WASHINGTON. In our previous article, we explored the bottom 5 of our Top 10 picks for the best ever Christmas films, 2018 Edition. Today we present our final five, the very best of the best Christmas movies of all time. Our final five includes one astounding entry from Finland. We’ve made it this year’s Number One Christmas movie pick. 2018 is currently introducing at least one potentially notable new Christmas film. So we’ll have to see if this one has what it takes to enter our next Top 10 Christmas film list for 2019. But as it stands right now, our final 5 films win pride of place on our (hopefully) prestigious list of the Top 10 Christmas movies of all time for the year 2018.
If you have a favorite that’s not on our list, feel free to suggest the film in our comments section below. We’ll take a look and see if it should get into our next competition. Our listings are not entirely democratic. But if we’ve missed something that many other readers love, we want to know
Best Christmas movies: The Final Five
Here we go in reverse chronological order, ending up with our pick for the Top 10 Christmas movies of all time, the 2018 edition.
5. “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947).
Long resident on most 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. By the end of the film, Gwenn makes you wonder if there really is a Santa Claus after all. If so, it’s surely he.
Here’s a key clip from the (not very perfectly) colorized edition of this originally 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. Fans of vintage films consider this film a no brainer when recommending this somewhat difficult to find classic.
You can sometimes stumble upon this one via one of the classic movie cable TV channels. I also found a fairly decent version this year on YouTube, although that video nipped off the final key lines of the film.
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, we think, to the spirit of Dickens’ original, sentimental tear-jerker. From the outset, Dickens’ original tale is Grimm Fairy Tale, un-Disney-fied dark.
This gloomy, black and white British film captures not only the most immortal of all time Christmas miracle – the conversion of skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge. It also refuses to flinch from the darker side of the Victorian London endured by the city’s wretched poor. This is the savagely oppressive London the once equally impoverished Dickens himself never forgot as we readily see in most of his fictional works.
There is purportedly a colorized version available (we haven’t seen it) of the original B&W film. But most film aficionados still prefer this one in black and white.
Let’s drop in on the old miser at a transformative moment in this, one of our darker Top 10 Christmas movies for 2018.
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 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.
Trivia buffs: as depicted in the adjacent and somewhat fuzzy still, Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are dancing on top of a swimming pool cover that is soon to be surreptitiously opened by a dastardly young man who’s a rival for Donna’s hand. We see him in the immediate background. Who is that nasty guy?
Before we give you the answer, why not take a look at the closing moments of this uplifting film?
Pop quiz answer: Our mystery villain/prankster? It’s Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, former chief crooner and heartthrob in many “Little Rascals” shorts in the 1930s. What was left of Switzer’s film career gradually evaporated after this film, and he came to an unfortunate end in the 1950s.
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, 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 this 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.
The rare plot of “Rare Exports”
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, with whom Kaurismaki obviously did not collude.
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.
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.
Making matters worse, the invader or invaders return to slaughter the village reindeer herd, its main source of protein during its harsh winter weather.
It turns out we’re being introduced to a peculiarly Finnish version of the Father Christmas legend. Or anti-Father Christmas might describe this fellow(s) better.
The Santa(s) we encounter here proves the very antithesis of either Old St. Nick or the American Santa Claus. But never fear. 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 eventually hilarious results.
We won’t give the rest away. No spoilers here. But for more on this film and another weirdly creepy one we discovered last year, follow this link.
Final opinion on a great Finnish film
As for “Rare Exports,” this haunting, scary, beautiful, occasionally gory film offers a strange but wondrous combination of terror and laughter all strung together by a surprisingly compelling mystery plot. 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 actually enjoy together and one that boys Pietari’s age and a bit older will seriously get into. No, they will love it.
Without a doubt, it’s the most creepy and the most fun of all our best Christmas movies.
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 our top spot for the third consecutive time on this year’s listing of the Top 10 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.
The film’s footage was actually shot in a variety of locations. The famous Parker family house and select outdoor environs were filmed in the funky, arty, ethnic West Side Cleveland neighborhood of Tremont. This was a working class ‘hood in the ‘40s and ‘50s. After a decades-long decline, it’s now becoming a fashionable and trendy neighborhood in this slowly reviving Rust Belt city where this writer had his own secret origins many moons ago.
Trivial pursuits for “Christmas Story” fans
For trivia buffs, the “Christmas Story” house itself 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. You can add this one to your itinerary the next time you’re in town visiting the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Other scenes in the film, including those at the school and in the schoolyard, were actually filmed farther north in St. Catherine, Ontario. That Canadian province has for years served as another low-cost mecca for strapped film producers looking to save a buck on production costs. The filmmakers shot the rest of this film’s scenes, including house interiors, on a soundstage.
The plot thickens
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 in perhaps the finest role of his career), 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 the 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.” (That fear was second only to “catching your death of cold.”)
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, exciting, but imaginary adventures. They remind us of the late, lamented “Calvin and Hobbs” cartoon strip. Unsurprisingly, Calvin’s very private creator also grew up in and around Cleveland. More period-piece fun includes those time-tested double- and triple-dog dares, and that always-disastrous tongue-on-the-frozen-flagpole trick. (Hint: Even today, don’t try this one without a portable blow-drier at hand.)
And let’s not forget the film’s pièce de resistance, that fantastic, world-famous Leg Lamp (pictured above). You can get your very own copy of dad’s “major prize” at the Christmas Story museum store in Cleveland.
Some critics dislike the voiceover narration in this film. Author Jean Shepherd himself performs this chore himself in the guise of the adult Ralphie. But the narration, at least for this writer, never gets tedious, the opinion of many film critics to the contrary.
We tried to find a good clip from the film for this Final 5 review. But all the short YouTube videos festoon the footage with dull, opportunistic ads and watermarks that deliberately obscure the footage. Rather than annoy you with these, here’s a clip of people visiting the “Christmas Story” house in Cleveland. As for viewing the film, you can easily find it on cable and download services.
That wraps up our 2018 list of the Top 10 Christmas movies of all time. Let’s see if Hollywood can beat any of these classics in 2019.
God bless us, every one!
Come back in December 2019 for the next edition of CDN’s best Christmas movies.
—Headline image: Screen capture of a short YouTube video scene from “Christmas Story,”
featuring a nostalgic exterior shot of the “Christmas Story House” in Cleveland, Ohio.