Friday, December 27, 2013

Top 25 Holiday Movies and Specials (Holiday reviews, sorry this is a bit late)

Now that Christmas is over, I've had a chance to look over some classic holiday films, so I've decided to compile a list of the best.


Set during Christmas, or has something to do with the spirit of the holiday

Can be anything from movies, to TV specials, to TV episodes

That about covers it.

25. Black Christmas: This 1974 film comes from director Bob Clark (who would go on to direct A Christmas Story) stars Margot Kidder, Olivia Hussey, and John Saxon and is often cited as the very first example of a "true" slasher film. In fact, some say that John Carpenter was inspired to make Halloween by this film, seeing how many things in that film are similar to this one. An innovative, creepy, mysterious, and surreal horror film, it is definitely worth a watch.

24. Silent Night, Deadly Night: Yup, another cult classic horror film, this time it was released during the huge slasher movie boom of the 1980's, particularly during the holiday-themed slasher boom, which took place between 1984-1987. Following a little boy who, after witnessing his parents' murder at the hands of a killer dressed as Santa, grows up to be a Santa Claus killer himself. Despite causing a lot of controversy when it was released in 1984 (so much so it was banned in certain theaters, something I think is extremely stupid and unjustified), the film has managed to gather a rather large cult following. It's trashy, stupid, horror movie fun for the holidays.

23. White Christmas: This slightly overlong musical, which is a loose remake of Holiday Inn, stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, and was directed by Michael Curtiz (director of countless classic films). It follows two guys from WWII who form a song-and-dance duo which becomes pretty successful. They decide to team up with two sisters, who have their own musical act, to try and raise some cash to save a struggling Vermont inn owned by their former commanding officer. A hit with audiences, this classic film is worth watching around Christmastime. However, if you aren't in the mood for a musical, a two-and-a-half-hour one at that, save it for another day.

22. The Muppet Christmas Carol: This surprisingly well-done movie stars Michael Caine, and well, the Muppets in a retelling of the Charles Dickens novel. Caine does a fantastic job portraying the miserable and decrepit Scrooge. Despite a few lackluster musical numbers, the film holds up pretty well now and it's definitely worth a look if you have kids.

21. Batman Returns: In this dark, twisted, and disturbing comic book movie, Tim Burton cranks the what-the-fuck-o-meter to eleven when Warner Bros. gave him full artistic control over this movie when 1989's Batman became a groundbreaking hit (it was the highest-grossing film in North America alone, although Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was the highest-grossing worldwide). Burton was kicked off the franchise after this film, so you can guess how well this one went over with audiences. However, if you can get past the extremely dark and morbid tone, it's a very enjoyable Batman movie, with lots of action, great performances, and an ironic Christmas setting.

20. Home Alone: This extremely successful collaboration between writer/director John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, Sixteen Candles) and director Christopher Columbus (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Rent, Adventures in Babysitting, Mrs. Doubtfire) not only kick-started Macaulay Culkin's child acting career, but also (unfortunately) deterred writer Hughes away from coming-of-age "dramadies" (the genre he is most known for writing in) and caused him to start writing cheap, stupid slapstick comedies featuring up-and-coming child stars. However, this film is not cheap, nor stupid, despite some over-the-top slapstick (which was the main draw for the child audience). Home Alone is in fact an uplifting, smart, and somewhat funny movie that I would definitely give another watch around the holidays, especially if you have young kids.

19. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang: In writer Shane Black's directorial debut, based on a novel by Brett Halliday, a thief posing as an actor, a real actress, and a private detective are all entangled in a murder mystery. It's a funny and well-written crime film, although it really doesn't have much to do with the holiday season besides the fact that it's set during it. Although you should watch it anyway, because it's a great movie all-around. Shane Black really knows how to write a good action screenplay, and this is one of his best.

18. Scrooged: Bill Murray stars in this darkly comic, modern-day retelling of A Christmas Carol. Frank Cross is a selfish and mean-spirited TV executive who doesn't care about anything in the world except for money and himself. Cross is visited on Christmas Eve by the spirits of not only his former boss, but of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Murray leads an all-star cast, which includes all three of Murray's brothers, and does a great job capturing Cross' cynicism, sarcasm, and greed to a tee. The writers did a great job modernizing and poking fun at Dickens' work, as well as paying homage to it. Scrooged is not only a great dark comedy, but a great Christmas film as well.

17. Bad Santa: Billy Bob Thorton, Bernie Mac, and Lauren Graham star in this hilarious and somewhat touching movie about a drunken bum who plays Santa Claus at malls during the holidays, who must deal with a horny bartender, a corrupt mall security chief, an oversensitive mall manager, and an extremely na ve young boy, with whom he forms a strange bond. I would definitely recommend this one if you want something extremely funny to watch for Christmas.

