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‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ (1946)
It’s not all good tidings in Bedford Falls, the setting of this Frank Capra classic from 1946. Poor George Bailey (James Stewart) is contemplating suicide after a terrible business deal threatens his family’s well-being just before Christmas. Lucky for him, a benevolent angel (Henry Travers) is there to show him what’s truly important. Although George experiences some dark moments in his journey, this Christmas movie contains one of the most life-affirming endings of all time.
‘White Christmas’ (1954)
There’s nothing like a classic Christmas tune to warm up a party. Named after the yearning Christmas carol by Irving Berlin, “White Christmas” follows a song-and-dance duo (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) as they team up with two equally talented sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to save a failing hotel. With all of this singing power in the cast, this 1954 musical brings Berlin’s songs into the story and romances. And if you’re in the mood for more classic Christmas cheer, seek out the earlier version of this story, “Holiday Inn,” from 1942, starring Crosby and Fred Astaire.
‘A Christmas Story’ (1983)
Follow the topsy-turvy childhood of a now-grown Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) as he reflects upon the best Christmas present he ever got (a Red Ryder carbine action, 200-shot, range-model air rifle!), the trouble he went to get it and several misadventures along the way. The movie’s catchphrase comes from the answer Ralphie gets for his gift request: “You’ll shoot your eye out.” The appeal of the movie’s most famous prop — the leg lamp — is less easy to explain.
‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’ (1992)
Michael Caine plays the grouchy Ebenezer Scrooge in this Muppet-filled adaptation of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” Kermit and company fill the rest of the main cast of familiar characters — like Scrooge’s employee, Bob Cratchit, and his son, Tiny Tim. Perhaps it’s the less frightening Muppet ghosts that make this version so kid-friendly. Regardless, Caine’s performance is a delight for all ages.
‘Miracle on 34th Street’ (1947)
This 1947 film has been remade a few times, but accept no substitutes. It’s the story of a cute girl who comes to believe that Santa (Edmund Gwenn) exists and works at a famous department store. A skeptical Macy’s employee (Maureen O’Hara) isn’t so sure, so when the man claiming to be Santa is taken to court, an upstart lawyer (John Payne) tries to prove he’s right. The little girl in the movie is played by a young and precocious Natalie Wood.
‘Meet Me in St. Louis’ (1944)
Break open the MGM vault for this heartfelt 1944 film, in which Judy Garland plays a loving older sister in a family that is told they will be leaving St. Louis for the East Coast. The movie’s tone can be bright and cheerful, as it is during the catchy “Trolley” number, in which Garland sings to her fellow passengers about love. And it can also be melancholic, like when she looks longingly out a window and sings one of the best renditions of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
This endearing story follows a human raised by elves (Will Ferrell) who ventures from the North Pole to the streets of New York City in search of his real dad (a delightfully grumpy James Caan). In the course of his misadventures, he comes across a disgruntled department store employee (Zooey Deschanel), a children’s book author (Peter Dinklage) and of course, Santa (Ed Asner). As is the case with many Will Ferrell movies, it’s very quotable. And if you say otherwise, then you sit on a throne of lies.
‘Home Alone’ (1990)
By yourself for the holidays? Take some home security tips from Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), the smart kid in this 1990 John Hughes film, who devises elaborate booby traps to fend off robbers after his parents accidentally leave him behind during their rush to the airport. Take Kevin’s dietary and personal hygiene tips only under advisement.
‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation’ (1989)
Everything that can go wrong went wrong in “National Lampoon’s Vacation,” which followed the Griswold clan on its disastrous trip to a theme park. Ditto on their trip to Europe. This third installation in the “Vacation” series offers no break for Clark the Patriarch (Chevy Chase) and his beleaguered family. Of course the Christmas tree will be ruined, the turkey will be overcooked, and the in-laws will be most displeased. Best not to speak of what happens to the cat.
‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993)
Halloweenland’s Pumpkin King, Jack Skellington, wants to play Santa Claus (whom he calls Sandy Claws) on Christmas Eve, despite not quite understanding the concept of the holiday. A Frankenstein-like doll named Sally tries to warn Jack of his mistake, but not before truly evil forces try to ruin Christmas. Based on a story by Tim Burton, this darkly sweet and whimsical stop-motion-animation film by Henry Selick imagines what happens when Halloween’s monsters recreate Christmas with ghoulish Burtonesque flair.
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