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8 Christmas classics to watch this season

A graphic resembling a Christmas postcard of popular holiday movies. There are a plethora of classic Christmas films to watch this holiday season. ILLUSTRATED BY ANGELINA LIVIGNI/THE STATESMAN

As temperatures drop and autumn leaves coat sidewalks, the year is finally coming to a close. Department store aisles are lined with red and green merchandise, and holiday traffic will soon triple in size. Aside from the more traditional activities of decorating a Christmas tree with ornaments and slightly over baking gingerbread cookies, a fantastic way to revel in the holiday spirit is to watch Christmas films. 

While it can be daunting to know which flick to pick as debates annually flood the media about which movies fall under the Christmas film genre, you can treat yourself to a festive film from this stress-free list of eight holiday classics while you curl up under a weighted blanket and listen to the crisp crackling sounds of a warm fire. 

1. “The Polar Express

Robert Zemeckis’s “The Polar Express,” based upon the children’s story by Chris Van Allsburg, serves as the quintessential Christmas movie that will compliment any pre-holiday celebration. Seeing as Tom Hanks voices seven different characters and still manages to grip audiences with his spirited performance in “Hot Chocolate,” the early 2000s film neatly wraps childhood wonder and nostalgia into a 100-minute-long package.

Despite sporting a 56% Tomatometer score on the online aggregator Rotten Tomatoes due to criticism of the animation quality — specifically the characters’ “dead eyes” which leave some viewers with erie sensations of the “uncanny valley” — “The Polar Express” remains an exemplar in conveying the distinctive value of seeing versus believing in the holiday spirit.

2. “The Muppet Christmas Carol

The merry combination of puppeteer Jim Henson’s Muppets and Charles Dickens’s festive tale, the bonafide Christmas classic “A Christmas Carol” marks Brian Henson’s 1992 directorial debut. Featuring Michael Caine as the covetous Ebenezer Scrooge, the film’s remaining supporting roles were assumed by the Muppet characters, with the beloved Kermit the Frog starring as Bob Cratchit and Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit. 

A heartfelt rendition of Dickens’s original story, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” is often regarded by film critics and viewers alike as the best Dickens adaptation. As explained by Brian Henson in an interview with Empire, “‘the costume design, the production design, the lighting […] celebrate[d] the contrast between the Muppets and Dickens.’” With humorous and evocative performances from the entire cast, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” invites viewers to get into the holiday spirit while emphasizing the importance of self-growth and spreading festive cheer.

3. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” 

Jeremiah S. Chechik’s 1989 installment of the “National Lampoon Vacation” series is not only the most relatable of the collection but also the most amusing. Composed of iconic gags and notable one-liners, Clark Griswold, played by Chevy Chase, is determined to orchestrate the ultimate Christmas celebration for his family. However, his attempts are thwarted when he learns that his chaotic relatives will be joining their festivities.

Despite his honorable efforts at fostering the ultimate Christmas blowout, Clark’s plans backfire and mayhem erupts at every opportunity. Whether it is the driest turkey known to man, Clark’s overly sappy tree, Aunt Bethany’s jello or any scene including cousin Eddie that causes you to laugh with tears, “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” is a yuletide film for the ages that becomes sweeter with every viewing.                                                                                                                                                                       

4. “Love Actually

While the most recognizable scene from Richard Curtis’s 2003 Christmas rom-com is easily Andrew Lincoln’s confession to Keira Knightley, the star-studded cast also delivers phenomenally moving performances that remind audiences that love is not inherently romantic; despite being “all around,” some of the more sincere instances of love are evidenced by relations with close friends and family. 

Whether it is when Alan Rickman’s frustration with Rowan Atkinson erupts and he commands “No bloody holly,” or Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister parades around to The Pointer Sisters, the film will invoke melancholy, festive warmth and stomach-aching laughter within you as a collection of nine endearing stories about love, loss and betrayal are interwoven amidst a Christmas backdrop. 

5. “Home Alone

Filmmaker Chris Columbus’s 1990 Christmas blockbuster “Home Alone” remains a treasured piece of cinema, and for good reason. While the film’s 1992 sequel, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” is slightly more grounded in reality and features a near-identical cast, the former is a classic love letter to the holiday season that is brilliantly scored by John Williams and cautions against loneliness and self-indulgence to encourage familial unity.

Despite attempting to prove to his mother Kate, played by Catherine O’Hara, that he would be more content without a family, eight-year-old Kevin McCallister eventually longs for his relatives’ return as he is forced to defend his home from two con men. Skillfully blending humor and sentiment, “Home Alone” stresses the significance of being careful with what you wish for while tugging on viewers’ heartstrings when Kate and Kevin fatefully reunite on Christmas morning. 

6. “Elf

This list would not be complete without the quintessential holiday comedy that is Jon Favreau’s “Elf.” To connect with his naughty-listed father, Will Ferrell’s good-natured Buddy travels across gum drop and candy cane terrain to arrive in New York City, where his father, Walter Hobbs, resides. A go-to family favorite, the 2003 film hosts a myriad of jolly puns, identity struggles and tenderhearted bonds that will boost your Christmas spirit Clausometer. 

Despite feeling as if he belongs nowhere, Buddy’s infectious compassion manages to prove one of the three cardinal Elvish codes right: “There’s room for everyone on the nice list.” If you are not yet enticed, Buddy and Zooey Deschanel’s Jovie’s skating date at Rockefeller Center adds a romantically festive flair to a timeless film that will leave you wishing you could watch Peter Dinklage yell “Call me elf one more time” for the first time again. 

7. “It’s a Wonderful Life

Frank Capra’s 1946 Christmas classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” is perhaps the most fundamental picture on this list, and the on-screen chemistry between actors James Stewart and Donna Reed deem it a must-watch. A subtle critique of capitalism, Stewart’s George Bailey’s ambitions of exploring the world are abandoned to financially save his community from a monopolist’s control, but in doing so, he contemplates suicide and laments over his self-worth and circumstances. 

To regain his sense of purpose, Bailey is shown by the angel Clarence how reality would appear if he was never born, and in a touching moment of introspection on Christmas Eve, Bailey ardently begs to live once more. Ultimately, Stewart’s compelling portrayal of Bailey’s highs and lows reminds viewers of the value of altruism, and how the holiday season is a jovial time for friendship, redemption and generosity.

8. “A Charlie Brown Christmas

The beloved 25-minute Peanuts television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” provides audiences with an animated commentary on the commercialization of Christmas that will warm your heart. The special’s soundtrack alone is enough to elevate your holiday cheer and can often be heard playing in every major retailer during December. 

The widespread superficial, aluminum Christmas trees that Charlie Brown observes saddens and prompts him to purchase a tiny, worn-down tree that instantly droops when he adds a single ornament. To emphasize the true meaning of Christmas, the rest of the Peanuts join together to dress the tree, comfort Charlie Brown and sing “Hark, The Herald Angels Sing.” If you choose to watch only one classic from this list, I cannot recommend “A Charlie Brown Christmas” enough, as its short runtime is chock-full of stunning animated sequences that promote humanity and compassion.

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About the Contributor
Alyssa Pascocello, Assistant Copy Chief
Alyssa Pascocello is a junior English Teacher Preparation major and an Assistant Copy Chief at The Statesman. When she is not editing, you can find her watching Gilmore Girls with her cat and a brown sugar shaken espresso in hand.
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