Click here for Jack's Christmas Movie Marathon Index!
Last Update Dec 19, 2013
In 2010, I began a movie marathon of the top 30 Christmas movies according to
google. That turned out to be too many Christmas movies to watch in one Christmas season,
so I didn't finish working my way through that list until 2011. Some of those
movies really were classics, and some of them were total duds that showed me the folly of
relying on the taste of search result summaries. Either way, I compiled my reviews
of those movies into the original Jack's Christmas Movie Marathon
Starting in 2012, I dove into the Christmas movies that I'd like to watch (or rewatch)
that didn't make it onto the original list. I still use google searches to help find them,
but I've exercised a bit more personal discretion, so that I can avoid the ones that I know
are terrible. A few of them I'd seen before, and they're on the list because I wanted to see
them again and share them with you. They're presented in the order I viewed them, which was based primarily
on the whimsy of what I felt like watching on any given night. I made some attempt to save
the best for last, but generally these aren't in order of quality.
This has now become an open-ended tradition for me, so if there's a movie I haven't reviewed
yet that you want to recommend (or if you want to share your thoughts, or just say hello)
please email me at email@example.com. You can
also check out other things I've written if you'd like.
Enjoy, and have a MERRY CHRISTMAS!
Titles in bold are ones that I particularly highly recommended.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale
The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974)
The Year Without A Santa Claus (2006)
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever
Disney's A Christmas Carol
Make the Yuletide Gay
The Santa Clause 2
Reviewed on 11/30/2012
This movie came out right when I was starting my original marathon, and I've had many
people recommend it to me over the past couple of years, so I was eager to start this
year off with it. I'm happy to say, I think it lived up to the hype.
The premise is that excavators near the border of Finland uncover the icy prison
of the original Santa Claus--not the jolly gift-giver of Coca-Cola legend, but rather
the horrific germanic beast that was more inclined to thrash naughty children until
there was nothing left of them but blood and bone. When the children in a small
Finnish village start disappearing, it's up to one young boy to convince his father
of the truth before it's too late.
Given that premise, I expected a holiday slasher film, but this isn't really anywhere
near that genre. There's suspense and a few good scares, but I thought the atmosphere of
the movie was dominated by the isolation and danger of the rugged arctic wilderness, and
what the men of the movie must do to endure it. There's some gore to be seen, but the
scares come mostly from the boy's description of the demonic Claus, while the monster
itself remains mostly offscreen. The attention of the film is on the boy's relationship
to his father and his own transition into adulthood. The evil Santa premise serves
to keep the movie fast-paced and relatively lighthearted, even as it touches on emotionally
heavy themes in a desolate setting.
If you're looking for an immediate injection of traditional Christmas spirit, this isn't
anywhere near what you should be watching. But it's a really good movie, undeniably a
tale about Christmas and well worth a watch during the holiday season.
Reviewed on 11/30/2012
Though I surely saw this when it was originally released, I had very nearly forgotten
it existed, let alone that it was set on Christmas. I'd forgotten that Tim Burton directed
this first sequel to his original Batman movie, before Joel Schumacher made the series lame. I'd
completely forgotten that Christopher Walken was in it. But this year it was showing up
on a few different Christmas movie lists I perused, so with the conclusion of Christopher
Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy still fresh in the air, I thought I'd give it a whirl.
It's very entertaining. I remember how much darker and grittier Burton's films made
Batman seem at the time, but this movie still retained quite a bit of the campiness from the
television show I was raised on. The car chases were extremely low speed, the gadgets
made no attempt for realism and the fight scenes only barely avoided flashing "ka-POW"
across the screen as henchmen lined up one at a time to be punched by our hero. Michael
Keaton's Batman was relatively flat, but Batman is mostly just there to play the straight
man while the villains steal the show.
It's by the villains that you judge a Batman movie. Danny Devito played a positively
wicked Penguin; his deformed lecherous villain frothing black at the beak probably
wouldn't have been out of place under Nolan's direction. Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman
was strong, sexy and compelling, despite the writers' failure to give her a schtick beyond
being a woman who decides to fight back (I guess that was still novel in the early nineties.)
And Christopher Walken spends the movie simply making it more awesome by his presence,
basically playing himself. Together, these three put on a damned fine Batman movie.
But...is it really a Christmas movie?
