Great Christmas Movies
(chronological by film title)
Intro | Classics (1) | Classics (2) | Modern-Day (1) | Modern-Day (2)
(in chronological order)
|Film Title/Year/Director, Setting and Brief Description|
Jack Frost (1998)
A father named Jack Frost has a second chance at doing something he failed at the first time around - being a parent. He comes home for Christmas one year after his death, reincarnated as a Snowman on his son's front lawn.
A small (fictional) Colorado Rocky Mountain town, Medford
Director Troy Miller's cliched, over-sentimental, contrived 'heart-warming' family film was a 'live-action' version of the classic holiday animated film Frosty the Snowman. This holiday film's sappy tagline described how a deceased father became a 'cool dad' as a snowman: "Jack Frost is getting a second chance to be the world's coolest dad... if he doesn't melt first." The title character, the snowman, was created via animatronic puppetry (Jim Henson's Creature Shop) and computer graphics (ILM).
Struggling, chronically late, and self-absorbed, middle-aged rock musician Jack Frost (Michael Keaton) lived with his wife Gabby (Kelly Preston) and ignored 12 year-old son Charlie (Joseph Cross) in the Colorado mountains. Frost had already proven that he couldn't keep family promises and parental/spousal obligations. At Christmas time, he cancelled his attendance at the planned family mountain cabin outing to play at a record label executive's party on Christmas Day in Denver. But then, he changed his mind and began the drive home in a borrowed car, and died in a car accident on his return (off-screen).
A year later, a still-grieving Charlie built a snowman in his front yard, using Jack's battered old hat and scarf. That night, when the boy started to play the "magical" harmonica his father had given him on the previous Christmas (the night before he died), the snowman out on the lawn was taken over by Jack's spirit. The reincarnated Jack experienced one final chance to make things right - father-son bonding - before being threatened by melting from a warm front.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) (aka Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas)
Makeup, prosthetics and LOTS of green fur, Jim Carrey delivers as the conniving Christmas-ruining Grinch. The green Grinch vamps around stealing Christmas, and it's as bad for the residents of Whoville as it for us who are watching at home.
The City of Whoville
Director Ron Howard created this aggressively-presented, over-produced, big budget, live-action adaptation of the classic 1957 children's book by Dr. Seuss about a selfish green creature intent on stealing Christmas. Although it wasn't altogether received positively, it was a major box-office hit, and became the highest-grossing (domestic) Christmas holiday film of all time at $260 million. [Note: The first version of Dr. Seuss' tale was How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966), a 26 minute animated TV special, directed by legendary animator Chuck Jones. Boris Karloff starred as the narrator and as the voice of the Grinch.]
The main role of the detestable and cruel green Grinch with sadistic yellow eyes was played by maniacal physical comic Jim Carrey, covered with layers of prosthetics, makeup and synthetic green fur. He was miserly, grotesque, and generally distasteful of Christmas due to a back-story that was revealed early on. After he was adopted and raised by two elderly sisters in the peaceful valley of Whoville, he was ridiculed, shamed and bullied at age 8 by his school classmates for his appearance - and this childhood trauma was the explanation for his current demeanor. All alone, the Grinch exiled himself to Mount Crumpit (the town's garbage dump) to live in a cave.
Presently, in the town inhabited by rodent-like creatures (with buck teeth, snouty faces, wacky hairdos and strange costumes), charitable-minded, big-eyed, button-cute 8 year-old Cindy Lou Who (Taylor Momsen) took an interest in the Grinch, a former town resident. She was also one of the few to fear that the true meaning of Christmas had been lost: "Where are you, Christmas?"
The demonic Grinch was coaxed down from his mountain hideaway when Cindy Lou nominated him for a special Yuletide honor during the town's Whobilation. After a difficult and humiliating visit to town when he was mocked a second time, the Grinch decided to sabotage and destroy Christmas. He dressed as Santa, and with a sleigh, he invaded the Whos' homes on Christmas Eve to burglarize their presents.
On Christmas morning, Mayor Augustus May Who (Jeffrey Tambor) blamed little Cindy Lou for ruining Christmas by trying to extend kindnesses to the Grinch. Although troubled by the thefts, the townsfolk came to the realization that they still had the Christmas spirit, and that Christmas wasn't just about materialistic goods.
As they joyfully sang together in the town square, the Grinch heard their singing from his mountain top. At first, the curmudgeon was frustrated that his plan had failed (Narrator: "He hadn't stopped Christmas from coming"). He was about to dispose of their gifts wrapped in a large red sack on the sleigh, positioned on a windy and snowy mountain peak. He thought and puzzled to himself:
His heart painfully grew three sizes when he realized that Christmas still went on in Whoville even if he had stolen all of their presents. He sobbed and sobbed, and then was pleasantly surprised to see Cindy on top of the gigantic sack. She gave him heartwarming love and respect: "I came to see you. No one should be alone on Christmas." But then the sleigh was positioned to slip off the mountain top and crash to the ground.
