I've been looking over a bunch of best-Christmas-movie lists (and some of the worst) and it's difficult to add much to the discussion. While the specific order may vary, there is a considerable consensus about titles that belong on such a top-movie list. Still, I thought I would post mine if only because the top movie is different from my favorite in past years. I will try to explain why, with the list, after the jump (and will acknowledge that the list may change, or at least add some honorable mentions, when I go poking in my holiday-movie collection later).
1. Love Actually
2. It's a Wonderful Life
3. A Christmas Story
4. Holiday Inn
6. Meet John Doe
7. Die Hard
8. Bad Santa
9. Going My Way/Bells of St. Mary's
10. Miracle on 34th Street (original version)
For years the top of my holiday-movie list was "It's a Wonderful Life." Even as "A Christmas Story" grew in reputation and my affection, I kept it at bay by declaring it the best Christmas movie from 1950-2000, while "IAWL" kept the earlier decade and overall title. But both of those movies have been swept aside in recent years by "Love Actually," a movie I can watch again and again, regardless of the time of year; one that is sweet but largely unsentimental; one that understands that a Christmas movie can be aimed strictly at adults; one that dazzles with the way its lives intersect and it moves on a dime from comedy to drama; one that is just plain among the best movies of the past decade. And any time I start talking about it, I want to see it again. So it is now at the top of the list.
As for "It's A Wonderful Life," like millions of other fans, I discovered this when it was still in the public domain and TV stations would play it endlessly at holiday time, often in late-night slots when I was more of a night owl. It remains a great film, not least because its seemingly happy ending does not tie up everything with a bow; the savings & loan is still struggling, the Bailey home still creaky, Potter still the richest (and meanest) man in town. But it also inspires in the most basic way, by saying that people do make a difference in others' lives even if they cannot see it.
"A Christmas Story" is another movie beneficiary of television (and home video), where people who missed it in theaters could discover its anecdotal storytelling, its offhanded humor, its many catchphrases. (I have the "Fra-geel-eh" Christmas ornament.) Of course, it has a NE Ohio cult because of the house, but its lovability transcends geography. Tops of a lot of holiday-movie lists, but not quite on mine, though I do think about it often and smile.
"Holiday Inn" is the best Christmas musical, and far better than the more ornate "White Christmas"; also, it has Fred Astaire as well as Bing Crosby, and Astaire's drunk dance is a masterpiece. Sure, the racial stereotyping is off-putting; still, the movie as a whole is splendid. "Scrooged" is my favorite version of "A Christmas Carol," and Bill Murray's climactic "I get it" monologue is maybe his best single piece of film acting. "Meet John Doe" is famous for creating a situation which made a complete satisfying ending pretty much impossible, but it's still a lovely film. And it has Barbara Stanwyck at her firecracker peak. "Die Hard" is a great Big Dumb Action Movie, and a tart Christmas alternative. Even tarter (and almost as entertaining, "Bad Santa" has a swell Billy Bob Thornton performance, not to mention a Lauren Graham moment that lingers in memory for those of us with long-standing Graham crushes. I think of "Going My Way" and "Bells" as one long (all right, very long) Christmas movie, and there are times I have trouble remembering which scenes are in which. But I like it all. And the original "Miracle" has its slow spots but still works, especially at the end, and the look on Natalie Wood's face.
Feel free to agree/disagree.