Sunday, December 5, 2021

Sunday Best: Christmas Movie Watchlist 2021

  Most of the below article is from 2017, but for the most part, the list has not changed (except for the new entry at the top).

This either speaks to the fact that these movies are so good that they still endure as the years go on or the fact that nothing in the last few years has been able to match them.  Or it could be both.'

Anyway, enjoy the read and share your thoughts in the comments section.

And no, I don't talk about the Star Wars Holiday Special

No one should talk about the Star Wars Holiday Special.


There are some movies that I only watching during the 25 days leading up to Christmas.  So at least once a year these movies will be played at the Catholic Skywalker house, especially during Christmas activities like putting up the Christmas tree and present wrapping.

(not surprisingly, a good portion of the choices below are from my previous Sunday Best list of best Christmas movies of all time).

8-Bit Christmas

I will be writing a review for this movie later, but this tiny film struck a chord.  Now, this could be simply because I am a Gen-X '80's child who grew up on 8-bit video games.  There was an authenticity to the world they created in its over-the-top strangeness.  But there is a reason why this movie is on here and not A Christmas Story

 As I will write in my upcoming review, A Christmas Story works because of how it never strays from its tone of utter irony and cynicism while cloaked in 1950's nostalgia.  It is utterly bold to never have Ralphie learn the lesson that material things are not the true meaning of Christmas.  For that reason, A Christmas Story tends to stand out.

8-Bit Christmas is almost the exact same movie, only set 30 years forward.  The movie is in many ways the opposite of A Christmas Story.  While A Christmas Story has the outward appearance of wholesomeness while inside is hollow cynicism, 8-Bit Christmas is packaged as a disposable, cynical Nintendo commercial, but I was literally shocked at the beating heart that was underneath.  The movie is not earth-shattering, but was surprisingly touching.

The movie is still fresh, so I will see if it lingers long enough in my memory to be back on this list next year.

Emmet Otter' Jugband Christmas

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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.  It has a diverse range of emotions, from sentimental, to silly, to heartbreaking.  One of the things I love about it the most is that it reminds us that life is unfair, but often things work out for the best.  I remember as a kid hating the Riverbottom Nightmare Band and thinking about how they stole the prize from Emmet and his mother.  But the Nightmare didn't do anything wrong.  They simply won.

And Emmet and his mom got something better than a temporary prize.  They found something that could sustain them for life.  I think that is a beautiful reflection for Christmas: how it isn't just a single day of gifts, but a place to begin making life better.

White Christmas

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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.  Danny Kaye is one of the true greats and I love him in almost anything he does.

 Love Actually.

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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.

There are issues with the film, though I will not try to argue against them here.  I could definitely do without the gratuitous nudity and vulgarity.

It also has one of my favorite comedic bits with Rowan Atkinson.  I always claimed that he played an angel in the movie and I think my theory has borne out to be true.

Expertly directed, sharply written, and splendidly acted.


A man dressed like an elf stands between the letters "e" and "f".

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 Ebenezer 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.  It is one of the best performances of his life, if not the best.  It is almost exhausting to watch how he pours everything he has emotionally into that performance.

And it is a special movie that can get an entire movie theater of strangers singing at the end.

 It's A Wonderful Life

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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 mighty 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.

The older I get, the more the worries and problems of the world begin to weigh on me.  But this movie is a reminder that our lives are not defined simply by the problems we face.  It is defined by the friends and family in our lives.  That is the real treasure of life and how sad it is for those who cannot see it.

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.


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I also have to watch the claymation Christmas episode of Community

And maybe also the BBC Office Christmas Special

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