Movies & TV / Columns

The 411 Movies Top 5 12.21.12: Week 353 – Top 5 Christmas Movies

December 21, 2012 | Posted by Shawn S. Lealos

Welcome to Week 353 of the Movie Zone Top 5. My name is Shawn S. Lealos and you have entered my world.

This week, it is time to look at Christmas movies. The 411mania writers were given no rules and anything goes.

This week’s writers:
Bryan Kristopowitz, author of The Gratuitous B-Movie Column
Michael Weyer, author of Shining a Spotlight
John “D-Rock” Dotson, no longer just a guest writer, soon to join Alternate Takes in “D-Rock’s Corner”
Shawn S. Lealos, author of Alternate Takes


Bryan Kristopowitz

5. Lethal Weapon (1987)

I’m not sure if this is the first action movie to take place at Christmas (Trancers, which came out two years before Lethal Weapon, takes place at Christmas), but it’s probably the first action movie everyone noticed took place at Christmas. It’s hysterical listening to Jingle Bell Rock right before a doped up hooker takes a leap off a railing to her death. You just don’t expect it. And then there’s all the violence around the holidays, with Mel Gibson’s wacked out suicidal badass scumbum cop Martin Riggs and Danny Glover’s aging cop Roger Murtaugh taking on a group of CIA mercenary drug dealers. People get shot, people get their asses kicked, and Gary Busey freaks everyone out as Mr. Joshua. Remember when, after driving in Murtaugh’s house, Joshua blasts a TV and says something derogatory about Christmas? One of many classic moments. I’m surprised none of the other Lethal Weapon sequels used Christmas again. Maybe the eventual Lethal Weapon 5 will do it again. Murtaugh and Butters can try to put up a Christmas tree or something.

4. Die Hard (1988)

Watching a bad ass, tough-as-nails cop do battle with terrorists locked inside a Los Angeles high rise doesn’t exactly sound like a viable premise for a “Christmas movie,” but since it takes place around the holidays it qualifies. Because, hey, isn’t that why John McClane went out to LA, to see his wife and kids and sort of hang out at her office Christmas party? He’s got to get out there somehow. He can’t fight the bad guys if he’s stuck in New York. “I now have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho.” You can’t have that line if it isn’t Christmas. Still a great action flick after all these years. Alan Rickman will live forever because of this movie. I can’t wait to watch it again.

“All right, listen up guys. ‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except… the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two-by-two cover formation.”


3. Scrooged (1988)

This modern (modern for 1988, that is) retelling of the Dickens A Christmas Carol features Bill Murray in one of his best comedic performances as Frank Cross, a nasty TV executive visited on Christmas Eve by three spirits and the ghost of the man that invented the miniseries (brilliantly played by the immortal John Forsythe) so he can learn the true meaning of Christmas. It’s fun watching Frank fight back against the spirits and refuse to admit that he’s been a complete asshole for most of his life, and it’s fun watching him finally figure it out. You’ll also love a truly brilliant slimy performance by the great John Glover, Bobcat Goldthwait as a nice guy that gets chewed up by Frank Cross, Karen Allen as the love of Frank’s life, Alfre Woodard as Frank’s put upon secretary (“We’re indivisible. If I’m working late you’ve got to work late. If you can’t work late, I can’t work late. And if I can’t work late, I can’t work late!”) and David Johansen as the Ghost of Christmas Past, among other excellent performances (I personally love Frank’s douchebag father, played by Brian Doyle-Murray. Although, five pounds of veal is a pretty nice present, when you think about it).

And how about Lee Majors as a badass trying to save the North Pole from terrorists? You know that kicks ass. It should be its own movie.

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

The third, and perhaps the best Vacation movie, has Chevy Chase’s Clark W. Griswold and family trying to have a “fun, old fashioned family Christmas” and failing spectacularly. The bad luck starts as soon as the story starts and never really stops, even when the story ends (hence the animated light bulb going out at the start of the end credits). There are just so many great moments (the saucer sled scene, the squirrel attack, the chemical toilet are some) and so many great performances (Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie, E.G. Marshall as Helen’s father Art, and William Hickey as Uncle Lewis are three of the best). If you haven’t experienced this brilliant movie yet, what the heck are you waiting for? Watch it as soon as you can. I’m sure it will be on TV this coming week.

