A Reel Christmas

christmas movie

The Heights editors compile their choices for the film that best encapsulates this magical time of the year.

As you snuggle close to the fire, hot cocoa in hand with a fresh slice of fruitcake waiting for you in the kitchen, pull up Netflix, pop in a DVD or VHS and enjoy the best cinema the season has to offer.

-Caleb Griego, Arts Editor

Table of Contents

1. A Christmas Story 5. The Family Stone
2. Gremlins 6. Edward Scissorhands
3. Grinch 7. Die Hard
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 8. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town

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[slab]A Christmas Story[/slab]


– Archer Parquette, opinions editor

Christmas movies, by design, are usually buckets of crap. They’re nothing more than a rosy-tinted hour and 15 minutes of people talking about the power of childhood wonder, the beauty of communal caroling, and how the real Christmas present is love. What a disgusting waste of valuable time off from school.

But there is one movie that dominates all other Christmas movies. A movie that has the true Christmas spirit: disappointment, temporality, and mashed potatoes. That is A Christmas Story, the classic film of TBS 24-hour marathon fame that tells the story of young Ralphie’s (Peter Billingsley) quest to get an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200 shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing which tells time. Ever since I saw the scene where Ralphie beats up his bully while screaming obscenities and then collapses in tears, I knew that this was the Christmas movie for me. It takes the fra-gee-lay life of a child on the cusp of his youthful peak, just a bright-eyed kid trying to have a great Christmas, and has Santa literally kick him in the face.

It’s a fantastic movie in itself, but the real reason this is the best Christmas movie of all-time is because I say it is. It’s the Christmas movie I grew up watching and that’s really all that matters when it comes to Christmas movies. These films aren’t about objective cinematic greatness. They’re about subjective experience, the memories you develop growing up around them and the people you sit down to watch them with. A Christmas Story has had dramatic and long-term effects on my life, from calling every “Scott” I’ve ever met “Scut” to screaming “NOT A FINGA!” at strangers for no apparent reason. The movie is full of these tiny moments and quotes that have been grafted into a permanent Christmas-association in my brain.

I don’t look forward to that many things nowadays, but I can confidently tell you that I can’t wait to watch the final scene of the movie on Christmas Eve. As the unnamed mother and father sit in their dark living room watching the snow fall outside to the sounds of “Silent Night,” the nostalgic, childish, sentimental, and ultimately kinda sad spirit of Christmas is fully realized in the best dang Christmas movie of all time.

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– Caleb Griego, associate arts & review editor

Though released in the summer of 1984, Gremlins is undoubtedly a Christmas story. Gifting, giving, caroling, family, and violent mischief are intrinsically parts of an illustrious holiday season. After all, what is family without a little bloodshed? The rules of the mogwai are simple and echo the sentiments we can all follow to keep us alive during Christmas time.

1. Keep them away from sunlight. In the dead of a brutal New England winter, when we are all nuzzled about the fire, the last thing we want is a ray of sunshine to make our days any less dour. We love winter because it gives us an excuse to be indoors. For mogwai like Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel), the imperative is survival. For us, the imperative is not moving an inch.

2. Keep them away from water. As you down your fifth spiked egg nog, the last thing you want is a family member to even insist you “take it easy.” The holidays are all about giving—to yourself. If the mogwai cannot handle the candor and merrimaking of their spawn, maybe they should have thought about that before they got doused in water.

3. Never feed them after midnight. Now excess is good and Gremlins can attest to that, but the gastronomic turmoil you are likely to wrought on your body is probably not worth it. Gremlins burn a lot of calories committing acts of vandalism, burglary, and homicide. They have earned it. The least you could do is put in a couple of reps at the gym. So when Billy’s mom finds you in the kitchen eating all the Christmas cookies with no intent on stopping, the shame may have you thinking about putting yourself in the microwave.

But beyond the rules, the sentimental moments of Gremlins capture the essence of this season of candy canes, carols, and gingerbread houses. In one scene, Kate (Phoebe Gates) describes how she found her father dead in the chimney in an attempt to play Santa Claus. Is it sad? Is it funny? Who knows. It is in Gremlins though.

Gremlins is the perfect Christmas movie because it captures the fears we have all had as children on Christmas morning. And it’s not finding your father dead in the chimney. It’s when all you wanted was something fun and entertaining, but you just end up inheriting an excessive amount of responsibility.