With all of his strength, he saved the sleigh (and Cindy) from disaster ("I got you, Cindy Lou") by holding the sleigh high above his head. He returned with her to the village to return the stolen goods, where he apologized (or repented), and was forgiven. He was redeemed, decided to marry his lifelong unrequired love interest - slinky, uppity Martha Stewart-like Martha May Whovier (Christine Baranski), and began a new life.
Bad Santa (2003)
Adults only! With excessive profanity, sexual innuendo and promiscuity, this movie, one of the most depressing Christmas movies of the holiday season, is the polar opposite of your usual holiday flick. Starring Billy Bob Thornton as ne'er do well mall Santa Willie Stokes.
First in Miami, Florida, then Phoenix, Arizona
The irreverent, tasteless R-rated black comedy, suitable only for adult audiences, had the tagline: "He doesn't care if you're naughty or nice." It was an unusual pick for a holiday film, with repulsive foul-mouthed vulgarity, alcohol abuse, promiscuity and armed burglary.
The film opened with bitter, hedonistic, obscenity-spewing, unshaven scumbag Willie T. Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) slumped on a barstool. He was wearing a red Santa outfit, while finishing off a whiskey and smoking a cigarette - and noting:
The con-man was joined by ill-tempered midget-dwarf Marcus (Tony Cox), as they went on regular annual road-trips each holiday Christmas season (they had been successful for seven years) dressed as Santa and Santa's Little Helper, to execute one big scam (that would last until the next year). Their ulterior motive, other than spreading good (and profane) cheer as a shopping mall Santa Claus and Elf in their costumes, was to learn how to circumvent mall security systems in order to rob the stores on Christmas Eve. Marcus would hide in the mall and disable the alarm system, while Willie would crack the safe.
Part of the job entailed having child-hating Willie entertain young "s--t's" on his lap all day long, wishing he could rush through them: "Make it quick, Santa's gotta pee." And he was forever avoiding the brats brought to him by their mothers: "I'm on my f--king lunch break, ok!" He also took time out to 'fornicate' with a heavy-set woman in the Big & Tall dressing room. For most of the film, Willie was partially drunk, and half-dressed in a partial 'Santa' outfit, sometimes with a ragged T-shirt or bare-chested showing off his tattoos.
Currently, they were in Phoenix, Arizona, where 'Santa' befriended a precocious, bullied, overweight eight year-old pre-teen that he nicknamed the Kid/Thurman Merman (Brett Kelly). The unpopular, bedeviled boy lived with his senile, catatonic grandmother (Cloris Leachman) ("Let me fix you some sandwiches"), without parents (his mother was dead, and his father was in prison for embezzlement).
At first, Santa was contemptuous of the Kid, and took advantage of the annoying boy. He invited himself to stay in the Kid's basically empty lavish home, and then robbed the safe of money and stole a BMW.
In one of the more outrageous scenes from his Santa chair, Willie delivered a maddened tirade at the Kid, giving him fatherly advice when he acted wimpy toward skateboard kids who teased and pulled on his underwear, and telling him to defend himself:
Marcus was increasingly impatient and upset with Willie's debauched and extreme behavior, and chastised him. At first, he said: "You're an emotional f--king cripple. Your soul is dog s--t. Every single f--king thing about you is ugly." He then accused Willie of the three B's: "Every year, more booze, more bulls--t, more butt-f--king."
In the meantime, the mall's prissy, anxious general manager Mr. Chipeska (John Ritter in his final film role) was also suspicious of Willie: "There's something about the guy that makes me uneasy." He assigned his scheming Security Chief Gin Slagel (Bernie Mac) to investigate Willie's background. Later in the subplot, Gin decided he wanted to be in on their loot, and insisted on one-half of the money ("We split the dough right down the middle").
Willie also began a relationship with sexy, kinky, nympho bartender Sue (Lauren Graham). The Kid regularly referred to her as "Mrs. Santa's Sister." Willie bragged to her: "I'm an eating, drinking, sh-tting, f--king Santy Claus." She replied: "Prove it" - and they immediately had sex in the front seat of a car - to the tune of the William Tell Overture, as she screamed out three times: "F--k me, Santa." Afterwards, she admitted:
The Kid was also completely enamoured by 'Santa,' and gave him a present of a wooden pickle - which he had carved (causing him to severely cut up his hand). Willie beat up a group of teenagers who picked on the Kid and blackened his eye. He declared: "I beat the s--t out of some kids today. But it was for a purpose. It made me feel good about myself."
