(Photo by © 20th Century Fox, © Buena Vista, @ Universal)
This 2017 sequel celebrates Father Christmas by doubling the number of moms in the first film. Titular bad moms Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn butt heads with their own mothers, played by Christine Baranski, Cheryl Hines, and Susan Sarandon, in a comedy that doesn’t aspire to much more than a chance for these talented actresses to pass on a little Christmas cheer and chaos. And that they do.
The worst thing Almost Christmas has going for it is also the best thing: it’s so familiar. It’s a big family coming together for the holidays and they all have their own personal drama and relationships but also there’s love there, and more than a few laughs. We’ve seen this movie before, but we keep seeing it (and studios keep making it) because it works. Like milk and cookies for Santa, comedy-dramas like Almost Christmas and the yuletide are a natural, comforting fit.
No, not the classic animated special featuring Frankenstein’s Monster himself, Boris Karloff, as the narrator; that holiday gem sits at 100% on the Tomatometer. This Jim Carrey vehicle, directed by Ron Howard, translates Dr. Suess’ whimsical illustrations into live-action, and the results aren’t particularly good, for goodness sake. But, while the Dr. Suess-meets-Tim Burton’s nightmares aesthetic is a bit unsettling, the comedy holds up — especially in a scene where the Grinch’s own echo shouts “you’re an idiot” at him.
You’ve got to appreciate a movie that gives the whole plot away in the title. One of the earliest Ernest films, Ernest Saves Christmas sees Ernest (who began life as a character in local TV commercials) helping Santa Claus as he seeks his replacement. It’s kind of a proto-Santa Clause, in a weird way.
Imagine if the worst blowout your family had over a holiday meal was a movie, and also kinda charming and cathartic rather than stressful. That’s The Family Stone, which stars the great Diane Keaton as a forceful matriarch and Sarah Jessica Parker as a potential (emphasis on the “potential”) future daughter-in-law. Rachel McAdams as a kind of Regina George in sweatpants almost steals the show. Bring tissues.
Four Christmases understands that the holidays can be rough, especially if you’re dealing with multiple families who may or may not all like each other and/or you and your partner. This 2008 film – which has developed a following over the past decade – adds some hilarious big-name actors (Vince Vaughn, Reese Witherspoon) to that reality in order to create a movie experience that’s a relatable escape. Look out for a very funny turn by Katy Mixon, who would go on to star in American Housewife.
Take the Mother of Dragons and the hot guy from Crazy Rich Asians, mix them with the music of George Michael, bring in Emma Thompson to co-write the script and Paul Feig to direct, and sprinkle a bit of holiday magic over the whole thing, and you’re looking at Last Christmas. Look, we get that the story is somewhat predictable — pretty much everyone figured out where it was going just from watching the trailer — and it’s all a tad overly sentimental, but with this kind of pedigree, it’s hard not to be charmed by its immensely likable stars and its feel-good fuzziness.
It’s fair (if a little reductive) to say that The Holiday is what Love Actually would be if it only focused on two couples instead of, like, 25. Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet star as two women who swap homes for the holidays and fall in love with Jude Law and Jack Black, respectively. A little predictable, sure, but in that special way that’s warm and reassuring — the Christmas rom-com equivalent of chestnuts roasting on an open fire.
There’s something charmingly old-school about Kevin McCallister’s second adventure. He travels to New York by mistake thanks to lax airport security regulations, enjoys a New York City that feels bygone for some vague nostalgic reason, and Donald Trump makes a cameo (that was cute, rather than controversial, at the time). But, if remembering Christmases of yesteryear isn’t enough for you, Home Alone 2 is worth it if only because it’s a hoot to see young Kevin inflict a possibly fatal amount of damage to the hapless Wet Bandits, once again.
If the Jim Carrey-fied live-action Grinch movie (see above) wasn’t quite your bag, it’s worth checking out this animated update on the iconic Dr. Seuss story. We aren’t saying the original animated adaptation isn’t also without its charms; it’s still a holiday classic worthy of celebration. But the visual upgrade you get with 2018’s The Grinch is ridiculously gorgeous, and the film’s attempt to, er, “humanize” the Grinch himself — he was an orphan! He has an adorable dog! — is actually touching, even if it robs the character of some of the bite he needs to make his redemption more compelling.
