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7 holiday movies you should watch this year

Seven must-see holiday film classics

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t’s a Wonderful Life (1946): Somehow kitsch and cornball at the same time, Frank Capra’s morality fable keeps improving with age. Credit the sincerity in Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of everyman George Bailey, a man who has spent his whole life giving up his dreams in order to help others, and whose attempted suicide on Christmas Eve summons his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers) to earth. And you can almost smell the brimstone when evil smalltown despot Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) wheels into the room. Watch it again, and if there’s not a lump in your throat during the ending, well, you’re just not human.

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A Christmas Carol (1951): Many a fine thespian has attempted to wear the scowl and nightcap of famed literary misanthrope Ebenezer Scrooge–among them, George C. Scott, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, Jim Carrey and, bizarrely, Tori Spelling–but the portrayal by Alastair Sim holds forth as the acting benchmark. Sim’s baleful glare and plummy voice were a perfect fit and the viewer is drawn into the story, each Christmas Eve, via charitable hope for the character’s redemption. When this Scrooge dances giddily on Christmas morning, the heart soars.

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Miracle on 34 th Street (1947): Slick and sweet, this comedy-drama collected four Academy Awards, including Best Writing, Best Original Story and Best Supporting Actor for Edmund Gwenn for his impish screen turn as Kris Kringle, an affable senior who truly believes he’s Santa Claus. Macy’s manager Doris (Maureen O’Hara) hires Kris to play Santa, but the store psychologist (all your best stores had psychologists back then) calls him crazy and all of a sudden the old duffer is on trial to contest his sanity. A tot version of Natalie Wood tugs the heartstrings as Doris’s daughter.

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A Christmas Story (1983): Taken from the childhood memories of humorist Jean Shepherd, this film has become like holiday background music for many people, which is presumably why TBS runs its in a 24-hour marathon from Christmas Eve to Christmas evening each year. By now everyone knows the folksy forties-era story of owlish Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), the kid who desperately wants a BB gun for Christmas despite his mother’s protestations that “you’ll shoot your eye out.” Along the way, Ralphie fends off a psychotic bully named Scut Farkus and learns a lesson on foul language from his old man (Darren McGavin).

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Home Alone (1990): Macaulay Culkin’s career could only go downhill following the freakish success of this slapstick comedy penned by John Hughes. Just this once, Culkin found the proper mix of cuteness and malice as the abandoned tyke Kevin, who takes quite viciously to the task of defending the family home against idiot thieves Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern). Cartoon violence, you say? Bare feet walking on ornaments! Blowtorches on heads! A snow shovel to the face! Don’t let little ones watch.

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The Nightmare Before Christmas (1992): Funny how the same stop-motion animation technique of festive TV specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without a Santa Claus works to deliciously dark effect in Tim Burton’s holiday masterpiece. Welcome to Halloween Town, a creepy place presided over by de facto mayor and “Pumpkin King” Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon). A chance visit to nearby Christmas Town inspires Jack to kidnap Santa Claus and assume his toy-distributing duties, except that Jack’s idea of a gift is a shrunken head or a live snake.

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Scrooged (1988): In this broad spin on the Dickens story, Bill Murray chews up the scenery as nasty network TV executive Frank Cross, whose concept of feelgood holiday programming is a blood-and-guts version of A Christmas Carol. Frank’s redemption and back-story unfolds in the standard Christmas Eve nightmare when he’s visited by various Ghosts of Christmas past and present (Carol Kane and David Johansson, respectively). Watch closely for odd cameo players, including Mary Lou Retton, Paul Shaffer and jazz legend Miles Davis.

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