The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
I love this movie. The songs are on point, and it’s also a multi-holiday movie, which is a big plus — especially since most places barely get the Halloween decorations put in the clearance section before the Christmas ones start coming out. It’s also a fun way to explore the power dynamics of local politics and cultural traditions, if you don’t want to sing along with the residents of Halloween Town.
The first time I watched Elf, I wasn’t sold on it. But then I watched it a few more times and fell in love. Buddy’s love of Christmas is infectious and the jokes that are added in for the benefit of any adults watching are refreshing since they aren’t necessarily of a sexual nature. Also it means that I can tell people that they sit on a throne of lies, which is a nice bonus.
Home Alone (1990)
Was Kevin kind of the worst? Yes. Should he have gotten left behind? Probably not. But we did get one the best anti-burglar systems out of this movie. While the comedy is a little cheesy and slapstick, does anybody really watch Christmas movies expecting Palme d’Or and Oscar winners?
Arthur Christmas (2011)
If the voice casting doesn’t draw you into this movie (James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, and Hugh Laurie), the story should. It is an update on all the classic Santa-themed movies, and how Christmas shouldn’t just be a big commercial racket. Arthur has enough heart to make up for the fact that his dad is a non-executive figurehead, his grandpa lives in the past, and that his brother runs Christmas like a military operation.
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
The Jim Carrey version is hot garbage compared to the original. This is the only version that matters. It’s nice because it’s short and sticks to the book. Boris Karloff also narrates it, so that is a huge plus. I love Max, the music, and that in the end the Grinch gives everyone their presents back after understanding the true meaning of Christmas. (Hey, I might like the feeling of the season, but I was a kid once and thought that presents were the most important part.)
White Christmas (1954)
It hasn’t been Christmas until I’ve watched this movie with my mom. The musical scenes are wonderful, the costumes at the end are iconic, and given that it was released in 1954 it’s not too problematic. Also it features the only version of “White Christmas” that really matters, so there’s that too.
Of the zillion retellings of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this one is probably the best. The ghost of Christmas past is kindly, the ghost of Christmas present is a realist, and the ghost of Christmas future is kind of fucking terrifying — also he looks like the grim reaper. Alastair Sim’s portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge is masterful and he captures the inner conflict Scrooge experiences perfectly.
Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Even after watching this film 18,272,734 times to find out if the doll had a name, and to analyze the movie for a homework assignment in Grade 6, I still like it. It’s a touching movie that speaks to universal acceptance and has a brilliant cast of supporting characters. It’s a well-done take on giving a story to a song that can be sung in about 30 seconds.
Frosty the Snowman (1969)
I watched this so much and so frequently — like, year-round kind of frequency — as a child that my parents had to replace the VHS because I wore it out. It also helped to foster a lifelong love of snowmen and made me somewhat suspicious of poinsettias. I still also get excited by the first snowfall of the year and the draw of “magic Christmas snow.”
Die Hard (1988)
Sometimes you want warm fuzzies, and sometimes you want to yell “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” while shooting at bad guys over Christmas carols. While this isn’t the most Christmas-y movie on the list, it’s set at Christmas, and who doesn’t love watching Bruce Willis kick ass while you’re slowly descending into a turkey coma?