To eliminate Gin as a partner and continuing problems with Willie, Marcus (Santa's Little Helper) and his wife/partner-in-crime Lois (Lauren Tom) murdered Gin with their van. Then, during their climactic mall robbery, Marcus (and Lois) double-crossed Willie and held a gun on him. As Willie asked: "Do you really need all that s--t? For Christ's sakes, it's Christmas!", the police arrived, and Willie was shot eight times during flight - but he survived (all of the bullets avoided vital organs except his liver - which was already damaged). He avoided jail time because of a letter he had written to the Kid:
The film ended with the arrest of Marcus and Lois, and Sue was given temporary guardianship of the Kid until his father was released from jail in one year and three months. After healing, Willie was to be employed by the police department as a sensitivity counselor.
In a strange way, the Kid had taught Willie the true meaning of Christmas, and the young boy also learned how to stand up for himself (Willie had written (in voice-over) to him in a letter from the hospital: "Don't take no s--t from nobody, least of all yourself. Ho, ho, ho.") When the Kid was again taunted by a skateboarder outside his home, who called him a "loser" and a "fat-ass," the Kid kicked the bully in the crotch, and then rode off on his bike as the film ended.
Both charming and foolish, Buddy (Will Ferrell) is a prime example of a 'fish out of water' as he navigates the North Pole and then Manhattan as a 6'3" elf.
At the North Pole, and in New York City
One of the more hilarious, likeable and light-hearted Christmas movies of all time - it was a fish-out-of-water tale about a naive, good-hearted Elf trying to reunite with his biological family. A baby from an orphanage stowed away in Santa's (Ed Asner) sack during Christmas Eve delivery, crawled out and found himself at the North Pole. He was raised by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart), and named Buddy after the brand name of his diapers.
Thirty years into the future, the baby grew to be 6 foot, 3 inch Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell), a misfit towering over the others. He realized that he was different from everyone else (he was not adept at toy-making for "the show" or "the big dance"), but was unaware of his origins until he overheard two other elves noting that he still hadn't figured out that he was "human."
Disoriented, he sought advice from his knowledgeable neighbor Leon the Snowman, and from Santa about traveling to civilization:
He also learned that his real father was mean: ("Buddy, you should know that your father... he's on the naughty list").
Hoping to find his true identity and his widower birth father (who was named Walter Hobbs (James Caan), a workaholic at a children's book company), he bravely took a trip to the human world in New York, where his naivete was both charming and idiotic, as he:
He found his father in an office at the top of the Empire State Building, where he was thrown out after Walter sarcastically thought he was a costumed Christmas-gram. As he was escorted to the outside by security guards, one of them noted: "Why don't you go back to Gimbel's?" Inside the store where it was assumed that he worked, in anticipation of Santa's arrival ("SANTA! OH MY GOD! SANTA HERE? I KNOW HIM! I KNOW HIM!"), Buddy spent overnight in the department redecorating, cutting snowflakes, setting up train sets, and ornamenting trees.
However, he was dismayed by the imposter-fake Santa that showed up the next morning and they had a riotous altercation (in front of a line of children and mothers) that landed him in jail. He was bailed out by his father, taken to a doctor for DNA testing to prove his identity, and then was introduced to his extended family - patient and kindly stepmother Emily (Mary Steenburgen) and lonely, 10 year-old half-brother Michael (Daniel Tay).
Buddy fell in love at Gimbel's with Jovie (blonde Zooey Deschanel), a jaded, yet quirky store employee who stacked merchandise. Nervously asking for a date, he told her:
Earnest Buddy's adventures and escapades, in addition to reminding cynics of the real meaning of Christmas in Central Park where Santa's jet-powered sleigh had crashed, included the following:
Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
Chaos ensues after the Kranks' decision to skip Christmas is thwarted when their daughter announces she's coming home for the holidays.
At Christmas time, in a Chicago suburb
Director Joe Roth's unfunny comedy was adapted by Chris Columbus from John Grisham’s 2001 novel Skipping Christmas. It was a box-office success, although it was soundly vilified for its strong Orwellian message of mean-spirited conformity during the Christmas holidays (tagline: "Their Christmas will turn the town upside down!").
The title's family, middle-aged Luther and Nora Krank (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) were a suburban Chicago couple who had just celebrated Thanksgiving, and had said goodbye to their daughter Blair (Julie Gonzalo) who was beginning to serve a Peace Corps term in Peru. The Kranks decided to forego traditional lavish spending for the holidays (for lights, parties, and lavish decorations) and use the money for a Caribbean cruise vacation, although they would still customarily give holiday donations to children’s charities and their church.
