Now, when selecting the top five Christmas movies, one must lay down some criteria, beginning and ending with the answer to this question: What, exactly, is a Christmas movie?
For example, are “Gremlins” and “Batman Returns” Christmas movies?
For the sake of this exercise, we will define a Christmas movie as a film that actually is about Christmas, not that merely takes place at Christmas. And we’re only going to do a top five to avoid the always controversial debate over whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie, which will be the subject of an upcoming video here at Conservative Review. Even if it is, it wouldn’t rank in my top five.
Also, for it to be a movie means it was released in theaters as a feature film. Thus, all those great Rankin-Bass and Charlie Brown specials of our childhood, which are national treasures, do not qualify.
5. “The Nativity Story”
Released in 2006, for my money this film is the best portrayal of the actual Christmas story that’s ever been done. Wonderful production values, superbly acted, and faithful to the Gospels, but where the storytelling really soars is providing the cultural context of the 1st century. You especially feel what it’s like to be an unwed and pregnant Jewish teenager named Mary. And the climactic birth scene is so well done that it will make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
4. “A Christmas Story”
Until the release of another film on this list, this was the most quotable Christmas comedy. “You’ll shoot your eye out,” Ovaltine decoder rings, embarrassing bunny pajamas, and risqué lamps are just a few of this classic’s timeless memories. I was 10 years old when this movie was first released, the same age my son is now. And I’ve grown from relating to Ralphie to relating to his father, played masterfully by the underrated Darren McGavin. And now my son loves the movie as much as I did when I was his age.
3. “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947)
The quintessential Christmas charmer, this is the movie that cemented the place of department store Santas and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the American Christmas pantheon. A young and precocious Natalie Wood shines as the daughter of a cynical proto-feminist played by the eternally gorgeous Maureen O’Hara. Both learn that materialism doesn’t satisfy the soul. However, it’s the courtroom scenes that often get overlooked. They’re not just funny but poignant, as the judge and his adviser try to figure out how to navigate a sticky political wicket that applies to our day and age as well: accommodating the conflict between the spirit and the letter of the law when faith is involved.
As soon as my wife and I left the theater after seeing this on its opening weekend, I turned to her right away and said these words: “We just witnessed a modern classic, which we’ll be watching with our kids and grandkids for the rest of our lives.” And it turns out I was right. Not a Christmas has gone by when we haven’t all watched this as a family and laughed at all the same scenes every year as if we’re seeing it for the first time. “Elf” is now not just the most quotable Christmas comedy of all time, but it ranks up there with “Airplane,” “Animal House,” and “The Princess Bride” as one of the most quotable comedies, period.
1. “It's a Wonderful Life”
This isn’t just a movie — it’s an experience, one that all people should sign up for at least once in their lives. I’m not sure any movie ever made better encapsulates the human condition than this one. Frank Capra’s magnum opus may not be the best movie of all time, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one better. It’s a flawless and precious film, with cosmic and existential themes lived out by Jimmy Stewart, one of the all-time acting greats, as well as an excellent supporting cast led by Donna Reed and Lionel Barrymore. If you’re not in tears at the end of this one, you’re dead inside.
Now, Regarding “A Christmas Carol” ...
I’m sure many of you are wondering how it’s possible to leave any of the film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ masterpiece off this list. Needless to say, this is one of my all-time favorite stories, and I would highly recommend “The Man Who Invented Christmas,” about what inspired Dickens to write it, in theaters now. It’s very well done.
But here’s the thing, which adaptation is the best?
While there are many well-done versions of the story, I don’t think any of them rank better than the five films on this list. In fact, having seen almost all of them, I think the 2009 animated version starring Jim Carrey might be actually be the best. It certainly is the most direct adaptation of Dickens’ original tale.
Now, let the debate begin. Merry Christmas!