This week, as Christmas movies began their assault on cable and network television, it occurred to us that in the past decade or so, holiday film tastes have begun to veer from lighthearted feelgood affairs and straight into stress-filled, caustic celebrations of the things we will all hate for the next month or so. There are still lessons and morals espoused -- à la It's A Wonderful Life -- but the spotlight is on family strife and materialism more than anything else.
By our estimation, within the next ten years, Will Ferrell's 2003 family film Elf will more than likely overtake A Christmas Story as the go-to holiday flick, the kind that gets played 24 hours straight on Jesus' birthday. The USA network already aired it three nights in a row last week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.
It's not that A Christmas Story has run its course, it just seems that tastes are changing. The saga of a boy, his family and lusted-after BB gun is obviously timeless, but we have even heard today's teens call it boring and "old," preferring Ferrell's oversized and overzealous North Pole worker to a movie filmed while their parents were still in grade school.
The best Christmas movie to feature a department-store Santa screwing a fat lady in a dressing room, and a blood-stained autistic kid making him gifts.
James Caan knocks up an elf lady and decades later comes Ferrell's Buddy the Elf into his world. As much as the film is about the reinvigoration of the holiday spirit in the 21st century -- and the majesty of a blond Zooey Deschanel -- it also has a lesson to be learned about acceptance and appreciation, no matter how annoying your flesh and blood may be. Oh, and maple syrup.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Leave it to Danny Elfman and Tim Burton to warp Christmas and Halloween for a whole generation. This evergreen is the It's A Wonderful Life for a generation of tattooed and goth kids who need a dash of decay on their tree. As the years have gone by, Burton's Edward Scissorhands has also earned a rep as a holiday flick, too.
One of Bill Murray's most textured roles finds Murray as Frank Cross, going on a hellish Christmas Carol ride with the help of David Johansen's Ghost of Christmas Past. The high-octane '80s greed on display here only grows more prescient as the years pass.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Only Chevy Chase could convey the equal amounts of hatred and love we feel at the holiday season for family members. The consumerism and the mortality of family are on full display. If you haven't felt like Chase in his bonus check rant, then you need to check your pulse.
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Vince Vaughn's grating Everyman is here on autopilot, while Paul Giamatti's Santa Claus is dealing with bigger issues, like becoming altogether obsolete. Vaughn's character grows tiring in the first ten minutes, while Giamatti -- per his career MO -- just gets better and better as the film progresses.
You more than likely won't find this on any true bro's favorite Christmas films list, but as far as becoming a modern holiday for women, it has almost no rivals. Yeah, it's corny and the acting is too smiley, but it's chock-full of kissing, hugging and enough doe-eyed longing to make its two-hour running time essential December viewing.