The 24 films of Christmas

  • Article by: KIRK BAIRD , Toledo Blade
  • Updated: December 3, 2012 - 8:47 AM

Two dozen movies to make you laugh, cry and experience the many moods of the annual holiday.

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Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood in the 1947 film "Miracle on 34th Street."

It's a simple matter of math: There are 24 days of Christmas and there are hundreds of Christmas movies.

That means there are some hard choices about which movies to watch. Here's a quick holiday movie playlist.

"The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993) Tim Burton's dark and magical stop-motion masterpiece of Pumpkin King Jack Skellington and his quest to expand Halloween by taking Christmas from Santa alternately chills and warms the heart.

"Die Hard" (1988) While not a traditional Christmas film, this action thriller still counts since it takes place during a Christmas party, with cop John McClane (Bruce Willis in his finest moment) elevating heroism and the film genre to save his wife and others from German terrorists.

"Trading Places" (1983) Set during the holiday season, the sight of a drunken, suicidal Santa (Dan Aykroyd) is a highlight of this "Prince and the Pauper"-style comedy, with a terrific turn by Eddie Murphy when he was still a comic force of nature.

"Love Actually" (2003) A crowd-pleasing couples dramedy of the many phases of love, set in London as the holiday season begins, with an all-star cast including Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson and Keira Knightley.

"Scrooged" (1988) Bill Murray at the height of Murrymania in the 1980s makes for a hilarious grouch as a selfish network-TV executive in this loose update of "A Christmas Carol" co-written by the late, great "Saturday Night Live" scribe Michael O'Donoghue.

"Scrooge" (1951) Alastair Sim stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in this definitive version of the Charles Dickens classic.

"White Christmas" (1954) No Christmas season is complete without Bing Crosby crooning Irving Berlin's beloved tune in this musical co-starring Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen.

"The Bishop's Wife" (1947) Cary Grant is an angel sent to help an Episcopalian bishop (David Niven) struggling with his faith and building a new church.

"Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" (1964) This so-bad-it's-good kitschy classic makes for an excellent respite, as Kris Kringle is kidnapped by Martians to bring Christmas to their planet, with a young Pia Zadora as a Martian girl.

"The Santa Clause" (1994) Tim Allen is a struggling divorced father who accidentally kills Santa and is then required to take Jolly Old Saint Nick's place. Forget the two sequels -- the sitcom-y original is the only one worth your time.

"Meet Me in St. Louis" (1944) Set just before the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904, this musical drama perhaps isn't a Christmas-film standard, but it does feature the debut of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as sung by Judy Garland.

"The Polar Express" (2004) This adaptation of Chris Van Allsburg's novel about a boy who no longer believes in Santa who boards a magical train bound to the North Pole didn't achieve its intended classic status, but it's still worthy of an annual viewing.

"Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (2000) Jim Carrey, as the Grinch, sports plenty of green fur, makeup and a heart two sizes too small.

"Home Alone" (1990) John Hughes wrote this heartwarming tale of a child (Macaulay Culkin) inadvertently left behind by his busy family at Christmas; the boy must fend off two comically inept house burglars.

"Joyeux Noel" ("Merry Christmas") (2005) This French film explores the true story of the World War I Christmas truce between Germans, French and Scottish soldiers who, on Christmas Eve, put down their arms to mark the holiday.

"Santa Claus Has Blue Eyes" (1969) French director Jean Eustache wrote this story of a young man (Jean-Pierre Leaud) who, pining for an expensive stylish duffel coat, takes a job dressing as Santa Claus, and discovers that women have a thing for men in the red suit.

"The Muppet Christmas Carol" (1992) With Michael Caine as Scrooge, Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit and perhaps the most offbeat version of "A Christmas Carol."

"The Nativity Story" (2006) Catherine Hardwicke of "Twilight" and "Thirteen" fame directs this visually spectacular account of Joseph and Mary's pilgrimage to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus.

"Christmas Vacation" (1989) Some consider this third film in the "Vacation" series the best of the bunch as the Griswold family encounters one comic disaster after another while preparing for another Christmas holiday.

"Miracle on 34th Street" (1947) For many of us who grew up with this film as part of network TV's holiday tradition, Edmund Gwenn's Oscar-winning turn as Kris Kringle was the standard by which all mall Santas were judged.

"Elf" (2003) Jon Favreau and Will Ferrell teamed to create the best family-comedy Christmas film in years, with Ferrell as the human elf Buddy who leaves the North Pole to find his real father -- a Scrooge-y workaholic played by James Caan -- in New York City.

"Bad Santa" (2003) An inspired Billy Bob Thornton plays a drunken, belligerent mall Santa who befriends an overweight oddball boy.

"A Christmas Story" (1983) Jean Shepherd's tale is steeped in warm and clever reflections of Christmases past, and benefits with his witty narrative, and impeccable comic pacing by director Bob Clark.

"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946) Frank Capra's quintessential holiday film stars James Stewart, the Tom Hanks of his day, effortlessly jumping through a wide range of emotions, which culminate in the ultimate feel-good holiday message.

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