Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jenn's Pick: My Top 10 Must-Watch Christmas Movies

It’s no surprise that I love Christmas. I love everything about the holiday, from the twinkling lights to the carols and warm, fuzzy feeling that spreads throughout your chest at the sight of stockings and trees and presents. Most of all, I love settling into a comfy pair of pajamas, sipping a cup of hot chocolate and putting a good Christmas movie into the DVD player. So, in the spirit of Christmas, I decided to make a list of some of my must-watch holiday films. Most of these are from my childhood and hold a sentimental place in my heart (ANOTHER staple of Christmas, really!).

Which films made my cut? You’re just going to have to click below the cut to find out!

10. Jingle All the Way (1996)

The first movie that I distinctly remember seeing in theatres is “Jingle All the Way.” (The second, in case you were curious, is “Space Jam”) I went to see the film with my Girl Scout troop. No… seriously I did. I remember clearly being so excited to see a film with a bunch of friends – and some chaperones – and the movie, from what I remember, didn’t disappoint. It’s on my top 10 Christmas movies list for the sake of sentimentality, as are a lot of the films on here. I won’t pretend that “Jingle All the Way” is somehow a classic cinematic masterpiece that will stand the test of time, but it IS fun.

The movie is pretty simple in concept, actually. It’s about this dad (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) who constantly disappoints his son because he’s preoccupied with work. The last straw is when the dad – Howard – misses his son’s karate exposition. In order to come up with a way to make it up to him, Howard decides to buy his son the toy of the year: an action figure of Turbo Man, who is his son’s idol. The only problem is that it’s Christmas Eve and Howard spends the entire day battling other shoppers all over town to find the action figure and deliver it home for Christmas.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen this movie in a long time but I do know that it was heartwarming and hilarious, featuring some classic 90s slapstick humor and adventures. Also, it had Sinbad in it.

So there.

9. I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1998)

For a stretch of the 1990s, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was America’s heartthrob. I was not entirely under his spell, though I did love him in Home Improvement and thought he was quite adorable. It wasn’t until “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” that I truly understood WHY everyone was in love with this young man. This, much like the movie before it on my list, is a sentimental choice. It was a film produced by Disney starring Thomas and Jessica Biel (who at the time was rising to fame in 7th Heaven) as a college couple going to school in California. Jake receives a call from his father in New York, offering to give him his vintage Porsche if he can return home to New York by Christmas Eve. Jake has been reluctant to go home since his mother died, and had originally planned to take Allie away to Cabo for Christmas. But with his father’s offer and Allie’s insistence that she wants a “real Christmas,” Jake reconsiders and agrees to make it home in time for Christmas Eve. Unfortunately for Jake, his college nemesis and his nemesis’ friends decide to punish Jake for not helping them cheat. Their punishment involves dressing him up in a Santa Claus costume and dropping him off in the middle of the desert.

The entire movie, then, is Jake’s desperate attempt to make it home on time for Christmas Eve. En route, he meets some fantastic characters, learns more about himself, and finally (spoiler alert) manages to return home and intentionally waits a minute before entering the house. His father offers him the Porsche, still, but Jake – having learned a lot about himself throughout his wacky journey and the importance of family – declines and decides to work on repairing his relationship with his father above all else.

“I’ll Be Home For Christmas” was one of those wacky, shenanigan-driven movies. Jake was a flawed character, but he ultimately learned that family is more important than something you can buy. And that’s a Christmas message worth hearing.

8. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

I remember quite clearly that my family owned a copy of “The Muppet Christmas Carol” on VHS. There’s a good chance that it’s still lingering around my parents’ house somewhere, too. This is probably my favorite Muppets movie (though “Muppets Take Manhattan” is up there), because it’s a classic story that is told in one of the best ways possible.

