The Top 10 Best Holiday Movies That’ve Been Kept Under Wraps…Until Now

It’s holiday season, and you know what that means (for most of us), backbreaking snow shoveling, last minute gift shopping, and after all is said and done, hopefully a much-deserved, break – in the form of bing-watching some of the best holiday movies.

During the holiday break, most people use their free time to catch up on their favorite and critically dubbed best holiday movies, while gathering around with loved-ones, even if it means occasionally biting your tongue. If I could sneak down your chimney, I’d say your holiday movie lineup is something like: The Grinch, Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Story (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”).

A Christmas Story | Warner Bros.

Nailed it…didn’t I?

We all watch what some people consider the best holiday movies because they spark nostalgia and make us feel all wholesome and toasty inside, especially as the thermometer (and our holiday shopping patience) plummets and our blood pressure skyrockets.

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FLICKR: Diariocritico de Venezuela | License

This time of year is supposed to bring out the very best in every one of us, as we act selfless in our pursuit to bring happiness – in all forms – to family and friends by giving them the perfect gift. But do we need Santa Claus and Reindeers to drive home this point every time? NO!

This year, add some spice (and rum if need be) to your holiday movie watching. The season brings out a variety of emotions from us as human beings, and I’ve picked ten films that take the theme of the holidays and funnel their timeless stories through the eyes of regular people over elves (and even you grinches out there).

Here are 10 of the best holiday movies, with a dramatically unique take that will give you a much needed different perspective and hopefully reaffirm in some odd, fantastical way that this season has a glimmer of hope to offer.

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The 10 Best Holidays Movies You Should Be Watching

  1. Gremlins (1984)

Premise: A hapless inventor (played by Hoyt Axton) gives his son a small, furry creature for Christmas, but there’s a big catch: Gizmo (which fits into the theme of the biggest and baddest ‘invention’ gone wrong) comes with three very, very specific rules. When his son breaks these rules, the creature multiplies and unleashes havoc on a small town.

The Holiday Connection: Gremlins is a “cautionary” tale of what happens when you dismiss those ‘care instructions’ and your gift keeps giving and giving, until they ultimately bite back. Every year, parents put tons of effort into finding the perfect gift for their kids, and every year those same kids either misuse or abuse these gifts by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around. Probably one of the most fascinating parts of this story lies in the film’s writer, who is none other than Chris Columbus… sound familiar? Yep, he’s the director of two of the best holiday movies, Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.

  1. Go (1999)

Premise: Three interwoven stories of three young adults dealing with the aftermath of a drug deal that’s taken a seriously wrong turn and about to hit a dead-end.

The Holiday Connection: Okay, ‘drug deal gone wrong’ is probably not the most obvious connection to the holiday spirit. However, Go is the perfect example of the holiday season on overdrive because it’s stock-full of explosive surprises. As the character of Claire Montgomery states, “You know what I like best about Christmas? The surprises. I mean, it’s like you get this box and you’re sure you know what’s inside of it…You shake it, you weigh it, you’re totally convinced you have it pegged…But then you open it up and it’s completely different. You know. Wow, bang, surprise!” (As the old adage goes, be careful what you wish for.) Around the holidays, a heavy sense of anxiety sets in for those who don’t have family or necessarily the means to have that picture-perfect holiday postcard. The anxiety causes you to do irrational things, and that is exactly what happens to these characters in this Pulp Fiction style dramedy.  Don’t hit the brakes here, just “go” for this one…

  1. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Premise: After his wife admits that she cheated on him, A New York doctor goes on a dangerous sexual odyssey that ends with him questioning his own moral compass.

The Holiday Connection: Like some of the other movies on this list, this film takes place around the holidays. Sadly, this was director Stanley Kubrick’s final film, and like his other movies, it’s shot beautifully with every frame taking us one step closer into the legendary filmmaker’s mind and technique, revealing it’s proactive hidden messages and scrupulous symbolism. The entire film was shot using ambient light as Kubrick refused to use studio lights. With most of the film taking place at night, this left a very distinct natural lighting source for the film: strands of rainbow colored Christmas lights!

  1. The Ice Harvest (2005)

Premise: In Wichita, Kansas, a small time lawyer tries his hand at ripping off the mob for 2 million dollars on Christmas Eve.

The Holiday Connection: This holiday movie is another type of “thrill ride” (similar to Go) in the fact that it’s two bumbling thieves played by John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, who aim to steal from the mob, then realize their biggest problem is each other! This leads to a series of uproarious exploits that are nearly put on “ice” after a major storm rolls in. Enter a few “F” bombs and a stripper, and this is one black-comedy that parents may want to steer away from their kids. The Ice Harvest shows the underbelly of Christmas culture and exposes greed and excess colliding head on. If you’re tired of the “Who’s” or the “Griswold’s”, check out this unconventional Harold Ramis “Christmas” tale.  In my book, this is one of the best holiday movies out there that serves as a great escape.

  1. The Apartment (1960)

Premise: In hopes of attaining a promotion at his insurance company, a man lets his bosses use his apartment for their extramarital affairs, but soon his own romance complicates the arrangement.

