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The Semi-Complete Christmas* Movie Guide

December 22, 2009

As Christmas approaches, we can all undoubtedly prepare for a coming onslaught of yuletide-themed films of all types which, because you are sequestered in a house with your family for several straight days, you will watch to avoid having to talk about the same thing for the hundredth time. Because I understand this — and want to help — I present the TBTS Semi-Complete Christmas* Movie Guide. There are, of course, dozens upon dozens of holiday movies out there (we haven’t even scratched the direct-to-video category), but surely there will be something on this list for you to put your eyes on this holiday season as you desperately avoid contact with others.

Christmas Movies For People Who Love Christmas

A Christmas Carol /Scrooge— The 1951 version, starring Alistair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge is one by which you can’t go wrong. Just disregard the supercreepy Polar Express version in theaters now and go straight to the source material.

A Christmas Story — Jean Shepherd’s folksy and always-funny take on Christmas in a small Indiana town is really quite a treat. If you can’t find this one on your television, you need to turn the television on, because it’s on all day long for about four days surrounding Christmas.

Elf — Whether you like Will Ferrell or not (I do, in fact), Elf’s a completely unique take on the traditional feel-good Christmas movie, especially since it’s miles above films like Four Christmases or Fred Claus, other hip Christmas movies the studios thought would catch on. There’s an art to the funny, modern Christmas movie that also has staying power, and Elf actually hits that fairly well. Plus, supercute Zooey Deschanel.

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas — Kudos, Jim Carrey, for trying to give us a memorable Christmas movie, but could you try in the future to make one that doesn’t just hinge on a super-weird version of yourself? We don’t need you to be CGI’ed and prosthetic’ed into our nightmares.

Home Alone (1, 2) — John Hughes + violent slapstick injuries + a family Christmas message = sheer enjoyment.

Home Alone 3 –– You’re not Macauley Culkin. And where’s Joe Pesci? Get out of here, impostor.

It’s a Wonderful Life — Overplayed, sure. But a great Christmas story, a great narrative, and a great film. End of story.

Jingle All the Way — I still haven’t been able to decide if the Hollywood executive who decided to put Sinbad and Arnold Schwarzenegger together is out of his mind or a complete genius. Whenever I see the movie, I lean further toward the former than the latter.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — This movie has become so famous that there are people I’ve met who actually consider this to be not only their favorite Christmas movie ever, but their favorite movie ever. I’m not sure about that, but it is plenty of fun.

Prancer — Sam Elliot and Cloris Leachman help a little girl nurse one of Santa’s reindeer back to life. This requires a bit of suspension of disbelief; you know Sam Elliot would totally eat that thing. Probably raw. Because Sam Elliot is a man, son.

The Santa Clause (1, 2 and 3) — I’m not going to totally slam The Santa Clause movies a.) because I’ve never seen one, b.) because they seem to play well with the kids, and c.) because they’re probably okay. I will, however, let you slam them if you’ve seen them and I’m completely wrong. I’m not that attached.

Great Non-Traditional Christmas Movies

Bad Santa — Great? Maybe not. Worth it for the novelty? Totally. Billy Bob Thornton does here, much better, and for a much more appreciative audience, what he later tried to recreate for The Bad News Bears, which no one watched. Because he apparently believes, very wholeheartedly, that cursing at children is funny. He’s not altogether wrong, I suppose.

Love Actually — One of my faves, it’s great for that anglophile in your life with a schmaltzy streak and attention deficit disorder, as hundreds of famous British character actors tie down what seems like about ninety-seven subplots, and still manage to make it an absolute charmer.

The Nightmare Before Christmas — The Tim Burton/Henry Selick stop-motion masterpiece that you can actually trot out on both Christmas and Halloween is always a sure-fire crowdpleaser.

The Ref — One of the most underseen Christmas movies ever, Denis Leary stars as a thief who, after breaking into a home on Christmas, is forced to be the go-between among a very disfunctional family. If you’ve never seen this, watch it; it’s great.

