That Time of Year — Christmas Movies

The CSGO gambling site, CSGOLuck does surveys and studies about all kinds of things.

Though we aren’t all that sure what this has to do with gambling, the site’s current study is about Christmas movies and which of the hundreds that have been done over the years are our favorites.

For the purpose of this story, we’re calling them Christmas movies because most of the movies in the study are focused on Christmas and not the “holidays.”

The gambling website delved into the topic by using the Google Keyword Planner to look at the number of searches done for Christmas movies. In this case, there were 180 of them tagged. The point was to find out which are America’s favorites.

No doubt, and to no one’s surprise, It’s a Wonderful Life came out on top. The film was released in 1946 and features the incredible acting of James Stewart, Donna Reid, Lionel Barrymore and a terrific cast of great character actors.

It’s a Wonderful Life averages 221,818 monthly searches on Google about this time of year.

As we noted in our most popular Halloween movies story, Weekly Industry News Editor, Gary Wolcott spent 32 years of his life as a movie critic. He’s seen thousands of movies including all of the movies on the list below.

“It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my all-time favorite movies. The 1946 classic floats from number-one to number-three on my favorite list depending on how I feel on any particular movie day,” he said. “The film is one of those great pieces of work that makes you realize that sometimes we don’t know how much the little things we say and do, and the help we give others, really matters to those we interact with. I watch it every year to remind me that what I say and do, does matter, and that just possibly life is better for some people because I’m in the world.”

That said, Wolcott laughed because not everyone feels that way.

“I was a movie critic for 32 years. At one point when Rotten Tomatoes allowed people to comment on a critic’s review of a movie, I was getting death threats,” he said. “I didn’t take them seriously but it’s kind of strange to me that people get all that uptight over a movie review.”

He said it’s sometimes hard to keep an even-keeled perspective when reviewing movies.

“Some weeks I’d do four or five movies,” Wolcott laughed and said. “That’s eight to 10 hours in a movie theater and another eight to 10, or more to write the reviews. So you become a bit jaded, and people don’t like you much when you pan movies they think are spectacular. So I guess not everyone thinks their lives are better because I’m in the world.”

Here’s his take on the other 19 on the list.

2. The Holiday — This 2006 movie has two disillusioned women swapping homes for the holidays. One of them is in England, the other in Los Angeles.

“The movie is a pretty good romantic comedy and stars Jude Law, Kate Winslet, Jack Black and Cameron Diaz,” Wolcott said. “This is the first time I ever saw Jack Black take a shot at being serious and he did a great job.”

Though it grabbed 156,644 searches, Wolcott doesn’t think it ought to rank anywhere near second place. He said there are a lot better choices out there, and on this list.

3. Elf — The 2003 comedy stars Will Ferrell as Buddy. He’s a human raised by Santa and his elves, and who, at Christmastime, is forced to pack up and go back to people of his own size. Santa wants Buddy to see if his real father is still alive.

The movie also starts James Caan, Zoe Deschanel, and the incredible Peter Dinklage in a role that Wolcott found more insulting than endearing.

“While I see this one ranking third, and understand that people loved it, I didn’t” Wolcott said. “Will Ferrell being silly always grates on my nerves and I find his performances more irritating than sweet, or sympathetic. I gave Elf a really low rating in my review. But I gave very low ratings to most of the holiday movies I’ve seen in the 32 years I was reviewing them.”

4. Bad Santa — 2003. This one got 112,517 searches and surprised Wolcott at landing at number 4.

“A few days before Christmas in 2003 I sat with 15 other critics and watched this one,” he said. “Two of us laughed and laughed and laughed. No one else did. At the end of the film, the others groaned and complained to the studio representatives about how gross the movie was, and how much they didn’t like the movie.”

Apparently, audiences liked it better.

