Sunday, December 25, 2016

Revising the List

Three years ago, I put together a list of the all-time best Christmas movies: five films meant to represent the absolute best of their respective genres. I stand by the concept and remain proud of what's on there.

But.

I've seen a lot more movies in the past three years, and I wanted to revisit and update it where appropriate. Luckily the format I used lends itself nicely to this. Last time, I presented my picks for the two best installments in each genre and let them fight it out until a winner emerged and claimed the prize.

Well... here comes a new challenger.

At the end of this, we're going to be left with two lists: a revised top five and an expanded top 15.


Best Animated Christmas Movies

Previous Winner: Nightmare Before Christmas
Previous Runner-Up: Arthur Christmas
New Challenger: 101 Dalmatians

You'll see a few movies showcased on this update that were overlooked the first time due to their holiday credentials being subtle. 101 Dalmatians isn't a movie most people associate with Christmas, despite being set during the holidays and embodying one of the most recognized holiday tropes out there: a family trying to reunite.

This is a beautiful, classic movie that deserves recognition as one of the greatest animated holiday movies of all time. But not quite the greatest. I've got to stick with my first instinct in this catagory and leave the top animated spot on my list unchanged.

Winner: Nightmare Before Christmas


Best Christmas Comedies

Previous Winner: Elf
Previous Runner-Up: Fred Claus
New Challenger: Millions

Millions wasn't even on my radar when I put the last list together - if it had been, Fred Claus wouldn't have made it into the finals (that said, Fred Claus remains an underrated gem - track it down if you haven't seen it). But Millions isn't just a brilliant Christmas comedy: it's one that stands out tonally from the rest. It's a surrealist fantasy/comedy/drama that delves seriously into its characters' emotions. It's a beautiful film, both visually and conceptually, and that makes this one of the harder choices I'll be making on this list.

At the end of the day, though, I think I have to stick with Elf in the top spot, only because I was somewhat underwhelmed with Millions's ending. Still it's extremely close, and I make no promises the order won't flip if I revise this in a few years after re-watching both several more times.

Winner: Elf


Best Holiday Action Movies

Previous Winner: Die Hard
Previous Runner-Up: The Long Kiss Goodnight
New Challenger: First Blood

First Blood, Like 101 Dalmatians, is one of those Christmas movies that camouflaged itself as something else for so long, most of its fans don't even recognize it. When I wrote it up, I tripped over myself just trying to figure out WHY it's set at the holidays, since it never really comes up save in the background. Lindsay came up with the best answer I've heard: the setting is meant to play off the "no room in the inn" motif.

Setting all that aside, it's a hell of an action movie. Is it as blatantly Christmassy as Die Hard? Obviously not. But is it as good?

My opinion might flip in a few years, but... I kind of think it's better. They're both phenomenal action movies, but First Blood delivers that while being about something. And the ending is just so much more mature and intelligent.

I love Die Hard, but - at least for the time being - I've got to push it out of its slot.

Winner: First Blood


Best Black and White Christmas Movies

Previous Winner: Miracle on 34th Street
Previous Runner-Up: It's a Wonderful Life
New Challenger: The Apartment

When I wrote the first list, I struggled with how to frame this category. I went with B&W in order to get some mileage out of that "White Christmas" pun, not realizing how relevant it would become.

See, if I'd gone with some sort of category bucketing movies made before 1950 together or something, The Apartment wouldn't have made the cut - it came out in 1960. The decision to film in black & white was a bit anachronistic... but it lets the movie qualify.

If I were going off of the movie I most wanted to rewatch, I'd probably leave Miracle in the top spot - I love that movie. But it's not the best of the bunch: that honor passes to The Apartment. As I said in my review, the writing in this is ahead of its time... and probably ours. It explores gender roles and patriarchal systems in a way I never would have expected. It's a fascinating, complex picture, featuring fantastic performances and surprising twists. Track this down immediately, if you've never seen it.

Winner: The Apartment


Holiday Horror

Previous Winner: Rare Exports
Previous Runner-Up: Gremlins
New Challenger: A Christmas Horror Story

Horror is tough. I'm less certain of the movies I've selected here than in any of the other categories. There's part of me that thinks Krampus and Santa's Slay deserve a spot up there - I really need to re-watch them to be sure.

But for now, I'm going with my gut... and choosing a direct-to-video horror anthology.

A Christmas Horror Story was significantly better than it had any right to be. The movie juggled four story lines exploring very different aspects of the genre. While I continue to question the wisdom of telling them in parallel, I found the movie both enjoyable and engrossing.

Even though it's not a perfect movie, it's my pick for the best Christmas horror movie I've seen since last making the list.

And maybe before. It's a tough call - the three movies I have listed are very different. All have problems and merits that make them very hard to rank. But, at the end of the day, I feel like A Christmas Horror Story delivers the best all-around experience.



Summary

Here's my revised "Top 5" list. Keep in mind, these aren't exactly the five best - this is designed to generate a variety across multiple genres, and the best of the best aren't exactly clustered around Christmas horror offerings. All the movies listed above are very good and highly recommended. But the winners are:

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