Well, it's got more Christmas in it than Edward Scissorhands or even
The Nightmare Before Christmas, the other Burton titles
vying for a place in Christmas canon. Much of the plot hinges on
the mayor's attempts to light the city Christmas tree without being attacked by
henchmen. Snow is a major feature of the outdoor scenes, and Christmas decorations
pervade the indoor scenes. The Penguin's arctic lair filled with toys (including a giant
rubber duck he rides around in) seems intentionally evocative of the North Pole.
Danny Elfman's score has enough jingling bells and children's choirs to sound appropriately
seasonal. And the very last line of the film is Bruce Wayne wishing Alfred a Merry Christmas.
I think this could have accurately been titled "The Batman Christmas Movie" if that
wouldn't have sounded lame.
The emphasis is still on the Batman, rather than the Christmas. It's not about
Christmas, it's about Batman villains on Christmas. But there's more Christmas in
this than in plenty of other
So while this wouldn't immediately spring to mind if you asked me about Christmas
movies, it's probably got more than enough Christmas to qualify.
Reviewed on 12/01/2012
Man, what happened to Christmas during the 1970s? This is only the
second flick from that decade out of thirty-three movies I've now watched,
the other one being Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town.
Both are Rankin/Bass television specials, and other than them, I got nothing.
It's as if Santa took that entire decade off.
In this show, though, Santa just tries to take one year off. He's tired and
he's got a cold and dangit, kids just don't seem to believe in him anymore,
and that's got him down. This prompts Mrs. Claus to sing a fun song about how
she's always wanted to be Santa. She dresses up in his outfit and prepares
to do his job for him, and I'm starting to think, hey, this could turn out to
be a jolly romp down retro women's liberation lane. But as soon as the song
is done, she drops the idea so abruptly that I can't help but be
a little offended.
Instead, she conspires with a couple elves to go out into the world and prove
to Santa that he's still wanted. This lands them in Southtown USA, where they
strike a bargain with the mayor: if they can make it snow in Dixie, he'll
throw a celebration in honor of Santa. Which means (obviously) that they've
got to convince the feuding brothers Heat Miser and Snow Miser to allow
each into the other's territory for a day.
Setting aside the weird unintended implications about global climate change,
the Misers are definitely what make this special memorable and worth watching
at least once. They're not really miserly at all. They do a vaudeville
bickering brothers routine with a catchy toe-tapping tune, until finally
Mrs. Claus gets their mother involved--none other than Mother Nature--and the
boys are compelled to strike a deal. Snow falls, and Santa is celebrated.
On top of that celebration, all the kids of the world conspire to get presents
for Santa Claus. Once again looking past the parade of stereotypes used to
represent the "children of the world," I thought this was a really heartwarming
twist. So did Santa, I guess, because the children's generosity inspires
him to get back on the job, and Christmas is saved.
All in all, I liked it. It manages the minimal cohesion necessary for a
kid's special--something that the 1970 special failed at. The original songs
pass muster, and it throws in a few classics like "Here Comes Santa Claus"
and "Blue Christmas" just to cover the bases. And it seems unfair to compare
it to the paragon of the Rankin/Bass collection--there can only be one
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. It doesn't really
capture the quintessence of Christmas the way the best
specials do, but that's
not really what it's aiming for. It's just a simple and enjoyable story about
Santa, and by not trying to be more than that, it does alright.
Reviewed on 12/02/2012
I was fully prepared, if necessary, to stop watching this one after five
minutes. It wasn't on my initial list for this year, and my past experiences
with remakes haven't been very good. But while I can't say this one was
great, it did at least hold my attention for its full hour and a half, so I
thought I shoud write it up.
This version is live-action, starring John Goodman, and really, he's perfect
for the role of a worn-out Santa. Also, Harvey Fierstein as Heat Miser and
Michael McKean as Snow Miser, performing the same catchy tune from the
Rankin/Bass special, were excellently cast. Eddie Griffin and Ethan Suplee
deliver humorous enough banter and keep things moving along as the elves sent
out into the world to save Christmas. We also get Chris Kattan in a new
subplot as Sparky, the corporate elf that's eyeing Santa's job, and most of
his bits are pretty funny. These folks make this movie worth watching.
On the down side, Delta Burke makes for an uninteresting Mrs. Claus, failing
to bring any real warmth to the character. Carol Kane should have been awesome
as Mother Nature, but for some reason she's dressed in a shirt and tie under
a trenchcoat, and there's nothing about her character that's particularly
motherly or natural. There's also a cookie cutter after school special plot
surrounding the mayor of Southtown's relationship with his son that ends up
becoming the main storyline, overshadowing Santa's existential crisis. And
then there's an unfortunate running gag involving the elves' reverence for
the advice of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, calling controversy to mind where any
number of more palatable talking heads would have sufficed for the joke.
