Am I the only one who finds most Christmas movies hypocritical? They spend tens of millions on lavish productions, recreating Santa’s workshop or some such, all to tell us that Christmas is not about material things but about simple pleasures. It’s enough to make you long for the homespun, slightly threadbare charms of a classic Christmas movie, like “Meet Me in St. Louis,” released 70 years ago this week (on November 22, 1944).
People remember the film for its radiant Judy Garland performance and its classic songs, but it’s also worth noting that the family portrayed here is not always prosperous and happy. Its signature scene is angry little Margaret O’Brien whacking the snowmen to pieces, and its signature musical number is the saddest and most wistful of all Christmas standards, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song that yearns for happier times, “if the fates allow.” Sometimes, as the song observes, Christmas is just about families trying to “muddle through somehow.”
In that spirit, here’s a list of the all-time best Christmas movies ever made, the ones that acknowledge the joy and exuberance of the holiday season and its anxiety and stress as well. These are films we turn to over and over each December because they remind us, at a time of year when expectations are lofty, of both who we are and of who we aspire to be.