'Tis the season and all that, but there's a staggering amount of Christmas movies you could be watching. Who's got the time for all of them? Between holiday parties, shopping, wrapping gifts, hanging lights, and addressing cards, your holiday time -- not to mention energy -- is at a premium.
Because you might not have the strength to kick back with a nice mug of cocoa and some of your favorite holiday classics on DVD, we've asked critic Alonso Duralde -- the author of the recent compendium 'Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas' -- to give us the top 10 finest moments from holiday-related films.
Since we're sure you have your own faves, be sure to tell us all about them in the comments section.
10. 'Scrooge' (1970)
A reformed Scrooge sings and dances his way through the streets of London on Christmas morning.
9. 'Gremlins' (1984)
Mrs. Peltzer battles nasty Mogwais in the kitchen using blenders and microwaves.
8. 'Die Hard' (1988)
John McClane finds a clever use for holiday giftwrap.
7. 'Meet Me in St. Louis' (1944)
Esther -- played by Judy Garland -- sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
6. 'Fanny and Alexander' (1982)
Ingmar Bergman's overtly autobiographical film delivers a joyous Christmas celebration before things get bleak.
5. 'Miracle on 34th Street' (1947)
Does the term "spoiler" apply when discussing a 63-year-old movie? Let's keep it a little vague just in case. Young Natalie Wood plays Susan, a little girl who's been raised to be logical and down-to-earth, so of course she doesn't believe in Santa Claus, even when Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) comes to work at Macy's and convinces a whole lot of people that he's the real Saint Nick. Suffice it to say that by the time Christmas rolls around, Susan's heart -- much like the Grinch's -- has grown three sizes.
4. 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993)
Jack Skellington, also known as the Pumpkin King, is the reigning scare-meister of Halloween Town, bringing eerie chills to everyone in the world each October 31. But he craves something new, something different. So when he accidentally wanders into Christmas Town, he's bombarded with sights and sounds that he can't begin to understand, from snow to candy canes to The Man in Red himself. This sequence takes all the brightly-colored, sparkling-light, tinsel-strewn magic of the holiday and distills it into one musical number ("What's This?").
3. 'Elf' (2003)
Pretty much every moment in this deliriously entertaining comedy – which stars Will Ferrell as Buddy, a North Pole elf who sets out to find his father after learning that he's really a human being – delights and amuses. But Buddy's stint at the department store ranks among the highlights. (Gimbels, incidentally, closed in 1987, but it's perfect for this movie, since the store was the big rival of Macy's in 'Miracle on 34th Street.') Buddy uses his elf skills to redecorate the toy department, begins a tentative courtship of his co-worker Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), and gets really excited about the arrival of Santa – until he realizes that the store has hired an impostor, at which point all cotton-headed-ninny-muggins heck breaks loose.
2. 'A Christmas Story' (1983)
One of the reasons this nostalgic comedy about Jean Shepherd's childhood Christmas in the 1940s has become such a favorite with audiences is that it so deftly balances the joys and the horrors of being a kid. The latter category definitely includes those visits to see Santa at a department store – who among us didn't freeze up or burst into tears at some point in our youth when placed on the lap of a red-suited stranger? Our hero Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) has come to ask St. Nick for a Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle, but he can't get the words out. On his way down the slide, he finally finds his voice and makes his request to Santa, only to hear the same dispiriting sentence that every adult in Ralphie's life has uttered upon hearing his holiday wish list: "You'll shoot your eye out, kid."
1. 'It's a Wonderful Life' (1946)
Poor George Bailey (played unforgettably by James Stewart). It's Christmas Eve, and he's at the end of his rope, about to lose the family business to which he's devoted his life. But after an angelic intervention shows George how his absence would have profoundly affected all the people in his life, George chooses to stay alive and face the music. As Stewart runs through his beloved Bedford Falls ("Merry Christmas, movie house!"), returns to his beloved wife and children, and sees the extent of the devotion of his friends ... well, I'm getting misty-eyed just writing this, so go figure. The final sequence of "It's a Wonderful Life" still ranks among the most powerful movie moments – let alone Christmas movie moments – ever, even after more than 60 years.
Alonso Duralde is the author of 'Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas' (Limelight Editions).