Santa Claus — I have never seen this 1959 Mexican movie about a Santa Claus in outer space who does battle with a demon sent by Lucifer himself, but it sounds like the best Christmas movie ever made.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians — I have, however, seen this 1964 film where Santa Claus, as the title promises, not only fights but conquers some Martians. It’s consistently ranked in IMDB’s bottom 100 movies of all time, which is a real shame, because that premise is just fantastic. I think you’ll agree.

Scrooged — A gimmicky take on A Christmas Carol that would be mediocre starring, say, Billy Crystal. But it doesn’t. It stars Bill motherf**king Murray. And that makes it a great option. Also, it’s on TV a lot during the holidays.

Christmas Movies That Aren’t Really About Christmas

Batman Returns — Batman fights Catwoman, the Penguin and a corrupt businessman over the holidays. It’s a metaphor or something.

Die Hard (1, 2) — Actually, you could make the argument that the first Die Hard is totally about Christmas. It takes place at a Christmas party, ends with “Let it Snow,” features “Ode to Joy” and contains the best Christmas sign ever: Now I have a machine gun, Ho Ho Ho.

GoAn ensemble indie cast explores various connected subplots around Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.

Gremlins — Taking place completely at Christmas, this is the perfect Christmas movie for that relative who loves both the muppets and evil monsters.

Lethal Weapon — This movie always makes me want to invite my suicidal widower partner over to my family’s house for Christmas. Because in return, he kills Gary Busey for me.

Less Than Zero — Overprivileged kids manipulating one another with drugs and sex over the holiday break. Merry Christmas, people who have jobs and work hard!

Rocky IV — Rocky defeats Drago on Christmas Day, and the U.S. defeats the eighties cold war communist threat, which I think you’ll agree is the best Christmas present ever.

Trading Places — In true Christmas fashion over the holidays, two old businessman make a homeless man rich and a rich man homeless. But the newly homeless man gets to see Jamie Lee Curtis’ boobs and go back to being rich in the end, so he wins.

Christmas Movies for Creepy People

Silent Night, Deadly Night (plus parts 2, 3, 4 and 5) — A serial slasher Santa Claus dressed like Santa terrorizes teens.

Santa’s Slay — Former WWE wrestler Goldberg stars as a demonic Santa who travels around on his a sleigh pulled by “hell-deer” and kills people on Christmas Eve.

Elves — A woman learns she is pregnant at the hands of a Nazi experiment involving the summoning of Santa’s elves to create a race of superbeings. Yes, for real.

Christmas Movie You Shouldn’t Watch Whether It’s Christmas or Not

Reindeer Games — Seriously. Because it’s just terrible.

*Sorry, Jewish people. I didn’t include Hanukkah, because I don’t know any good Hannukah movies. All I know is Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights, and I’m guessing you guys would rather not count that one. If you want, I can include Yentl or something. Just let me know. We cool?

  1. Evan Hilbert permalink*
    December 22, 2009 2:29 pm

    Apparently, you’ve not seen Christmas with the Kranks. If you had, it would have been included in that final section of un-seeables.

  2. Jay St. Orts permalink
    December 22, 2009 2:48 pm

    Dear Mister Tomlin,
    If you don’t march yer arse right back to that IBM Selectric II and add Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas(RIP, Jim Henson), I’m taking my marbles and going home.

    Hon. Rev. Dr. J. St. Orts, DDS (Emeritus), Mrs.

    • December 22, 2009 3:32 pm

      Good call. Sorry I missed that. It IS good. But is it technically a movie? I think it was only an hour long. Loophole.

  3. Tony Mendocino permalink
    December 23, 2009 10:45 pm

    I love when an article can also be considered a Public Service Announcement.

    I have to admit that I am surprised at the number of solid C-mas films in existence. Nice call on The Ref – I hate on Jerry Bruckheimer, but this film is proof that when he tries, he’s capable of more than just explosions, comments about the explosions, and occasionally gripping scenes in The Amazing Race.

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