Ah, the holidays. What better time to curl up in front of your TV with a good movie?
The question is, what to watch?
We here in the newsroom put our heads together and brainstormed ideas about the best movies for the holiday season - and, since we don't particularly trust ourselves (and we couldn't stop the arguments that erupted over whether Michael Caine or Alastair Sim was a better Ebenezer Scrooge), we also called for ideas from readers on our Facebook page.
Putting it all together, here are our picks for Top Holiday Movies:
? It's a Wonderful Life (1946): Even the most cynical amongst us has to admit that our hearts melt just a little every time we watch this Frank Capra classic. Starring the incomparable Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, the movie journeys through the life of small-town businessman George Bailey and explores what would have happened if he'd never existed. A warm, engaging and unabashedly sentimental charmer for the whole family.
? White Christmas (1954): If you don't love this classic musical, then bah humbug to you. Yes, the story is as 1950s cheesy as they come, about a song-and-dance pair who become romantically involved with two singing sisters and team up to save the failing Vermont inn that's run by their former commanding general. But come on - it's got Bing Crosby, it's got Danny Kaye, it's got Rosemary Clooney, it's got some of the best tunes of all time, and it's got just about the most heartwarming ending of any film ever. Indulge, and enjoy.
? Elf (2003): He may not be Jimmy Stewart, but Will Ferrell brings a charm all his own to the role of Buddy, the ungainly, overgrown man-raised-as-elf who leaves the North Pole to seek out his real family. His childish enthusiasm for Christmas and zest for life gradually win over the humans he encounters - and, with plenty of silly humour mixed in among gentle messages about love, tolerance and the true spirit of Christmas, it's bound to appeal to kids and adults alike.
? A Christmas Carol (also released as Scrooge, 1951): Alastair Sim turns in the defining performance as Charles' Dickens famous miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, in this classic tale of greed and redemption. You haven't felt the spirit of Christmas move you till you've heard him say: "I haven't taken leave of my senses. I've come to them." A must-watch for every Christmas.
? The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): Michael Caine and a bunch of puppets? It may not seem like a recipe for a holiday classic, but the skeptics have been proven wrong, time and again, by the freshness of this retelling of the Dickens classic. With all the familiar muppet favourites on board - most notably Kermit the Frog as Bob Cratchit, Miss Piggy as Mrs. Cratchit, and Gonzo as the narrator, Charles Dickens himself - it's full of memorable songs and powered by the inspired performance of Caine, and it's kept fun for everyone by an injection of humour throughout. ("Light the lamp, not the rat!")
? Love Actually (2003): With a cast list that reads like a Who's Who of favourite British actors, Love Actually is a romantic comedy - or, more accurately, several romantic comedies in one - that just can't help stealing hearts. Among the standouts are Hugh Grant as the prime minister of England (gotta dig that dance sequence), Colin Firth as a writer betrayed by his wife who falls in love with a woman who doesn't speak his language, Bill Nighy as a washed-up old rockstar on the comeback trail and Liam Neeson as a grieving widower coming to terms with life as a stepdad. It's Emma Thompson, however, who steals the show with perhaps the single most heartwrenching wordless scene ever filmed in a movie (no spoilers here; we'll only tell you the music of Joni Mitchell is playing in the background). You will laugh. You will cry. And you will, despite yourself, come out believing that love actually is all around us.
? The Sound of Music (1965): Purists may point out (quite correctly) that this isn't strictly a Christmas movie. But since this classic musical makes its way repeatedly onto television screens around the country at this time of year - and since its sugar-and-spice messages about love and goodness are really what Christmas is all about - we'll adopt it as one for the sake of this list. And come on, what's not to love? If you don't adore Julie Andrews in the role of Maria, the would-be nun who heads off to serve as nanny to Captain von Trapp's seven children, then your heart is too hard for Christmas. Just watch, sing along, and enjoy.
? A Christmas Story (1983): Seeping nostalgia from every pore and hilarious in almost every scene, A Christmas Story follows the iconic Ralphie remembering a 1950s "traditional, 100 per cent, red-blooded, two fisted, all-American Christmas" with his happy but somewhat chaotic family. The movie covers all the bases of Christmas as seen from the eyes of a child, from a little brother eagerly hopping into Santa's lap and bursting into tears to the disappointment of getting pajamas for Christmas. The movie has been bringing about audible belly laughs from viewers year after year since it quietly debuted in 1983. This is the movie to watch if you want everyone to go to bed laughing.