One final quibble--Santa laughs a lot in this one. But he laughs "HA HA HA"
rather than "HO HO HO." This could've been an artistic choice reflecting
Santa's mood if he had picked up the proper laugh by the end, but he didn't,
so it just made John Goodman look like he wasn't really in character.
Luckily, this is a role he could get away with phoning in.
This was a decent broadcast network tv movie. It was very different from the
original, but it didn't make me retch the way other
remakes have, and it had
me sincerely chuckling enough to make up for its deficiencies. I wouldn't
say you should go out of your way to catch it, but if you're channel surfing
and you run across it, you could give it a chance.
Reviewed on 12/05/2012
Set in the trenches of World War I, this drama manages to be heartwarming,
uplifting and a celebration of Christmas through and through. It tells the
story of German, French and Scottish soldiers who hear one another caroling
on Christmas Eve 1914, and end up crossing the line and "fraternizing."
I expected a movie about the effect of war on Christmas, but this is about
what Christmas can do to war. Though the horror of war provides the backdrop
for the story, this movie is about the peace the soldiers find that day. We
are shown enough death and destruction to do justice to their terrible
circumstances, but this film helps lift our spirits out of that quagmire,
rather than asking us to dwell in it. Though it is far from lighthearted,
it is pervaded with hope.
And this is undeniably a Christmas movie, not just in theme but in emblems.
We get Christmas trees and well-known carols and reverential discussion of
the birth of Christ aplenty. The setting imbues each of these symbols with
sincere meaning, preventing any of it from seeming shallow, trite or pointless.
Most importantly, this is an excellent movie, well written, well acted,
and deservedly award-winning. It's a bit too serious to watch casually
to pass the time (with three languages spoken in roughly equal balance,
you'll at some point have to follow subtitles.) But it's well worth a watch,
and should certainly find a place in the canon of Christmas classics.
Reviewed on 12/06/2012
This is an animated version of the children's picture book illustrated
by Raymond Briggs. Like the book, it is wordless. If you enjoy quality
hand drawn animation set to an orchestral score, this might interest you.
I found the animated version moderately enchanting. I was bored during the
first stretch, where the child shows his magic snowman around the house,
getting into things in the kitchen while his parents sleep; this part seems
squarely aimed at the pre-kindergarten crowd. It treads a bit more into
ethereal beauty when the boy and his snowman go on a magical flight to meet
Even though I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've seen this, I wouldn't
dare suggest it isn't a classic. Basic internet research reveals it to
be a pretty big deal to some people, particularly in Britain where it
originated. It's quality enough to have been nominated for an Academny Award.
I do remember the book being a staple of the children's section of the
library when I was a very young child.
But it's just a touch too short to call it a Christmas movie, and a touch too
artsy to get a pass for being an iconic kids' special.
It's beautiful, but not compulsory viewing--it's not so much fun for the whole family
as it is fun for toddlers, art majors and stoners.
Which is to say, it is exactly the
sort of thing to link to from a blog. I mean it no disrespect, it's just that
you'll be able to tell quick enough whether or not it's your bag. Youtube
was made for this. Here's a link to a
short excerpt of the hauntingly beautiful song at the center of the piece. And if you
like that, here's a link to the
full twenty-six minutes.
I enjoyed it. You might, too.
Reviewed on 12/09/2012
There's a surprising dearth of the nativity story amongst the thirty seven
Christmas movies I've now reviewed. The closest we've really gotten until
now was Linus van Pelt's famous speech. This
short made-for-tv movie has all the sincerity and good will I could hope for
from a nativity pageant, showing us the reason for the season without getting
preachy about it.
Loretta Swift (Maj. Houlihan from M*A*S*H) stars as the director of her
church's Christmas pageant. When the delinquent, impoverished and socially
outcast children of the Herdman family want to be in the pageant, the adults
in the community do their polite-yet-gossipy best to let her know it's a
bad idea. She perseveres, and proves them wrong.
It also stars a really, really young Fairuza Balk in her debut
performance. She plays Swift's daughter, narrating to us through the fourth wall
as the story progresses. As a general rule, I'll watch anything with her in it.
This movie benefits from being only forty-eight minutes long. It feels like
a ninety minute movie that's been ruthlessly edited, leaving only the best
jokes, the tenderest moments and the absolute essentials to keep the story
moving along. This does mean it ends rather abruptly, with little character
resolution, but I'll take that over the potential for dwelling in saccharine
family movie tropes that this one deftly avoided.
