(not surprisingly, a good portion of the choices below are from my previous Sunday Best list of best Christmas movies of all time).
Emmet Otter' Jugband Christmas
I remember seeing this back in grade school and it was unlike any other Muppet production I had seen. It was so… sad. There was a melancholy to this movie that I had never really encountered in a puppet based film, let alone a Christmas movie. But that is part of its amazing charm. Nothing in the world of Emmet Otter is easy, but the smallest things are so heavily valued.
And I can't help but love the music.
What a great song and dance team Crosby and Kaye make. This movie is just pure fun and heart. And it has one of my favorite movie dance numbers of all time:
This movie expertly interweaves seemingly disparate stories and reminds us that Christmas is about love. Christmas is a time when love, any kind of love, should be made more manifest.
Men discover that they truly love their friends. Lovers pour out their hearts to each other. Parents and children dare to dream for each other.
Expertly directed, sharply written, and splendidly acted.
What this movie gets right is that it captures the fun and heart of the old TV Christmas specials like Rudolph and Frosty, all the while setting it in our modern, cynical world. But more than that, we would rather be Buddy in his boundless enthusiasm and love.
The laughs are big and it will leave you with a desire to spread Christmas cheer by singing loud for all to hear!
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
This is, hands down, the best portrayal of Santa Claus I have ever seen. He was big and beefy, with grey hair, but he was not slothful and slow. He was a Santa Claus who was up to doing his yearly heroic mission. The gifts Santa Claus brings serve as a clarion call to fight on the side of the King of Christmas.
The Nativity Story
This is probably the best movie I have seen that is centered around the birth of Christ. It is filmed beautifully by Catherine Hardwicke. The landscapes, the homes, the costumes all feel so genuine. And I love Oscar Isaacs' Joseph. I love that he is portrayed as a young man who is still trying to find his place in this world. He is a simple carpenter who just wants a simple life, but God has other plans. I love how Isaacs performance of this man so overwhelmed that he almost buckles. But he mans up and trusts in God and Mary. For me, he is the real lynchpin of the movie.
I watch this movie every Christmas Eve to remind me of the heavenly peace of the Nativity.
The Muppets Christmas Carol
This is, hands down, the best screen adaptation of Ebeneezer Scrooge's story. It is also the move that the Muppets have made.
Michael Caine is perfect. The music is fantastic. And how can anyone not love the Ghost of Christmas Present?
The Muppets make an excellent fit to the magical world depicted. I also love that they did not eschew the explicitly religious elements, but brings out how essential Christ is in Christmas.
One of the reasons Scrooged works so well is that it is hysterical. Bill Murray milks every ounce of humor from every quip and every glance. To this day, I can't help but smile as the elves go for their automatic machine guns.
But what puts this movie over the top is the closing monologue. The last 10 minutes of the movie are Murray preaching to the audience the meaning of Christmas.
And it is a special movie that can get an entire movie theater of strangers singing at the end.
It's A Wonderful Life
As a Catholic, I love that it starts with the collected prayers of the people of Bedford Falls. This is ultimately, the story of a man whose prayers have been answered. And I love the fact that God answers his prayers in a way that he doesn't expect. God has a knack for doing the unexpected and better thing.
If God had simply given George the $8,000, then he never would have realized what a wonderful life he was living. The point of the story is not the ending where the people give him the money (as the great John Nolte has pointed out). When he returns from seeing the alternate reality, all of George's problems remain: he's deaf in one ear, bleeding from a punch, and he's going to lose his business and his freedom. But even with all that, George is deliriously happy because he realizes that even with all of those problems, he still has a wonderful life: he has friends, he has a loving wife, and a treasure in his children.
In the movie, George has a plaque underneath the picture of his father that says: "The only thing you can take with you is that which you give away." It's A Wonderful Life makes me want to be a better person.
I can't think of a better compliment to give a movie, especially the best Christmas movie of all time.
I also have to watch the claymation Christmas episode of Community
And maybe also the BBC Office Christmas Special