WASHINGTON – For some reason – lack of time most likely – I never got around to finalizing a Top Ten Best Christmas Flicks article for 2019. And I almost missed this year’s entry for the same reason. But as the song lyric says, “We need a little Christmas.” And we need it more than ever as we conclude this gloomy 2020. The year began with great promise, as the economy shifted into 6th gear. But it ends on an ominous note, as it concludes with highly dubious election still up in the air even as many governors busy themselves destroying America’s small businesses because, Coronavirus. What a depressing mess. But never despair. That’s why I’m posting this slightly late Top Ten Best Christmas Flicks extravaganza.
The Christmas holiday season is still the “most wonderful time of the year,” as another songsmith tells us. Even as many of us remain under indefinite house arrest, because Dr. Fauci said so.
But Fauci’s irritating social prescription has a silver lining. We can still sit in our living rooms and enjoy an endless array of streaming video and vintage DVDs loaded with a veritable ton of Christmas films in all sizes, shapes and attitudes. So, without further ado, let’s head for my Top Ten Best Christmas flicks of all time: The 2020 edition. If you have suggestions for our 2021 list, drop them in our comments section below. Just scroll down through the phalanx of ads that follow this article.
10. The Holly and the Ivy (1952): Drama
We found this one via Ace of Spades just before we were ready to finish this year’s Top Ten Best Christmas flicks list. It’s an obscure film in the US, at least. But the Ace of Spades entry jogged our memory, reminding us that we’d seen this one somewhere, back many years ago.
With a hat tip to Ace – one of the best sites for straightforward political opinion of the truthful kind – I’m including their brief write up on this film rather than try to recollect it via my gradually fading memory cells.
“Try this English drama about a widowed pastor whose children don’t tell him what’s going on in their lives because, well, he’s a pastor and they’re sinners (and a saint). Encapsulates the increasing alienation between secular and religious culture (though in a less materialistic way than Bishop’s Wife). Sir Ralph Richardson (Time Bandits, Rollerball, Dr. Zhivago, Four Feathers, etc.) stars, with a small role featuring William Hartnell, the original Dr. Who. (Public Domain at Internet Archive)”
As Alfred E. Neumann proclaimed, “Our price: Cheap.” Give this one a try, particularly if you’re a fan of British films. A YouTube version may also be available
9. Hallmark TV Christmas movies
Hallmark makes so many of these Christmas films each year that it’s impossible to choose just one for this year’s Top Ten Best Christmas Flicks feature. Critics dump on them annually. But that’s because today’s sneering crop of nihilistic critics are almost universally a nasty troupe of atheistic cynics who hate Christmas and the Christmas spirit. Which naturally leads them to go nuts hating every year’s fresh crop of hopeful and double-plus romantic Hallmark films for the holidays.
Doubtless, each Christmas season reminds these contemporary Scrooges of the times when mom and dad made them go to church every Sunday. But that may be why the whole annual series is a viral favorite with most religious Deplorables living in Flyover Country. Each Christmas film is brightly optimistic as opposed to most current entertainment fare favored by jaundiced critics.
In the recent past, some Grinch-like critics and online trolls (who probably don’t watch this channel) have even called for a boycott of the Hallmark Channel. In the main, Hallmark hasn’t caved to these Cancel Culture clowns. Its Christmas movies remain among its most profitable offerings. But the Channel’s management may be trying to accommodate the anti-Christmas idiocracy this year. Evidence? Fake News CNN ballyhoos a recent Hallmark attempt to pacify the vocal minority of Christmas movie haters.
Are the PC Police after Hallmark’s Christmas films?
George Zaralidis, vice president of network publicity for Crown Media Family, Hallmark’s parent company, issued an emailed statement this past summer to clarify Hallmark’s intentions for their upcoming 2020 releases. He identified “diversity” and “inclusion” as “top priority.”
“‘We look forward to making some exciting programming announcements in the coming months, including announcements about projects featuring LGBTQ storylines, characters, and actors,’ he said in [a] statement.
“Zaralidis added that [owner of the Hallmark Channel] Crown Media is ‘committed to creating a Hallmark experience where everyone feels welcome.’”
Groan. Let’s see how Hallmark holds up to this extortion 2021.
8. Krampus (2015)
The first of a pair of “horror” Christmas tales in this year’s Top Ten Best Christmas Flicks list, this film provides something new and different for families looking for a unique plot twist. Universal’s Krampus certainly fits the bill. (As does Rare Exports a bit further down.)
Background: The origins of the Christmas beast known as Krampus are shrouded the mythology of ancient, possibly pre-Christian, mostly Northern European countries like Austria, Bavaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and even parts of Northern Italy.
Described by one source as “a horned, anthropomorphic folklore figure described as ‘half-goat, half-demon,” Krampus, or “the Krampus” punishes at Christmastime children who have misbehaved, contrasting with Saint Nicholas, who rewards the well-behaved with gifts. In other words, if your kids are naughty, not nice, it’s Krampus they’ll encounter. And Krampus is one nasty dude.
