- It's a Wonderful Life (1946) What's not to like about George Bailey and his truly wonderful life? A reminder that what is important in life is certainly not what's in your bank account.
- White Christmas (1954) Purists snub this for the original black and white "Holiday Inn" but I like it, awkward lines and all - it's worth it for the songs.
- National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) (Language warning - catching this on TV will dub out the unrepeatable words that may catch you unawares on the DVD.) Another reminder of what is most important - but told with a very different slant. I think my family can recite this entire movie with little prompting, and I can do a mean imitation of Aunt Bethany (a glimpse into my future, perhaps?)
- A Christmas Story (1983) The movie that everyone recognizes by its oft-quoted tagline: "You'll shoot your eye out!"
- A Christmas Carol Many versions have been done, but my favorites are the 1984 version with George C. Scott and surprisingly, the 2009 animated version with Jim Carrey. I guess I just didn't think he could pull it off, so I went in with low expectations and came away entertained.
- Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) Great animated holiday movie and a timeless, fantastic soundtrack performed by the Vince Guaraldi Trio.
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) is probably my favorite animated holiday movie. For children, it's a little dark, but as an adult, I appreciate it, much like I appreciate the bite of good dark chocolate, too. Can't say I'm a huge fan of the 2000 remake with Jim Carrey, but it's passable.
- The Santa Clause (1994) is probably a sentimental favorite because we took our boys to see it just before Christmas, back when they were still little and believed in the big guy in the red suit. Music like ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" helped it along.
- The Polar Express (2004) is an enjoyable movie to watch for its technical feats as much as trying to spot Tom Hank's multiple characters.
- Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas (1977) was a Jim Henson animation that doesn't get much air time. I watched it dozens of times on HBO back in the early '80s and liked it even though it is high on the cheese factor.
- Trading Places (1983) Yes, it really is a Christmas story, and a modern rendering of the story of Job. And yes, with Eddie Murphy starring, you can plan on covering your ears and eyes for a few less-than-jolly scenes (like "Christmas Vacation," I'd advise catching it on a channel that will censor out the family unfriendly scenes and words.)
- You've Got Mail (1998) is both derivative and a remake, but I like it despite those character flaws. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks and a sweet dog - what's not to like? Alternate choices are "An Affair to Remember" (1957) and "The Shop Around the Corner" (1940).
- Stepmom (1998) is not usually considered a Christmas movie, but I think it fits the bill nicely. Watch it and see if you don't agree. Be sure you have some tissues handy when you do.
For those of you who were expecting to see "Elf" on this list, it was no oversight - I snubbed it. Other than a few memorable lines ("You sit on a throne of lies....You stink. You smell like beef and cheese...") I can totally forget it. Will Farrell in tights? 'nuff said.
I also skipped "Christmas with the Kranks" because as much as I like to laugh at Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis (they are both represented among my faves here), I found the over-the-top screwball treatment of Grisham's dry humor was, well, over-the-top. Skip the move and just read "Skipping Christmas."
So what are your favorite Christmas movies, and why? If you don't have any favorites, I hope you work a night or two sweet and funny movies into your family traditions. The quotable lines will become part of your family's shared language and bind you closer together.