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Here's a good Christmas movie primer
Macaulay Clukin as Kevin in "Home Alone." - photo by Jim Bennett
Im a sucker for a good Christmas movie, but nobody has ever been able to convince me that Chevy Chases Christmas Vacation fits that description. Some people find it hysterically funny, but I find Chase unwatchably smug as he oozes contempt for the kind of good-hearted family man hes supposed to be playing.

Yet, hes somehow the voice of reason in a movie where all old people are buffoons, all religion is tripe and all families are collections of pathological lunatics. The plot is more busy than funny, and I find Im not particularly entertained by exploding cats, burning toupees or 10 minutes of a man emptying his RV toilet into a septic tank.

Id recommend watching A Christmas Story instead. Unlike Christmas Vacation, its a movie that balances a hefty satirical punch with genuine affection for its characters and their Christmas traditions. True, Darren McGavin was about three decades too old for the role of the crusty Midwestern paterfamilias, but hes so delightful in the role that you forgive him everything.

Some think Home Alone is the quintessential Christmas classic, but I just cant fully agree. Sure, it has its moments Macaulay Culkins aftershave scream never fails to get a laugh, and the subplot with the elderly neighbor reconciling with his estranged son always gives me the feels but every time I watch it, I find that its cruder than I remember. And the torturing of the burglars during the climax makes me wince instead of laugh. In real life, those booby traps would leave a man wounded, paralyzed or dead. Thats especially true in the sequel when Culkin repeatedly drops bricks out of a fourth-story window onto Daniel Sterns head. Most people shrug it off as cartoon violence, but it looks and feels all too real to me.

Im a big fan of Elf, though. Will Ferrell is delightful in the title role, but the real gem of that movie is James Caan, whose hysterical slow burn in the face of a long-lost son returning from the North Pole is a thing to behold. He adds enough heft to the paper-thin premise to make the whole thing worth watching. Bonus points for the scene where Ferrell tells the department-store Santa that he sits on a throne of lies.

I love Its a Wonderful Life for the reasons that everyone loves it, but I find that its only inspiring if you dont think about the ending too much. I mean, yes, the town rallies around George Bailey and keeps him from going to jail, and he learns that family and friends are what makes life worthwhile, and all that is great. But after the credits roll, doesnt Bailey have to go back to work at the dreary Bedford Falls Savings and Loan that crushed all of his boyhood dreams? Id feel better about the whole thing if the denouement came with George getting a good job offer that lets him finally pass the savings and loan on to somebody else.

I love the book The Polar Express, but the movie is filled with too much padding and too many dead-eyed Tom Hanks CGI zombies. Scrooged is even meaner than Christmas Vacation, and while I hear that the really bad song Christmas Shoes is now a really bad movie, too. I wont ever watch it unless I get served a subpoena.

My fondest wish, however, is that the best Christmas movie this year turns out to be Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I really hope that in the years to come, I dont have to tell J.J. Abrams that he sits on a throne of lies.