One of my favorite Christmas traditions is curling up on the couch and watching Christmas movies. Actually I’ll watch Christmas based anything, from the classic Rankin Bass cartoons of yesteryear to the yearly offerings of TV specials to spending hours down a You Tube rabbit hole of Vloggers, classic Christmas commercials, and whatever else may pop up.
But still, the movies are the main focus of holiday viewing. We all have our favorites, of course, and since this is my blog you’re about to read all about some of mine. Now y’all know how much I like lists, but instead of doing your standard movie ranking I’m going to switch it up and give you my own list of the most underrated and overrated Christmas movies.
Now, just because a movie is listed as being overrated in my eyes doesn’t necessarily make it bad, nor is an underrated movie a masterpiece. I’m just throwing out a few thoughts for your consideration. This list is purposefully short, as I decided to leave off some of the more controversial genres such as the Christmas horror film, and the purposefully crass R rated comedies that have become so prevalent over the last 20 years or so.
So here we go, with four movies you should maybe take a second look at, and four that could maybe use a breather.
DAVE’S FOUR FAVORITE UNDERRATED CHRISTMAS FILMS
4. MIXED NUTS (1994)
This one’s got a PG-13 rating and is a movie for grown-ups, but not in the “Bad Santa” kind of way. It is a dark comedy about a suicide hotline on Christmas Eve. Not exactly festive I know, but with a smart script and direction by Norah Ephron and a strong ensemble cast this one is a worth watching. Steve Martin is always enjoyable, as is Madeline Kahn (she was truly a gift to us all), and this is the movie that made me a fan of Rita Wilson. Add in Garry Shandling an Juliette Lewis, and you’ve got a win in my book. Okay, so I could do without Adam Sandler and his stupid voices but his time on screen is mercifully brief. Perhaps this film is a bit dated, and certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.
3. ARTHUR CHRISTMAS (2011)
The first cartoon on this list, I feel like this movie gets overlooked quite a bit. It’s certainly not perfect, but it is quite charming. It’s a pretty standard Christmas Eve emergency movie. It shows us Santa’s high tech North Pole headquarters that enables him to deliver all those gifts in one night. However, when he misses one deserving child it’s up to his goofy but loveable youngest son Arthur to save the day. This movie is very British in style and humor which may be why it’s not considered the classic it could be, but it speaks to my sensibilities very much. Inventive animation and a stellar cast (Hugh Laurie!) make “Arthur Christmas” a delight.
2. THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (2017)
Not so much underrated as unknown, which is a pity because this is a great film. This movie is a different take on “A Christmas Carol” in that it is the story of how Charles Dickens wrote the tale, and helps bring to light how our modern ideas on Christmas were shaped by this book. Semi-biographical, fairly revisionist, and absolutely fantastical, “The Man Who Invented Christmas” is a true holiday treat. If you are a Dickens fan, you’ll enjoy seeing a portrait of your favorite author on screen. If you are a fan of “A Christmas Carol” you’ll enjoy seeing the story come together based on real life inspiration and Dickens’ vivid imagination. If you like Christmas movies, this is one that is a bit different from your standard holiday fare, but sure to bring a smile-even to old Scrooge himself.
1. FRED CLAUS (2007)
Okay, I understand why this movie gets dumped on, but I really don’t think it deserves quite the level of basing it regularly gets. This, like “Arthur Christmas”, is a look at Santa’s family, this time focusing on his ne’er-do-well brother Fred and the relationship between the two. Okay, so it’s got plot holes you could drive a truck through. Sure, it never really decides if it wants to be a family film or a snarky comedy. However, it is filled with some great acting (Paul Giamatti as Santa! John Michael Higgins! Vince Vaughn. Elizabeth Banks! Kathy Bates!), some neat camera tricks, and some really funny scenes. It still manages to feel really Christmassy by the end and that is all that matters to me.
DAVE’s FOUR MOST OVERRATED CHRISTMAS FILMS
4. THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004)
A lot of people really like this film, and I get it. The story is a good one at its heart, with a good message. Also, there is still something romantic about trains, especially one that takes you to see Santa. It’s just that the movie falls a bit flat. There should be a sense of wonder that never quite materializes, the movie is a little bit stodgy and boring instead of wondrous and inspiring. The animation was considered fairly cutting edge at the time, but it’s always just looked a little creepy to me. There is a lot of talent on display here, and the movie isn’t bad, but it’s still a miss overall.
3. DR. SEUSS’ HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (2000)
Full disclosure: I am not a Jim Carrey fan. I find his mugging and constant hammy chewing up of every scene to be obnoxious, tedious, and the opposite of anything that remotely resembles comedy. That being said, his role as The Grinch is the one time where I actually think it works. Try as I might, I can’t blame my dislike of this movie on Carrey and his antics. Part of my problem is that I believe a live action version of this classic book and tv special is just a really bad idea. You may capture the look to a degree, but you can never quite get it all right. The other issue I have is that expanding a short work for film is always risky, and while giving the Grinch a backstory is an intriguing idea, the writers really dropped the ball here conceptually. The original idea was that The Grinch detested Christmas because he didn’t understand it, although the Whos down in Whoville knew the true meaning and celebrated it gifts or no. In this version The Grinch is against the capitalisms of the Whos’ Christmas, and their cruelness and insensitivity. All the joy and love of the original is gone, replaced by a world wearines and what really feels like a mean spirited take on the holiday as a whole, only to be cleared up at the end because you can’t not do the heart growing three sizes thing. This movie is a mess, and a wasted opportunity.
2. HOME ALONE 2: LOST IN NEW YORK (1992)
Most sequels are not as beloved as their predecessors, and that does hold true here, but most fans would agree that “Home Alone 2” is a worthy successor. Ehhh, I guess. I mean, it’s not a terrible movie, but it’s really just a retread of the first movie which, let’s face it, had its flaws, but is entertaining enough to deserve some rewatch love. For some reason though, the tone of this sequel comes across as being much darker, and the slapstick comedy is not as cartoonish. It looks like it hurts. There are a few bright spots, and Tim Curry is always a delight, but that’s not enough to make this any more than an obvious cash grab. Be that as it may, there are still people who love this movie and marathon it with the first one every year.
1. ELF (2003)
Okay…wait. Hold on. Calm down. Hear me out. I like “Elf”. I really do. I have seen it multiple times, and it makes me laugh. It gives me the feels, and I think it deserves to be considered a classic. So why do I say it’s overrated? Because it is. Here’s a few reasons as to why. 1.) Look, everybody loves Buddy’s innocence, but his obnoxiousness gets a little wearing. I can sympathize with his Dad, for sure. 2.) A grown man in an elf costume is funny once but not after repeated viewings. 3.) Come on, the shower scene is pretty cringe, even if it is an innocent mistake. Otherwise, I like the movie a lot. I just don’t feel like I need to watch it yearly, and I get a little tired of being bombarded with Elf quotes and merchandising every year. It’s just too much. I kind of wish it wasn’t such a success (no offense to the film makers or excellent cast). If it was just this little, silly movie that most people didn’t know about and you kind of had to find and appreciate on your own, I think that would make it a little more special. Which, of course, makes me a cotton headed ninny-muggins. I just don’t want to wear it on a t shirt.
All right, now that I have thoroughly annoyed you by picking apart your favorite movie (or, hopefully, inspired you to see a new one) I’m going to wrap it up for this edition of MonDAVEs. join me next week, when I have absolutely nothing planned and will have to wing it.
P.S.-Look for a special “Spider Man” post this weekend-guest blogger in tow!