Updating a “traditional” Christmas holiday horror show
Krampus, the movie, updates this folk tale a bit, moving it to the U.S. We meet the selfish and dysfunctional family that will soon attract the title monster’s attention. Given his extended family’s routine and unpleasant battles each year during the Christmas holidays, young Max becomes thoroughly disillusioned with the hypocrisy around him. Unsurprisingly, he finally turns his back on Christmas and rejects it.
Max’s capitulation finally brings his dysfunctional family to the attention of Krampus. The half-goat-demon has been waiting for this moment to occur, giving him the opportunity to fulfill his customary role as Super Scrooge and Satan rolled into one. He and his minions terrorize Max and his family, transforming symbols and icons of holiday good cheer into threatening weapons of death and chaos.
Director Michael Dougherty holiday film rates PG-13 “for sequences of horror violence/terror, language and some drug material. Here’s a trailer that will give you the flavor of Krampus. Should you dare to click on the arrow:
7. The Santa Clause (1994)
Bob Siegel, one of our longtime CDN contributors, called this film “A unique idea and fresh take on the Santa Claus legend. “This time,” Bob continues, “we learn that ‘Santa Claus’ is actually the title of an office to be filled. When one Santa dies, another takes his place.”
At the outset, that sounds like another typically stupid Hollywood plot line. But in this case, the stupid plotline became incredibly amusing due to the creativity of this film’s marquee star. Or, as Bob put it in his piece, “The movie would not have worked without the subtle but piercing wit of Tim Allen. His timing and facial mannerisms are priceless.”
Second the motion. Network TV moguls would agree, having brought his latest TV sitcom back from PC oblivion. But more on topic, this Tim Allen film is indeed one of our very few still-nearly-contemporary, Top Ten Best Christmas flicks. The following official 1994 trailer will give you a clue as to why.
6. White Christmas (1954)
This perennial favorite in our Top Ten Best Christmas flicks also immortalized the best ever Christmas song.
Speaking of classic Christmas films, White Christmas is that rare example of a sequel that was more successful than its lesser known predecessor. That’s why we’re mentioning Holiday Inn (1942) in this short summary. Holiday Inn has a stronger, multi-seasonal plot. But Hollywood’s White Christmas re-tooling embraces powerful emotions by tying into still-fresh memories of the Second World War.
That’s why 1954’s White Christmas is essentially a post WWII re-imagining of Holiday Inn. Trading on the likely box office cachet of the film’s signature song, this later flick introduced a quirky but very talented Danny Kaye. He stepped into the shoes first filled by Fred Astaire in the 1942 film.
A remake that’s better than the original?
The 1954 filmmakers scuttled the all-holiday plot of Holiday Inn, putting the Christmas holidays front and center. Even better, for an audience of surviving World War II GI’s and their spouses, the new film’s wartime backstory proved a brilliant stroke. The emotional lift of this patriotic USA boosting plot goes over the heart-tugging top with a generous helping Christmas sentimentality, American-style.
Better yet, Crosby knew how to deliver the goods in his rendition of the 1954 film’s signature song. Tempo, phrasing, even his character’s matching persona are perfect for presenting this classic version of Berlin’s holiday masterpiece. Listening to Bing croon his way through this immortal Berlin classic can still bring a wistful tear to one’s eye.
Without further ado, we present the final production number from White Christmas, the film. In this grand reprise of Berlin’s holiday hit, Crosby, Kaye and company bring White Christmas home again. Grab your hankies.
White Christmas is currently streaming on Netflix. Catch it before it’s gone.
5. “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947).
Long resident on most of the best Christmas movie lists I’ve seen, the best part of this unabashedly Christmas-shopping-friendly film is Edmund Gwenn’s incredibly believable turn as Kris Kringle. Old Kris claims he really is Santa Claus as he dons his suit to portray that jolly old elf at Macy’s flagship store in midtown Manhattan. (Macy’s could have used Kris’ help this year.) As this film concludes, Gwenn makes you wonder if there really is a Santa Claus. If so, it’s surely he. Hokey for today’s younger, more cynical crowd of moviegoers? Perhaps. But we could use some positive sentiments as we endure the final days of 2020.
Here’s a key clip from the original edition of this black and white film.
4. “A Christmas Carol,” sometimes known as “Scrooge.” (1951)
Our Top 10 list of the best Christmas movies ever has been pretty U.S.-centric thus far. But the Brits are serious contenders when it comes to portraying Christmas.
Over the decades, countless films have appeared based on Charles Dickens’ timeless short novel “A Christmas Carol.” But this one, starring veteran English thespian Alastair Sim as that bitter old miser, Uncle Scrooge, comes closest to the dark spirit of Dickens’ original.
You can sometimes stumble upon this film via one of the cable TV channels. It sometimes shows up on YouTube. But versions can be visually or aurally disappointing.
3. “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
Talk about the best Christmas movies, and this beloved film will appear on nearly everyone’s list. We encourage you to peruse our colleague and friend John Haydon’s entertaining and informative 2014 CDN article on the topic.
