Christmas movies, ranked: A top 10 featuring Bruce Willis, Jimmy Stewart and ... Moses
Monday - 25/12/2017 07:38
A lot of the so-called Christmas classics do not make the list and that's fine
The problem with a list like this is that, inevitably, it will be shaded — by memory and age and gaps in the canon. For one thing, I haven’t seen most of the so-called Christmas classics. I’m 36. Nobody was renting It’s A Wonderful Life in my house when I was a kid. So are these the absolute best Christmas movies ever made? Probably not. Are they the best Christmas movies made between, say, 1988 and 2008, when a movie obsession was a baked-in part of my everyday life? I think so. I hope you will too.
10.Bad Santa, 2003
I don’t remember every detail of this movie — a fantastically crude, horrifically dark story of a depressed and alcoholic mall Santa/conman who befriends a lonely boy — but I do remember my friend Briony laughing with her entire body for almost 90 minutes. She insists Bad Santa holds up (she watched it again last week). So in her honour, I’ll let it sneak on here at number 10.
9.Die Hard, 1988
A hostage flick set during an office Christmas party, this plays as both an action classic and a seasonal gem. Bruce Willis’s John McClane spends two hours killing terrorists, but his real goal is to reconcile with his wife before the holidays. Worth watching just to hear Alan Rickman — who plays villain Hans Gruber like an ultra-violent Grinch — read the classic line: “Now I have a machine gun. Ho-Ho-Ho.”
8. Love Actually, 2003
In retrospect, the strangest thing about this movie is the Iraq-war-era subplot about an overbearing U.S. president — a la George W. Bush — lording it over Hugh Grant’s foppish new British Prime Minister. The plot is a cacophonous blend of nine love stories that weaves slapstick comedy with mild stalking, deep sincerity and, yes, more Alan Rickman. But to me, the good (Laura Linney, Rickman, Bill Nighty) outweighs the treacle, the plot holes and the occasional creepiness.
7.In Bruges, 2008
Guilt-ridden Irish hitmen wander the gothic streets of Bruges in December: This is, I think, a deeply Catholic film — a dark comic meditation on guilt and love that features Colin Farrell in the role that redefined his career. Completely unlike anything else on this list, In Bruges plunges you from the beginning into a moody Christmas utterly alien to the North American standard. No mall Santas. No home for the holidays. Just darkness, beauty, humour and a sliver of redemption.
6. It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946
My deskmate, Joe O’Connor, insisted I include this one. As mentioned above, I haven’t seen it. I’ll let it stand in here for all the other classics — Miracle on 34th Street, etc. — I’ve also missed. Here’s Joe’s take:
“Wherever this movie winds up on Warnica’s list, it deserves to be higher, because if Christmas has any populist, made-in-Hollywood meaning, it is to be found in the story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart), a man who wishes he had never been born only to learn that — with the help of Clarence, Angel 2nd class — yup, it truly is a wonderful life, and every life touches many others. If you don’t cry when you watch this American classic you are beyond hope.”
5. Elf, 2003
A big, sweet battering ram of physical comedy and childish id, Will Ferrell had a good five-year run as the funniest man alive. Improbably, Elf now stands as the defining film from that stretch. It’s the perfect vehicle for Ferrell’s mix of bombast and sincerity. He spends the movie flailing manically about in a dumb green coat — a 100-minute sight gag, but somehow it works.
4. Mickey’s Christmas Carol, 1983
I challenge you to find a casting choice better than Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge. He was born (drawn?) to play the part. A staple of Christmas television, Mickey’s Christmas Carol did actually appear in theaters — though I was too young to see it on a big screen. It holds up as a surprisingly un-Disneyfied adaptation of the Dickens original. The colours are radically muted compared to most animated kids’ classics. The ghosts are genuinely scary. Much better than the cloying Muppets version that came out in 1992.
3. The Ten Commandments, 1956
Cecil B. Demil directs Charlton Heston as Moses in a blockbuster retelling of the Exodus story. So, not a Christmas-movie per se, but a movie that did play nonstop over Christmas when I was a kid. (See below for more.)
2. Home Alone, 1990
Kevin McCallister’s parents accidentally leave him behind when they jet off to Paris for Christmas, leaving the eight-year-old to fend off a pair of comically inept thieves by himself. Like all great Christmas movies, Home Alone acknowledges how awful family can be, how stressful the holidays often are and how hilarious Daniel Stern is as a crook. HOW DID YOU NOT SEE THAT PAINT CAN COMING? HE ALREADY HIT YOU WITH AN IRON! LOOK UP, DUMMY!
1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, 1990
The platonic ideal of a Christmas film and the greatest achievement of Chevy Chase’s surprisingly disappointing career, Christmas Vacation blends non-stop gags with just enough heart to keep things from going entirely sour. Honestly, I don’t know how to relate to a person who doesn’t love this film. It’s cooked into too many of my happy holiday memories. One note: Though this came out in 1990, Christmas Vacation is very much an ’80s film. It exists in a pre-recession bubble where you could build a movie plot around a Christmas bonus that wasn’t big enough to pay for a pool. (That really is the defining conflict in the film.)
MOSES IS CHRISTMAS
Before Netflix, before TiVo, before Internet in the home (at least my home), before I was old enough to drive to Blockbuster, there was holiday TV. Every year the rotation stayed the same: top 10 lists, news recaps and, of course, movies. We’d watch the same ones year after year. Mickey’s Christmas Carol got heavy play when my brothers and I were little. In later years, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation took its place. But I had my own ritual, too. When my brothers were out and my mother was asleep, I’d settle in on the blue chair, flick through the channels and find Charlton Heston talking to a burning bush.
I don’t think I ever watched The Ten Commandments from start to finish. That goes against the spirit of Christmas viewing (if you’re the youngest of three and you have the control, my friend, you are surfing those channels). But over the years, I pieced it all together: The baby in the basket. The staffs into snakes. All those many plagues.
I went to Catholic school for 13 years, but we never did much Old Testament. Everything I learned about Moses I learned from that movie. I haven’t’ seen it in years. But watching it remains a defining Christmas memory. I think it’s bundled up in my mind with staying up late, with being alone, with finally having my choice of snacks. I was a hugely anxious child. I rarely felt comfortable anywhere or with anyone. But by myself, at Christmas, with the TV on, I felt okay. And for whatever reason, the movie that was on, more than any other, was The Ten Commandments. Merry Christmas, Moses. Maybe I’ll see you next year.