Let me spare you the trouble.
White Christmas, It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and Miracle on 34th Street.
There you go. The best holiday films to watch, a list as predictable as the coming of cold winter nights. Which is a pity given the staggering amount of Christmas films there are.
And what about all the other holiday films that don't make the list?
For that, I give you the 12 Days of (Other) Christmas Movies.
Best Christmas movie with a one-time Saturday Night Live cast member:
Trading Places. Sure, you think Chevy Chase in Christmas Vacation and Bill Murray in Scrooged. Perhaps even Jingle all the Way with Phil Hartman or Trapped in Paradise starring Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz. But Trading Places, with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd in The Prince and the Pauper-inspired tale, bests them all. Trading Places offers savage social satire mixed with holiday sneer with Aykroyd's Louis Winthorpe III leading the way as the original bad Santa.
Runner-up: Elf , the tale of a human raised as one of Santa's workers who leaves for New York to find his father, is tough to beat for pure holiday magic. It also marks Will Ferrell's best non-Ferrell-being-Ferrell part.
Best Christmas movie with an iconic catchphrase:
Die Hard. Bruce Willis was defined as an action-movie hero in this triumphant role as New York cop John McClane, who arrives in Los Angeles to visit his wife for the holidays. Throw in some terrorists with hostages in a L.A. skyscraper on Christmas Eve, and you've got one explosive, action-packed holiday film. Yippie ki-yay ....
Best Bill Murray holiday movie:
Scrooged. 1980s' Murray was hard to beat for ironic smarminess. The former SNLer may have reinvented his career playing sullen, lost souls, but he made bank in comedies such as Scrooged, a twisted, surprisingly dark take on the Dickens chestnut.
Worst Bill Murray holiday movie:
Ghostbusters II. This film reunites the paranormal investigators during the holiday season as they take on a supernatural baddie named Vigo the Carpathian in a climactic New Year's Eve battle in New York. As great as Ghostbusters was — arguably the perfect 1980s mainstream comedy — its sequel is forced and unnecessary, saved only by some clever lines and some nifty effects.
Worst Sequel with a Christmas theme:
Look Who's Talking Now. The third and final film (thankfully!) in the Look Who's Talking series went to the dogs — literally. The talking babies have grown into chatty kids, which leaves the comic dialogue to a rascally pooch (voiced by Danny DeVito) named Rocks and a well-trained canine named Daphne (voiced by Diane Keaton). They partner to save their human family from a pack of wolves and the frozen wilderness — just in time for Christmas.
Most redundant Christmas movie title:
(A tie) The Nutcracker, the Motion Picture; Santa Claus, the Movie.
It takes some hubris on the part of filmmakers to include "motion picture" or "movie" in a film's title — especially since neither The Nutcracker nor Santa Claus can lay claim to being the first or last movie based on each story. The filmmakers' case isn't helped, either, by the fact that neither motion picture/movie was particularly memorable anyway.
Best bloody Christmas:
Silent Night, Deadly Night. This 1984 horror film featuring an ax-wielding man in a Santa suit who punishes those on the "naughty" list is best remembered for the uproar it created. A vengeful Santa does not make for a popular Santa. A quarter-century later, the slasher film seems fairly tame compared to the genre's ilk of today. And speaking of bad Santas ...
Best Christmas movie with two celebrities who left us too soon:
Bad Santa. Watching John Ritter and Bernie Mac (who died at the age of 54 and 50, respectively) in this film casts a somber pall on the whole affair. Their inspired performances, though, live on in this darkly comic tale of a thieving, boozing Santa (a wicked Billy Bob Thornton) with an odd fetish.
Worst use of Christmas for a sequel:
Ernest Saves Christmas. The late Jim Varney made a career out of the Ernest movies. But years before he went to jail, was scared stupid, or joined the Army, he came to the aid of Santa who traveled to Orlando(?!) to crown his North Pole replacement. Nothing says Christmas like Ernest or Orlando.
Worst career choice in a Christmas movie:
Jack Frost. Michael Keaton zig-zagged from manic comic-actor (Night Shift, Beetlejuice) to brooding vigilante (Batman, Batman Returns) to feel-good family-comedy guy in this 1998 tale of an absentee father who returns from the dead as a snowman to mend the relationship with his young son. Keaton's career never recovered from the frosty critical and box-office reception given this bomb. (Note: The Keaton Jack Frost is not to be confused with the Christmas horror "classic" of the same name and released two years prior about a killer who returns from the dead as a homicidal snowman — which sounds similar, and certainly more interesting, than the Keaton version.)
Most unnecessary sequel:
Meet the Santas. This 2005 tragic waste of valuable broadcast airtime, starring Steve Guttenberg and Crystal Bernard, is a spawn of 2004's TV movie Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus, also starring Guttenberg and Bernard. In the first movie, Nick (Guttenberg) is Santa's son, and must find a wife before his dad retires. In the follow up, Nick's impending marriage to Beth (Bernard) runs into some unexpected trouble. So, was the first movie so important and unresolved that a sequel was necessary? Or, were audiences really clamoring to see Guttenberg and Bernard reunited?
Best Christmas movie featuring Santa Claus with a mullet:
Once Upon Christmas. This made-for-TV "gem" stars former super model-turned "actress" Kathy Ireland as the daughter of Santa Claus, who takes over for her dad when he calls it quits, and Douglas Campbell as retired Jolly Ol' Saint Nick. (What's up with the Santa replacement stories?) But the true star of the movie is Santa's long, white, curly locks, coiffed in a short-in-front, long-in-back 'do that would do 1988 proud. Seriously.
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