Based on Charles Dickens’ tale (and narrated by “Charles Dickens” himself, a.k.a Gonzo the Great), this is a story about Ebenezer Scrooge’s character journey from a self-centered miser to a good, generous man.  The tale is nearly entirely told by and performed by Muppets which is extremely impressive. The movie is also chock full of wonderful songs (“Only One More Sleep ‘Til Christmas,” “Bless Us All,” etc.) which make “The Muppet Christmas Carol” enjoyable for children who are introduced to this story for the first time and also for their parents.

I remember loving this movie as a child and watching it nearly every Christmas (likely to the slight irritation of my parents). It’s probably my favorite version of “A Christmas Carol,” to be honest. And if you’ve never taken the time to watch it, I suggest you do so. Like… now. Because it’s a touching, funny, wonderful story.

7. The Santa Clause (1994)

My childhood memories of Christmas include “The Santa Clause.” As I mentioned in my TV Shows That Defined My Childhood post, I watched a lot of movies and television series that involved Tim Allen because my dad was a fan of his comedy. So a clear memory  from my childhood is watching this film with my family. It’s a hilarious but also deeply sad movie (I remember holding back tears as a kid when Scott is arrested and Charlie is devastated) because it’s about a broken family and a broken guy named Scott Calvin.

So the premise of “The Santa Clause” is this: Scott is a divorced father who, after tucking his son Charlie into bed on Christmas Eve, assures the child that there IS a Santa Claus. Scott, of course, doesn’t believe this to be true. But a noise soon awakens Charlie and disturbs Scott so they go outside to investigate and find someone dressed as Santa Claus on the roof of their house with a sleigh and reindeer. The man slips, falls off the roof, and presumably dies. Scott finds a note in the jacket pocket that instructs him to wear the suit (Santa’s body mysteriously vanishes after he hits the ground) and get into the sleigh. Under his son’s prompting, Scott dons the suit and he and the reindeer finish Santa’s deliveries. The reindeer then return the sleigh to the North Pole, where Scott is instructed by the head elf Bernard that there is a “Santa clause” – anyone who wears the suit agrees to assume the identity of Santa Claus. Scott has one year in which to prepare before his role of Santa Claus becomes a full-time job.

Scott dismisses the entire adventure as a dream, but over the course of the next year, he begins to put on weight, grow a beard, and his hair becomes white. Scott’s ex-wife and her new husband become worried that Scott is spiraling and becoming unstable, so they forbid Charlie to spend time with him, revoking Scott’s visitation rights with his son. When Bernard picks up Charlie and Scott to bring them to the North Pole, Scott’s ex-wife and new husband suspect that Scott kidnapped his son to be near him, so they launch a police investigation and set a trap for Scott, which he inevitably falls into as he delivers Christmas presents. After a rescue mission by the elves and confrontation, Scott’s ex-wife and her husband truly see and believe that he is indeed Santa Claus.

“The Santa Clause” was definitely a part of my childhood, and I clearly remember watching this movie multiple times with my family. It’s amazing because it a) contains Tim Allen and a pre-Numb3rs David Krumholtz; b) is hilarious, and c) is also pretty dramatic in places and heartbreaking/heartwarming. If you’ve never seen this Christmas movie, put it on your list to watch this year!

6. Love Actually (2003)

What could I possibly say about "Love Actually" that I haven’t already said? This movie utterly embodies Christmas in every way, shape, and form. It’s about family. It’s about friendships. It’s about new love and old love and fading love and young love. It’s also about loss, which I think is so important, too. Not everyone is celebratory during the Christmas season, after all. A lot of people are mourning and sometimes we forget about those.

Each story in this movie is special and each is unique, though intricately woven together with every other story. I think that, if I was to pinpoint it, that is what I really love about “Love Actually”: the connectedness. There is something so special about seeing all of these people, these broken and flawed individuals searching for love and joy during Christmas, come together and overlap and learn more about love and themselves in the process.

