Everyone else seems to have rankings of Christmas movies, so I thought, why shouldn’t I? Heck, I’m just as good as other people, probably better. Right, so Christmas movies. I actually prefer Christmas movies to Christmas music, because whereas Christmas songs make me want to commit murder after about 90 minutes, you can revisit a good Christmas movie at any time of year or level of drunkenness.
Now, when you’re ranking Christmas movies, there’s always going to be significant debate over not just how good a movie is, but how “Christmas-y” it is. For instance, is an A+ movie with a couple Christmas scenes a “better Christmas movie” than a B movie where the entire plot revolves around Christmas? It’s an interesting question, and one which I eventually resolved by lighting a fart and throwing a nerf football at my cat. That is why my rankings are so definitive.
So here they are, my top 10 Christmas movies, plus, a bit about Love Actually, the worst Christmas movie. KNIVES OUT!
(Want to view it as a single page? Go right ahead.)
1. Bad Santa
Picking a movie with multiple uses of the word “buttf*ck,” is just so typical, isn’t it? Well, I regret nothing. I love everything about Bad Santa. But if I have to focus on just one thing, I’ll simply say that Thurman Merman is possibly the greatest combination character name casting choice in movie history. There is no more perfect illustration of innocent, good-natured stupidity than Thurman Merman, and there a few things I find as entertaining as good-natured stupidity, especially when paired with alcoholism, misanthropy and generous use of the word “buttf*ck.” It’s like I asked God to make me the perfect movie.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW: THURMAN MERMAN EDITION. Canada, apparently.
2. Die Hard
“I have a machine gun, ho ho ho.”
Die Hard is so good that they were still making Die Hard movies 25 years later. It’s so timeless that it doesn’t seem like Die Hard was that long ago. Trust me, it was. Don’t believe me? This was taken at the premiere:
I don’t know where her outfit stops and the purse begins. It looks like a pair of jeans and a cow jumped into that machine from The Fly.
Anyway, for more proof that Die Hard is timeless, note that Ben Affleck was still biting Harry Ellis’s style for Argo.
“Babe, I negotiate million dollar deals for breakfast. I think I can handle this Ayatrailer trash. Homeini! Bubbie! Allahu Talkbar? …I’m your white knight.”
3. Tie: Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3
If I listed every Shane Black movie separately, more than half this list would be Shane Black movies. Shane Black owns the Christmas genre. I don’t know what he loves about Christmas so much. Maybe familial love and tidings and a spirit of giving are a nice foundation on which to pile over-the-top violence and vulgar one-liners. I don’t really know. But Shane Black somehow combines the spirit of 80s action movies with noir detective stories and Borscht Belt comedy in a way that makes my heart honk a sexy sax solo.
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
I feel like I can just say “SHITTER’S FULL!” here and leave it at that.
5. Batman Returns (1992)
“Mistletoe can be dangerous if you eat it.”
I like that Batman, the richest, suavest, most dangerous guy in the world’s idea of foreplay was regurgitating Ranger Rick facts about the toxicity of mistletoe. But that’s neither here nor there. Batman Returns doesn’t get nearly enough credit. More than 20 years before the “dark and gritty” superhero trend became a cliché, Batman Returns still has the distinction of being the weirdest mainstream superhero movie. Definitely the most goth. The penguin funeral scene is still probably the weirdest, darkest, strangest, most awesomely cartoony thing I’ve seen in a superhero movie.
Also: “Still, could be worse. My nose could be gushing blood!” is the original “I’m gonna make this pencil disappear.”
A lot of people will swear up and down that brunette Zooey Deschanel is the best Zooey Deschanel, but is she truly better than blonde Zooey Deschanel singing in the shower? Really? Dudes, as much as I love playing the “which chick’s hotter” game with my bros, I’m afraid that’s a debate for another time. Instead, I’ll just say that Elf was the kind of high concept comedy that, in 2003, I didn’t think could work anymore. And yet it totally does. Will Ferrell surely deserves a lot of credit for that. The whole thing seems like a pretty stupid idea on paper, but Will Ferrell commits to it so fully that he makes it real Elf is eminently rewatchable and it makes me yearn for a time when a Will Ferrell script didn’t have big chunks of stage direction that just said “Will Ferrell acts hilarious for a while.”
Will Ferrell is great, but he’s become the comedic equivalent of a boxer who falls in love with his power and stops throwing combinations.
7. Home Alone
I don’t have as fond of memories of Home Alone as every other person in my generation, and I hate almost everything starring small children. Nonetheless, I include it on this list solely as blatant pandering. It’s relevant in a way that sort of transcends whether it’s actually good or not, like the lyrics to the Fresh Prince theme song. I do wonder if Kevin McAllister helped permanently entrench the “precocious, articulate child” trope. It’s impossible for me to watch Home Alone without imagining that Macauley Culkin is doing a Ferris Bueller impression the entire time. In fact, I’m surprised John Hughes didn’t take more crap for how much he seems to enjoy filming young boys showering.