“I loved Bad Santa. Billy Bob Thornton is the only actor I know of that could pull of doing this drunken, soulless thief in a Santa suit,” Wolcott said. “He’s a great actor, with the ability and skills to not only be believed as any character, but to be become that character. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for a different movie in 2004. I’ve interviewed hundreds of celebrities and Thornton is one of my all-time favorite interviews. I began the interview raving about his Bad Santa performance and told him how much I loved the movie. He appreciated the compliments but politely reminded me we were there to talk about a different movie. That said, this one — if you can stand the raunchy side of the story, and the very adult humor — is absolutely hilarious and is one of my all time favorite Christmas movies. And other than It’s a Wonderful Life, is the only one I watch every year.”

But — Wolcott said — does it really rank this high on a favorite movie list?

5. Little Women — Wolcott says this 2019 movie version of the Louisa May Alcott novel is not bad. The movie got 100,898 searches and stars Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern and Timothée Chalamet.

“If you’re looking for a modern version, I like the 1994 movie starring Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale better,” Wolcott said. “However, it’s such a great story that just about any version is pretty good. And I always  love the work of Saoirse Ronan, she’s one of the truly great young actresses working today.”

6. Scrooged — Done in 1988, this version is Charles Dickens’ classic story on steroids.

“Apparently, in the eyes of modern day moviegoers, all modern versions have to be all amped up to be good,” Wolcott noted. “This one stars Bill Murray and isn’t all that good, nor is it all that funny. But 86,694 Googlers googled it and it’s now ranked sixth. I wouldn’t even have it on the list!”

Bill Murray when he’s good, is really good. He’s just not that good here.

7. The Night Before — Done in 2015, this is a buddy movie where a some stoner childhood friends get together on Christmas Eve to find the best Christmas Eve party in New York City.

“Are there Christmas Eve parties in bars, or night spots?” Wolcott said. “I’ve never found one and I spent a lot of Christmas Eve’s alone wishing there was one to go to.”

The movie stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie.

“It’s a great cast. And the movie was okay,” Wolcott said. “There are better choices in the bottom 10 and below this choice than this one.”

8. Fred Claus — In 2007, Vince Vaughn played Santa’s estranged brother, Fred. He ends up going to work in his older brother’s workshop and gets life lessons on love, giving and all that.

“Truthfully, I don’t remember a lot about the movie. That means it’s probably not awful but not great,” Wolcott said. “But I’m not a huge fan of Christmas movies, nor am I a fan of Vince Vaughn in a lead role. He is irritating on a silly Will Ferrell level, and I probably wouldn’t rank this one as high as eighth. Again, lots better movies below this one on the list.”

9. Arthur Christmas — Arthur is Santa’s son and he’s kind of in the way. When Arthur discovers his dad forgot to deliver a special present to a young girl, he sets out to do it himself.

“Now we’re talking,” Wolcott said about this 2011 animated flick. “3D was big in 2011 and I saw this one in three dimensions. Loved it and it ranks as one of my favorite animated Christmas movies. It’s lots of fun, has a great message and is something very kid-like for kids, and has some themes that adults can enjoy, too.”

10. The Last Holiday — Released in 2006, it stars the she-can-do-no-wrong in movies, Queen Latifah as a woman who is dying of brain cancer and only has a few weeks to live. She sells all she owns and takes a vacation in Europe for the holidays.

“Yes, it has a happy ending,” Wolcott said. “It’s a Christmas movie, besides, I love Queen Latifah. She is incredibly charismatic and she really brings it in this one. Would it be my number 10? No. But it’s still a very good movie.”

Wolcott says the last 10 — numbers 11 through 20 — actually have much better movies than many found in the top-10.

11. How the Grinch Stole Christmas — “I have two favorite Christmas stories and they are very similar,” Wolcott said. “One is Charles Dickens’, A Christmas Carol. The other is Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

This 1966 version is a 26 minute TV special voiced by Boris Karloff and June Foray who gave voice to a lot of animated characters in the 1960s including Rocky J. Squirrel from Rocky and Bullwinkle.

“I love this one,” Wolcott said. “It’s short and to the point, and is one that really belongs somewhere really high in the top-10. Boris Karloff’s narration is pitch perfect. And who doesn’t love the story’s wonderful, yet very simple, message.”