Let's not let this movie fall through the cracks. The shepherds, angels,
wise men and baby in the manger are due some spot in a Christmas movie lineup,
and this one gets them there without stoking religious tensions. The Best
Christmas Pageant Ever deserves a place amongst the best Christmas movies ever.
Reviewed on 12/18/2012
(Not to be confused with the vastly superior Mickey's Christmas Carol)
The full title here, according to all those movie posters I saw a few years
ago, is Jim Carrey in Disney's A Christmas Carol in IMAX 3-D. Directed by
Robert Zemeckis! So I figured, this is gonna suck hard.
But first, the surprisingly good points. At the heart of this movie is a
quality, faithful presentation of Dickens' classic, old english dialogue and
all. There's nothing immediatly obviously "Disney" about this--it's firmly in
the vein of the 1951 film. Gary Oldman, Colin Firth,
Cary Elwes and others turn out some very British performances. And this movie
remembers that it is first and foremost a proper ghost story--deliberately slow
pacing and attention to detail help build up some honest chills as Marley's ghost
approches, and at many points thereafter.
And to be clear, Jim Carrey isn't part of the problem here. His take on
Scrooge is as classic as it gets, without any of the unwanted comedic
flourishes of Carrey at his worst. I was surprised to discover Carrey
also played the three Christmas ghosts, including maybe my favorite ever
jovially belligerent Ghost of Christmas Present. He redeemed himself for
past atrocities with his performances here.
On the whole, with such an excellent supporting cast, I thought we could've
gotten an unimpeachable live-action Christmas Carol out of these actors.
There was no reason to computer-animate over them.
Yet I wish Disney had been content to let the computer animation simply be
unnecessary; instead they decided to add enough action to justify the
technology. I had suspected, given the IMAX 3-D, that we'd get somewhat
overdone shots of flying over London and whatnot, but they managed to push
it to downright intolerable levels. This movie is riddled with fast-paced
cartoonish action sequences that break the mood so completely that they feel
stapled on. The Polar Express had a similar problem,
but this was even worse. It's like someone took a nuanced work of art and
scribbled all over it with neon marker. I wish we could just wipe it off to get
at the well-executed subtle psychological drama underneath. A careful fan edit
of this film could make it worth seeing over and over.
Ironically, had this movie been a bit more blatantly
Disney and a bit less Masterpiece Theatre, the 3-D action sequences would've
been a lot more tolerable, even entertaining. But as it stands, I think they were
so out of place that it actually made the difference between instant Christmas
classic and dustbin.
Reviewed on 12/22/2012
I love this movie, but I'm a bit nervous about recommending it to
heterosexuals. Kind of like the main character, college student Olaf
Gunnunderson, is nervous about coming out to his loving and lovable
midwestern parents when he heads home for Christmas. This movie is pretty
gay, and you never know how even seemingly liberal people are gonna react.
Of course, maybe I'm just defensive because I know that I'm forgiving a lot
of flaws in this film for the same slightly prurient reasons heterosexuals
forgive the flaws in their lame romantic comedies. This one has got its
fair share of stilted dialogue and mediocre acting hinging on our more visceral
interest in the story. If there are a few moments in this movie where the
actors seem like they're kids reciting lines in a nativity pageant, it's
because they're walking through a coming out pageant that all of us 'mos know
by rote by now. As coming out stories go, this one is two-dimensional.
I feel like I should apologize for that in advance.
But the reason why I keep coming back to this movie, and why I think you should
see it, is Mama Gunnunderson's Christmas. The thousands of mini-lights in the
yard, the full-sized decorated trees in every room (two in the living room)
and the racks and racks of cookies in the kitchen all encapsulate the
north-midwestern Christmas aesthetic exactly to my tastes. Mama G's holiday
frenzy finds a mellow counterbalance in hunky bear Papa Gunnunderson, a laid
back college professor with a fondness for the pipe weed and a tendency to
walk around with his robe hanging open. Theirs is a house that anyone would
be happy to come home to for Christmas.
It's understandable that Olaf would fear losing them, but then, there's no
point in the movie where that ever really seems to be a risk. That said, his
angsting does at least provide the minimal tension necessary for having any
plot at all, giving us an excuse to watch an hour and a half of pleasant people
enjoying Christmas as a family, which is what this movie is really about.
There are a lot of corny jokes in this one, the kind you can see coming,
where you can even maybe see the actors wincing a little as they deliver them.
