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!

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