stops to have lunch with his biggest fan — the wife of a Midwestern businessman. When Whiteside slips on the ice and injures his hip outside their door, he and his entourage take over the house. Stars Monty Woolley, Bette Davis, Billie Burke and Jimmy Durante.
“A Christmas Story” (1983 PG).
— Living in Indiana in the late 1940s, 12-year-old Ralphie, played by Peter Billingsley, is convinced a Red Ryder BB gun is the perfect Christmas gift, but can’t seem to convince anyone else. A holiday classic, it has been shown on countless TV movie marathons, following in the footsteps of the top film on this list:
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946 NR).
— The story of everyday family man George Bailey, who meets an angel and is shown what life would have been like if he’d never been born, is so universally beloved that the American Film Institute ranks it No. 1 on its list of “100 Most Inspiring Films of All Time.” Starring Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore, if you’ve never seen it, see it this Christmas. You’ll probably want to watch it every year.