Christmas movies are about far more than a time and a place. Sure, snow and December 25th help to set the mood for whatever seasonal magic is about to take place, but this sense of wonder and belief in good in the world is far bigger than that. Whether it is wildly secular or tightly Christian, Christmas movies all let us take a step back and see humanity for the slivers of hope that can be spied amongst the rotting and decay of our world.
And if any year needs to feel that camaraderie and aspiration, it is 2020. We need to see that people can see the best in their fellow man, and that sometimes there is love to be had at the end of a long, slog of a year.
The irony of us defying this spirit of Christmas by pitting these beloved films against one another is not lost on us. While the nature of brackets might be aggressive domination and elimination of your enemies, it also means getting to see all the players in the same place at the same time. Getting to bring all of these great films into your life for the month, and discuss them with you for the next few weeks is going to be the gift that keeps giving.
Starting today, voting will run from December 1 until the 23. You can vote here, on Twitter, or on Instagram. Find out if your favourites are in the running, then scroll down for our first two face-offs.
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
This first animated special featuring the beloved Peanuts gang from comic strip fame became an instant classic when it premiered in 1965. Capturing the hearts of both audiences and critics alike, A Charlie Brown Christmas has won both an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
Now a staple of the holiday season, much of A Charlie Brown Christmas’s appeal stems from the clever blend of the season’s adult stresses with its childlike wonder. Poor Charlie Brown, decrying the commercialism of the season, insists on finding meaning. He tries to direct the local Christmas play – to hilariously disastrous results – and then the gang sends him on a hapless quest for the perfect Christmas tree. And yet, the magic of the season prevails.
The producers gambled on some unorthodox decisions at the time, casting children to voice the characters and hiring a Jazz musician to provide the musical score. What a pay-off: Vince Guaraldi’s soundtrack is as beloved as the story, and the contrast between what is said and who is saying it conjures a welcome nostalgic naiveté that combats any world-weary cynicism. – Barbara Goslawski
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 94%
Rankin/Bass’s Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
The holiday season doesn’t truly kick off until you cozy up with this stop-motion yule-tide gem from Rankin/Bass. The hour-long special follows Santa’s famous ninth reindeer as he grows from a talented but ostracized young buck to the brave, Christmas-saving Rudolph of modern legend. Along the way he meets up with a spirited group of misfits that have become almost as synonymous with the season as Rudolph himself—Hermey, the elf with dazzling dreams of dentistry, Yukon Cornelius, a prospector who finds more snow than precious metal, and an island full of unwanted and unloved toys. Then there’s Clarice, Fireball, King Moonracer, Donner, Comet, Santa, and Mrs. Claus too. And don’t forget the Abominable Snowman, or “Bumble”, a monster feared by the population of the North Pole but who has special, helpful skills of his own. Narrated by Burl Ives’ Sam the Snowman, this heart-warming tale of love, difference, and acceptance also introduced audiences to a host of iconic holiday tunes including A Holly Jolly Christmas and Silver and Gold. So while streaming services and network television are bursting at the seams with various animated seasonal specials, there is only one Rudolph and that’s the way it should be.
Fun fact: With the exception of Ives, the voice talent of Rudolph was all Canadian as Rankin/Bass preferred to record dialogue in Toronto.– Emma Badame
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Voting ends December 2 at 11:59 EST.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
As unlikely a holiday classic as any film that can be facilely or generically described as a “holiday classic,” The Nightmare Before Christmas (aka, Tim Burton’s The Night Before Christmas) arrived in multiplexes almost three decades ago in the middle of filmmaker Tim Burton’s early—and until now—unsurpassed creative and commercial streak. Burton’s enviable streak began with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure in 1985 and continued through Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns, and Ed Wood in 1994. Somewhere during Burton’s prolific first decade as a filmmaker, he somehow found time to produce The Nightmare Before Christmas, a longtime passion project for Burton (it began as a college poem) that involved career-best contributions from stop-motion animator and director Henry Selick (James and the Giant Peach, Coraline, the forthcoming Wendell and Wild), writer Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride), and former Oingo Boingo frontman-turned-composer Danny Elfman, each, perhaps more than Burton himself, helping to deliver one of the most visually inventive, narratively imaginative, and musically endearing Christmas-by-way-of-Halloween-themed films ever made. Granted, The Nightmare Before Christmas may be alone in that unique sub-genre, but that doesn’t diminish the singular achievement crafted by Burton, Selick, Thompson, and Elfman. – Mel Valentin
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 95%
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Bursting with silly rhymes and tantalizing tongue twisters, How The Grinch Stole Christmas first aired in 1966. Based on Dr. Seuss’ 1957 children’s book, this non-religious holiday tale is nonetheless filled with the joys of the season, complete with its very own Christmas miracle and a batch of signature Seussian carols.
This is the story of an evil Grinch (voiced with a sinister delight by horror star Boris Karloff), sitting atop a mountain, looking disdainfully down at the Whos down in Whoville, gentle creatures that love Christmas and rejoice in the celebrations.
Dreading yet another, he hatches a dastardly plan to steal all the things – the toys, decorations, even taking the crumbs not big enough to feed a mouse—in order to stop all the “noise, noise, noise” that is Christmas. Even a chance meeting with that most innocent child, “Cindy-Lou Who, who was no more than two” doesn’t faze him.
But this creature with a heart “two sizes too small” learns something vital that day—transforming him—and instead spreads an enduring magical message of holiday cheer that resonates every year. – BG
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%
Voting ends December 2 at 11:59 EST.
Tune in tomorrow for two new face offs…