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The best and worst Christmas films

By Matthew Carey, CNN
Movie critic Alonso Duralde names the British adaptation of "Lassie" as his hidden gem of Christmas classics.
Movie critic Alonso Duralde names the British adaptation of "Lassie" as his hidden gem of Christmas classics.
  • "A Christmas Story" will air for 24 hours straight on December 24 on TBS
  • Movie critic Alonso Duralde says the best Christmas movie of all time is "It's A Wonderful Life"
  • His least favorite holiday film is "The Nutcracker in 3D"
  • Christmas
  • Movies
  • Movie Reviews

Los Angeles, CA -- If Christmas shopping has left you wearied and holiday jingles are jangling your very last nerves, there's one sure way to restore your Christmas spirit: Put down those shopping bags, warm up some cocoa and settle in with a Christmas movie.

And lucky for you, there are plenty of viewing options this year. On Christmas Eve, you can watch 24 hours of "A Christmas Story" on TBS, or NBC's broadcast of the classic "It's a Wonderful Life" at 8 p.m. ET.

Movie critic Alonso Duralde is the author of "Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas" (Limelight Editions), a new compendium of Christmas-themed films. Duralde said that at Christmastime, people want "stories about redemption, we want to hear stories about families coming together."

He added: "Even for people who don't get along with their families -- whether or not they see them at the holidays -- they like to nurture the idea that someday, that magical thing will happen where wrongs will be forgiven, and that conversation that is never had will be had and really kind of fix everything ... "

CNN asked Duralde for his professional opinion on the best -- and the worst -- holiday flicks.

Best adaptation of "A Christmas Carol"
"I certainly love the Alastair Sim one [from 1951]. ... He makes a great Scrooge," Duralde said. "I have to say my personal favorite, which is not everyone's cup of tea, is the 1970 musical 'Scrooge' with Albert Finney."

Best "Nutcracker" movie
Duralde votes for the 1993 version, which featured the New York City Ballet and Macaulay Culkin in the role of the prince. Culkin, of course, starred in another beloved Christmas-themed movie: "Home Alone."

Best genre-bending Christmas movie
Duralde's pick is 1944's "Christmas Holiday." Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly star in the ultimate (and probably only) holiday-themed film noir.

Hidden yuletide gem
Duralde recommends a 2005 British adaptation of "Lassie." It's the classic story of a boy and his dog, except in this version, Lassie is separated from the boy and must trek across much of England to be reunited with him in time for Christmas. "If you are not sobbing by the end of this movie, there's something wrong with you," Duralde said.

"It's heartbreaking, but it's so wonderful. ... A lot of people don't know [it] exists, but they should really check it out. Great for the whole family, but even if you don't have kids, you'll love it."

Best scary Santa movie
Santa, after all, can be a terrifying figure. Just think of all those tiny tots who scream in terror after they're plunked down on the lap of a mall Santa. The movies, too, have their share of scary St. Nicks. By way of example, Duralde points to "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale," a Finnish film released earlier this year. "It's about a crew of oil diggers in Lapland who come across the grave of Santa Claus and revive him, and he goes on a killing spree. Not for the kids, but it's pretty entertaining."

Linking horror and the holidays is not as big a stretch as one might imagine, Duralde said. "Let's not forget the most popular holiday story in the English language is 'A Christmas Carol,' and that's a ghost story."

Best Christmas movie of all time
Duralde votes for "It's a Wonderful Life." "It's the obvious choice, but ... I never get bored with [it]," he said. "I find that it's always satisfying. It has the sweep of 'A Christmas Carol' in that it covers a lot of ground and has a lot of characters and a lot of things that happen, but it really does take you on this great emotional journey to just the lowest lows and the highest highs."

Interestingly, the 1946 Frank Capra film is not the most popular Christmas movie of all, at least according to's recent survey of its readers. That honor went to "A Christmas Story", which drew 19% of votes. Capra's classic came in fourth, with 15% of votes. Clarence, you'll have to work harder to earn those wings.

Worst Christmas movie of all time
"There's worst watchable, and there's worst unwatchable," Duralde said. "Worst watchable I really love is the Mexican [film] 'Santa Claus' from 1959, where Santa and his friend Merlin team up to fight the devil to save Christmas. ... Supremely nutty.

"I'd say the worst unwatchable Christmas movie is in theaters now, and it's called 'The Nutcracker in 3D'. It is torture. It is unbearably bad and so misguided. ... It's a fiasco."