You ain't gonna find It's a Wonderful Life on this list.
Though that movie, along with Miracle on 34th Street and A Christmas Carol (with Alastair Sim) were the staple trio of Christmas movies when I was a kid, they are so hyper-schmaltzy, with the Dickens adaptation the least egregious of the three, that they are hard to take year after year. That's probably why the very funny, quirky, and slightly cynical A Christmas Story has surpassed them in recent years as the most popular Christmas movie.
While I would recommend all of the above for Christmas-time entertainment, particularly the brilliantly filmed and marvelously-acted A Christmas Carol (which was released as "Scrooge" in the US), the Eye on a Crazy Planet top 6 are wonderful movies of another sort.
These 6 have Christmas as a major component, but they are movies that are great entertainment and the Christmas element is incidental. The beauty of this Christmasy sextet is that you won't feel that by watching them, you've not been forced into a form of liturgy.
6. On Her Majesty's Secret Service
This James Bond movie with male model George Lazenby in his one outing in the role is considered, aside from Lazenby's performance, to be one of the best Bond films. It was probably more faithful to the book version than any of its predecessors and certainly more than any that came after.
The movie tales place at Christmas time with Bond out to foil yet another of the evil Ernst Stavro Blofeld's plots for world domination. The song "Do You Know How Christmas Trees Are Grown" was actually Incorporated into a critical part of the movie when Bond is being chased through a winter carnival by Blofeld's henchmen.
The scene is excerpted below, but this is the French version (The song was sung by different European pop stars for the various language markets):
Here is the English version from the original soundtrack, sung by the Danish singer Nina:
5. Bad Santa
Yeah, sure, Santa's in the title and it's got that obvious Christmas aspect, but this is a heist movie about a lecherous, alcoholic thief. It includes a malevolent, felonious dwarf, jokes about "not being able to shit right for a week" after anal sex. It also has one of the best scenes in any movie involving testicle punching.
4. Trading Places
Jamie Lee Curtis, topless, in her prime. If that hasn't made the sale, then you've got a very funny movie about skulduggery on Wall Street starring Eddie Murphy, Dan Ackroyd and a terrific supporting cast including Don Ameche, Ralph Bellamy and Paul Gleason
3. The Silent Partner
Filmed in Toronto in 1978, I have a particular soft spot for this movie, since my Dad was a friend of one of the producers, Joel Michaels, and I was allowed to hang around on set one day and got to meet the star, Elliott Gould.
But nostalgia aside, it's a fantastic crime movie that begins with a thief dressed as Santa Claus robing a bank in the Eaton Centre. The whole thing centers around Christmastime, and Christopher Plummer plays the thief with relish, giving a fabulous, menacing performance as a sadistic sociopath. This movie has a great screenplay with intriguing twists and turns, excellent performances, along with Plummer's, by Gould and a lovely Susannah York, and even a cameo by John Candy, before his fame in SCTV and feature films.
Enhanced by a brilliant, subtle score composed by jazz legend Oscar Peterson, if there's one weak aspect to the movie, it's the jarring editing. But that aside, it's a terrific movie and a special treat for Torontonians who get to see, in a rare exception, their city actually portrayed as itself in a major film with big stars.
2. The Lion in Winter
So you think Christmas with your family is a trying time? After she plotted his overthrow, Henry Plantagenet keeps his wife confined all year round except for Christmas time. But that hasn't stopped her from using the holiday season to try to usurp him using their sons. The extraordinary screenplay (based on his own play) by William Goldman sets the scene for an acting tour de force, featuring brilliant performances by Peter O'Toole, in his second screen turnout as Henry II (the first being in the wonderful film Becket, with Richard Burton in the title role), Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Anthony Hopkins, in his film debut, as Prince Richard (later to be known as Richard Lionheart) and a young Timothy Dalton as King Philip of France. This is truly one of the great movies of all time and what better time to enjoy it than this week?
1. Die Hard
"Now I have a machine gun Ho-Ho-Ho" written, by the hero, on a freshly killed corpse. If that doesn't exemplify the spirit of Christmas, I don't know what does.
Die Hard is arguably the best pure action movie of all time. We know the story; New York police detective John McClane goes to LA for a Christmas visit to see his wife who works on the other coast. Instead of yuletide cheer, he has to single-handedly thwart a gang of ruthless thieves who have taken over a highrise building and are holding dozens of hostages. Once this movie gets going, it's one thrill after another. This movie will make your season's greeting, "Yippee-kay-ay, motherfucker!"