(Plus, it’s a romantic comedy with fabulous music and an even more fabulous British cast so if you have not yet seen this film for whatever reason, go and do it now. Like… right away.)

5.  A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

I’ve started the vast majority of these movie descriptions by discussing my childhood. The truth is that I was introduced to a lot of the movies on this list as a kid and they’ve stuck with me in this very sentimental place in my heart ever since. A great number of those I know have seen “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” It’s a holiday staple, really. In it, Charlie Brown spends the episode being depressed, even though he has presents and sees all the twinkling Christmas lights. Really, Charlie Brown is concerned with the commercialization of the holiday and everyone participating in the materialism of it (it’s deep for a children’s special, y’all). Even Snoopy and his own sister Sally are playing into materialism.

So Charlie brown seeks out the advice of Lucy, who encourages him to find the meaning of Christmas, or at least more spirit, by directing the Christmas play. But at the play, none of the kids want to rehearse and would rather dance around than listen to Charlie Brown’s instructions. So Lucy sends Charlie Brown out to get a tree and Linus accompanies. Lucy and the rest of the gang request a shiny aluminum tree. At the lost, there are many of those trees. But then Charlie Brown spots a tiny, sad-looking sapling and decides upon that tree. When he presents it to his friends, they laugh at and mock him and Charlie Brown becomes even more  depressed, wondering if anyone knows what the meaning of Christmas truly is.

That’s when we get the famous Linus scene where the child, blanket in tow, recites Luke 2:8-14 which describes the birth of Jesus. He concludes with: “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” The special ends with Charlie Brown decorating his sad little sapling by himself before the rest of his friends help him decorate the little tree and sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” together. It’s a beautiful end to a little special that is – out of all of the ones I have placed on the list – about the true meaning of Christmas. I love that every year, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is shown on TV, introducing new generations both to the Peanuts characters and also the meaning of Christmas via Linus. I don’t know if there are words to convey how much I adore it, so just know that I do. Very much.

4. The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974)

My parents introduced me to a lot of things, growing up. One of the things they happened to introduce me to was the joy of stop-motion animation in the form of Christmas specials. Though they’re not listed on here, we used to watch “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town” (which features an animated Fred Astaire). We also used to watch “The Year Without a Santa Claus” which remains, to this day, my favorite stop-motion animated special of all time. Here’s what it is about: Santa Claus gets a cold and hears that the world doesn’t care about Christmas anymore. So he decides to take the year off, and instructs his two trusty elves and baby reindeer Vixen to find people who still believe in him.

The elves unfortunately fly into the crosshairs of a battle between The Snow Miser and Heat Miser and fall down to a town called Southtown, which is in the southern United States. Vixen, not used to the heat, becomes ill. In a series of mishaps, Vixen is sent to the pound and Jingle and Jangle recruit the help of a young boy named Iggy. When they approach the Mayor of the town, he says that he will release Vixen if and only if the elves prove themselves by making it snow on Christmas day.

My absolute favorite characters, meanwhile, are Heat Miser and Snow Miser. Given the agreement that Jingle and Jangle made with the Mayor of Southtown, these two must compromise in order to provide snow in Southtown, a place that Heat Miser controls. When Mrs. Claus and the elves cannot get the brothers to agree, she calls in the big guns: their mother, Mother Nature. Santa ventures to Southtown in his civilian clothes to see if anyone still believes in him. As it turns out, the children DO. Moreover, they all decided that they would make HIM presents if he took the year off. One little girl’s sad letter (“Blue Christmas”) encourages Santa to emerge from his vacation and deliver presents to all the children. And it snows in Southtown.

There are a few things I truly associate with my childhood, and this movie is one of them. I try to watch it every year that it is on television because it holds such a sentimental place in my heart as I recall Christmases past, curled up on the couch in footie pajamas watching this with family. Go watch it, if you’ve never seen it. (I’m just going to keep repeating that with everything on this list.)

3. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

When I was a child (I know I keep saying that but it’s true!), my family and I had a Christmas Eve tradition: we would go to church service at night, come home, watch the animated version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and open presents from our extended family. To this day, if the animated short film is on TV when we get home from our candlelight service, we will do exactly that. This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas movies for a few reasons. Sentimentality aside, it’s a fantastic short film with a fantastic message and it’s by Dr. Seuss, to boot. In case you don’t know the story of the Grinch, here it is: the Grinch is a curmudgeonly character who lives atop Mount Crumpit and hates Christmas. Moreover, his heart is “two sizes too small” so he has no compassion for the citizens of Whoville, who live below him. The Grinch wishes he could steal Christmas from the citizens of Whoville and so – with the help of his dog Max – decides to do just that. He dresses himself up as Santa Claus and heads down on a sleigh on Christmas Eve, sneaking into houses and swiping decorations, presents, and trees and loading them up on the sleigh.

At one house, the Grinch meets Cindy Lou Who, an adorable little girl who hears him in the house and wakes up. Saving face, the Grinch claims to be taking the tree to his workshop to repair and sends her off to bed once more. After he’s loaded up his sleigh with every last ornament and decoration possible, the Grinch heads back to his mountain with Max in anticipation of Whoville’s ruined Christmas. But as morning approaches, the citizens emerge from their houses and joyously sing Christmas carols together (“Welcome Christmas”) which causes the Grinch to realize something he hadn’t before: Christmas doesn’t depend on material possessions – it’s within your heart. As he comes to this realization, the sleigh with the mountain of Christmas decorations nearly topples over a cliff, but with his heart growing “three sizes that day” from watching and understanding the meaning of Christmas, the Grinch is able to save all of the presents and returns them all to Whoville where he also joins in their feast.

I love “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” because it is a timeless tale of the meaning of Christmas. Christmas, of course, is in your heart. It’s not about material wealth or possessions. And now that I take a look at this list and all of the childhood memories I have, I’m proud to have been raised on these principles. My family and I watched movies when I was younger that promoted the true meaning of Christmas and I think that is part of the reason that I am who I am today! So thanks, Dr. Seuss. And thanks, Mom and Dad.

2. The Holiday (2006)

Very recently I was able to introduce two of my friends to the joy of “The Holiday” and I’d like to think that they now love me a little bit more for it. It’s a movie that is perpetually on TBS during the holiday season and one that I will always turn on if it is on television. (It’s also an unspoken rule of our friendship that Jaime and I will always text one another when this film is on.) Why I love “The  Holiday” is pretty simple: it’s a romantic comedy that is centered around Christmas and features a stellar cast who portray fantastic characters, utilizes humor and heart in its storytelling, and never gets old.

It’s a story of two polar opposites with one thing in common: Amanda Woods and Iris Simpkins are both frustrated with their lives and because of that, the two women decide to exchange homes for two weeks during the Christmas holiday. Amanda flies to Iris’ home in Surrey, while Iris travels to Los Angeles to stay in Amanda’s mansion-like home. Amanda has trouble adjusting to the slow pace of Surrey… until she meets Iris’ brother, Graham, and begins to fall for him. Meanwhile, across the world, Iris strikes up a friendship with an elderly gentleman in Amanda’s neighborhood named Arthur who teaches her a lot about herself and life. As she learns from the man, Iris also grows closer to Amanda’s ex-boyfriend’s composer friend named Miles.

Besides being funny, sweet, and insanely quotable, this movie is about what it means to find joy in yourself and who you are during the holiday season. Both Amanda and Iris don’t really like themselves or their lives at the beginning of the film. But Iris learns to stop being a pushover and Amanda learns to let people into her heart and become less guarded. Neither of their lives changed all that dramatically, but they changed because they saw who they TRULY were, thanks to Graham and Miles (and, in Iris’ case, also Arthur). What better way to celebrate the Christmas season than by falling in love with yourself, right? 