? Miracle on 34th Street: Whether you choose to watch the original 1947 classic or the 1994 remake, this one's simply a winner. Is Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn in the original and Richard Attenborough in the remake) a crazy old man, or is he really Santa Claus? When a skeptical, precocious child asks that question, the results combine humour, love and a lot of good oldfashioned shmaltz for a heartwarming Christmas family film.
? National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989): For everyone of us who has ever struggled with a string of Christmas lights, overbearing relatives and ungrateful children, Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold is here to remind us of why it is all worthwhile. Griswold has every intention of having the perfect Christmas for his family, but despite (and occasionally because of) his best intentions, the holiday swiftly goes awry. From his Sisyphean struggle to adorn his house in lights to his fight for a decent Christmas bonus, Griswold represents the best and worst in all of us at this time of year. When you find the holiday stress is getting to be too much, sit down with the Griswolds and get a good dose of hilarious perspective.
FOR THE LESS TRADITIONAL
For those who prefer their Christmas movies with a little less mistletoe and happy-ever-after, here are a few alternative suggestions:
? The Ref (1994): For many, a family Christmas feels a bit like being taken hostage. The Ref simply takes that feeling to its logical conclusion. A dysfunctional (of course) family finds itself held at gunpoint by a second-rate cat burglar who seems to be the only sane one in the bunch. It stars Denis Leary when his career was just starting to bud and lots of other familiar actors delivering lines people only wish they could say to their in-laws. It's an early '90s jocular comedy, and it's no classic, but it's the cynic's Christmas movie, and the cynics deserve to be entertained this time of year too, dammit.
? Home Alone (1990): This is the movie that immortalized one of the most famous facial expressions of all time - who can forget the wide eyes and dropped jaw of Macaulay Culkin's character upon realizing he'd been left behind by his big family on their Christmas vacation? This flick tapped into the ultimate fear-and-fantasy of almost every kid: the joy of being able to do whatever you want combined with the horror of having no one around to protect you. Mix in some bumbling crooks, panicked parents and plenty of holiday cheer, and this is one from the vaults to bring back for a re-watch this holiday season.
? Die Hard (1988): Oh, come on, what says Christmas more than guns, blood and Bruce Willis? This action-packed film - set against the backdrop of a Christmas party in the Nakatomi Plaza highrise - created one of the best movie villains of all time in the person of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and one of the best action heroes in Willis's cynical New York City cop, John McClane, who sets out to take down a band of apparent terrorists. Non-stop action, wisecracking one-liners and a happy ending (well, if you don't count the bodies) make it a perfect alternative for those nights you just can't handle more holiday shmaltz.
? Scrooged (1989): With Bill Murray in the lead spot of this modern retelling of the classic Scrooge tale, can anything less than over-the-top behaviour, unconventional story lines and plenty of comedy be expected?
Murray, as cold-hearted TV executive Xavier Cross, is the nightmare boss who has alienated family, friends and even his one true love in his career-focused, self-centred effort to avoid his unpleasant childhood and make a name for himself.
But when three equally unconventional ghosts - heralded by the grisly skeleton of his former TV network boss - come to visit him, Cross comes to some startling realizations about life and love.
It's impossible to watch his post-ghost rebirth and not smile all the way through - or to join in at the sing-along aimed at the audience during the closing credits. A comic heart warmer in every way.
? Gremlins (1984): While the '80s special effects may not impress contemporary audiences, this classic Spielberg-produced film was freaky enough to make sure many a child and young teen didn't leave their ankles exposed to the underside of the bed for a long while.
The plot: a young man gets a special furry critter for Christmas, which ends up multiplying and turning into evil little monsters because he breaks the rules on how to care for them. The gremlins terrorize the town of our hapless protagonist, who has to kill them all by exposing them to light.
There are some comedic elements, but there are also some rather violent scenes - a gremlin getting fried in the microwave comes to mind, while another meets his maker after falling into an electric mixer.
Gremlins was a success in its time, and the storyline is somewhat original, but the film is half horror, so bear that in mind if you have small children.
Added bonus: This film may serve as a cautionary tale for kids who want pets for Christmas.