The ambience of the holiday season should be captured in a superb Christmas film. Because we all have distinct customs, Christmas movies can take a variety of chestnut-roasting, Jack Frost-nipping forms: unrelentingly happy musicals, hazily religious dramas, resolutely gloomy horror pictures, or joyfully filthy comedies, to name a few. We don’t want to make any conclusions about your family or friends—they may all be claymation figures, for all we know. However, confronting terrorists at Nakatomi Plaza is probably not a good way to ring in the holidays.
All-Time Greatest Christmas Films
A Christmas Carol (2009)
Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis used motion-capture technology to cast living-cartoon Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge and the three Ghosts of Christmas in his animated adaptation of the famous Charles Dickens serial. The twist transforms this classic tale into a psychedelic journey through time—one that could all be a figment of Scrooge’s imagination (and confirms the ageing businessman’s gut instinct about the Ghost of Christmas Past: “You could be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato.”) From the candlelit extravagance of Christmas Present’s grand entry to the really horrific horrors of Christmas Future, Zemeckis doesn’t hold back, providing us with the blockbuster take on the subject that we didn’t realise we needed.
The Lemon Drop Kid (1951)
This Bob Hope vehicle is based on a short story by big-city newspaperman Damon Runyon and is known for introducing the world to “Silver Bells” (whose short fiction also inspired Guys and Dolls). In terms of Christmas movies, The Lemon Drop Kid maintains Runyon’s roughness. Hope plays the title character, a greasy phoney who deceives the wrong gangster with a horse-race farce. The Kid sets out to swindle the Santa-on-the-corner charity game with a $10,000 debt due on Christmas Eve. As you might expect, he learns a valuable lesson, finds a little love, and wisecracks in the way only Hope can.
Christmas Evil (1980)
Our methodical, haunting narrative of a toy-factory employee (played with remarkable subtlety by Fiona Apple’s father Brandon Maggart) disintegrating during the holiday season is perhaps the most formally imaginative, adventurous, and genuinely scary picture on this list, according to cult-film legend John Waters. The film has lofty concepts (articulated in this recent interview with director Lewis Jackson), yet it never feels bogged down by them. It combines bizarre comedy, slasher-film cliches, and some exquisite photography from Louis Malle colleague Ricardo Aronovich. This is everything a cult film should be: entertaining, perplexing, and difficult to forget.
Almost Christmas (2016)
Few holiday films truly portray the hectic sense of a house under siege by relatives. Almost Christmas, an ensemble dramedy from writer-director David E. Talbert, isn’t the most ambitious film on the list, but it captures how families quarrel, tease, and eventually come together during the holiday season. As the family’s grieving father, Danny Glover anchors the proceedings, providing the film a sad tone that allows scene-stealers like Mo’Nique, Romany Malco, and J.B. Smoove to sugarcoat the tragedy with comedy.
Home Alone 2 (1992)
We didn’t forget about the original, so don’t worry. But we have to give a shout-out to a sequel that would have been a disaster if it hadn’t been for writer John Hughes, who sends Kevin McCallister to New York for a radically different Christmas experience. Kevin shacks up at the Plaza Hotel, torments Tim Curry’s bellhop, runs into the future President of the United States, persuades a generation to invest in voice-altering technology, and saves a toy store by foiling the Wet Bandits once more. Home Alone 2 is the perfect blend of “more of the same”—gangster movie sound bites, copious amounts of junk food, and plenty of booby traps—and fresh, coming-of-age detailing. And it’s true: Old Pigeon Lady is superior to Old Shovel Guy.
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