It’s that time of year again where you search for the Christmas movies stored somewhere in the basement to watch while the Christmas tree is being decorated. These movies are not the generic Hallmark specials that are sloppily produced or re-run every year; they are classics that the entire family can sit down and enjoy.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation | 1989 | PG-13
Although this movie is the third in a series of National Lampoon Vacation movies, you don’t have to watch the predecessors to enjoy this. Clark Griswold (played by Chevy Chase) attempts to host the most entertaining and enjoyable Christmas ever at his home, but like any Vacation, things begin to go awry.
Clark’s dedication to making the Christmas holiday an entertaining one can be described as extraordinary–going to the extreme in order to cover his home with thousands of lights. That didn’t come without its challenges, however; he loses his footing on the roof while stapling lights, sliding off the roof and falling into a bush. He also cuts down a massive tree in the wilderness using his bare hands, because he forgot his saw at home, to display in his living room.
The primary highlight of this movie is how accurately it portrays a stressed middle-class dad just trying to please his family during the holidays. Things break, there’s some swearing, people start arguing with each other — it’s the entire package. The delivery of some of the jokes are superb, but other times they fall flat, making me eagerly wait for the next well-executed joke.
The Polar Express | 2004 | G
The Polar Express was adapted into a feature-length film from a book of the same name written by Chris Van Allsburg in 1985. The movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis and featuring voice-overs by Tom Hanks, is the youngest on the list at only 15 years old. However, most already consider it a Christmas classic.
This movie does a great job at encapsulating the wholesome Christmas spirit within the gullible child in us. It starts on Christmas Eve with a boy who doubts that Santa is real, and then train wakes him up in the middle of the night. Curious, he rushes outside to find the conductor asking if anyone wants to board, and the train’s destination happens to be the North Pole. The boy initially decides against boarding, but jumps on at the last second to embark on the journey of his life.
The plot otherwise is predictable. I could see the girl’s golden ticket somehow finding its way back to her twenty minutes before it happened, and I knew that the boy would be picked to receive the first gift of Christmas. However, this movie was not created to utterly surprise the viewer with an unexpected plot twist.
No cinematic journey would be complete without the music – and it’s the most memorable part of this film. The energy and enthusiasm in “Hot Chocolate” (one of my favorite scenes in any Christmas film), the excitement in “The Polar Express” as the train enters the North Pole, and the emotion in “When Christmas Comes to Town” solidifies this movie as the best on this list. Other tracks are present in the movie too, but these three take the cake as the most spectacular.
With the fantastic music and an easily understandable plot, this movie will always have a soft spot in my heart.
Home Alone | 1990 | PG
Left alone after his family rushed out of the house to not miss their flight for Paris, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) discovers that he’s home alone and can do whatever he wants! However, a couple of burglars are trying to break into his home; but, with clever tricks and traps, Kevin manages to keep them at bay.
The movie centralizes its comedy into how Kevin configures his traps to catch the burglars, and it does a goodjob with it. I honestly was surprised that Kevin was left behind at all, but I suppose it’s possible with a family that size.
Other than Kevin and the burglars, this movie doesn’t have much substance in my opinon. It’s good for a laugh in the moment, but to me it’s not as fun to rewatch as some of the other movies on this list.
Elf | 2003 | G
Accidentally transported to the North Pole as a toddler, Buddy (Will Ferrell) is raised to a full adult by Santa’s elves. Sensing that he doesn’t fit in, Buddy travels to New York to search for his genuine father in full elf attire. His real father turns out to be a comtemptous businessman, who initially doesn’t believe that Buddy is his biological son. However, after a DNA test confirms the two are biologically related, the father begrudingly attempts to start a relationship with his son after so long.
This movie dutifully fulfills its role as a comedy – I genuinely laughed when Will Ferrell shouted, “SANTA!!!!! OH MY GOD” in the retail store. I loved watching Buddy trying to adjust to the human world, and all the failures along the way. Spinning in revolving doors until you get dizzy and want to puke, downing an entire two liter bottle of Coke, not understanding how escalators work — it’s a comedic goldmine.
I entered this movie with a hint of disdain because I didn’t think I would enjoy Will Ferrell yelling constantly. Although, it turns out that the yelling can be pretty hilarious when you’re dealing with an oversized elf in a foreign land.