Ever since Hollywood started cranking out movies studios have tried to capitalize on the holiday known for blatant commercialization: Christmas. I don't particularly enjoy watching Christmas-themed movies. It's not that I'm a Scrooge, it's just that most movies that use Christmas as a major plot point are usually really bad. There are a few exceptions, however. So here it is, the list of my Top 10 Must-See Christmas Movies. These are not all cinematic gems, mind you. Some of them are downright awful, but they fun to watch in a Mystery Science Theater 3000 kind of way (watch for free on 123 movies). My Top Ten, listed in no particular order:
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - This is hands-down my favorite Christmas movie of all time, probably because it most closely resembles what Christmas is REALLY like for most families. Chevy Chase has his cousin-in-law Eddie. I had my Uncle Orv. Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, while a minor character, makes this movie a classic. This is actually my favorite of all the Vacation movies. Just forget about the dreadful Vegas Vacation.
A Christmas Story - I remember Darren McGavin most for the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series, but he did a comedic turn here in A Christmas Story, which is the story of a boy who wants a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. There are some amusing moments in the movie, but my favorite is the scene in which a kid gets his tongue stuck to a metal pole in the frigid outdoors. This actually happened to me once, so I guess I feel better about the experience knowing it actually happened to someone else, even if it was in a movie.
It's a Wonderful Life - I don't know what it is about this movie, but it depresses the hell out of me every time I see it, probably because I know that if I was really in a bind like George Bailey the townsfolk wouldn't bother coming to my aid. I know it's supposed to be a sentimental tale about what life would be like if George (Jimmy Stewart) had never been born, but there are some scenes that play like a Saturday Night Live skit and are downright hilarious. I especially like the scene in which George is looking for his wife in his alternate life, and browbeats the angel Clarence into telling him where he can find her. "You won't like it George," says Clarence. "She's an Old Maid. she never married, she's at the LIBRARY!" Noooooo! Hilarious!
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians - This has got to be one of the worst movies I have ever seen, but it's worth watching for the huge cheese factor. I would have like to have been a fly on the wall when producers were pitching this movie to the studio brass: "Let's make a movie about Martians kidnapping Santa Claus!" Yeah! Cinematic gold! Watch for a very young Pia Zadora in this crapper.
Miracle on 34th Street - Was this movie written as an infomercial for Macy's? The department store is mentioned in this film numerous times, perhaps making it one of the first instances of product placement in a movie. The real Santa Claus gets a job filling in as Santa at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade, and then goes on trial to determine if he is sane after he claims to really be Santa. Little Natalie Wood appears in this movie as a little girl who doesn't believe in Santa.
The Santa Claus - Skip the sequels and stick to the original in this film franchise. I normally don't give Tim Allen praise for his movies, but this one is actually entertaining. The other movie I like Tim Allen in is Galaxy Quest, an underrated and unappreciated comedy. In The Santa Claus, Tim Allen must fill in for the jolly old elf when Santa slips and falls off his roof and is killed. Geez, now that I read that last sentence, it kind of makes this movie seem morbid.
Scrooged - Bill Murray plays a TV executive in this retelling of the Charles Dickens classic. The best scene is Murray going on a rant on live TV during a Christmas special. Look for one of Murray's real-life brothers, playing his brother. This one doesn't get re-aired on TV enough during the holidays.
Die Hard - What the hell is Die Hard doing on this list, you might ask? Hey, don't forget, the premise of this flick is that terrorists have taken over a building during a company Christmas party. I'm sure there are plenty of people who wish their company Christmas parties got cut short with their boss getting shot and Bruce Willis offing a bunch of bad guys.
Home Alone - This movie is meant for kids, but I love it. It doesn't really get good until The Soggy Bandits try to break into a home occupied by Macaulay Culkin, who is, of course, home alone after his family leaves town for Christmas. Watching all the ways this little kid tortures Joe Pesci makes it worth watching.
Silent Night, Deadly Night - I love Horror movies, so I had to include at least one of the list. This 1984 "classic" features a psycho killing a bunch of people while he's dressed as Santa Claus. It's not even a good 80s Horror movie, but watching Santa kill a bunch of people is just plain creepy. Parents of little kids were pissed when this movie was first released. They picketed the theaters showing the film, and it was actually yanked from the theaters by the studio that produced it. I don't think they even make the video available anymore, so you'll have to look for this one at eBay or on the shelves of the local video store in the Horror section. A remake of this movie is planned for release next year.