Everyone has his or her own favorite Christmas films, and if you ask 15 people what their favorite holiday film might be, you may get 15 different titles. But some titles seem to recur again and again on many people’s lists, so let’s take a moment to feature them in our new photo gallery (click above).
Though many people consider “Christmas films” to be a genre unto itself, there are actually several sub-genres within. There’s the all-Christmas movie (“A Christmas Story,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” “Elf”) where the holiday is out front in every frame. There are other Yuletide films (“Meet Me in St. Louis,” “The Shop Around the Corner”, “Love Actually”) that use the holiday a bit more selectively, saving the Christmas spirit to add an extra punch to an extensive part of the story. And there are even Christmas-based action movies (“Die Hard”) that have Christmas in the background as everything in the foreground goes kaboom.
Take your pick because there’s something for everybody here. The gallery includes all 15 of our choices, but here is just a taste with descriptions for our top 3 of all time.
1. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
Director: Frank Capra. Writers: Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Capra. Starring James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore.
What else could be #1? Capra’s holiday classic about the power of one person being able to affect the lives of many others, is one of only a handful of films that are considered beloved. By now, most everyone knows the story of George Bailey (Stewart), who has forfeited his dreams so that he could be there for other people and, reaching the end of his rope, contemplates committing suicide on Christmas Eve. He is stopped by his guardian angel Clarence (Travers), who shows how much worse off his town and the lives of those close to him would have been had George not been alive. Emotional without seeming gloppy, powerful without being heavy-handed, the film manages to get me every time. And you also learn how an angel gets his wings.
2. MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944)
Director: Vincente Minnelli. Writers: Irving Brecher, Fred F. Finklehoffe. Starring Judy Garland, Margaret O’Brien, Leon Ames, Mary Astor.
A prime example of how a great film that is not ostensibly about Christmas uses the holiday to deepen its message. Minnelli’s musical depicting one year in the life of a St. Louis family leading up to the 1904 World’s Fair balances songs, romance, comedy and family drama in a story about how the Smith family copes with the news of an impending move that will thwart their older daughters’ budding romances and the family’s dreams of seeing the World’s Fair. But in the film’s most memorable sequence set at Christmas, the sheer unhappiness that the move has upon the family is manifested when the Smiths’ youngest daughter Tootie (O’Brien) suddenly smashes the heads off their backyard snowmen and must be comforted by older sister Esther (Garland) by singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” It’s a scene of the healing power of Christmas like no other.
3. A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983)
Director: Bob Clark. Writers: Clark, Leigh Brown and Jean Shepherd, based on his book. Starring Peter Billingsley, Darren McGavin, Melinda Dillon.
Clark’s film adaptation of a number of several Christmas-themed short stories by humorist Shepherd combined into one fluid screenplay, was a modest success upon its release in 1983. But the years (and round-the-clock cable televising of the film every Christmas Eve) have only added to the the reputation of “A Christmas Story,” and the marathon TV airings have become a holiday tradition in many American households. Set in a small Indiana town in the early 1940s, the film focuses on the Christmas travails of the Parker family — nine-year old Ralphie (Billingsley), whose only desire in life is to get a Red Ryder BB gun; his grouchy dad (McGavin), thrilled to learn that he has won a contest prize which turns out to be a lamp in the shape of a leg wearing a fishnet stocking; and Ralphie’s mom (Dillon) who will not have that stockinged leg displayed in her house. The durable popularity of “A Christmas Story” may be that if “It’s a Wonderful Life” represents Christmas as it might be, “A Christmas Story” is much closer to the Christmas that most of us have to get through each year.
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