We made a list -- and checked it twice -- of some of our favorite holiday movies that we'd want to give or get. Some are old-time classics such as "Christmas in Connecticut" while others are a bit more surprising, like "Love Actually." We couldn't include all of our faves, but we'd love to hear about your must-see movies of the season. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Who knows -- yours might make the cut for next year's wish list.
Christmas in Connecticut
Warner Home Video: DVD $19.98, not rated.
Up: Long before Martha Stewart taught us about good things, Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) wrote a magazine column about her country home and its charms, from home-baked pies to comfy rocking chairs. But Lane wrote from her drafty apartment, complete with a view of neighbors' clotheslines. When a war hero (Dennis Morgan) expresses a wish to spend Christmas at Lane's farm, her publisher (Sydney Greenstreet) loves the idea, forcing Lane to cook up a zany scheme.
Warm and Fuzzies: Stanwyck is a standout as a woman who can't boil water but is game enough to flip flapjacks, coached by her "Uncle Felix" (S.Z. Sakall), a gourmet chef who swears she taught him all he knows.
All the trimmings: DVD extras
didn't exist when this 1945 black-and-white film was made, but the original theatrical trailer adds a note of comic nostalgia.
-- Kathy Blumenstock
A Christmas Story
Warner Home Video: DVD (widescreen two-disc special edition) $26.98, rated PG.
Wrapping it up: All cherubic Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) wants for Christmas is an official Red Ryder air rifle -- despite adult admonitions (even from a department-store Santa) that he'll shoot his eye out. The movie, released in 1983, is a combination of tales from "In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash," a book by humorist Jean Shepherd.
Warm and fuzzies: Ralphie's quest is front and center in this story set in the Midwest in the 1940s, and there are many memorable vignettes -- the boy who gets his tongue stuck to a frozen pole, the visit to Santa, the pink bunny suit gift -- and an outstanding cast including Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillon as Ralphie's dad and mom.
All the trimmings: Besides the feature-length commentary by Billingsley and director/co-writer Bob Clark, the DVD includes a triple-dog dare on trivia, radio readings by Shepherd and the history of the Red Ryder rifle.
-- Judith S. Gillies
New Line Home Entertainment: DVD $19.97,
Wrapping it up: Buddy the Elf begins his journey as a baby, when he crawls into Santa's toy bag and hitches a ride to the North Pole, where he's adopted by Papa Elf (Bob Newhart). But as a human raised by elves, Buddy (Will Ferrell) doesn't fit in with his pint-sized counterparts, so he heads to New York City to find his birth father (James Caan). One big elf in the Big Apple and -- you guessed it -- hilarity ensues.
WARM AND FUZZIES: While many holiday movies aim for the heart through sentimental themes or mushy moments, "Elf" gets there via the funny bone. Ferrell's wide-eyed Buddy is just goofy enough to bring laughs (what's not funny about a man in pointy shoes?), but genuine in his quest to save the spirit of Christmas.
All the trimmings: The DVD includes a wealth of extras -- try Elf karaoke, learn how the crew created the North Pole and follow Ferrell during his daily routine on the set. Although the menu is a little tricky to navigate, there's plenty of good stuff for those who are willing to hunt for it.
-- Holly E. Thomas
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Warner Home Video: DVD $19.97, not rated.
Wrapping it up: The Grinch is the most bitter bachelor in Whoville when he decides the Whos have had enough joy. Enter a scheme to steal the Whos' presents and a reluctant accomplice (lovable pet dog Max, plus a makeshift pair of antlers). But when the Whos celebrate anyway, the Grinch realizes Christmas may be about more than just new toys and pretty wrapping.
Warm and fuzzies: "Grinch" has just enough bite to dull the toothache of sickeningly sweet holiday sap. Not to mention some amazing lyrics -- "Your brain is full of spiders; you've got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch." Holiday villains don't get better than the mean, green one.
All the trimmings: Jim Carrey may be able to contort his green-painted face into unimaginable sneers in the 2000 version, but he can't beat the animated original. The latest DVD edition of the 1966 classic includes commentary from the animator and the actress who voiced Cindy Lou Who and interviews with the composer and vocalist. After the holidays, return to Whoville with this edition's bonus feature, "Horton Hears a Who."
-- Michelle Thomas
It's a Wonderful Life
Republic Pictures: DVD $19.98; not rated
Wrapping it up: George Bailey (James Stewart) is down on his luck -- or so he thinks. Fortunately, a quirky guardian angel (Henry Travers) prevents George from committing suicide on Christmas Eve and shows him how different the world would be had George never been born. Turns out, the Bailey boy is the reason Bedford Falls is a charming place filled with Christmas cheer instead of a depressing town in the clutches of mean Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore).
WARM AND FUZZIES: The moment when George decides life is worth living is a sure-fire lump-in-the-throat scene. He finds flower petals that his daughter Zuzu left in his pocket and runs home, where half the town -- including his wife (Donna Reed) -- is waiting with a pile of money to keep him out of jail.
All the trimmings: The DVD extras are minimal on this Frank Capra classic. "The Making of It's a Wonderful Life" is a short documentary hosted by Tom Bosley, and the disc also includes a tribute to Capra.
-- Debra Leithauser
Universal Studios: DVD $14.98, rated R.
Wrapping it up: An ensemble cast including Liam Neeson, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Laura Linney, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Billy Bob Thornton and Bill Nighy star in parallel plots that explore different relationships and their effect on people during the hectic holiday season.
WARM AND FUZZIES: Grant's portrayal of the British prime minister and Nighy's aging rock star on a comeback bid are wonderfully memorable. The off-beat and unexpected plot twists keep the whole affair from becoming too contrived.
All the trimmings: The DVD extras are generous for such an unheralded release, with commentary, deleted scenes and a special on the film's music.
-- Justin Rude
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Warner Home Video: DVD $19.98, rated PG-13.
Wrapping it up: Poor Clark Griswold: The puerile patriarch's sole goal in life is to show his family a good time. But in this third installment of the "Vacation" series, it becomes immediately clear that the Griswold clan doesn't have to travel at all to find misadventure. "I don't know what to say," wife Ellen mopes, "except it's Christmas and we're all in misery."
Warm and fuzzies: Scrap the seasonal schmaltz: "Christmas Vacation" tickles the holiday funny bone with its sheer comic absurdity. Who else would adorn the outside of his home with tens of thousands of lights? Only Clark (Chevy Chase), whose antics spur the Grinch-like grousings of sarcastic teenagers Russ and Audrey (Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis, in breakout roles for both).
All the trimmings: The special-edition DVD features standard-issue audio commentary from the cast and crew -- but if missing those things won't ruin your holiday cheer, the 1989 movie will be on network TV faster than you can sing "Holiday Road."
-- Brad Walters