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Christmas is easily the holiday that has the best festive movie selection, sorry Michael Myers’ “Halloween” is still good though. Sifting through the endless amount of stale romantic comedies to find quality entertainment can be hard, but here is a guide to Christmas cinema success.

This guide will be separated into the “staples,” which are movies that are necessary for every Christmas celebration and are worth building into a family tradition. The other category is “overrated.” Films in the “overrated” category are often heralded as the creme de la creme of Christmas viewing but leave me with the same feeling of having the biggest present when I was 5 end up being a large pack of socks. 

This is, of course, not a comprehensive list with the multitude of Christmas movies released, but are some of those festive films worth mentioning. Alright, let’s get into it.

 

Staples

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”

This is the funniest Christmas movie of all time. Clark Griswold is the perfect caricature of a well-meaning dad during the holidays. The film is endlessly quotable from the ever-popular “Bend over and I’ll show you,” to Aunt Bethany saying the pledge of allegiance instead of praying before dinner. The movie is outlandish and also relatable at the same time. 

It is the perfect mix of dry humor, one-liners and physical comedy all wrapped up to be the peak of Christmas movie excellence. It is just as good, if not better, on the 20th watch as it is on the first one.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (Jim Carrey version)

The Grinch is one of the most popular Christmas characters, on par with classic character Ebeneezer Scrooge and just below Rudolph on the Christmas character hierarchy. The Carrey portrayal of the character gets the nod because of Jim Carrey himself. This role was built for Carrey, and he shines in every single scene from facial expressions to physical comedy and comedic time that is hall-of-fame levels of amazing.

Jim Carrey is so great that scenes he does not appear in are skippable. Yeah, I’m looking at you Cindy Lou with your song break 20 minutes into the film. The movie is also quotable and relatable because at some point or another most of us have thought about retreating into isolation with our dog during the Christmas festivities.

“Home Alone” (the last third of the movie)

The beginning two-thirds of this Macauley Culkin epic is rather bland. Yes, there are some comedic moments like the aftershave incident, and Kevin McCallister buying groceries, but for the most part, 66% of this movie is skippable. This may seem like it should be in the other category, but the awesomeness of the climax of this movie drags it to the “staples” category. 

All of that being said, the home invasion portion of the movie is iconic. Kevin may be a psychopath, and the “wet bandits” may be unbelievably moronic, but this part of the film is cry-laughing hilarious. Every paint can smash, crowbar hit and tumble down the stairs is funnier than the last. 

Joe Pecsi, in particular, is a maestro when it comes to acting injured in this film and deserves an Oscar nod for his troubles. This end of this film is endlessly rewatchable and something that reduces even the most stoic viewer to a giggling middle schooler. A solid Christmas film choice.

“Die Hard”

The film that rounds out the “staples” portion of the guide is one that many people would argue is not a Christmas movie. Those people are wrong, and allow me to explain why. “Die Hard” takes place on Christmas Eve, and a company Christmas party is central to the plot. There are many references to the holiday, and the fact that it is Christmas Eve factors into many aspects of the movie from the kids pleading for their parents to come home for Christmas to the slow law enforcement response. Also the whole ho-ho-ho machine gun sweater thing firmly plats “Die Hard” into Christmas cinema status.

“Die Hard” is one of the best action films of all time that spawned a so-so franchise with one good sequel and many bad ones. All that aside, this movie is the adult version of “Home Alone” that takes place in a high-rise office building in Los Angeles. 

The film is quotable, tense and action-packed, making for a great Christmas film to break up the normal, comedic Christmas palette. If this movie featured snow, there would be a lot less debate about its festiveness.

 

Overrated

“Elf”

This movie is not terrible, but it is nowhere near as funny as other Will Ferrell films such as “Talladega Nights the Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Anchorman.” The entirety of “Elf” can be characterized as meh. The movie has some good quotable lines, but overall feels like a dense slog of a movie to get through that pays off with a cheesy Christmas spirit moment that is better done in the Grinch movie. I wanted greatness from Ferrell, but all I got was a bland paint by the numbers Christmas film.

“Polar Express”

The animation in this film is flat out creepy and unsettling, and the story is boring. This is the least interesting movie that has been set on a train, which there is a surprising amount of by the way.

Tom Hanks gives a good performance, but even he can’t lift this drab piece of film to holiday greatness. The kid lovingly listed as “Know-It-All” on the film’s IMDb page is so annoying, I never want to hear his voice again, and since he is a large part of the story, that means I’ll pass on this movie every Christmas. This film is fine if you’re in elementary school, I guess.

“It’s a Wonderful Life”

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is listed as the 25th best movie of all time, according to IMDb users. Nope, that’s not right at all. The film is fine with a good message and a heartwarming story, but it has one fatal flaw: it’s boring. This movie, while only 130 minutes, feels longer than a “Lord of the Rings” movie without being half as entertaining. Yes, it’s a “classic,” but that doesn’t mean it’s required viewing around Christmas. I mean, the movie isn’t terrible, but it’s definitely not in the top 30 films ever.

Watching multiple Hallmark movies

Just watch one and you have seen all of them. If this kind of story is your thing, that’s fine, but every single one has the same plot with C- actors, so there is no reason to see more than one.

 

Heat up some cocoa, recite the pledge of allegiance at Christmas dinner and watch the “staples,” and your Christmas break may just be better than ever before.

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