But there's also a few real gems that'll leave you sincerely chuckling long
after the movie is over. For a gay independant film, all of the humor is
very sanitized, though there are still a few jokes in there that I wouldn't
want to have to explain to my mother (or even worse, know she gets.)
So maybe, like Olaf, I'm being overly paranoid. Maybe there's no reason at
all that heterosexuals wouldn't like this movie. If one of y'all get around
to seeing it, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts. In the meantime,
Christmas with the Gunnunderson's will at least be my own furtive tradition,
much beloved. My yuletide's already pretty gay.
Reviewed on 12/23/2012
Years after the events of the original film, Santa discovers a new
clause in the fine print of his contract requiring him to marry a woman
or lose his powers. This is known as the "Mrs." Clause. Get it?
It would have been quite a surprise if I hadn't been disappointed by
this movie, but alas, it's no better than you'd expect a sequel to be.
It's not terrible, but it did fail on the points that made the first
film so charming.
Tim Allen is still like a pleasantly witty friend, but there's also a lot
more slapstick, crude and clownish humor thrown in. Nowhere near as
repulsively much as in Elf,
Home Alone or Christmas
Vacation, but enough to diminish the contrast with those movies.
And we don't get any more skillful explanations of Santa's powers, or
new North Pole modernizations. The first movie did some great world
building, but here that world is already built. It's just a backdrop that
we take as given, without further refinement.
But the biggest problem is thematic. I praised the first film for
representing the notion that "Believing is Seeing." That iconic line is
repeated here, but it's only lip service. Santa ultimately woos his new
wife (hope I didn't spoil it!) pretty much entirely by showing off his magic.
Given the absurd task of finding a wife in less than a month, I don't think
we can blame him for resorting to a little, "Hey, babe, check out my magic
sleigh." But it's sort of the antithesis of the original film's thesis.
I'd complain that apparently single or homosexual men would be disqualified
from being Santa, but it's so clearly just an excuse for a romantic plot that
I can't take it too hard. Really, the nicest thing I can say about this movie
is that it's relatively inoffensive. There's plenty of Christmas movies I've
reviewed that I would figuratively claw my eyes out if I had to watch again,
and this isn't that bad. But I'd rather just rewatch the original.
Reviewed on 12/25/2012
From the day I saw it in the theater last year, Arthur Christmas has been my
new favorite Christmas movie. I don't think any film has had this much pure
Christmas sincerity since the children's specials of the sixties. It also
delivers a dash of holiday family frustrations, without ever getting vulgar
about it. It fleshes out the mythology of Santa without disrespecting
tradition, and my imagination couldn't ask for a more excellently modernized
North Pole. Plus, the computer animated 3D action sequences are actually
plot-appropriate and fun to watch!
This movie introduces us to three generations of the Claus family. First and
foremost, there's Santa himself, jolly and well-intentioned, but approaching
retirement and something of a figurehead in the current age. North Pole
operations are primarily overseen by his son Steve, a svelte Christmas
commando brimming with confidence and competence. (I've got to admit, I've
got a small crush on him--I think it's the Christmas tree goatee.) From his
state-of-the-art command center, Steve leads a modern army of elves to deliver
a couple billion presents successfully each year.
Yet despite near-perfect operational efficiency, one present gets forgotten--
a bicycle for a young girl in England. Only Steve's younger brother, the
bumbling but big-hearted Arthur, seems to notice or care. For him, if even
one child wakes up without a present, Christmas will be ruined. Arthur sets
out to deliver the wayward gift, enlisting the aid of his grandfather,
Grandsanta, who may be slightly senile but at least still has his old sleigh.
What impressed me the most about this movie is that it tells a high-tension
story without any bad guys. The forgotten gift and the roadblocks to
seeing it delivered are the result of the forgivable quirks of lovable people.
Even Steve, who in any other movie would have been made into a hard-hearted
miser, is a sympathetic character here, no worse than justifiably frustrated
after his busiest night of the year. The conflict in this movie comes not
from overcoming any villain, but rather from wanting to see everyone be happy.
That can be a difficult enough task as it is, and I think that's the basic
archetypical plotline of Christmas for families around the world.
In Arthur Christmas, I see the culmination of half a century of Christmas
movie magic. It perfects ideas that have been brewing for a few decades,
without losing any of the charm of the classics. This really is one of the
best Christmas movies ever, and I look forward to watching it again and again
in the years to come. Merry Christmas!