My imagination makes me human
and makes me a fool;
it gives me all the world
and exiles me from it.
--Ursula K. Le Guin
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December, 2009 - Favorite Christmas Movies


Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) -- Inhabitants of Halloween land do a number on Christmas. The Pumpkin King Jack Skellington's personality reminded me of Edward Scissorhands, and his love interest, Sally, reminded me of Helena Bonham Carter in Pulp Fiction. Even if you can't figure out the plot, it is visually mesmerizing. And, speaking of which, so is Edward Scissorhands, and, because it includes a Christmas segment, might also be added to the list.


It's a Wonderful Life (1946) – George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) gets to see what his hometown would be like had he never lived. Lovely man, Forties innocence, or a world the Forties generation longed for after having just survived WWII. As Helen Hunt's character in As Good as It Gets inspires Nicholson's Melvin to say, "You make me want to be a better man," this movie makes the viewer want to be a better human being.

The Shop Around the Corner (1940) -- Bickering store clerks (Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan) pine for pen pals as the holidays approach. Their rapid-fire repartée is electric.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)-- Macy's Santa (Edmund Gwenn), with help from the U.S. Postal Service, restores a little girl's faith (adorable Natalie Wood in her first film role). Also starring Maureen O'Hara and John Payne.

The Bells of St. Mary's (1945) -- An easygoing priest (Bing Crosby) and a no-nonsense nun (Ingrid Bergman) try to save their run-down school. Holiday sentimentality at its best.

Little Women (1933, 1994) – Incomparable Katherine Hepburn as Jo March in '33 version is worth seeing, but the '94 version, as a whole, is more satisfying.


A Christmas Story (1983) -- All Ralphie wants for Christmas is a Red Ryder BB gun. If you were young in 40s or 50s in Smalltown USA, you'll see and hear much of your old life here.

Elf (2003) -- A human (Will Ferrell), raised at the North Pole searches for his family in New York. Endearing character, totally guileless.


Joyeux Noël (AKA Merry Christmas) (2005) – World War I trenches go silent during the “Christmas Truce” of 1914.

The Apartment (1960) -- A young executive (Jack Lemmon) climbs the corporate ladder by loaning out his apartment to bosses for their extramarital trysts and falls for one of them (Shirley Maclaine). MacMurray is wooden but Lemmon and Maclaine shine.

A Christmas Memory (1966) -- Award-winning adaptation of Truman Capote's poignant, nostalgic reminiscence about his childhood best friend — a childlike elderly relative (Julie Harris) with whom he makes fruitcakes and other gifts, in Depression-era Alabama.

The Dead (1987) – Last film directed by John Huston starring his daughter Angelica Huston and released posthumously, is an adaptation of the short story of the same name from the James Joyce collection Dubliners. It's about how our dead continue to influence our lives and how the holidays tend to resurrect their ghosts.

84 Charing Cross Road (1987) – A must-see for book lovers despite the weak ending. Based on the 1970 epistolary memoir of New York writer and book lover Helene Hanff (Anne Bancroft) about her 20-year correspondence with London antiquarian bookseller Frank Doel (Anthony Hopkins). I could smell that old bookstore and longed to be in it.

Babette’s Feast (1987) – Danish film adapted from a short story by Karen Blixen who also wrote Out of Africa. Not about Christmas at all (although the blustery cold and snow of Jutland make it seem so) but one of the best movies ever made about the spirit of giving.