The Ice Harvest is a Christmas movie in the way Die Hard is a Christmas movie: Arguably. Harold Ramis’ thriller comedy is set on Christmas Eve, and there’s a cool wintery vibe throughout the whole thing. It’s enough to make The Ice Harvest a good Christmas watch when you want to come up for some less holly jolly air while still feeling like you’re honoring the Christmas spirit.
Jingle All the Way is not just an unfairly maligned Christmas movie — it’s also a pretty good Power Rangers movie in disguise. Turbo-Man is a hero for our time, as are dads like Howard Langston (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and Myron Larabee (Sinbad) who, in the true spirit of Christmas (read: capitalism), will brave crowded malls to make sure their kids get the perfect present under the tree on Christmas morn.
A typical workplace Christmas party is either underwhelming (oh, there’s fake holly in the break room) or a terrible mistake (how many co-workers did I kiss?). This 2016 comedy is about the latter sort. Starring Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, and T.J. Miller, Office Christmas Party doesn’t quite go so far as to put the “X” in “X-mas,” but it certainly earns its R rating, making it a rowdy change of pace for this time of year.
Robert Zemeckis’ take on the classic Christmas children’s book was extremely ambitious — only problem was that motion-capture technology wasn’t quite there yet in 2004, so CGI Tom Hanks and Co. ride the titular train straight through the uncanny valley. You can’t help but appreciate what Zemeckis was trying to do, and there’s a very sweet Christmas story underneath the eerily smooth textures. In fact, there’s a case to be made that the uncanny look of the movie only adds to the surreal holiday magic that propels this mighty train’s engines. A case – but not an open-and-shut one.
Another action flick set at Christmastime, Reindeer Games sets itself apart from Die Hard and The Ice Harvest by making the holiday a little more than just scenery. When Ben Affleck and Co. rob a casino, they’re all dressed as Santa Clauses (Santas plural, not the Tim Allen kind). Reindeer Games is a pretty thorough fusion of Christmas and kick-ass, which is no small feat.
Kris Kringle doesn’t actually do much conquering in this extremely cheap-looking 1964 sci-fi comedy. Instead, Martians kidnap him in order to bring some Christmas cheer to their very boring martian children. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the subject of one of the best Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes, but even without the bots’ commentary, it’s a hall-of-fame “so bad it’s good” flick – every character acts like they’re high on a mixture of sugarplums and quaaludes. Also, fun fact: This was the first time Mrs. Claus ever appeared on screen.
The Santa Clause 2 is a charming second reminder to always read the fine print – and one that’s just 5% shy of Freshness on the Tomatometer. It’s fun to see Tim Allen as a more confident Santa Claus in his second go-around, and the film operates in a neat space thematically. Everything is fantastical and Christmasy, while also being grounded with talk of contracts, parenting, and finding love after divorce. Let’s call it “Christmas magical realism.”
It doesn’t take a lot of work to make the Santa Claus fable horrifying (“he knows when you are sleeping / he knows when you’re awake”). So, Silent Night, Deadly Night takes the next logical step and makes an axe-murderer out of him. There are some depictions of mental health in this movie that deserve big lumps of coal, but if you’re willing to just accept Silent Night, Deadly Night as a seasonally appropriate ’80s slasher, you won’t be disappointed.
George Lucas made a habit of going back to update or change parts of the Star Wars films he didn’t like for new “special editions,” but the one thing he can’t do is erase this 1978 TV special from history. Sure, there was a cool cartoon that introduced Boba Fett to the far, far, away galaxy, but the actors all look miserable and/or stoned, large swaths of the dialogue are incomprehensible Wookie-speak, and at one point Chewbacca’s grandpa gets noticeably horny. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth tracking down this holiday season, if only to see why George hates it so much.
Imagine if Psycho was set at Christmastime and centered on a demented British lady and her mummified daughter instead of a demented American man and his mummified mother. Who Slew Auntie Roo — originally titled Whoever Slew Auntie Roo?, because, British — is excellent counter-programming for all that colorful feel-good Christmas fare.