Immediately however, the Kranks were considered out-of-synchronicity by their pressuring middle-American neighbors and co-workers, who were distressed that they wouldn't be partaking of the normal spending or trappings of the holiday season (i.e., decorating their home for the annual neighborhood's 'Best Decorated' contest). When Christmas carolers came to the Krank's home, Luther sprayed his front lawn with water, which froze over and deterred the holiday-singers.
The twist came when on Christmas Eve morning, Blair called from the Miami airport, announcing that she was on her way home with her new fiancee from Peru named Enrique Decardenal (René Lavan). With only a few hours until Christmas, the Kranks chaotically began to decorate their home with the traditional trimmings, and prepare for a party and homecoming. They were aided by cooperative neighbors to decorate the house and prepare the food. In the end, Luther (a Scrooge-like character) was forced to acknowledge that they shouldn't have skipped Christmas, and should have achieved yuletide happiness the usual way.
The Polar Express (2004)
Praised for its milestone special effects, The Polar Express showcases an action packed, magical journey to The North Pole.
At Christmas time, set in the 1950s in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Robert Zemeckis' ground-breaking, blockbuster adaptation of the beloved 1985 illustrated children's book by Chris Van Allsburg, was a journey of self-discovery with a strong endorsement (or sales-pitch) for the belief in the existence of Christmas. The fantasy holiday film was enhanced with memorable performance-capture technology. It was praised for its milestone special effects, but also criticized for some of its lifeless-looking, unreal humans and animations. However, it was still notable in its claim to be the first major feature-length film to use the process of Motion Capture Animation.
Late on Christmas Eve, a doubting and skeptical 8 year-old unnamed 'Hero Boy' (voice of Daryl Sabara) was introduced (in voice-over), as he lay in bed contemplating that there was no Santa Claus. He was wishing to hear the beautiful sound of reindeer bells from Santa's sleigh:
He was hoping to believe in everything related to the Christmas holidays, but at a turning point in his life, he was becoming agnostic and doubting with shaky beliefs about the true existence of Saint Nick. He heard noises downstairs, and saw a shadow, but discovered a ruse. It wasn't Santa Claus, but his own father who ate the cookies and delivered the presents. He returned to his room to search in magazines and encyclopedias for confirmation of Santa, but in a description of the 'North Pole' in his World Book encyclopedia, it was only described as "stark, barren, devoid of life."
He then pretended to be asleep when his parents entered his bedroom. They mentioned that their disbelieving son no longer stayed up late listening for Santa Claus's arrival. He was awakened at about 5 minutes to twelve by a loud whooshing and rumbling sound - a monstrous, golden-lit magical steam train pulled up outside his house. He ran outside in his pajamas, slippers, and torn-pocketed bathrobe.
The conductor (Tom Hanks, who played most of the characters) had announced: "All aboard," and claimed they were bound for the North Pole (and Santa Claus' home). He had also claimed: "Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see."
Hero Boy joined fellow travelers - all wearing pajamas, including:
The hour-long, sometimes out-of-control ride to their fantastical destination was filled with spectacular theme park-like roller-coaster thrills and action sequences. At one point on the journey, a huge herd of caribou was encountered crossing and blocking the path, and the train in steep Glacier Gulch skidded off its tracks and slid across an iced-over lake. Hyperkinetic, white-aproned dancing waiters served hot-chocolate to the young passengers, while the conductor sang the bizarre song: "Hot Chocolate" about the joys of drinking the hot beverage. During one long magical sequence, the girl's golden train ticket fluttered away and was sent through an obstacle course, of sorts, before blowing back into the train.
At Santa's headquarters or workshop, there was a bank of TV monitors that allowed the elves to monitor who had been naughty or nice, while gifts were transported around within pneumatic tubes. With preparations ready for Santa's yearly Christmas deliveries, one silver bell fell off of Santa's sleigh. Hero Boy picked it up and shook it, but couldn't hear it. He then stated his belief in Santa, and saw Santa's reflection behind him in the shiny bell. He shook the bell again, now heard its sweet sound, and returned it to Santa.
Soon after, Hero Boy was selected to meet the red-suited, white-bearded, pompous Man/Santa Claus (Hanks again) who asked him what he wanted for Christmas. The Boy was presented with his request - a silver sleigh bell - "the first gift of Christmas." The bell could only be heard by those who believed in Santa.
During the return trip back home on the train, Hero Boy realized the bell was missing (from his torn pocket), and he was saddened. On Christmas morning, the last tiny gift box to be opened by him and his sister Sarah had a note on it from Santa - to "fix that hole." It contained the silver bell. The two could hear the bell, but their parents couldn't (thinking it was broken).
Hero Boy re-dedicated himself to the spirit of Christmas and in the film's last line stated: