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story.lead_photo.caption Elf

The holidays have arrived.

Frosty the Snowman
Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Trading Places
The Polar Express
Bad Santa

Soon, children will be home from school -- all day long. Relatives will be visiting from out of town and perhaps staying for days on end. Friends will stop by for hours.

The novelty, the talking, the visiting will end sooner rather than later, though. In turn, the kids will get bored. Out-of-town visitors, too. A break will be needed from friends.

What to do next? Watch a holiday-related TV show or film. And don't just rely on an endless marathon of A Christmas Story. Forge your own path.

Here are some Thanksgiving- or Christmas-related cinematic suggestions (with ratings where available) sure to please audiences from children to grown-ups, who also need a break during this hectic season.

3 and up

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964) G

Frosty the Snowman (1969) G

Let's start this list off with a bit of a history lesson and introduce Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. It wouldn't be Christmas without this duo.

Who? The heads of Rankin/Bass Productions, a company that produced seasonal TV shows such as Rudolph and Frosty (and many more).

The duo's output over the years (the production company dissolved in 1987) included stop-motion, animated and live-action feature films, and animated series, but they were better known for their animated TV specials, including the stop-motion animated TV movie Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the longest continuously running Christmas TV special in history.

The word classic gets tossed around, rarely befitting its usage. Not in this case. Both of these are classics. And both Rudolph and Frosty still air on CBS during the holidays.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) G

Another animated TV classic, Charlie Brown -- depressed over holiday-season commercialism -- discovers the real meaning of Christmas with a little help from Linus.

A bit of trivia? The soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas was added to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry list of "culturally, historically or aesthetically important" American sound recordings in 2012.

The special airs on ABC on Dec. 1.

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)

Here's another name to learn: Chuck Jones, the animation director behind the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts featuring characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat and others. Jones also directed this iconic Christmas TV special, based on the Dr. Seuss book and featuring the Frankenstein monster, Boris Karloff, as the voice of the Grinch and the narrator.

Stay away from the overstuffed 2000 movie starring Jim Carrey, and watch the original, remembering that Christmas is not about materialism and movies with $123 million budgets.

6 and up

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Not just a perfect Christmas story for our times -- the case of Santa Claus' real existence ends up in court -- this film is one of the few holiday-theme movies to be a multiple Academy Award winner, too, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Writing, Original Story; and Best Writing, Screenplay.

It also was nominated for Best Picture, losing to ... Gentleman's Agreement.

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (1977)

Consider this Jim Henson creation an underrated Christmas classic. The story is one of total sacrifice (an important message around Christmas) with poor Emmet Otter and his Ma giving it their all to try and win a local talent show to use the prize money to buy the other the perfect Christmas gift. Sometimes things work out in weird ways.

Bonus? That talent show appearance by the Riverbottom Nightmare Band.

Arthur Christmas (2011) PG

With the voices of James McAvoy as Arthur Claus, and Hugh Laurie and Bill Nighy, this computer-animated film tells the story of technologically advanced Santa delivering presents with military precision (with the help of ninja-like elves). But things don't always go right, and it falls to Santa's clumsy son, Arthur, to save Christmas Day.

9 and up

It's a Wonderful Life (1946) PG

It's a story everyone knows: a broken man, George Bailey (James Stewart), is stopped from jumping from a bridge by his guardian angel, who shows George how different life in Bedford Falls would have been if George had never been born.

Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the film is considered one of the greatest movies ever made. The American Film Institute placed it at No. 20 on its most recent (2007) "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movies" list.

Home Alone (1990) PG

Every kid at some point wishes his family would disappear. For Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) it comes true, kind of, as his family forgets him in Chicago on a Christmas vacation to Paris. Kevin makes the best of this solo life, until a pair of burglars arrive, with the McCallister household as their next target.

It's a good movie, but it's really in the last half or so, as Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) attempt their break-in, that the movie really finds its groove.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) PG

Only the mind of Tim Burton (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and many more) could conceive of a story where Christmas and Halloween are blended. This stop-motion animated movie is about Jack Skellington, the "Pumpkin King" of Halloween Town, who discovers Christmas through a visit to Christmas Town and decides to celebrate the holiday as only a fan of Halloween could.

