A genuinely excellent Christmas film should capture the spirit of the season. Because we all have distinct customs, Christmas movies can take a variety of chestnut-roasting, Jack Frost-nipping shapes: unrelentingly happy musicals, faintly religious dramas, boldly gloomy horror pictures, or joyously filthy comedy, to name a few.
The Greatest Christmas Films of All Time
We don’t want to make any conclusions about your family or friends—they may all be claymation characters, after all. But confronting terrorists at Nakatomi Plaza is surely not a good way to start the holiday season. With apologies to John McClane and fellow “put your action thriller on Christmas” enthusiast Shane Black, the films you’re about to read about are, in fact, about Christmas—with all the joys, concerns, and shocks that entails. We’re building a list, just like Santa Claus, but we’re double-checking it because this is serious business. Who does a double-check on a list? We’ll also tell you where you can watch them right now, with a focus on subscription streaming services, though you can usually rent most of these films via Amazon, iTunes, VUDU, and YouTube. Alternatively, if you’re feeling ambitious, look for old VHS tapes stashed someplace.) What would Christmas be like if there was no way to get instant gratification? Check out our list of the top Christmas movies on Netflix this year for more festive inspiration.
Just Friends (2005)
Just Friends is an unusually revealing legacy of mid-2000s rom-com-dom, with its cutesy Ben Lee song on the soundtrack, constant fat-suit gags, and representation of the music business as a viable career path unaffected by piracy. A post-Van Wilder scenario As Chris Brander, a high school outcast who reinvents himself as a guy who looks like Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Reynolds smarms it up. While home for the holidays, Brander gets preoccupied with winning over his best friend and teenage crush, Amy Smart. (Thankfully, Anna Faris and Chris Klein appear in supporting roles and steal the show.) It’s a taste of cringe-inducing nostalgia in the form of a film, similar to looking through an old Abercrombie catalogue. But as a holiday film? It portrays the underappreciated sense of being stuck in your hometown with remarkable granularity.
Horror comedy is already a risky genre. Why not throw in a “Christmas movie”? You’re inviting trouble. (Look at the majority of the films on this Christmas horror list.) But Krampus, filmmaker Michael Dougherty’s folklore-inspired horror film (Trick ‘r Treat), manages to straddle the line between hilarious parody and genuine terror. Although not every element works—Adam Scott’s caustic wit as the family’s straight-laced patriarch is basically wasted—any film that has a moment in which menacing gingerbread men shoot David Koechner in the leg with a nail gun deserves some love.
The Night Before (2015)
Seth Rogen’s formula has been refined to the point that you probably know what to anticipate from a Seth Rogen Christmas film: pot jokes, broad physical comedy, and people struggling to acclimate to adulthood’s challenges. For the most part, it works. What’s impressive about The Night Before, which also stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie as Rogen’s childhood friends who reunite every year for a wild, drug-fueled holiday celebration, is that the film’s four credited writers manage to inject just enough melancholy into the gag-heavy material to make you tear up. It’s a stoner comedy with a sweet, gooey heart.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
Jingle All the Way is a cynical commodity marketed to children, much like the plastic toy that Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad battle over in this stinging kiddie comedy. Howard (Schwarzenegger), a workaholic father, must acquire a Turboman doll for his cherub-like kid Jamie (Jake Lloyd of The Phantom Menace), or Christmas will be a flop. From there, the plot twists and turns, converting a potentially relatable parental anxiety about meeting a child’s consumer demands into a frantic action comedy with a wicked sense of humour. (At one point, Howard insists, “I’m not a pervert.”) “All I wanted was a Turboman doll.” ) Critics panned the film at its first release, but it’s yet another Schwarzenegger oddity that will live on in the shape of GIFs and Ah-nold soundboards in perpetuity.
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