Filmmakers Weigh In on Best Holiday Movies of All Time

Being “that time of year,” I reached out to my movie-making colleagues who eat, sleep, and breathe film and invited them to share their all-time favorite holiday movie. They were asked to choose pieces focusing on the holidays (however they might interpret that), from any time period or genre, and explain their recommendation. Both offbeat and classic choices were welcome. Here’s what they came up with, in their own words.

Producer Xochitl Dorsey Recommends: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

“It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, etcetera, etcetera… Sure, these are great films, and like the rest of America, these are the holiday classics that I grew up with and loved year after year. But none of them make me quite as nostalgic about Christmastime as Santa Claus Captures the Martians. The film itself was made in 1964, right after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon and the country was wild for all things inter-galactic. If man could make it to space, why couldn’t Santa? Surely that was the thinking of the producers who brought to light this, dare I say, first sci-fi Christmas movie ever made. The storyline isn’t all that memorable- green Martians who want to experience Christmas kidnap Santa Claus and a couple of earth kids save him- but it gets two big thumbs up for over-all campy enjoyment. And what’s not to like about that?”

Independent Filmmaker Jeff Arak Recommends: Scrooged

“My pick has got to be Scrooged, with Bill Murray. It is (or was, in 1988) a contemporary and somewhat edgy take on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The film stars Bill Murray as a TV executive more concerned with his company’s ratings than holiday cheer or goodwill- at least until he is visited by three ghosts and his hippy ex-girlfriend. The film features two comedians with the strangest voices of all time (Carol Kane and Bobcat Goldthwait), a time traveling taxi, and Bill Murray leading a sing-along of Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”- all with a little Christmas spirit mixed in.”

Producer Felix Messina, Jr. Recommends: March of the Wooden Soldiers

“This movie reminds me of my childhood. They would air it every December (they still do and I still watch it) on New York’s Channel 11. The main characters live in a shoe and work at Santa’s Toy Shop. Toyland is a place filled with candy canes, chocolate, colorful lakes, and of course toys everywhere. All I ever wanted was to live in Toyland. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to live there? This movie brings out the kid in all of us.”

Director/Cinematographer Ruth Berdah-Canet Recommends: The Nightmare before Christmas

“In a galaxy far, far away from Candycane Land and Fudgetown, Tim Burton creates a universe of his own that refreshes the holiday movie genre. All the ingredients of Burton’s beautiful Christmas Carol mingle joyfully: love, bat’s spit, friendship, frog’s breath, good feelings, and just a tiny bit of remorse. I love the constant travel between the world of playfulness and humor and the world of uncertainty and fright. The scene where Jack plays fetch with his dog, Zero, by throwing him one of his rib bones always gets me!

And, in the great tradition of holiday tales, Jack and his freak crew teach us a valuable lesson: there’s no need to dissect, rationalize, manufacture, or formulate cheerfulness. All we need to do is forget our worries for a moment and enjoy the Ho-Ho-Holiday season.”

Editor April Merl Recommends: Trading Places

“The first film that pops into my head is Elf – sweet, warm, great music, and good laughs. But, when I think about it a bit longer, my recommendation has to be Trading Places. I’m not sure it’d be categorized under “holiday”, but it’s just a comedy classic, and you can practically smell Dan Aykroyd’s sad, desperate Santa radiating from the screen.”

Programmer and Filmmaker Dara Messinger Recommends: Edward Scissorhands and How the Grinch Stole Christmas

“Growing up in a progressive Jewish household, I think I avoided “holiday” aka “Christmas” movies because it was just another reminder of how I couldn’t really relate to the endless rolls of gift wrap, inflatable lawn reindeer, or promises made and broken to Mr. Claus, let alone the American ideals being subscribed to in this increasingly corporate holiday. I didn’t understand the awkwardness Sandra Bullock must’ve been feeling when being teased by family as she stood under the mistletoe in While You Were Sleeping. And why was Macaulay Culkin’s house so large and ornate in Home Alone? Instead, I could empathize with Johnny Depp’s befuddled reactions to eerie suburban glory in Edward Scissorhands, and the grinch in the 1966 classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas as he peered down to a town’s brightly lit splendor of happiness as though he was looking into a make-believe snow globe. Funny how neither of these two characters were even human, but they were outsiders just the same.”

