It’s that time of year again — holiday movies will be on every channel of the dial for the next month. But what makes a holiday movie a holiday movie? Is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween or a Christmas film? Sure, Meet Me in St. Louis gave us “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but the film also goes through all the seasons pretty evenly. Also, what’s with The Sound of Music always being played on television around Christmastime? And how on earth did It’s a Wonderful Life — a film about a guy who struggles with suicidal thoughts for two hours — end up a Christmas classic? With this in mind, the arts and culture team at the Manitoban gave our best and worst movie picks of the holiday season.
Kaelen Bell, reporter
Best: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
This seems like too obvious a choice and, in many ways, it is. There’s not a ton to be gained by recommending this movie — it’s one of the, if not the most, ubiquitous holiday movies of all time.
However, in 2019 it feels like the right choice. It’s the holidays, and rather than go edgy and ironic with Black Christmas or feed into the endless debate of whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie — the answer is it doesn’t matter and I don’t care — I’m going with a lovingly animated, feel-good piece of nostalgia.
The world is an increasingly hot and scary place, so I’m willing to embrace the holidays in all their saccharine — but still funny, intelligent and heartwarming — glory. What I want for Christmas this year is disheveled and scrappy Christmas trees, a jazz soundtrack, a lack of adult perspective, kids absolutely busting it down on the dancefloor and some simple, illuminating life lessons.
Worst: Jack Frost (1998)
The Polar Express is the Christmas movie that’s typically associated with the notion of the uncanny valley — but back in 1998, Troy Miller took a trip to the valley and returned with arguably more unnerving results.
Michael Keaton stars as a man named — in a gorgeously understated coincidence — Jack Frost, who dies in a car crash and proceeds to possess a snowman after his son blows a magic harmonica powered by love. Got it?
However, it’s not the confused tone that pushes Jack Frost into nightmare territory. Keaton’s snowman-spirit vessel is a creature of unholy origin, featuring questionable design choices that include lifeless shark eyes and a gaping, toothless mouth — and also the voice of Michael Keaton.
A Jim Henson creation, Jack Frost is more Skeksis than Muppet, and by the end of the movie you may find yourself genuinely rooting against him, if only to have him gone from your television screen. You’ve been warned.
Grace Paizen, editor
Best: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Rudolph is a holiday classic. A background story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Yes, please! Especially when Rudolph is an ultra-cute stop motion animation doll.
The stop motion animation is a treat, especially when Rudolph’s actual light blub of a nose goes off. I am so thankful this film wasn’t shot during our current gloomy era of over-CGI.
And it’s not just the type of animation that makes this movie age well, the double exposure in the film of snowflakes falling holds up 55 years on. It makes me wish producers and directors would advocate more for these old techniques that keep films fresh for the ages.
Also, the music is spectacular. Burl Ives singing “A Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Silver and Gold” is nostalgia at its finest. And “Jingle, Jingle, Jingle” and “We Are Santa’s Elves” are great pick-me-ups. Again, because the timbre of the original music was so solid, the songs still sound fantastic.
Worst: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
Sure, I love this movie. It’s fantastic on technical levels — cinematography, music. But if you actually pay attention to the story, you kind of wonder if the creators weren’t on the devil’s lettuce at the time of conception.
First, this movie borderline advocates for bullying and goes to the mattresses over gender stereotyping. Rudolph’s dad — Donner — is a dick, bullying not just Rudolph about his nose, but being mean to Mrs. Donner about her own son. And yes, that’s right, Mrs. Donner doesn’t even have a first name.
Can we also talk about the stupidly-long eyelashes on Rudolph’s girlfriend, Clarice? We can’t tell she’s female enough with the pink bow in her antlers and the baby kitten voice? Really?
Oh, and I guess we’re supposed to overlook that Santa and Mrs. Claus live in a castle. Elves as serfs anyone?
I will also never understand the whole elf-dentist subplot. It’s just so wild. Like, sure, I get that we’re supposed to root for him too because he’s an underdog, but I feel like he was a cheap fix for how the film resolves the objectively terrifying abominable snowman.
This movie may literally be the best worst holiday film of all time.
Zachary Sigurdson, reporter
Best: Home Alone (1990)
I will say until my dying day that Home Alone is a genuine holiday classic. Yes, those traps would have killed them. Yes, Macaulay Culkin could have called the police. So?
Home Alone is marvellous, heartfelt and sincere. Yes, it takes complete sadistic joy in two criminals (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) getting absolutely destroyed by the masochistic machinations of a nine-year-old.
When it comes to Christmas, we’ve all been Kevin at one point or another. Sure, he’s a bit whiney and helpless. In a huge extended family, you can often be left by the roadside, unsure of what to do and no matter what you do, you’re doing it wrong. We’ve all felt our family was against us and we’ve all dreamed of having the total freedom to let our childhood fantasies run wild. We’ve also all dreamed of turning our house into a fortress against a couple of bumbling idiots. We’ve all needed to be reminded how much we need family and how necessary it is to overcome our childhood fear of that weird stranger down the road.
Worst: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
I love this movie too — most of us do. When the original 30-minute animated one wasn’t enough, we watched Jim Carrey in a green furry suit become the personification of every grumpy introvert. You all know the grand meme tradition that came out of this movie. This is an institution for snarky millennial humor.
“Four-o-clock, wallow in self-pity. Four-thirty, stare into the abyss.”
But seriously, who green-lit this? The continual sex jokes — re-watch it and you’ll see — and the unending, uncanny valley nightmares that are the Whos of Whoville and the baby Grinch. Jim Carrey is iconic in this Dr. Seuss-land acid trip, but it’s no wonder Taylor Momsen became a satanic rock goddess.
How did this happen? What did they put in the holiday punch? Yet we roll with it because Jim Carrey goes on a soliloquy on the consumerism of Christmas.