These holiday movies will make you laugh, cry...or maybe just go 'huh?'
By Jesse Cole, Cory Schachtel | December 20, 2023
It’s (finally) beginning to look a lot like Christmas outside and that frightful weather means we’re looking forward to putting our feet up, pouring a double rum-and-‘nog (delightful) and taking in our favourite holiday flicks. It being the season of giving and all, we figured we’d share some (not all) of our faves with you. So, here it is, Edify’s holiday guide to the holiday movies.
The Nice List:
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
As a kid, this was the only Christmas movie, as far as I was concerned. Sure, there were plenty of other fun holiday films, but this one was done in claymation, so any movie featuring boring old human actors was decidedly less magical, and inherently inferior.
Even if you’ve somehow missed this Christmas classic, we all know the story of Rudolph — but did you know the original version appeared in 1939 in the Montgomery Ward department store when one of its copywriters, Robert L. May, wrote it as a promotional giveaway to shoppers? His brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, then adapted it into the world-famous song, and the rest is holiday history (is there anything capitalist consumerism can’t do?).
I always found it hysterical that Hermey the Elf (who some say is not an elf at all — check the ears) wanted to be a dentist, because as a kid, I viewed dentists as my natural enemies. And if you scratch the story’s surface, it seems like the real lesson of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is that it’s not OK to be different…until that difference benefits the larger group, including those who bullied you. But to a kid, it’s a simple, not-too-scary story, and the claymation characters are so damn cute. It also taught me the word “abominable,” which is a fun word to say. — Cory Schachtel
Before there was Elf, there was The Santa Claus — a heartwarming Christmas title that spawned a series of (honestly, god awful) sequels and cemented Tim Allen as the Christmas movie genre’s leading man throughout the mid ’90s and 2000s.
But while Allen’s longevity may have faded (has anyone actually seen El Camino Christmas?), this movie’s has not. Allen plays Scott Calvin, a work-obsessed marketing director for a toy company who accidentally kills (what?!) Santa Claus when he startles ol’ Saint Nick during a mid-delivery stop-off. Seemingly unalarmed by the fact he’s just committed manslaughter (although, this does take place in the United States, so, stand-your-ground and whatnot), Calvin proceeds to don the deceased Santa Claus’s red-and-whites and finish up the big guy’s deliveries for the night.
The Santa Claus is Allen at his best. It’s sincere and touching without being saccharine and brings a remarkable amount of humanity and substance to a genre that can sometimes feel a tad too rich and commercial these days. It’s also the only movie that routinely makes my uncle cry, so that’s got to count for something. — Jesse Cole
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
There’s something to be said about the importance of passing down holiday traditions and for my family, one of those traditions was It’s a Wonderful Life. Each and every year growing up, my parents would round up my sister and me on Christmas Eve for the obligatory screening and we would watch (often bemoaning it’s black-and-whiteness) as Clarence Odbody — that bumbling angel looking to earn his wings — guides the jaded and suicidal George Bailey (played with all the ’40s era cool of James Stewart) away from throwing himself off a bridge. Talk about a “feel good” holiday movie!
But all joking aside, there’s a reason this movie, filmed nearly eight decades ago, has such staying power. It appeals to what Christmas is supposed to be about. Far from the commercial, dime-a-dozen Hallmark movies of today, It’s a Wonderful Life is about gratitude, community and the impact we have on those around us. It’s about being grateful for what we have, rather than always striving for more, and about loving each other and ourselves, which I think is a tradition worth sharing. Oh, and for being filmed in 1946, it’s surprisingly (mostly) free of the problematic tropes of the era. — Jesse Cole
The Naughty List:
Bad Santa (2003)
When this movie premiered, I was a recent-ish high school grad, and I’ll admit, I mostly liked the swears (according to Mental Floss, it has 255 naughty words, blowing away other adult Christmas movies like The Ref, Die Hard and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation). Seeing it years later, I realized it actually has a heart, and that a film about awful people doing awful things can still be uplifting.
Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie is a drunk mall Santa who, with Tony Cox’s Marcus character (a drunk mall Santa’s elf), robs the store they work at every Christmas Eve. A young, bullied kid (Brett Kelly) befriends the pair, and gives the depressed, curmudgeonly Willie (it’s tough to tell if Thornton is even acting, at times) a reason to live.
An inverted take on the typical Christmas movie, this cuss-filled Christmas Carol (with small parts played by the late Bernie Mac and John Ritter) still pulls off an impressive redemption arc, because even if almost all the characters are less than likeable, let alone lovable, you still want to see them win. — Cory Schachtel
The Night Before (2015)
There’s a line in the Trailer Park Boys Xmas Special (which could easily be a contender for the naughty list) where Ricky says “Christmas is about getting drunk and stoned with your family and the people that you love.” If that’s the meaning of Christmas, then the characters in this next filmwould certainly feel at home at Sunnyvale Trailer Park.
