December 24, 2009

What's the Best Christmas Movie Ever?

The "Christmas" movie sub-genre is a particularly cheesy side of the Hollywood machine. There are hundreds and hundreds of Christmas movies with precious few even half-way decent entries. On top of the usual crap that the major studios churn out - like the abysmal Fred Claus, a Christmas clunker starring Vince Vaughn as Santa's big brother and the ineptly casted Paul Giamatti as Claus himself - there's also and endless stream of made for TV Christmas stuff that takes terrible to the next level. I just saw a promo for something called Santa Baby that stars Jenny McCarthy as Santa's daughter, a successful executive who wants to take over the family business. Or how about Snow 2: Brain Freeze which stars Tom Kavanaugh (wow!) and follows up the classic tale from the original Snow! Who could forget the 1985 classic Santa Claus: The Movie (imagine what kind of asshole you'd have to be to think adding "The Movie!" to the title was a good call) that is the amazingly bad combination of a Santa Claus origin story, where an old man is offered immortality and chooses to spend it delivering toys to children and a strange, completely disconnected second story, set in the modern era of an evil toy conglomerate that hires a disgruntled former North Pole elf played by Dudley Moore and even manages to incorporate some pointless Santa sleigh stunt driving and magic candy canes that make children float. I'm not making that up; that's really the plot of Santa Claus: the Movie.

Mixed in with the endless stream of crap, there are some truly classic Christmas movies like Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life. Those movies never really connected with me. As a child, the black and white turned me off and the films never really became a part of my Christmas tradition. But films like A Christmas Story, which does a nice job of capturing the excitement and anxiety of Christmas for children - and features the world's sexiest lamp - and Scrooged, Bill Murray's take on A Christmas Carol, where he plays a heartless television executive hit my sweet spot much better. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (which I'm watching as I type this while wearing a Wally World Marty Moose Santa hat; I kid you not, it comes in the new Blu-Ray Ultimate Collector's Edition tin) usually gets watched annually, even if it is sometimes just part of the Christmas blur in the background between wrapping presents, slugging back eggnogs or whatever other seasonal activities I get up to. Jon Favreau's Elf, in recent years, was a Christmas movie worthy of repeated viewings. I think that's a big part of a successful Christmas movie is re-watchability because the holiday itself is all about tradition. You do the same things, listen to the same songs, eat the same meals and, by extension, watch the same films. Nobody wants to watch a Christmas movie in July so if a movie's going to weasel it's way into your personal or family tradition, it better be something you can watch multiple times. And Tim Allen as Santa Claus(e) just isn't gonna cut it.
So what is the best Christmas film of all time? And, really I guess the real question is, does it even matter? Is the title of Best Christmas film of all time essentially on the same level as being named valedictorian of summer school?

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