Whether you love or hate this time of year, there’s no denying it can be…well, a little stressful. Trying to find a parking spot at the mall, worrying about the weather, or simply making sure you’ve made your list and checked it twice can make your nerves jangle like too many sleigh bells. Never fear, there is an antidote. Snuggle into a soft blanket, pour some cocoa, and become one with your couch as you watch these feel-good holiday movies — all guaranteed to take some of the edge off.
It’s a Wonderful Life
This is Jimmy Stewart at his Jimmy Stewart-est — although, apparently, Cary Grant was originally pegged to play the lead role. Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life tells the story of George Bailey, who’s shown by an angel what life would have been like if he’d never existed. A last-minute reprieve from financial ruin, an adorable moppet or two, and the downfall of a truly slimy villain (played rather brilliantly by Lionel Barrymore) makes It’s A Wonderful Life a satisfying piece of holiday cinema that will restore your faith in people.
A fluffy-but-robust song-and-dance classic, White Christmas includes a superstar leading quartet (Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen), over-the-top production numbers and a couple of the nicest Christmas songs out there, including the title song, which is still the world’s best-selling single. If Bing Crosby crooning his way through “White Christmas,” or Crosby and Rosemary Clooney duetting on “Count Your Blessings” isn’t enough to put you back in the holiday spirit, you probably need more help than a movie can give you.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
If you don’t watch this 1965 TV classic for its pivotal scene of Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14, then watch (and listen) for its phenomenal jazz soundtrack written by pianist Vince Guaraldi and performed by his trio. And if neither of those things move you, you’ll still get the feels from the movie’s message of authenticity and simplicity in the face of unchecked consumerism.
Scrooge /A Christmas Carol
Originally called Scrooge and released in the U.S. as A Christmas Carol, the 1951 black-and-white film is considered by many to be the best movie adaptation of Charles Dickens’ 1843 Christmas story. While it might be a little melodramatic for younger audiences used to irony and realism, Scrooge’s jubilant reaction upon waking up after the third ghost’s visit is the perfect antidote to contemporary detached sophistication. (Incidentally, watch for the “ghostly” appearance of a stagehand behind Scrooge during that scene, visible when Scrooge looks in the mirror.)
Miracle on 34th Street
Perfect if you’re feeling worn out with all things Christmas, or if you just want to believe in Santa again for a little while, Miracle on 34th Street is the perfect story about faith triumphing over cynicism and materialism. Whether you choose to watch the 1947 original or the 1994 remake, both will help you find a little Christmas magic as the characters debate whether a mysterious bearded man is, in fact, Santa Claus. You can probably guess how it turns out, but the movie leaves you on the edge of your seat until the very end, and the resolution is delightful.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
Yes, this is another version of A Christmas Carol — and it’s perfect if you find the Alistair Sim film a little dark, or if you have kids who just won’t sit through 90 minutes of black-and-white melodrama. The Muppet Christmas Carol is pretty much what it sounds like: Michael Caine plays a perfectly grumpy Scrooge, and Muppets play most of the other characters. Add in some great songs (including the tear-jerking “Bless Us All,” performed by the Cratchit family) and you’ve got a great intro to a classic holiday story.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
If you hear “Boris Karloff” and think “Frankenstein,” then you really need to watch the 1966 TV special Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Karloff narrates the story and plays the Grinch with deep-voiced perfection, even winning a Grammy for a subsequent recording of the story. Karloff’s performance pairs perfectly with Chuck Jones’ (of Bugs Bunny fame) direction, creating a now charmingly retro Christmas classic full of redemption and joy.
Meet Me in St. Louis
It’s not precisely a Christmas movie, but if “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is one of your favourite Christmas songs, then you have to watch Meet Me in St. Louis. A young-ish Judy Garland handles the wistful lyrics tenderly and the subsequent scene where her young sister destroys a yardful of snowmen incorporates some seriously skillful acting on the part of Margaret O’Brien, who plays Tootie. Meet Me in St. Louis is a perfect film when you need a reminder that family drama often gets resolved in lovely ways.