The Holiday Connection: Besides being one of the greatest films of all time, The Apartment counts as a holiday movie because it speaks to the theme of two things many of us can relate to: love and loneliness. C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemon) lives alone and has no romance in his life, which leads to him fixated on moving up in his profession. Just as the holiday season approaches in the film, a potential love interest pops up in his life, played by Shirley MacLaine.  This forces Baxter to change his goals and evaluate what he really wants out of life. And as the New Year approaches for you reading this article, you’re too hopefully setting new goals or making further inroads to the tracks already laid. Either way, it’s time to check into The Apartment and you’ll discover why it’s one of the best holiday movies to make our list.

  1. You’ve Got Mail (1998)

Premise: Two New Yorkers are business rivals in real life but unknowingly fall in love over the Internet (no, not Tinder) through emailing one another.

The Holiday Connection: Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen, reminisces about her mother during the film as she decorates a Christmas tree in her bookstore. While her mother is no longer in her life, what she does have is a budding romance in the form of Tom Hanks, who she hates in person, but loves online. This was the prequel to our online dating culture, and I’m sure those dating sites see heavy traffic around this time of the year. This film teaches an age-old lesson: Some of the best gifts are right before our very eyes, so give love a shot; and if it doesn’t work out…. good friends will always pour you a few shots.

  1. Batman Returns (1992)

Premise: A corrupt businessman, and an evil penguin plot to take over Gotham City, and Batman is the only hope of restoring peace and order thanks to some ‘bat-ass’ weaponry and fight-scenes.

The Holiday Connection: The Batman franchise is tailor-made for the holiday season, and that sentiment was on full display in the second Batman movie exquisitely directed by Tim Burton. The Nightmare Before Christmas was also directed by Burton and though Batman Returns is slightly different in subject matter, it’s actually more “Christmas” than “Nightmare”. (Burton has stated that “TNBC” is actually a Halloween movie.) Batman Returns’ set will surely put you in a festive spirit with elaborate holiday decorations and displays of pageantry from its actors that you can only get from a nearly unrecognizable yet visually-stunning Gotham in December. This is in large part thanks to both the director and Production Designer, Bo Welch.

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Set of Batman Returns | Warner Bros.

Plus, seeing Michelle Pfeiffer give a master-class in acting as the femme fatale, Catwoman (AKA Selina Kyle), still remains one of the most memorable performances in any of the Batman multi-verses – both in film and television.

  1. Brazil (1985)

Premise: A man tries to escape technology and correct the errors existing within himself, while living in a retro, futuristic society.

The Holiday Connection: Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame, The Brothers Grimm, 12 Monkeys, The Fisher King) helmed Brazil as ultimately a film about bureaucracy and how institutions can oppress people in the most subtle of ways. Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) plays a lowly government employee, who’s dealt a bad hand and gets caught up in a bizarre death that leads him to resolve the case.  In the midst of this, Sam daydreams of a young woman, whom he later finds out is very much real and connected to the scene-of-the-crime.  During his investigation, Sam crosses paths with a heating engineer and enemy of the state named Tuttle (Robert De Niro). The flick is very much a grim look at technology immersed in hell (a la 1984 and Black Mirror). The connection to the holidays is a little deeper with this film, because some would say the whole idea of Christmas and the holidays force upon us undeserved mental and financial stress. This film ties together the ideas of religion and consumerism and that such “buying power” and easily being influenced can lead to more than you bargained for.

  1. Die Hard (1988)

Premise: A New York detective tries to save a group of hostages, one of who is his estranged wife, from a German terrorist.

The Holiday Connection: There are some who will argue that this is not a holiday movie at all, while others will scream their lungs out (Yippie Ki Yay Mother…!) that Die Hard is, in fact, one of the best holidays movies of all time. The connection to the holidays: The hostages were taken during the most unlikely of times, an office Christmas party. This includes the protagonist’s estranged wife, and it’s up to Bruce’s character John McClane to save the day, which only amps up the drama. What makes this a great holiday movie for me is that it brings people (back) together even if it requires McClane, kicking butt and taking names as an epic 20th century cowboy. This may be more of a cynical pick, but that’s what the 80s represents; and this action movie delivers on the goods.  Plus, it can just be used as a sound-track of sorts for your own holiday party.  Again, cue: Yippie Ki Yay!

1.Trading Places (1983)

Premise: A commodities broker and con artist unwillingly switch places but end up finding friendship and common ground as they work together to take down the two shady businessmen that put them there in the first place.

The Holiday Connection: Besides the fact that this film takes place around the holidays, the theme here is that certain things in life carry value that you can’t put a price on, which speaks to the heart of this time of year. Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy star and start out in completely opposite places in life. Akroyd is a rich and successful investor, while Murphy is a poor and incarcerated street hustler. By the end of the film (and hilarious back-and-forth bickering [sounds like some family gatherings I know]), they learn to appreciate what they have, and this revelation leads them to embrace themselves and, in turn, how they can become better people. At the end of the day, that’s what we can all hope to learn during the season. But hopefully it won’t require such extreme lengths like the screen-shot below.

Now, armed with your best holiday movies list, grab your eggnog, get in the spirit and drop your smart phone – because it’s time to connect in a different way than you’ve ever done before.

The common theme with some of the funniest, action-packed and non-traditional holiday movies is that their characters and the choices that they make are simply influenced (even if unknowingly) because of the season.

Love and fulfillment is what we all want in life, and instead of looking for it in the form of gifts, we should look for it in each other, and especially deep with in ourselves.

Now, Netflix away.

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