A buddy film plucked right out of the tail end of the Superbad comedy era, The Night Before centres on the perpetually 20-something Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his two pals, Isaac and Chris (Seth Rogan and Anthony Mackie) as they indulge in one last holiday of drug-fuelled debauchery together before their impending middle age (shots fired at this millennial writer).
Together, the three pals set out to find the infamous Nutcracker Ball party while navigating the complexities of adulthood, relationships and misspent youth. But beneath the bromantic jokes and substance-laden antics, the film has a lot of heart and tells a tale about coming to terms with growing up, commitment and finding the family we choose. — Jesse Cole
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
It feels remiss not to include 1989’s National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. But, you know, for how classic this film is, I’ve never liked it as much as everyone else, beyond the line that’s easily referenced throughout the year: “Shitter’s full!” — Cory Schachtel
The Just Plain Weird List:
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
There’s a lot of controversy over what is and isn’t a Christmas movie these days (Eyes Wide Shut? The orgy movie? Really?), but rarely is there one that stands as concretely in both camps as The Nightmare Before Christmas does. Equal parts Halloween and Christmas, this film was one of my absolute favourites as a kid both in October and December (and who am I kidding, the rest of the year, too).
Jack Skellington (who, unfortunately, has become a sort of logo for mall goths across the globe these days) is the leader of Halloween Town — the Pumpkin King, if you will — and guides the town each year as they prepare for the scary festivities. But unbeknownst to his ghoulish groupies, Skellington has grown weary of the same old, same old. While on a contemplative walk through the woods, Skellington is transported into Christmas Town — the polar opposite of Halloween Town — and is, shall we say, quite enamoured with the town’s thematic choices. What follows is a well-intentioned but poorly enacted attempt by Skellington to bring Christmas to Halloween.
While it might look a bit scary, The Nightmare Before Christmas is full of family-friendly, gothic charm. With music by Danny Elfman and dazzling stop-motion animation that still holds up, this is one kid-friendly Christmas movie that you won’t mind watching over and over. — Jesse Cole
Black Christmas (1974)
What weird holiday movie list would be complete without at least mentioning the (incredibly popular) horror/Christmas crossover genre? The last few decades have seen a slew of these movies churned out, some good (Violent Night, Better Watch Out, Krampus) and some not so good (Jack Frost, The Gingerbread Man, also Krampus). But none of those movies would exist without Black Christmas, the Canadian film that helped pioneer the slasher genre (even inspiring John Carpenter’s Halloween) and the horror/Christmas crossover.
Watching it today, Black Christmas is a pretty formulaic slasher movie: shadowy killer turns beautiful co-eds into mincemeat pie for unexplained reasons. It might not be much of a plot, but hey, it works! As far as slashers from the ’70s go, the movie holds up and it’s hard to overlook the film’s cultural significance (Esquire listed it as 23rd in its 50 best horror films of all time). Plus, you know, if the constant playing of Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas has you on the verge of going postal yourself, this movie can be a helpful form of catharsis. — Jesse Cole
The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)
You want weird? I’ll give you weird. This little known entry into the Star Wars franchise is a hallucinogenic, fever dream of a film that takes place in the intervening time before Star WarsEpisode IV and Episode V. It was aired only once — on November 17, 1978 — and was so universally panned that it has never been released again. There are even rumours that George Lucas routinely denied its existence after it first aired.
But the best part? It’s all canon. That’s right. The events of this very strange, very obscure Episode IV-and-a-half — which include an erotic VR headset featuring Diahann Carroll, a psychedelic performance by Jefferson Starship, a cameo from Bea Arthur and 10 full minutes of uninterrupted dialogue completely in Wookiese — are all considered part of the official Star Wars timeline.
I first found out about this film in Grade 9. Back then, when the internet was still emerging, it existed as a sort of urban legend due to the fact that no physical copies were ever released. But over the last 20 years, home-recorded copies of the film have made their way online (I’m just going to leave this youtube link here) and it’s become a bit of a cult classic.
There is a basic premise to the film — a kind-of-sort-of holiday-adjacent theme surrounding something called “Life Day” — but, honestly, it’s hard to pin down for all its incoherency and high strangeness. I won’t do you the disservice of trying to explain it because, like whatever acid trip inspired this movie, you’ll only understand it if you try it yourself. — Jesse Cole