Also, Macauley Culkin is now in a pizza-themed Velvet Underground cover band with a girl I went to grad school with, which seems important.
8. Trading Places
I haven’t seen this in a while, so I asked Robopanda from GammaSquad to summarize: “Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy rape a guy with a gorilla. Merry Christmas, everyone.”
A lot of people forget this was a movie, let alone a Christmas movie, but both are true! Go is the intertwining tale of three people who work at a supermarket together in the 24 hours before Christmas. Now, it’s true, you’d be hard pressed to find a more “late 90s” movie than Go. Maybe Boondocks Saints, which is terrible. But while Go is certainly wearing the clothing of a late 90s Tarantino rip off, I’d like to think it has a lot more going on underneath. Well, a little more, at least.
Go is the ultimate “where are they now” movie, because everyone in it is in such a different pop culture incarnation now. Melissa McCarthy played Scott Wolf’s obsessed fan a good 10 years before anyone knew who she was. Katie Holmes was still all young and cute and pre-Tom Cruise. There’s a post-Clueless, pre Franklin and Bash Breckin Meyer. Timothy Olyphant stars in one of his great early roles, William Fichtner kicks ass as always as a creepy multi-level marketing recruiter, and years before she disappeared into her own ass and came out the other end as every film critic’s dream director, Sarah Polley was just a raver chick trying to sell some drugs.
It’s the best kind of time capsule. Go is the rare movie that’s actually good because it’s so dated.
10. Jingle All the Way
BLATANT TROLL PICK ALERT. It’s true, I chose this one solely so I didn’t have to decide between six or seven other Christmas movies that are legitimately good. But if you haven’t seen Jingle All the Way, you should definitely give it a watch. It’s so awful on every level that it feels like everyone in it lost a bet. The production values are worse than a Nickelodeon sitcom from the 90s. In its own way, Jingle All the Way is more compelling and strangely fascinating than watching A Christmas Story or It’s a Wonderful Life for the fiftieth time. You don’t even have to watch the whole movie. Pretty much any five minute chunk of Jingle All the Way will give you a stranger trip than most psychedelic drugs.
Honorable mentions: Scrooged, Rocky IV, In Bruges, Gremlins, The Hudsucker Proxy, A Christmas Story, whatever your favorite is.
The Worst Christmas Movie: Love Actually
Which brings us to the all-time worst Christmas movie, Love Actually. I was actually going to write a thorough breakdown of everything that’s wrong with Love Actually, but Lindy West beat me to it, and probably did a much better job than I was going to do, so I’ll keep this relatively short.
The main thrust of it is this: If you’ve seen Love Actually as an adult, and while sober, and you’ve actually thought about anything that happens in it for more than two seconds, and you still like it, you may have serious emotional problems. Nothing that happens in this horrendous movie resembles actual human, male-female interactions in any way shape or form, and virtually all of the courtship held up as “romantic” in the film are the kinds of things an autistic serial killer would do. It needs a bunch of different storylines to weave together, because if it actually followed through on any one of them instead of just slapping a montage and a credits sequence over them all, it’d be much more apparent how deeply twisted they all are.
In love with your best friend’s girl? Okay, here’s what you do: let them go out for a few years, and don’t say shit. Just admire her from afar, and then, once they’re all settled and married, try to f*ck up both their lives by loudly broadcasting the crush you’ve held in for all these years. She’ll totally love it! Chicks dig a complete sociopath!
That’s the message of Love Actually. There’s a reason the same people who love Love Actually also love those black and white posters of the little kid holding a bouquet of red roses. Love Actually is basically the movie version of that. Wildly improbable and not actually cute if you think about the situation for more than three seconds. It’s a Hallmark card for idiots.
The above scene might actually have been an interesting plot if they’d followed it through to its logical conclusion, after Keira Knightley dumps her husband, loses all her possessions, and they both alienate all of their family and friends to run off together, and then end up breaking up a month later when they find out she has weird tits and he’s a premature ejaculator. Instead they just throw their hands up and say “romance, am I right, lol!”
Look, Love Actually may not be the most poorly directed, acted, or unfunniest Christmas movie around, but it’s certainly the worst one to appear on anyone’s best-of list, and I include Jingle All the Way in that statement. It’s not bad because it’s poorly made, though it is partially that (as Lindy writes, “That’s not how press conferences work. That’s not how diplomacy works. That’s not how prime ministers work. NOTHING IS HOW ANYTHING WORKS.”). It’s bad because it’s wrong. It’s constantly rewarding characters for doing something horrible, perpetuating the idea that stalker-ish wooing and peacocking shows of affection are “romance.” When someone says they find something in it romantic, it makes me question their emotional health.
Love Actually is just the more yuppie version of Twilight, where a 100-year-old vampire watches a 16-year-old girl sleep because he loves her sooooo much and that’s supposed to be romantic. Love Actually is dressed up with more charismatic acting and some jokes here and there, but strip that away and it’s based on the same completely warped sense of how men and women do or should relate to one another.