- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
My husband finds this movie depressing, but it tops my list for a reason: it is the quintessential Christmas movie. It seems we spend the season reflecting back on our year as well as on years past – thanks to family and friends – each time the Christmas season rolls around. Frank Capra’s classic certainly compliments that as George Bailey gets to reflect on the impact his life, which to him seems small and insignificant, actually has had. I find this movie to be cathartic as it is a nice reminder of the impact we all have on the lives of others. We may not all be privy to understanding the depth of that impact for sure, but George Bailey serves as a reminder each Christmas that our lives touch others’ and that in itself is a gift.
- Love Actually (2003)
The movie has issues – Andrew Lincoln’s relationship with Keira Knightly = awkward – but it is so full of Christmas cheer about love that I can’t help watching it when it’s on, even though I’ve seen it a hundred times at least. The great time about the love that it talks about it is that it goes beyond just romantic love and touches on other kinds: love for family, love for blended families, love for friends that have become family, and more. Though some of the relationships don’t go well, the portrait of love in its many forms and its multitude of challenges make it a staple in my holiday season.
- Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The original version is the better of the two; a second version was made in 1994 with Mara Wilson, Elizabeth Perkins, Richard Attenborough, and Dylan McDermott, but the original 1947 version with Maureen O’Hara and Natalie Wood is far superior. The script is stronger and the premise a bit more realistic. The movie as a whole is so charming that it’s hard to resist imagining that such a thing could be plausible. Even if you’ve gotten past the age of believing in Santa, you can’t help being excited about possibly meeting jolly old Saint Nick in the flesh and you can’t help rooting for him when he gets in trouble.
- Ebbie (1995)
This time of year, you can find numerous versions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on film. Ebbie, a 1995 version of the Dickens classic, stars Susan Lucci as Elizabeth Scrooge (Ebbie) who works her way up through a department store from a simple cashier to CEO and, in the process, ignores all of her loved ones. It follows the storyarc of A Christmas Carol and adds a veneer of cheesiness inherent of a made-for-TV movie with the lead actress of All My Children, but the script is true to the intent on learning the true meaning of Christmas without getting distracted by other elements one might expect from a Lifetime movie. Despite its dated visuals, it remains my favorite retelling of A Christmas Carol.
- Trading Places (1983)
The movie probably only qualifies as a holiday movie because it happens to be set at Christmas, but I can’t leave it off my list. It is a genuinely funny movie with a nice message of learning how to be yourself in the face of outside influences that would tell you what you are or aren’t. Each person in this movie is challenged to change in some way and responds to that challenge in a way that reaffirms, a message hidden beneath the slapstick and intrigue of main storyarc. I enjoy watching a young Dan Akroyd and a young Eddie Murphy play off of each other. Another Eddie Murphy movie, Coming to America, has a couple of hidden jokes that reference this movie.
- A Christmas Story (1983)
Ralphie’s reflections on his childhood Christmas brings moments that are now iconic in American culture. References to leg lamps and shooting your eye out are ubiquitous for the generations that have grown up with this movie. I look forward to the twenty-four hour marathon of A Christmas Story every Christmas Eve. It’s one of those rare movies I can pick up at any point in the movie and still be entertained by both being a kid remembering my own Christmases past and by being an adult understanding what the parents were thinking at my Christmas present.
- Santa Claus (1985)
When I first started watching Gilmore Girls, the mayor from the show’s first season had a familiar voice and I of course headed to IMDB to figure out where had I had heard it before. The actor playing the mayor of Stars Hollow was none other than David Huddleston, who played Santa Claus in Santa Claus the Movie. This movie retells the origin of Santa Claus as a toymaker from medieval Europe who dies in a snowstorm and is given eternal life as Santa Claus by the elves. The consumerism of the 1980s concerns him and his lead elf, Patch (Dudley Moore), leaves the North Pole because he feels underappreciated. He then gets involved with a ruthless toy tycoon and the movie turns into a predictable mush of righting wrongs and learning lessons. However, as a kid, this was one of those iconic Christmas movies that I looked forward to watching each year.
- The Holiday (2006)
Kate Winslet just happens to be one of my favorite actresses because of her roles in Sense and Sensibility and The Reader among others. When I heard about this romcom with her, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, and Jack Black, I had to see it. I finally broke down and bought it on DVD this year after finding myself sad whenever I would miss parts of it when it was on television. The setting of Los Angeles and England at Christmas adds to the charm of the romances that develop onscreen. It gives me warm fuzzies a la Love Actually and is a fun watch from beginning to end.
- Sleepless in Seattle (1993)
Before I met my husband and knew what Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) meant by ‘magic,’ I watched ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ as a teenager and found a name for the feeling I wanted to capture whenever I thought about romantic love. Annie’s (Meg Ryan) idea that she is attracted to this man she has only heard on the radio is absurd, but the movie works because Nora Ephron manages to play on the familiar tropes of the difficulties of dating and knowing whether or not this person you’ve chosen truly is your compliment. Though Annie’s behavior toward her fiancé Walter and her insistence on meeting Sam Baldwin could make her unlikeable, Ephron’s script pushes the viewer past those issues and into Sam and Annie’s corner as they move closer to an unlikely meeting that shows Annie’s gut feeling about magic really is true.
- You’ve Got Mail (1998)
As a holiday movie, You’ve Got Mail is not just a Christmas movie, but also a Thanksgiving one. My mother, sister, and I refer to ‘bouquets of newly sharpened pencils’ and wish each other a ‘Happy Thanksgiving Back’ on each appropriate holiday. The movie is a cute exploration of dating the beginning of the Internet age and, in this time of Tinder and FarmersOnly.com, might seem quaint, but it holds up in the animus and then resolution of Joe Fox and Kathleen Kennedy. You can’t miss with a Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom.
Which holiday films are your favorites? Let me know in the comments.