Think of the holidays and you conjure up images of snow and lights and Santa Claus drinking a Coca-Cola. You likely have many festive traditions and cozy memories. There are so many little things that make the holidays the most wonderful time of the year.
Some movies capture this feeling better than others, almost becoming holiday traditions in and of themselves. Here are our picks for five movies that get the holidays right:
“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (1989)
The granddaddy of ‘em all. You’d be hard-pressed to find a film that sums up the holiday season as perfectly as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
“Christmas Vacation” is another exercise in sardonic Americana by writer John Hughes and is directed by Jeremiah S. Chechik. In “Christmas Vacation” the Griswold family is planning for a fun, old-fashioned family Christmas and all-too-relatable holiday chaos ensues. The cast is led by Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo and it’s a damn good time.
Christmas gets a little less magical the older you get, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try. “Christmas Vacation” perfectly straddles that line between the frustrations of managing the holidays and the wholesome twinkling magic that we all love. It’s an incredibly funny film filled with warmth, and it’s perfect for a family movie night or a solo viewing. If you’ve got a favorite quote, comment and let us know!
“A Christmas Story” (1983)
It’s funny how some experiences are universal. We all can remember that feeling of being a hopeful child with a true obsession with that toy. The toy we begged for and cut out ads for and circled a billion times in the catalog. That nostalgia alone puts “A Christmas Story” a cut above the rest. A true Christmas classic and my personal favorite.
“A Christmas Story” boasts that timeless nostalgia that we love in our holiday specials. It’s all the glitter and joy of Christmas, from the perspective of a child but with the knowing humor that resonates with an adult audience. For this critic, the marker of a truly great holiday film is its ability to age well and to play to the widest possible audience. “A Christmas Story” accomplishes this a million times over. Find yourself, this December, in front of one of the many 24-hour marathons of the film.
I’ve been focusing a lot on films that portray a humorous and relatable take on the holidays. The ones that are endearing because they are grounded in realism. But, there is a reason that it’s called holiday magic and not holiday reality. “Elf” takes those same elements and combines them into this delight.
Buddy the Elf (played by Will Ferrell) is a perfect representation of holiday joy, childlike wonder and ooey-gooey seasonal sap. Despite the film’s gritty New York city background and attempts to ground the plot in some sort of message, “Elf” is all about seasonal fun and shenanigans. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a festive holiday light display.
“The Polar Express” (2004)
Are you sick of hearing the term “holiday magic” by now?
Because magic is an important part of the holidays. Whether it’s buying into a particular story or being spellbound by the beauty of the season or chasing that feeling that seems to only exist this time of year. “The Polar Express” gets this right like no other holiday film does. I can’t say that the 2004 CGI extravaganza has aged well, as a singular piece, but what has aged well is the story. “The Polar Express” is based on a beloved book that has a timeless charm. The film version captures the sweetest moments of the original story but adds a fun little adventure and the voice talents of America’s dad, Tom Hanks. It’s a combination that just…works. Ask me about “The Polar Express” any other time of year, and I’ll do my best critic sneer. Ask me in December, and I’ll change into my PJs and serve up some hot cocoa because we’re going to the North Pole, bitchachos.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (1964)
“But, Cait, this is a TV movie!”
You shut your mouth because nothing says Christmas like those goddamn stop-motion Christmas specials!
Yes. THIS is the ultimate holiday fantasy. Santa’s workshop. The Abominable Snow Monster of the North. A sweet adventure led by adorable heroes. Memorable musical numbers. A goddamn snowman voiced by Burl Ives. This is what we’re all imagining when we close our eyes and dream of those sugar plums.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has had incredible staying power and has become a seasonal staple since its debut in 1964. This one has a way of worming into the heart of your inner child and planting itself there, forever. Can’t miss this one during the most wonderful time of the year.
Did we miss one of your favorites? What’s on your must-watch list during the holidays?
Caitlin is a lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began when she was shown “Rosemary’s Baby” way too early in life. Bylines include The Financial Diet and Film Inquiry. Caitlin is a member of the Online Association of Female Film Critics and the Women Film Critics Circle.