16. "Night of the Meek" from The Twilight Zone / "And All Through the House" from Tales from the Crypt (tie): These two Christmas episodes were both featured on popular horror anthology shows. The first, from Rod Serling's iconic sci-fi/horror series, is actually a touching and uplifting episode about a miserable, lonely, drunken mall Santa who finds out that his life's purpose is to give gifts to those in need every Christmas, to become Santa Claus. The second, from the graphic and over-the-top HBO show, is a darker and more horroresque tale about a woman who kills her cruel husband for his money, only to be stalked by a psychotic serial killer dressed in a Santa suit. Both are great for the holidays: "Night of the Meek" is better if you're in the mood for something more uplifting and cheery for Christmas (which is funny, as The Twilight Zone is usually considered a generally eerie show), whereas "And All Through the House" is great if you want to watch something creepy for Christmas.

15. "A Very Sunny Christmas" from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia / "Woodland Critter Christmas" from South Park (tie): Another tie, this time two comedy programs. The first focuses on "The Gang" celebrating Christmas in Philadelphia. But, in typical Sunny fashion, all their holiday plans are ruined, usually by their own ignorance and/or selfishness, from Dennis and Dee's plans to teach their greedy and cruel stepfather Frank a lesson using a Christmas Carol-style set up, to Mac and Charlie's plans to "get in the Christmas spirit", everything that could go wrong with these plans, does go wrong: Charlie finds out his mom might be a prostitute, then mauls a mall Santa; Dennis and Dee have trouble getting Frank to see the error of his ways; and Mac discovers something fucked-up about his childhood Christmas traditions. It's also, as far as I know, the only episode that's 40 minutes long, and it's one of the best. The second special focuses on Stan visiting the forest near the town of South Park, only to discover a group of overly cheery and sweet talking animals, who claim one of their own, a porcupine, is pregnant with the child of God: a second virgin birth. Told by a narrator, this dark and hilarious Christmas episode has some insanely funny moments, and shows how morbid South Park can go in terms of humor. The two major twists in this episode are two of the best moments in the season, and you definitely don't see them coming, especially the revelation of who the narrator is. Definitely check these two awesome TV episodes out if you're feeling like some great dark humor for the holidays.

14. The Polar Express: In Robert Zemeckis' first motion-capture film, a young boy boards a mysterious train for a round trip to the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Based on Chris Van Allsburg's beloved children's book, Tom Hanks stars in this well-made and interesting film, which presents the theme of believing in an intriguing manner, where the belief in Santa Claus is shown as this strange challenge of faith. Although that motif ends up making less sense the more you think about it, it is a nice concept. Although some of the mo-cap looks a bit dated (the film is almost 10 years old) and there are a few forced and very irritating musical numbers (which are mercifully short), the film still holds up pretty well, and it does a good job expanding on Allsburg's work and fleshing such a short book out into a feature film.

13. Gremlins: In this fun horror-comedy from Joe Dante and Steven Spielberg,a boy (played by Zach Galligan) discovers a little furry creature called a mogwai, which he dubs "Gizmo" (voiced by Howie Mandel). After accidentally pouring water on it, Galligan sees it spawns several more identical creatures, including one dubbed "Stripes" (voiced by Frank Welker) who appears to be their aggressive leader. When the creatures eat after midnight, they become big, grotesque, and viscous creatures called gremlins, which begin tearing apart the town. Now Galligan, his girlfriend (played by Phoebe Cates), and Gizmo must save the town from Stripes and his small army of seemingly unstoppable little monsters. Despite some dark moments (including a very unsettling scene where Cates explains the true reason she hates Christmas and how she found out there wasn't a Santa, which literally comes out of nowhere), this movie is a fun, light-hearted monster movie perfect for watching around this time of year due to it's Christmastime setting.

12. A Christmas Carol (1984, 1951, and 2009 versions): All three of these films are very enjoyable in their own ways. George C. Scott, Alastair Sim, and Jim Carrey all do a great job portraying Ebenezer Scrooge in their own unique way, and although the 2009 film has the best production value, don't skip the 1984 or 1951 versions, either, or you'll miss some great performances.

11. Elf: This beloved Will Ferrell comedy celebrates its' tenth anniversary this year, and it definitely still holds up. Even though its' gotten a bit stale over the years, as I've seen it so many times, I still think its' an enjoyable and funny holiday film that follows a na ve and eccentric human (Ferrell) who travels to New York City to meet his biological father (played by James Caan) after being raised as an elf at the North Pole. It's an uplifting underdog story, and this is the film that rally exploits Ferrell's capacity for capturing child-like na vet`e as well as his talent for playing strange, over-the-top, and idiotic characters.