Producer Esther Cassidy Recommends: It’s a Wonderful Life

“I love this movie because it celebrates the power of regular people (who aren’t superstars, athletes, famous, wealthy, or geniuses) and the impact they can have. The filmmaking is extraordinary. The love scene between Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed is completely unique. He’s ready to leave his small town, got his bag packed, his train ticket, his friends waiting, and his hand on the doorknob, and what happens? Well, Donna is standing in the doorway, so Jimmy keeps telling her over and over – “I don’t love you”, and she keeps saying “I know, I know.” But, they can’t stop kissing. So this guy gives up his dreams to become a husband and father and run a small bank. But, then, everything implodes and he starts to feel like his life isn’t worth it. The movie shows us how seemingly small, good, and rather ordinary choices – the choices so many of us make every day – all can add up to create a wonderful life, although perhaps not the life we had envisioned.”

You can find these films on Netflix, Amazon Prime, iTunes, and YouTube. Share your holiday picks in the comments and let me know what they missed!

17 Responses to "Filmmakers Weigh In on Best Holiday Movies of All Time"
dregstudios | Tuesday December 24, 2013 01:55 am 1

Good List- there’s a couple in common with the TOP 10 Christmas Movies of ALL TIME at Read about some more unconventional picks with some unconventional Santa art!

Jane Hamsher | Tuesday December 24, 2013 09:17 am 2

I’m partial to Home Alone. It was very skillfully made and always underrated.

medicinecat | Tuesday December 24, 2013 09:21 am 3

Minor edit: man on the moon was July, 1969, not 1964.

dakine01 | Tuesday December 24, 2013 09:26 am 4

I have to say White Christmas is about my fave

tgs1952 | Tuesday December 24, 2013 09:35 am 5

A Christmas Carol (Scrooge) from 1951 with Alistair Sim is my all time favorite.

eskyesq | Tuesday December 24, 2013 10:16 am 6

How about Holiday Inn, Holiday Affair, Miracle on 34th Street. Agree with Alistair Sim Christmas Carol. (Best ever filming). WHite Christmas cheesy. Capra closer in politics to Potter than Bailey. But, Potterville is prophetic for our current age. Also on list, Since You Went Away.

newcarguy | Tuesday December 24, 2013 10:20 am 7
In response to Jane Hamsher @ 2

I actually laughed so hard at this movie I almost suffocated. couldn’t catch my breath. REALLY!!!

But my favorite Christmas movie is “Viva Las Vegas.”

newcarguy | Tuesday December 24, 2013 10:21 am 8
In response to dakine01 @ 4

Anybody whose eyes don’t tear up at “White Christmas” is positively an android.
Or maybe Vulcan.

PCM | Tuesday December 24, 2013 10:42 am 9

As someone who has a big soft spot in his heart for It’s a Wonderful Life, I highly recommend It’s a Soaraway Life, a five-minute parody from A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

kapock | Tuesday December 24, 2013 10:56 am 10

The H.G. Wells-written Things to Come (1936) opens on Christmas with a striking montage contrasting the holiday cheer with ominous headlines about the world war that is about to break out.

TV series with good Christmas episodes that come to mind: The Tick, The Simpsons (it was their first full-length episode, and I’m not sure they’ve ever returned to the genre), The Twilight Zone (“The Night of the Meek”, starring Art Carney).

Rod Serling also made a TV film called A Carol for Another Christmas that has problems but is worth looking at. I don’t think it is easily available, but if you get TCM On-Demand on cable, you could watch it right this minute!! (a Festivus miracle)

newcarguy | Tuesday December 24, 2013 11:28 am 11

Season 2, episode 11, “Happy Days” when Richie discovers Fonzie is spending Christmas alone.

Not a dry eye in my house, I guarantee!!!

PCM | Tuesday December 24, 2013 11:33 am 12

It’s not a Christmas movie per se, but it has snow, a Christmassy message, and a Christmassy feel, so I’m going for it: Groundhog Day (1993).

PillBilly | Tuesday December 24, 2013 11:46 am 13

Please allow a comment correcting the misspelling of “hippie”;
“at least until he is visited by three ghosts and his hippy ex-girlfriend.”
Don’t want the young’uns learning it wrong now. It might stick.

Elliott | Tuesday December 24, 2013 11:59 am 14
In response to dakine01 @ 4

me and my sister were always partial to this movie

love love the Clooney

(also too Holiday Inn)

john in sacramento | Tuesday December 24, 2013 02:16 pm 15
In response to kapock @ 10

Rod Serling

Reminds me of the classic Night of the Meek with Art Carney. And I don’t think it was Christmas related but The Big Tall Wish was / is great

oisin | Tuesday December 24, 2013 02:51 pm 16

Jean Renoir’s “Grand Illusion.”

psalongo | Tuesday December 24, 2013 04:13 pm 17

Die Hard is mine.

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