Christmas Movies For Every Mood

I love Christmas shopping, but I can take or leave the wrapping part of the equation. My favorite way to knock this item off my list is to put on a Christmas movie (or two…or three) so I can make it more fun.

Since making a list of the best holiday movies is pretty much impossible, here are some of my favorites, organized not by anything even remotely scientific, but by the mood I’m in when I pull them off the shelf.

Which holiday movies do you love? Which ones should I add to my list for next week?


When you’re feeling romantic:
“Love Actually” (2003)

Eight different couples try to make sense of their lives in this odd and charming romp. Half of British Hollywood is in this movie, where each story is connected and everything works out just fine by Christmas.

Is it a little contrived? Of course. But it’s all in good fun. And there are some surprises and sweet, moving moments that sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Bill Nighy steals the show as an aging rocker who is out to exploit Christmas for all it’s worth. (And yes, that’s a VHS tape in this photo. They still exist, kids! That’s how long I’ve had this movie.)

When you need to know that your weird family is actually normal:
“The Family Stone” (2005)

Sarah Jessica Parker plays against type as a buttoned-up woman who tries to connect with her fiancee’s freewheeling family at Christmas. The terrific ensemble cast makes this eccentric family so raw and real. They’re smart, caustic and hilarious, even through awkwardness and heartbreak.

And Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson are totally the parents I aspire to be one day. Their love for each other and for their kids is fierce and almost palpable.

Photo by Kevin Dooley

When you feel like singing:
“Holiday Inn” (1942)

My best friend Liz and her family introduced me to this classic back in high school. It features Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and the lovely Rosemary Clooney. Irving Berlin wrote the score, including the song “White Christmas”, which was performed for the first time in the movie.

When you’re going home for the holidays:
“Just Friends” (2005)

This movie perfectly captures that weird pattern of cockiness and vulnerability that we sometimes fall into when we’re around people who knew us when we were younger.

Ryan Reynolds is a good-looking, successful guy who everybody back home remembers as a pudgy, boy band-obsessed, braces-wearing teenager. He was also secretly in love with his best friend. He spends the movie trying to get her to notice him, with ridiculous results.

Anna Faris, who plays a vapid pop star along for the ride, totally steals every scene she’s in.

Photo by s_herman

When you need to know it’s all going to work out in the end:
“It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

Take charming leads (James Stewart and Donna Reed), funny supporting actors, witty writing (there’s some smart and surprisingly naughty banter in this flick) and a script that tugs at the heartstrings without being schmaltzy and you’ve got a classic for the ages.

And the narrative about the little guy standing up to big business (and the community rallying around him in his time of need) is just as relevant now, as we recover from The Great Recession, as it was to the original audience who had just fought their way through The Great Depression.

When you just need a laugh:
“Elf” (2003)

Will Ferrell is a wide-eyed man child who’s been adopted by elves and looking for his biological father in the big city. Zooey Deschanel is doe-eyed and lovely as you’d expect. This movie is sweet and funny and occasionally ridiculous in the best possible way. And I really haven’t met anyone who doesn’t like it yet.

When you’re feeling melancholy:
“A Charlie Brown Christmas” (1965)
This is ostensibly a kids show, but the themes of commercialism and quiet loneliness and despair are awfully adult. I basically watch this show for Linus’ quietly lovely monologue about the true meaning of Christmas (one of the great moments in animation, if you ask me) and the stellar Vince Guaraldi score.

When you’re feeling burned out by Christmas shopping:
“How The Grinch Stole Christmas” (1966)
I attempted to run errands yesterday — and I stupidly forgot that it was also the last Saturday before Christmas. After taking 18 minutes to go 2 1/2 city blocks (that’s L.A. style traffic!) and almost getting run over not once but twice in two different parking lots (my blood pressure is rising just thinking about it) I was feeling pretty Grinch-like myself.

The TV adaptation of how Dr. Seuss’ Grinch discovers the real meaning of Christmas is exactly the thing to snap me out of it.

What movies am I missing? What are your favorites?

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