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– Hannah McLaughlin, assistant arts & review editor

Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas is nothing but a neat, compact little title for a time-honored Christmas movie whose lime-green colored VHS case of my youth should have instead been emblazoned with the more accurate name How The Grinch Stole Our Hearts in The Greatest Cinematic Masterpiece to Grace Undeserving Mortals in the History of Holiday-Themed Films Including all Future Attempts at Dethroning this Particular Hollywood Gem, Probably.

The movie, produced by Universal Pictures and released right at the turn of the 21st century, boasts an unprecedented level of imagination in an unquestionably emotional story which champions the winter season’s spirit of belonging and fostering good will toward [green] men.

The Grinch’s entire, complicated world—comprised of all the valid insecurities that accompany life as a hairy orphan baby, tragic memories of a childhood love gone sour, and hilarious revenge plots intended to serve the Grinch’s boyhood bullies their just desserts like a heaping plate of “Who Pudding”—is revealed to be a mere microscopic speck on a seemingly insignificant snowflake in the first few seconds of the film. This is mind-boggling stuff we’re flirting with here, folks.

The live action film, straying boldly from the pliable versatility of the animated realm, somehow finds a way to aid viewers in its difficult request to drastically suspend audience disbelief, all the while warmly inviting them into Dr. Seuss’ wonky, fictional world. As far as fantastic aesthetics are concerned, this rendition of Whoville looks like a local tinsel factory exploded and the Christmas season itself vomited glitter and strings of twinkly lights all over the set after having an unfortunate stint with too much spiked eggnog. But, you know, in a good way.

The greatest part about The Grinch is exactly how far Universal decided to stretch the thing so that a hairy green monster was just as much of a person as his viewers. In this rendition, an 8-year-old Grinch sulks after being bullied by Whoville’s future mayor. He peaces out and practically enslaves an adorable dog as his beloved indentured servant. The movie follows

the peppermint-flavored tropes of “nice-guy-turns-nasty” and the classic “christmas-hating-hoodlum-gets-the-girl-after-heart-grows-bigger-and-lame-mayor-realizes-he-can’t-buy-love-with-an-expensive-car.” Despite the aforementioned conventional plotline, though, the film soars.

Jim Carrey is a treat as the brooding, sarcastic Grinch. While Carrey’s character is not entirely human, but gradually getting there, his flawless comedic portrayal of the crabby anti-Christmas antihero makes the grouchy green monster far more relatable and drastically more genuine than we ever imagined he’d be.

The movie has allowed every man, woman, and child young at heart to believe in the possibility that with every snowflake landing on their awaiting outstretched tongue, there may very well be some miniscule green monster gaily flinging jury duty notices and pieces of blackmail into the tiny square mailboxes of an entire Who population embedded somewhere deep in the fibers of the teeny-tiny snow particle. This notion alone is utterly hilarious and incredibly absurd—two marked characteristics of all high-quality Christmas movies.

The beloved adaptation and realistic rendering of a wacky Massachusetts man’s 1957 animated, nonsensically rhyming story of the same name succeeded almost entirely with the help of a stellar leading man. Thought-provoking and whimsical, the movie is over-the-top but endearing—much like its punchy protagonist.

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[slab]National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation[/slab]
– Jacob Schick, For The Heights

 Ever had a bad Christmas break? Maybe Santa didn’t bring an iPhone in the color you wanted, finals were particularly rough, or maybe you got asked about college one too many times. Sometimes things, including Christmas, just don’t go our way. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t give it the ol’ college try. I bet that Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) has you beat for the worst Christmas ever. He just can’t seem to catch a break in his attempt to make this year (well … 1989 at least) the best Christmas ever. The Griswold family weathers annoying neighbors, obnoxious relatives, faulty lighting, a few wild animals, and the crushing weight of holiday expectations in this Christmas comedy.

Christmas Vacationis the movie that I asked Santa to bring me for Christmas. It’s not just some feel-good, everyone remember how special family is holiday flick. It’s a comedy, and a good one at that. So you know it’s going to be a little more “ha-ha” than “ho-ho” which is just how I like my Christmas movies. My family has the tendency to make the same jokes every year. Multiple. Times. And while I love them, it’s nice to stick some actual comedy in there too. And I know my family reads all of my articles so … Hi guys! Don’t worry, I love the jokes every time you tell them.