12. Jack Frost — Done in 1998, this movie stars Michael Keaton as a guy who dies in a car accident and then reincarnates as a snowman to help his son. “Anything with Michael Keaton in a supporting role, and I’m all in,” Wolcott noted. “As a lead character, Keaton isn’t all that hot. This one is pretty good but there are a lot better movies on the list below.”

13. The Family Man — This year 2000 film starred Nicolas Cage and Tea Leoni. And it’s barely 2000. The movie was released in early December that year.

“It’s one of those wonderful ‘what if’ movies that sometimes work very, very well,” Wolcott said. “I originally panned The Family Man but after giving it a second chance, I changed my mind. Though Nic Cage won an Oscar and other awards for Leaving Las Vegas, this is actually the best he ever was. Love this movie. If you don’t, maybe give it a second chance like I did.”

14. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang — Released in 2005 and is a whodunnit set around Christmas time.

“I’m not sure this is really much of a Christmas movie,” Wolcott said. It is, however, really funny and a pretty outrageous comedy/drama. How it ended up as number-14 is a big surprise to me.”

The movie stars Robert Downey Jr. Michelle Monaghan, Val Kilmer and Corbin Bernsen.

“No one plays this kind of character better than Robert Downey Jr. Other than playing Charlie Chaplin, I think this is the best Downey has ever been. This one is pretty outrageous. Listing it at 14 got me wondering why Die Hard didn’t make the list. If you’re wanting an action movie that has Christmas in it, most average movie watchers will find Die Hard a much better movie, and just as much fun. It’s one of Bruce Willis’ better films, and for bad guys, you just can’t beat Alan Rickman’s terrorist.”

15. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — “This 1964 film was actually a 60 minute TV special narrated by Burl Ives. It’s not bad and even though it’s old and dated, younger kids will like it.

16. Holiday Inn — This 1942 classic stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. “It’s a classic, and one of those movies that defines what Christmas movies should be” Wolcott said. “Nothing more needs to be said.”

17. Disney’s A Christmas Carol — This 2009 flick stars Jim Carrey and was directed by Robert Zemeckis who takes co-writing credit with Charles Dickens.

“In my mind, more Dickens, less Zemeckis and this is a better movie. With that I refer back to the number six on the list, Scrooged, and wondering why all movies about this classic story have to seem like they’ve been punched up with steroids,” Wolcott said. “The movie isn’t awful because it’s such a great story. However, Zemeckis — who did Back to the Future, and several other good movies — loads this up with sets that look like Fisher-Price toys and hokey special effects. And Jim Carrey’s acting is way over-the-top. Dialed back a bit and this one might have been more fun.”

18. Little Women — “As I noted with the 2019 version that was ranked number 5,” Wolcott said, “This 1994 version is much better, a bit more to the point, and I think has better acting. My opinion only. Both versions are pretty good.”

This one stars Susan Sarandon, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst and Christian Bale.

19. Serendipity — The 2001 movie is a romantic drama-comedy starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale.

“I saw this one in 2001 and it’s one of the first movies I reviewed after 9/11,” Wolcott said. “I don’t remember it being a Christmas movie. That said, what I do remember is the movie — set in New York — had a shot of the just blown up twin towers. It got an audible, and very sad, gasp out of those attending the movie’s critic’s screening. The studio heads promised us that the scene was being edited out for the final release.”

20. Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town — In 1970 Fred Astaire narrated the short, TV special and,Mickey Rooney voices Kris Kringle. Keenan Wynn does the Winter Warlock and Paul Frees, who did a lot of cartoon voices and narration in those days, including some fantastic work in Rocky and Bullwinkle. He adds his voice to a character.

“I don’t remember much about this one,” Wolcott said. “My kids loved it when they were young. These days it seems like it is probably a bit dated. However, it’s still likely a really fun video for really little kids.”

Wolcott, and Weekly Industry News wishes all of you happy holiday season and happy holiday movie watching.

About PIA Western Alliance

The Professional Insurance Agents Western Alliance is a membership organization promoting and enhancing the success of independent agencies seeking to grow, learn and be heard within the industry.


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