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Get in the spirit with these movies of holiday cheer

Shaun Harrison
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1 of 14 RKO/Kobal Collection

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

One of the most popular holiday films of all time. This bracingly unsentimental celebration of family, friends and the power of one good man (James Stewart) to change many lives has been remade but never bettered. There's a reason for all the parodies, pastiches and homages -- it's so good everyone wants a piece of it.

2 of 14 Dimension Films/Kobal Collection

Bad Santa (2003)

This brimming glass of curdled eggnog features Billy Bob Thornton as the scurviest Santa of them all. As a seasonal rip-off artist who robs department stores, Thornton's performance drives this scabrous black comedy, but he's got vitriolic support in Tony Cox, the angriest little person ever to don an elf suit. It's perfect for those "if I hear 'It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year' I'll scream" days.

3 of 14 Columbia Tristar

Eight Crazy Nights (2002)

An animated Adam Sandler puts a Scrooge-like spin on the Festival of Lights as Hanukkah-hating hood Davey Stone. Does he learn a lesson? Yes, but first he gets to trash interdenominational holiday decorations and sing "I hate folks who think reindeer are cute/To me they're just something to shoot." A fable about the holiday spirit whose pop pieties are leavened by Sandler's irreverent take on Hanukkah's sacred and secular faces.

4 of 14 20th Century Fox/Kobal Collection

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Parents have always been worried about kids growing up too fast. Exhibit A: Nine-year-old Natalie Wood doesn't believe in jolly old St. Nick until a department-store Kris Kringle gives her a crash course in the magic of Christmas. Sweet, smart and cynical -- just watch little Natalie's mom, a Macy's executive, fire the second-rate Santa who dares to turn up drunk for the parade!

5 of 14 Buena Vista/Everett Collection

The Santa Clause (1994)

Toy-company executive Scott Calvin (Tim Allen), a divorced dad, is forced to don the red suit when Santa expires in a fall from his roof, thanks to a pesky "Santa Clause" that states Calvin has to take over St. Nick's duties. Who knew Santa had such killer legal counsel?

6 of 14 MGM/US/Kobal Collection

A Christmas Story (1983)

Jean Shepherd's nostalgic take of a small boy and his burning desire for a Red Ryder BB gun -- not to mention his dad's obsession with a hideous lamp whose base is shaped like a fishnet-clad lady's leg -- is nostalgic without being saccharine, and truly funny to boot.

7 of 14 Warner Bros./CBS

Elf (2003)

Adopted by one of Santa's little helpers (Bob Newhart), a human baby grows up to be Will Ferrell, the biggest, clumsiest "elf" on the North Pole. It's a wonderful mix of sweet and tart -- kids will giggle at the naive Ferrell testing jack-in-the-boxes and tussling with a rabid raccoon, while adults can enjoy his heartfelt quest to earn the love of the dad who abandoned him without feeling too sappy.

8 of 14 20th Century Fox/Kobal Collection

Home Alone (1990)

Sure, it's really more about a kid who beats up on burglars than anything else, but hey, it's set during the holidays. Plus, it does give you the warm fuzzies when Kevin (Macaulay Caulkin) realizes how important it is to have and be with your family around the holidays.

9 of 14 Everett Collection

Santa Claus (1959)

In this trippy Mexican film, Santa wrestles with poofy-pants Pitch for the soul of an impoverished poor little waif who's tempted to steal a new dolly for Christmas. Dig Santa's sweatshop in the clouds, manned by child labor from around the world, and the surreal surveillance equipment he uses to determine who's been naughty and who's been nice!

10 of 14 Paramount/Everett Collection

Home for the Holidays (1995)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that successful, well-adjusted adults devolve into their worst, whiniest childhood selves when they go home for Thanksgiving. And single-mother Claudia (Holly Hunter) is feeling far from successful and well adjusted right now: She's just lost her job and her teenage daughter (Claire Danes) is a nightmare of adolescent defiance. Add the usual passel of crazy relatives, stir well and let the dysfunction begin!

11 of 14 Everett Collection

The House Without a Christmas Tree (1972)

Newly available on DVD, this superior made-for-TV tearjerker is based on young-adult author Gail Rock's memoirs of her rural Nebraska youth during the 1940s and '50s. Little Addie Mills desperately wants a Christmas tree, but her widowed dad (Jason Robards) has always refused -- the holidays already bring back too many memories of his late wife as it is. Simultaneously heartwarming and tough-minded, it's so well acted -- Mildred Natwick plays Addie's understanding grandma -- that you won't hate it for making you cry.

12 of 14 Jim Henson Productions/Kobal Collection

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

There's a Christmas carol for every taste, but this one is for the whole family: Michael Caine plays Ebeneezer Scrooge, the original Grinch, while Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy take on the roles of his long-suffering employee, Bob Cratchit, and Cratchit's loving wife. Gonzo narrates in the guise of Charles Dickens, and the ghosts -- created specially for the film -- are a blast.

13 of 14 Paramount/Everett Collection

Scrooged (1988)

This modernized, comedic version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol stars Bill Murray as the work- and money-obsessed Frank Cross, who overworks his assistant (Alfre Woodard) until three ghostly visits change his ways.

14 of 14 Warner Bros./Kobal Collection

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

All the Griswolds (Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo) want this year is to enjoy a warm, old-fashioned family Christmas. If only their kids (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki) weren't such cynical killjoys. And if only human-disaster-area Chase hadn't turned the simple process of putting up decorations into a FEMA-ready catastrophe. And if only the rest of their dysfunctional clan had never arrived. Still funny after all these years!