Burton originally thought of the premise while working for Disney, but Disney initially wanted little to do with the film, according to Forbes, because executives thought it might be too scary. Now, though, The Nightmare Before Christmas is "considered not a potentially dangerous horror film to traumatize young children, but rather an ideal first horror film for a generation of youngsters," Forbes says.

Elf (2003) PG

The world needs a Buddy (Will Ferrell) right now. Someone to stop and scream, "You sit on a throne of lies" to the cynics, who need to, as this film asks viewers to do, discover their inner elf.

This comedy features one of Santa's elves, Buddy, who is really a human, heading to New York to find his biological father, but who winds up spreading his brand of Christmas cheer along the way.

Featuring James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Zooey Deschanel, Ed Asner and Bob Newhart, the late, great Roger Ebert said Elf was a "rare Christmas [comedy] that has a heart, a brain and a wicked sense of humor."

The Polar Express (2004) G

Robert Zemeckis' directing career includes such noteworthy films as Back to the Future (all three), Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and Cast Away.

But his varied career also includes bringing this children's book by Chris Van Allsburg to the big screen via animated motion capture. It's a visually stunning movie, but the dazzling technology doesn't get in the way of the story about truly believing in Christmas.

13 and up

Scrooged (1988) PG-13

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol might be one of the most adapted of all Christmas tales, but no one does it better than director Richard Donner with this comedic film starring Bill Murray.

Here's some cool trivia: From 1987 to 1989, Donner, the director of The Omen, Superman and The Goonies, released Lethal Weapon (which also takes place at Christmastime) and Lethal Weapon 2. Between them? Scrooged. Guess he needed a break from Mel Gibson.

Scrooged is funny; it's mean; it's even a little scary at times. Plus, David Johansen of the New York Dolls stars as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989) PG-13

During his career, John Hughes wrote or directed films such as Sixteen Candles; The Breakfast Club; Ferris Bueller's Day Off; Planes, Trains & Automobiles (see 18 and up films); and Uncle Buck.

The late Hughes only wrote this installment of the Vacation series, but his deft writing touch is present in a movie with laughs -- but one that is really about a father wanting desperately to give his family a perfect Christmas.

18 and up (truly only for adults)

Trading Places (1983) R

What's not to love about this cast, with Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis? And then there's the late, great Paul Gleason (The Breakfast Club, Die Hard) as Clarence Beeks.

Well-educated and rich Louis Winthorpe III (Aykroyd) trades places with street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy). Toss in two corrupt commodities brokers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy), a $1 bet, a prostitute and millions in frozen orange juice futures, and everything needed for an iconic Christmas comedy is present.

"Looking good, Billy Ray!"

"Feeling good, Louis!"

Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) R

For a while in the 1980s, there wasn't anyone better at making comedies with a heart than John Hughes. This is perhaps his best work. Yes, better than the Brat Pack movies he made or Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

OK, it's a Thanksgiving film, but today is the day before Thanksgiving and this is a holiday movies list, not just a Christmas movies list. Plus, this comedy starring Steve Martin as marketing executive Neal Page and John Candy as shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith is just a pure joy to watch.

A buddy film, a road film and more, Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a cinematic work that blends outrageous shenanigans with heart-warming comedy.

Die Hard (1988) R

It's a simple story: New York City Police Officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) comes to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife and their two kids at Christmas. Then, Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his terrorists show up.

The greatest action film of all time -- yes, the top, the best, No. 1 -- just so happens to be set at Christmas. That's about as Christmas-y as the film gets -- except for one dead terrorist's sweatshirt sporting the words, "Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho," after a run-in with McClane.

Still, Die Hard is a true Christmas classic.

Bad Santa (2003) R

There are thousands and thousands of Christmas movies for children. Maybe millions. But adults also need a break this time of year.

This is probably the most adult of the adult fare here. Bad Santa is a loud, rude and crude dark comedy, but gleefully funny. And in the end, it's worth noting that Santa sot Willie (played by Arkansas native Billy Bob Thornton) discovers the true meaning of Christmas.

Yes, there is a heart of gold in this film that wallows in its offensiveness.

FYI: Bad Santa 2 arrives in theaters today.

Family on 11/23/2016

Print Headline: Togetherness timeout

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