This great film pits the kind of all-American optimism that bravely pits itself against disaster and temptation. Good-heartedness meets absolute greed in this film as well. But in reality, its occasional, shocking grittiness is what makes this Frank Capra film a contender. In its own special way, “Wonderful Life” is almost like an American “Christmas Carol.” But unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, Capra’s evil banker, Mr. Potter, never learns, even though our hero gains in wisdom even in his darkest moment.
Here’s a B&W video clip of this film’s concluding action. Portions of it are a little grainy. But if you haven’t seen the film (??!!) or want to use this uplifting conclusion as a substitute for all the nonsense you’ve endured this year, just click on the arrow in the graphic below. Film available on many sites.
2. Rare Exports (2010)
We initially discovered this Finnish film on Netflix during Christmas 2012 as we surfed for random Christmas on Netflix. We were absolutely blown away by its originality and dark hilarity. Utterly different from anything else on our list (except for Krampus), it resembles no other Christmas-themed film you might ever chance to see. (That includes the notoriously nasty 1984 mad slasher classic, Silent Night, Deadly Night.) We hope you get acquainted with this marvelously creative and often funny film before the New Year.
Rare Exports is gloomy and spooky, the antithesis of our favorite American classic Christmas films. In many different ways, it reflects the peculiarly introspective and somber inscapes characteristic of many Finnish films. But the filmmakers redeem their dark vision with surprising humor, transforming this movie into a modern holiday classic. Its self-deprecating dark comedy, sly innuendo, political allusions and outright hilarious satire on Christmas commercialism should make this one unique in the annals of Christmas films for decades to come.
More on this Finnish classic
The Aki Kaurismaki-directed film is brightened considerably by the presence of its weird, gawky, highly intelligent young hero, an 8-year-old named Pietari Kontio. He and his widowed dad Rauno live somewhere in Finland’s frigid northern regions, close to that country’s still dicey border with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Pietari and a young friend discover a substantial, American-led drilling operation near their isolated town and decide to investigate. It seems those rapacious Yanks are tunneling into a large hill resembling an ancient, indigenous burial mound. But why?
Not long after this excursion, kids start to disappear from Pietari’s village. The mysterious attacker(s) leave strange talismans resembling voodoo dolls in their stead. We’re being introduced to a peculiarly Finnish version of the Father Christmas legend. But anti-Father Christmas might describe this fellow(s) better.
The Santa(s) we eventually encounter proves the very antithesis of either Old St. Nick or the American Santa Claus. Asserting his Finnish 2nd Amendment rights, Pietari, his dad and the villagers start packing iron as they confront the truth about their Very Bad Santa − with unexpectedly scary and ultimately hilarious results.
A few short scenes might be a little rough for little kids in front of the TV. But in the main, this is an easy, just-short-of-PG13 film the whole family can enjoy together. And one that fidgity boys Pietari’s age and older will seriously get into. No, actually, they will love it.
No spoilers here. But here’s a trailer.
1. A Christmas Story (1983)
This cult classic is still an amazing viewer experience. It definitively re-creates the times and the spirit of a typical Midwestern Christmas back in the 1940s and 1950s. That’s why it’s earned my top spot once again in this year’s listing of the Top Ten Christmas movies of all time. This one endures as nothing less than Christmas heaven for the Midwest’s legion of Deplorables. It’s the way we once lived as kids back when the Boomer era was just getting fired up.
“A Christmas Story” is based on a number of short and semi-biographical works of fiction by writer Jean Shepherd. Its script and some of its dialogue is derived from Shepherd’s book “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” Set in 1940s Indiana but with sets that look very 1950s (except for the cars), this surprisingly accurate (and very funny) depicts the Way We Were back in the day.
For trivia buffs, the “Christmas Story” house in Cleveland, Ohio (see headline photo) is now a museum where you can acquire your very own Leg Lamp, just like the “major prize” that was won by Ralphie’s dad in the movie. Add this one to your itinerary the next time you’re in town visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
About the film
As the film opens, we meet the painfully normal but individually eccentric members of the Parker family. Our young hero, the bespectacled Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), resides with his dad (Darren McGavin), his mom (Melinda Dillon) and his pain-in-the-tush kid brother, Randy.
Ralphie’s fondest Christmas wish involves requesting Santa to bring him a fabulous Red Ryder B.B. gun. Despite a lack of sanctimonious 2nd Amendment opponents in this era, Mom steps up to the plate to oppose her son’s Christmas wish. She opposes the air rifle for the usual 1940s-1950s mom reason. No, not gun control. Mom worries that Ralphie will invariably “put out his eye.”
Key scenes in this film endure as cult favorites. These include the Old Man’s grouchy behavior, particularly in evidence when he confronts the family’s ancient, balky furnace. Other highlights include Ralphie’s frequent, imaginary adventures. They remind us of the late, lamented “Calvin and Hobbs” cartoon strip.
And let’s not forget the film’s pièce de resistance, that fantastic, world-famous Leg Lamp (unveiled in the film clip below). You can get your very own copy of dad’s “major prize” at the Christmas Story museum store in Cleveland. Even thought it’s after Christmas. But clear it with your spouse or significant other first.
— Headline image: Winter at the “Christmas Story” house in Cleveland. Screen capture, YouTube video.