10. Joyeux Noel: In this very sentimental and somewhat sad war film set during World War I, French, German, and Scottish troops are at each other's throats in the trenches and battlefields, however, during Christmas Eve, they call a short truce, and spend the night and following day talking, sharing family photos and stories, and playing football. However, when the truce ends, the soldiers must face the consequences from the superior officers. Not only that, but, even more horribly, must now fight and kill the men they've grown to care about from the opposing sides. A moving and beautiful movie about man's capacity for kindness as well as his capacity for violence, this is definitely something you should watch for Christmas.

9. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation: Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo star in the third Vacation movie, written by John Hughes, who adapted it from his own short story ("Christmas '59") from National Lampoon magazine. The Griswald Family, led by obnoxious family man Clark, are preparing for a big family reunion at their home during Christmas. As usual, Murphy's Law takes effect and everything goes wrong for the family, as well as for their neighbors. Definitely one of the better entries in the series, this film is beloved as not only a classic Christmas movie but also a landmark comedy film, and one of Chevy Chase's career highlights.

8. A Charlie Brown Christmas / How the Grinch Stole Christmas (tie): Both these shorts are beloved animated television specials from the sixties, but that's not the only thing they have in common: they also both have anti-commercialism messages, something that still rings true today. They are well-written and still can be enjoyed today. Boris Karloff does an excellent job narrating over The Grinch, as well as providing the voice of the titular character. Charles M. Schultz did a good job writing the Charlie Brown special, and both specials show that Christmas is more about being good to your fellow human beings and appreciating all that life has to offer rather than just focusing on all the commercial aspects that the holiday is over-saturated with.

7. Lethal Weapon: This buddy cop film from Joel Silver, Shane Black, and Richard Donner stars Mel Gibson and Danny Glover as a pair of mismatched L.A. detectives attempting to solve the strange case of a woman's suicide that may actually be a homicide linked to the drug trade and organized crime. This fun, sometimes dark, and action-packed thrill ride is still awesome today, and Glover and Gibson make a great team, and have some fantastic on-screen chemistry.

6. The Snowman: This unique and somewhat tragic Oscar-nominated Christmas short film focuses on a young boy who spends the night playing with a living snowman which came to life in his yard. The special is pretty well-done, but it's the depressing ending that makes this one really memorable.

5. Miracle on 34th Street: Set in the 1940's, this 66-year-old classic focuses on a department store Santa who claims to actually be Santa Claus, who is then institutionalized for mental instability. However, he may not be as delusional as many think he is. This uplifting and well-acted holiday film has become a staple of the holiday season, and I would definitely recommend it to those looking for something more classic for Christmas.

4. Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Although not directed by Burton, it definitely has his name written all over it, probably because he not only co-wrote it, but also produced it, and it's based off his original poem/short story he wrote in high school. The animation is astounding, and it's more impressive considered the amount of time and work it takes to make a stop-motion film, and the musical numbers actually are really well done, and I don't usually like musicals. The entire movie is awesome, and I enjoy watching it not only around Christmas, but Halloween as well.

3. Die Hard: This adrenaline-fueled, innovative, and well-written action film not only inspired countless imitators, but was a huge success with audiences and critics, and is widely considered one of the best action movies ever made, as well as one of the best in the "lone wolf" sub-genre. It's great to watch around the holidays because, well, it's set at Christmas. It really has nothing to do with the spirit of the holidays or human kindness, it's just a fucking awesome movie. It also features Bruce Willis in one of his best movie performances as John McClane, one of the most bad-ass movie heroes in history.

2. A Christmas Story: In Bob Clark's beloved comedy, a young boy in 1940's Indiana wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. Unfortunately, obstacle after obstacle gets in his way, and he must do whatever it takes to get it, all while avoiding his doting mother, vulgar father, school bullies, and dealing with a sarcastic and uncaring mall Santa. This movie still holds up, even if some of the jokes are a bit dated and have gotten old over the years, and it's definitely worth a watch.

1. It's a Wonderful Life: Was there ever any doubt? This classic film about a down-on-his-luck family man realizing how positively he's affected others in his life is a truly uplifting and inspiring story about reevaluating your life and realizing all it has to offer. Jimmy Stewart is fantastic as the very likeable George Bailey, and Lionel Barrymore does a great job as the despicable old miser Henry Potter, the main antagonist. Although a lot of the dialogue is very dated, the acting and overall story are fantastic, and make for a great watch no matter what time of year it is.

Runner-ups: Merry Christmas, Mr. Bean; Blackadder's Christmas Carol; "Time of the Doctor" from Doctor Who; The Little Match Girl; The Small One; Holiday Inn; The Nativity Story; "The Draft Dodger" from All in the Family: A Garfield Christmas Special; The Little Drummer Boy; Child's Play.
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