“Hey! If any of you are looking for any last-minute gift ideas for me, I have one. I’d like Frank Shirley, my boss, right here, tonight. I want him brought from his happy holiday slumber over there on Melody Lane with all the other rich people and I want him brought right here, with a big ribbon on his head. And I want to look him straight in the eye and I want to tell him what a cheap, lying, no-good, rotten, four-flushing, low-life, snake-licking, dirt-eating, inbred, overstuffed, ignorant, blood-sucking, dog-kissing, brainless, dickless, hopeless, heartless, fat-ass, bug-eyed, stiff-legged, spotty-lipped, worm-headed sack of monkey shit he is! Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where’s the Tylenol?”

Makes me laugh every time I think of it. Ha.

1. A Christmas Story (1983)

A Christmas Story, much like Christmas Vacation, is chock full of classic moments that audiences still identify with to this day and will likely identify with in the future. But unlike Vacation, which is all about a family coming together, A Christmas Story is all about getting that ultimate Christmas present no matter what. The story’s main character, Ralphie, may stumble several times in his quest for a Red Rider BB gun, but he never gives up. The adults in his life, including Santa Claus, tell him again and again that a BB gun is too dangerous, that he’ll “shoot his eye out,” but Ralphie refuses to take “no” for an answer. Even when he almost shoots his eye out he still doesn’t give up. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about for a kid? Isn’t that what Christmas is all about for everyone? Of course it is.

Michael Weyer

5. Miracle on 34th Street

It’s amazing still to see this movie, one of the first to tackle the idea of Santa Claus coming to the modern world. Edmund Gwenn justly won an Oscar for his role as the man claiming to be the real Kris Kringle and he deserved it, wonderful seeing him just so matter of fact about being Santa Claus and everyone should just accept it. Maureen O’Hara is wonderful as the woman pulled into his circle while a young Natalie Wood perfectly shows the young doubting girl who begins to believe. With a courthouse sequence that still shines today and a terrific ending, it’s everything the holiday season should be with one of the best on-screen Santas ever.

4. White Christmas

The best holiday musical you can imagine with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye as a pair of showmen who hook up with two sister (Vera-Allen and Rosemary Clooney) for a vacation at a ski resort without snow. Finding out the owner is their old Army commander, the guys decide to help him out, leading to fun musical numbers and a grand finale with the classic song. It’s enjoyable any time of the year but at Christmas, it becomes even better to remind you how great the season is.

3. A Christmas Story

The epitome of a cult classic, ignored in its 1983 release, it’s now an essential part of Christmas vieweing. A fine throwback to any youth, a kid wanting his ultimate dream gift, mixing it up with bullies, a famous flagpole scene that still makes you wince and all with a 1930’s vibe. Plus, the narration provides great laughs (“My old man was the greatest turkey junkie in all of Indiana”) and the Chinese diner Christmas meal is still quoted in my family house every year, showing this film’s legacy.

2. It’s a Wonderful Life

The best thing ever done for this movie was NBC buying up the rights so it could air only twice a year rather than the all-day, all-channel marathons when I was a kid. Thus, you remember how truly special this tale is as Jimmy Stewart (in argubably his best performance) perfectly plays a man who goes out of his way to help others over his own happiness. Sure, the whole “life without him” motif has been copied numerous times but it’s still jarring to see how cold and unhappy a world without George is. That makes the ending even better as he sees the townspeople coming to his aid and realizing how great his life is. A true masterpiece to enjoy every year and remember how good Christmas is to refelct on yourself.

1. Scrooge: A Christmas Carol

There have been more versions and adaptations of Charles Dicken’s masterpiece than anyone can count. But the ultimate version of his miser is undoubtdly Alister Sims. He plays Scrooge as a real man, tough and cold yet shows that inner spark ready to be ignited. Watching him deal with the various spirits and seeing his past is great and the final scene of him changing his ways and embracing life is absolutely wonderful. Thanks to him, this is the best version of the tale to watch and reminds you of the magic of the holiday season.

John “D-Rock” Dotson

Honorable Mention: A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

5. Bad Santa

I’m not sure if Billy Bob Thornton is a dirty old sleazebag in real life, but the man plays the part too well. His humorously offensive role as Willie the mall Santa was executed so well that it landed him a Golden Globe nomination during its release. Bad Santa is just one of those movies that is hard to admit to people you love. It’s dirty, unnecessary, offensive, crude, vulgar, nasty, and most of all shocking but damn if I don’t respect the balls these guys had for making it. This may not be the most cheery of Christmas films to grace cinema, but it sure is hilarious.

4. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)

I know this was originally a Christmas special, but Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is one of those movies that I’ve loved since I was a child. It says a lot about the quality of work that was put into this television special, when almost 50 years later parents and kids are still watching it today. All the characters are unforgettable and just full of charm. I dare you to name a cooler snowman than Burl Ives as “Sam the Snowman.” The stop-motion work is top notch and highly impressive for this being a television production in 1964. The work that was put into some scenes like the one involving “the abominable snowman” is just highly impressive for its time. Needless to say, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer will always be a nostalgic favorite of mine and one that I hope to share with my kids someday as well.

3. Scrooged

This is one of the funniest takes on the Charles Dickens classic ever produced. Back in the day, you put Bill Murray in a film; it was almost a guarantee that it was going to be entertaining. His sense of comedy is just so natural in the delivery that it’s almost unfair to anyone else who tries. Scrooged is one of those films that I just can’t imagine working as well without the presence of Murray. I mean seriously, the guy plays the best sarcastic jerk ever. The movie has tremendous cameos, including a hilarious performance by Carol Kane as “The Ghost of Christmas Present,” and John Forsythe as Murray’s dead boss. Scrooged is a movie that has given me a lot of memories and I will always personally consider it a classic.

2. Die Hard

Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like watching John McClane kill a bunch of terrorist during a hostage takeover. Many can debate that Die Hard is not a Christmas movie, but simply just an action film. This is just untrue. Die Hard is a Christmas survival film just like Home Alone, only Macaulay Culkin has a machine gun, and he’s saying “yippi ki yay mother^%#@.” The film which was directed by John McTiernan (Predator, The Hunt for Red October) is truly a timeless entry in the genre for having such strong direction and a wonderfully written script. This is the movie that set the standard for action films and is still the example of what they should be today. Long live Die Hard!!

1. Elf

This may not be considered the best Christmas film ever made, but it is undoubtedly my personal favorite. Will Ferrell’s childlike approach to “Buddy the elf” has me in hysterics every time I watch it. I’m not sure if anyone else could have pulled it off as well as him. There is just something incredibly hilarious about watching James Caan being aggravated by a 30 year old man-child claiming to be an elf. I also love all the different homages that is paid throughout this film, like the appearance of “Sam the Snowman” towards the beginning. I know Elf is still fresh on everyone’s mind after almost 10 years, but I think this is going to be a holiday classic for years to come.

Shawn S. Lealos

I chose to go outside the box on this one and think of less traditional Christmas movies…

5. The Ref

Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are an unhappily married couple kidnapped by a criminal who escapes from a burglary gone wrong during the holiday season. He has them take him to their house, where their son is, and this criminal has no idea what he is getting involved with. The couple feuds non-stop and Leary’s character has to play referee to keep from going insane. By the end, their son wants to leave with Leary and he has to find a way to escape the entire mess.

4. Gremlins

As the saying goes, “you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not get them wet or feed them after midnight.” “Gremlins” is a black comedy that takes place during the Christmas season when a young man (Zach Galligan) purchases a Mogwai as a pet, but soon learns that, if he breaks some very important rules, he will end up overrun by evil little gremlins.

3. Nightmare Before Christmas

This stop-motion animated movie mashes up the Christmas and Halloween genres in one brilliant film. Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King, the greatest Halloween legend of them all. However, he wants something different, and when he discovers Christmas, he kidnaps Santa Claus and sets out to spread his unique form of joy to all the boys and girls of the world.

2. Batman Returns

The entire movie starts off with a bit of black Christmas gloom when a family dumps their baby into a river because of his grotesque look. The baby grows into the Penguin and then returns years later, during the Christmas holiday, to seek vengeance on the normal people of Gotham City. While Batman sets out to stop the bad guy, the entire darkness of the film contrasts with the white snow of the holiday season.

1. A Christmas Story

From the outside looking in, this movie looks like another typical Christmas movie, but there is a reason this remains one of the most beloved cult holiday movies of all time. The director is the same man who brought the world “Porky’s” and “Black Christmas,” and “A Christmas Story” is a dark comedy more than a joyful holiday classic. Told in narration by a man remembering the most eventful Christmas of his childhood, this movie features a young boy who wants a BB gun for Christmas, while showcasing his foul mouthed father, school bullies, a scary mall Santa and a wonderful “leg lamp.” It all ends with Chinese buffet in one of the best Christmas movies of them all.

What are your favorite Christmas movies? Chime in below…


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