5. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
This movie went into general release in January, after the Holiday season had passed. Huh? One of the most cherished Holiday movies came out after the Christmas tree was wilting and the New Year’s tinsel was in the trash? It’s true. And it’s also true that the film did not do well initially. As with other Holiday movies, on television is where it was revived and thrived. It’s Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart doing what they do best, offering a sentimental struggle against powerful forces with the little guy prevailing. Precisely why it is not only a top Holiday movie, but also one of the greatest American films ever made.
4. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Yeah it’s a little saccharine, and at times I find myself routing for the prosecutor in the trial scene, but you can’t ignore this movie’s impact and durability in the Holiday movie category. I think it worked well in 1947 because people needed a lift as the horrors of World War Two were still being discovered. Why does it continue to work today? Because it offers hope, faith, and some of the more irrational aspects inchoate in mankind, which we all need as the world gets more and more rational.
3. A Christmas Story (1983)
I really don’t have much memory of this movie as a child. It came out when I was about 10, but only later, as an adult, did it start to form in my consciousness. Much like It’s a Wonderful Life, it endures thanks to countless reruns on television during the Holiday season. I’m not sure what makes it work exactly or why it is so popular. Perhaps it’s the craggly-voiced narrator or its entirely episodic story line. More than all of that it’s Ralphie, the lead character, who stands out. He’s slightly nerdish and seems out of place in the working-class world that is this movie. More than a Holiday movie, A Christmas Story works because there’s a little Ralphie in all of us, as we all can recall struggling with school, bullies, quirky parents, and the glory and the awkwardness that defines childhood.
2. A Christmas Carol (multiple versions).
The immortal Dickens story has been told many, many times on film. I was always partial to the Albert Finney version (titled Scrooge) from 1970, but there are many others just as worthy. Whichever version is your favorite, any Holiday season movie list has to include one of the Scrooge yarns.
1. King of Kings (1961)
The king of Holiday movies and the lord and master of movies about Jesus. It has a soaring sound track and many memorable scenes (the destruction of Barabbas’ force in Jerusalem is just one that I can easily recall), but what carries the movie is the performance of Jesus by Jeffrey Hunter. It’s the iconic portrayal of Jesus on film. King of Kings was directed by the great Nicholas Ray, and is the stalwart among Holiday movies.