Christmas Vacation also has a very important lesson to impart to you and I. Griswold puts way too much pressure on himself and on the holiday. He brings his family to “the threshold of Hell” trying to get things to go exactly according to plan. Christmas is a time to de-stress after a long year. It’s a time to sit around the house, spend time with the family you don’t see for most of the year, eat lots and lots of food, try to figure out what the heck you’re supposed to do on Christmas Day after presents have been opened (I always see a movie … go figure), prepare for the eight crazy nights of Hanukkah this year (if you’re half-Jewish like me), and do every other wacky tradition your family does. Learn from the Griswolds, and have a merry, and incident-free, Christmas this year.

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[slab]The Family Stone[/slab]

– Chris Fuller, arts & review editor

What more could anyone ask for out of Christmas than seeing an overwhelmingly awkward and pompous Sarah Jessica Parker character work through one of the worst first-Christmas-with-the-in-laws ever? Though it might not be one of most timeless Christmas classics to come out of Hollywood, The Family Stone deserves more credit than it gets when it comes to Christmas movie rankings. Bringing together an all-star cast to form one of most authentic, welcoming, and quirky families of all time, The Family Stone reminds viewers that a weird, tight-knit family is all any of us really need in life.

There’s nothing essentially iconic about The Family Stone. In a large sense, the movie is the simple story of one of the Stone family’s more bizarre Christmas weeks, as one of the Stone family sons, Everett (Dermot Mulroney), brings home his girlfriend, Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker). The rest of the family’s heard plenty about Meredith. One of the Stone daughters, Amy (Rachel McAdams), spent a weekend with her and Everett in New York. Amy tells the rest of her family, including her parents Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson), about how uptight and conservative she is, arguing that Meredith is a terrible fit for both Everett and the whole family. Meredith’s got a lot working against her.
Throughout the movie, Meredith tries to prove to the family that she is more than just a prude and rigid New Yorker and that she and Everett make for a great, compassionate couple. For the most part she fails miserably and embarrassingly. Though things look grim for Everett and Meredith, these types of situations have a funny way of working out how some might not expect them to, and movies don’t always have to put together couples everyone thinks they have to.

This relationship isn’t the only thing The Family Stone has going for it. It’s the story of an outsider that wants desperately to be a part of something that looks so wholesome and fulfilling. It’s the story about a typical, yet uncanny family—one that makes a viewer feel right at home with them, whether that be by judging Meredith or simply snuggling into the couch next to the fire. The Family Stone maybe doesn’t have the depth, history, or significance of Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, but it is not afraid to show its viewers a real family, one without all that joyful makeup.

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[slab]Edward Scissorhands[/slab]
– Veronica Gordo, For The Heights

Although categorized as a dark fantasy film, Edward Scissorhands provides a new perspective on what a holiday romance may look like. Most Christmas films are filled with a cheesy, semi-turbulent plotline that concludes happily, as if wrapped up nicely with a bow. Edward Scissorhands, on the other hand, is a refreshing, heartwarming, yet saddening tale that truly describes the realities of a seasonal love affair: chaotic and fleeting, but often filled with beautiful and captivating moments.The film begins with an elderly woman explaining to her granddaughter why snow falls, attributing it to an ominous figure from her past. Much like a dark, modern rendition of Beauty and the Beast, Edward Scissorhands focuses on the unlikely romance between Edward (Johnny Depp), the blade-fingered spawn of a local scientist, and Kim Boggs (Winona Ryder), the beautiful, popular daughter living in the house he has been welcomed into. Kim’s initial resentment toward Edward transforms into appreciation and ultimately love as she realizes that he is not the monster he appears to be. The scene that speaks to this revelation features Edward crafting an ice sculpture with his hands while Kim decorates the Christmas tree inside with her mother. Walking outside, Kim sees that the sculpture is of her and proceeds to dance underneath the falling snow of Edward’s craftsmanship. The moment they share is ethereal and unforgettable, one that is an image I often think of when Christmas comes to mind.

Sadly, however, Kim and Edward’s love is not meant be. Their eventual, tragic separation speaks to a deeper, truer love defined by respect and selflessness. Any typical Christmas movie can take two people who seemingly shouldn’t be together and craft a story in which they fall madly in love and stay together forever. It is more daring and truthful to show that, in life, you often don’t find one true romance that puts all the others to shame, or even receive all of the presents you scribbled on your Christmas list.

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Kim and Edward may not have attained their happily ever after, but the love they shared is everlasting. It is revealed that Kim is the elderly woman from the beginning of the film and that every time the snow falls, she thinks of Edward. In the same vain, every time the Christmas season rolls around I think of Edward Scissorhands. The winter wonderland of Christmas set the scene for a tragic love story like none other and, in my eyes, revolutionized the modern holiday romance.