1. Elf (2003)

I watch “Elf” every single year. Most years, around Christmas, I will watch this movie six or seven times. The funny thing is that I never tire of it, even though I can quote most of the lines (it’s a VERY quotable movie) and know exactly what will happen and when it will happen. I think this is the mark of a true classic, though: if you’re able to watch the film multiple times without tiring of it, the moviemaker did SOMETHING right.

“Elf” is everything that a great Christmas classic should aspire to be. And what I think is interesting is that even though it is ten years old, it is successful because it incorporates elements of classic Christmas movies into it, while managing to incorporate newer elements as well. For example, this film utilizes some claymation at the beginning which is a great callback to all of the films I mentioned earlier on my list. “Elf” is a story with a hilarious, wonderful protagonist who shows growth, fantastic jokes and moments, some “adult” jokes for the parents taking their children to see the movie, and a small but important romantic element, too. It’s a story about family and about loving people and learning that this is what Christmas is TRULY all about.

For those who don’t know the plot, “Elf” is about a human named Buddy who was adopted and raised by elves in the North Pole after he crawled into Santa’s bag at an orphanage as a baby. When he discovers that he is human, he sets out to New York to find his real father, a man named Walter Hobbs who is a curmudgeonly, grumpy book editor with a wife and son. Walter is a workaholic and doesn’t spend time with his family, really. When Buddy excitedly locates Walter and tells him that he is his son and has been living in the North Pole, raised by elves and sent by Santa… the man is understandably concerned. But after a test that proves Walter is indeed Buddy’s father, the man must accept it. Buddy takes a holiday job at the department store Gimbel’s where he meets a young woman named Jovie who is beautiful and also sarcastic, with a great singing voice. Eventually, Buddy begins to fall for Jovie and she for him.

Meanwhile, Michael has a difficult time accepting Buddy and his oddities, until Buddy helps Michael defeat bullies in a snowball fight. After that, the two begin to bond as brothers. Walter, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly stressed at work and is rapidly approaching a deadline on Christmas Eve. If he blows his book pitch, he will be fired. After Buddy has an amazing date with Jovie, he bursts into Walter’s conference room saying that he is in love and… mistakes a dwarf children’s book editor named Miles for a North Pole elf. After Miles attacks Buddy for his comments, Walter explodes in rage at his son, saying that he doesn’t care who he is, but he wants Buddy out of his life.

Buddy, upset and fearful, runs away. But as he is about to do so, he sees Santa’s sleigh crash in Central Park. Michael, upon learning of Buddy running away, bursts into his father’s office and informs him of the news. After a moment of inward debate, Walter quits and decides that his family is much more important to him than his work. So Walter, Buddy, and Michael find themselves in Central Park and end up helping restore Santa’s sleigh into working condition by spreading Christmas spirit. Nearby, Jovie does her part because “the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

In the end, everyone celebrates together as a family and it’s revealed that Buddy and Jovie eventually marry and return to the North Pole to visit Papa Elf with their daughter.

“Elf” is amazing and flawless. It’s hilarious and sweet, contains a blonde Zooey Deschanel, James Caan as Walter Hobbs and the wonderful message that family is family, no matter how or when they become your family. And Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate that.

So there you have it, friends! Those are my 10 must-watch Christmas movies. What are some films that get you into the holiday spirit? Feel free to hit up the comments and let me know. And, as always, have an amazing weekend and a very merry Christmas! :)

1 comment:

  1. Great list! I remember watching Santa Clause, I'll Be Home For Christmas, and Jingle All the Way all the time growing up. It's been so long since I've seen them. Elf and The Holiday always seem to be movies I miss watching every Christmas - *making mental notes for next year*
    Movies that get me in the Christmas spirit are National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and It's A Wonderful Life. Especially IAWL - I just saw it on the big screen. It made watching it at home even more glorious. Merry Christmas!