Top holiday DVD picks


You don't always have to be on the fly to enjoy a holiday movie. There are several classics on DVD and home video that are worth renting, if they're not a permanent part of your home library already.  Here are five @ The Movies recommendations from holidays past and present that you can watch while roasting chestnuts on an open fire.

"It's a Wonderful Life" (1946): Starring the late, great Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, this magical Frank Capra film is arguably one of the best holiday films, if not best films, period, of all time. The film finds a despondent businessman George Bailey (Stewart) on Christmas Eve, ready to take his own life until an angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) shows him how drastically different life in Bedford Falls, N.Y., would have been if Bailey were never born. And with the evil banker, Mr. Potter (a deliciously villainous Lionel Barrymore) in charge of the town that never got to experience Bailey's positive influence, things aren't looking very pretty. It's a real tearjerker that never grows tired.

"White Christmas" (1954): Not nearly as serious as "It's a Wonderful Life," "White Christmas" follows a pair of Army buddies-turned-entertainers Bob Wallace and Phil Davis (Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) and a sister-singing duo Betty and Judy Haynes (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) who come together to stage a show to save a resort owed by Wallace and Davis' former Army commander. The musical includes such standout songs as "Sisters" and "Gee! I Wish I Was Back in the Army" and is topped off by Crosby and company singing the Irvin Berlin classic, "White Christmas."

"A Christmas Story" (1983): Starring a fresh-faced Peter Billingsley, "A Christmas Story" tells the sweet tale of Ralphie (Billingsley) and his quest to get a Daisy Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas. It's set in Indiana, with Ralphie's working-class dad (Darren McGavin) nailing the role as the tight-fisted Old Man. To say "A Christmas Story" is just the story of one kid's Christmas is like saying "It's A Wonderful Life" is about how George Bailey is a guy who lives in Bedford Falls.  Like the Capra classic, "A Christmas Story" is about life, love, growing up, growing old and appreciating the things that matter.

"The Santa Clause 2" (2002): The best of "The Santa Clause" trilogy, this family romp finds Allen's tenure as St. Nick coming to an end unless he can find a Mrs. Claus. He finds his match in Carol Newman (Elizabeth Mitchell), a school principal, who, along with her staff, learns what it's like to be a kid again thanks to Santa's magic. The film is a wonderful trip down memory lane for baby boomers, as Santa manages to tap into their childhood memories by providing adults with the nostalgic toys they grew up with.

"Elf" (2003):  "Elf" is a raucous family comedy about Buddy, an orphaned toddler who accidentally stows himself away in Santa's (Ed Asner) sack of presents and ends up at the North Pole. Adopted there by one of Santa's head elves (Bob Newhart), Buddy (Will Ferrell) grows up to be an outcast because of his unwieldy size and definitive lack of toy-making talent.  Urged to find his real father (James Caan) in New York City, Buddy discovers a town loaded with a load of people who have lost their belief in Christmas, and it's up to him to turn it around.  It's easily one of Ferrell's best performances in a film not only because of his humor, but also for a magical childlike innocence and vulnerability comparable to Tom Hanks' brilliant performance in "Big."

Of course, there are several others on DVD that are worth mentioning, including the 1947 version of "Miracle on 34th Street," "The Polar Express" (2004), "Scrooged" (1988)  and the perennial television classics, "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964), "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" (1970), "Frosty the Snowman" (1969) and both the animated and feature film versions of "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (1966 and 2000, respectively).

And that's it for the recommendations for holiday films past and present. Happy Holidays!