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[slabtext][slab]Die Hard[/slab]

– Michael Sullivan, sports editor

In the midst of the rush to get to Walmart first on Black Friday, or the desperate Dec. 23 push to snag the hottest toy to hit the shelves since Tickle Me Elmo, Americans have forgotten what Christmas is truly about. This isn’t a holiday about consumerism and gift-giving, or even the traditions that come around the season. It’s about being with one’s family, traveling far distances at absurdly marked-up ticket prices with massive delays, alongside creatures that remind you of John Candy in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. It’s about screaming at one another over lasagna and the Seven Fishes at the dinner table when Dad gets Mom the same damn blender we’ve had for nine years. And, if you believe in the Christian roots of the holiday, it’s about miracles and believing that, on this glorious day, anything can happen.Which is why no movie perfectly exemplifies the Christmas spirit quite like Die Hard.

Yes, the greatest Christmas film of all-time is Die Hard, the John McTiernan action classic and the 1988 Greatie Award winner for Best Disgruntled Cop Defeats European Not-Really-But-Technically-a-Terrorist Film. (Editor’s note: The Greatie Awards are the creation of the author. They hold no bearing on cinematic excellence.)

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Before you defer to the films that have earned one-time-only specials on NBC or day-long marathons on TBS, think of it this way. What Christmas film exemplifies family and miracles better than Die Hard?

John McClane, played by America’s action-movie sweetheart Bruce Willis, journeys from New York to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve just to see his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia, also, yep, like the Christmas plant), and his two kids. He does this despite hating flying with every inch of his bones. When he gets to Holly’s workplace at the Nakatomi Building for a terribly bougie holiday party—yet another nostalgic hallmark of what makes this the best Christmas movie—the company gets attacked by a foreign crime syndicate led by Severus Snape—err, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). Despite not having any backup within the building, McClane goes to every length to save Holly from her captors. Risking everything for family? Sign me up.

But how he does it is truly a Christmas miracle. Outnumbered 12-to-1, pushed on only by his love of Holly and Al (Reginald ValJohnson), a cop he’s communicating with over the radio who he welcomes into his family, McClane takes down the entire group, using only his street sense. (Well, that and the guns he steals from the men he takes down.) And it all comes without wearing shoes for a majority of the film! For goodness sake, the guy didn’t even have shoes and he got out of there alive.

So you can keep your family-friendly flicks about presents and reindeer. Because I’ll take Die Hard: a true Christmas film about the power of family, friends, and miracles. Just like the holiday was meant to be.

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[slab]Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town[/slab]

– Shannon Kelly, associate copy editor

There are not many longstanding Christmas traditions in my family. The side we celebrate with is fairly new to the United States, so my idea of a classic American Christmas mostly comes from books or movies. The closest thing we have to a tradition is Chinese takeout dinner on Christmas day, which itself was shown as an atypical affair in A Christmas Story. But if there is one thing that is a constant for me, from the first time I knew what Christmas was to last year, it is the Arthur Rankin/Jules Bass cartoons that are sprinkled into ABC Family’s—now Freeform, for some reason—25 Days of Christmas special throughout December. Though the duo’s first Christmas work was in 1964 with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my personal favorite came six years later in Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town.Now, there are a lot of myths out there about how exactly Santa Claus came to be, and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town offers another one. Baby Santa, an orphan, is adopted by a family of toymaker elves who name him Kris Kringle. He grows up in a town where children cannot have any toys, and so Kringle delivers toys by night, and the rest is history. It is adorable and smart, connecting popular belief about Santa with an original story.

Besides the story, the artistry provides a sense of familiarity that is unmatched. The film’s stop-motion animation, with its charming shakiness and funny character close-ups, is almost synonymous with Christmas movie, to the point of parody. And then there are the characters, of which the two leads are voiced by film icons Fred Astaire and Mickey Rooney, that make it all the more homey. I can’t think of watching the Rankin/Bass films without thinking of a 6-year-old me in blue pajamas with brown bears on them, curled up in the middle of our family’s well-loved red plaid couch, a small mug of hot chocolate—made with hot milk, not hot water—clenched in a small fist.

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Maybe the biggest part of why I love this movie is that it meant more than watching just the one. ABC Family’s special holiday schedule meant Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, and The Year Without a Santa Claus playing back to back. Just think of that: five hours of uninterrupted TV time as a kid, your pajamas still on at 2 p.m. It was heaven then. And it’s still a good memory now.

Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor

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