Xmas is right around the corner! And what better way to get into the spirit of the yuletide season than to watch a classic Xmas movie. But which one?
There are so many good ones to choose from. And with all that gift shopping, cooking, tree trimming and endless sports-watching, there’s so little time to enjoy all but a few.
Here are five that have stood the test of time. Whether they jerk your tears or tickle your funny bone – or maybe both — you’ll be glad you watched them, hopefully with the entire family.
#5: Elf (2003) [PG-13].
Will Ferrell’s Buddy is obviously too human-sized to be a real elf, and when he finally learns the truth, at age 30, the giddy man-child sets off from the North Pole for Manhattan to find his real father, a stern and cynical businessman played by James Caan.
Ferrell – who frequently worked in his pre-acting days as a shopping mall Santa – is occasionally over-the-top but his elfin warmth and innocence and slap-stick antics will delight your kids and melt your icicles.
#4: Die Hard (1988) [R].
Detective John McClain (played by Bruce Willis in full comedic badass mode) takes on a band of German “terrorists” (actually, bank robbers in disguise) who take the employees of his estranged wife’s Japanese-owned company hostage on Xmas Eve.
This is one of the most thrilling action movies ever made with summary executions, violent beatings, endless bombings, and mountains of shattered glass offset by non-stop deadpan humor that will leave you in stitches. In the end, Willis not only saves the day but manages to win back his girl. This is a marital healing – forged in blood and gore — for the ages. Not for the kiddies, though.
#3: Miracle on 34th Street (1947) [G].
A delightful comedy-drama featuring child actress Natalie Wood as a petulant Grinch (named Susan) who refuses to believe in Santa Claus. After the store Santa at Macy’s is found drunk, management replaces him with a white-bearded man, Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn) who claims he’s the real Santa.
It turns out that he is, but not before he’s sent to an insane asylum and has to prove his identity in court to avoid being committed for good. Susan, however, remains skeptical of Kringle, especially when the beautiful house he promised her for Xmas fails to materialize.
But on Xmas morning, the dejected girl “accidentally” encounters her dream home, and inside the door, finds a huge candy cane. Gwenn won a well-deserved Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Maureen O’Hara, who plays Susan’s mother originally turned down the role – until she read the script.
#2 Home Alone (1990) [PG-13].
Inexplicably left behind by his vacationing parents and family over Xmas, 8-year old Macauley Culkin (as Kevin) emerges as a feisty defender of hearth and home against two clumsy and befuddled home invaders (including the Good Fellas’ Joe Pesci, in a malevolent comedic turn).
Kids will cheer Culkin’s ingenious tactics to foil his would-be assailants, which leave Pesci and his partner battered and bruised and thoroughly exasperated. Kevin’s snowbound family finally realizes its mistake and rushes home, only to find their adorable and exultant son savoring his victory. This is fun for the whole family. (In a painful irony, Culkin, in real life, would go on to become a homeless heroin addict.
He reprised his role as Kevin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York and there have been two additional sequels without him but only the original really merits watching).
#1 It’s a Wonderful Life (1947) [G].
Jimmy Stewart, in one of his most memorable roles as local businessman George Bailey, becomes despondent and suicidal on Xmas Eve after the savings and loan he inherited from his father faces foreclosure, and he fears that his reputation is ruined.
God sends an angel to remind him of all the good he has accomplished in his life and hundreds of his friends and neighbors — rallied to his side by his worried wife (played by Donna Reed) — come together to celebrate the power of community in small-town America. This indelible classic, while supremely uplifting, also portrays life’s hardships in New York’s fictional upstate Bedford Falls with a gritty realism that makes the ending seems less like a fantasy than a genuine miracle. Nominated for 6 Oscars, including Best Actor for Stewart.