My Seven Essential Christmas DVDs

Here at Surf Report World Headquarters there are seven DVDs that must be enjoyed every Christmas season, lest we run the risk of tearing a hole in the time/space continuum.  Or whatever.

Five we watch as a family, one Toney and I enjoy together, and the last I do solo.  And here they are, The Essentials:

A Charlie Brown Christmas I’ve been watching this all my life, literally, and there’s something very calming and reassuring about it.  Compared to current shows on Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, it feels exceedingly gentle and quiet.  Almost like those Nick Jr. programs produced in Canada, featuring bears wearing vests.

However, there’s a deceptive edge to it.  Many of the kids, you’ll notice, have a mean streak.  They’re not very nice to one another, and are shockingly cruel to Charlie Brown in particular.  That poor round-faced bastard gets shit upon, time and again.

The story is good, the tone is unusual and perfect, and the music is great.  If I’m having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, I pour myself a couple fingers of Makers Mark, and put on this DVD.  A short time later: mood officially adjusted.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer More Christmas comfort food from my childhood…  This is the best of the slightly-freaky Rankin-Bass claymation holiday productions, and an annual must-watch.

The first half of the show is better than the second.  I like the scene with the exasperated gym teacher-like flying instructor, who has no regard whatsoever for the state of Rudolph’s self-esteem.  And then there’s Hermie(?!), the slightly effeminate elf who under-performs at Santa’s toy-making sweatshop, because he secretly longs to be a dentist.  WTF?

Also, you’ve gotta love the grandfatherly and obese snowman, voiced by Burl Ives, who glides around and sings iconic Christmas songs throughout.

When Rudolph and Hermie go on their road trip of self-discovery, I lose interest somewhat.  But it’s still kinda fun, especially when they encounter the Abominable Snowman, who is also slightly effeminate.

Similar to Charlie Brown, Rudolph is treated like crap by his peers.  Until, of course, they figure out a way to exploit him for self-gain.

Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Story I was one of seven or eight people who actually saw this movie as a new release, in a theater.  I remember checking it out because Siskel & Ebert praised it from the balcony.

But it didn’t become a proper holiday classic until years later, after it was released on video and Ted Turner started playing it into the ground on TBS.

And a classic it is.

Co-written and narrated by the late, great Jean Shepherd, it features one unforgettable segment after another.  Flick’s tongue stuck to a metal pole, Ralphie a-cussin’ and a-sluggin’ the evil bully Scut Farkus, the leg lamp, the Red Ryder BB gun, the freaky department store Santa…

I’ve since become a fan of Shepherd’s old radio show, and heard him tell many of the stories that ended up in the movie, on recordings that date as far back as the early 1960s.  For years he urged his listeners to cover New York City with graffiti that read, “FLICK LIVES!”

A Christmas Story will end up being Jean Shepherd’s legacy, proof that he actually walked around on Earth for a while.  And unlike, say, Randy Newman’s “Short People,” it’s not such a bad deal.

‘Cause it’s a great movie, and an enduring holiday classic.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation For years I resisted this one, because it’s Sunshine’s favorite.  Do you ever do that?  Force yourself not to like something, for fear of being lumped-in with a person you don’t want to be lumped-in with?

I do.  But over the past couple of years we’ve bitten the towel, and watched Christmas Vacation, anyway.  And I consider it an error corrected.

It’s big goofy fun, with plenty of memorable moments.  I like the scene in which Chevy/Clark is trying to read a magazine in bed, with Christmas tree sap all over his hands.  And his expressions while eating the emaciated over-cooked turkey make me laugh every time.

And then there’s Cousin Eddie…

Christmas Vacation is not a great movie, but it’s a good time.  And what’s wrong with that?  Nothing, I say.

Due to a decade-long Sunshine-fueled boycott, this is a relatively new addition to The Essentials list.  And it gets better with every viewing.

Elf This one doesn’t get much love, for some reason.  I think it has a lot to do with Will Ferrell’s portrayal of the man-child lead character.  I can see how it might be irritating to some folks…

Not me, however.  I find the whole thing hilarious.  In fact, I think he should’ve won an Academy Award for the role.  Let me check Google for who actually took it in 2003…  Sean Penn in Mystic River?!  Please.  Didn’t he just sit on a porch and cry during that film?  Elf kicks that turd’s ass.

Anyway, the whole family watches it every year, and has a great time with it.  You can file a lawsuit if you’d like…  I find it to be genuinely clever, and funny.  It reminds me of one of my other favorites, Cabin Boy.  Which doesn’t get much love, either.

A few years ago my parents visited at Christmastime, and the boys talked them into watching Elf.  When it was over both my Mom and Dad had looks of utter confusion on their faces.  And my mother said, “How in the world did someone even think-up such a thing?”

Heh.  My sentiments exactly.

Black Christmas This is the one I watch by myself, because it’s an R-rated horror film, and Toney has no interest.

I first saw it during the early days of HBO, under the title Stranger in the House.  And it frightened me so bad there might’ve been some light spotting.  For years I considered it to be the scariest movie I’d ever seen.

It takes place in a sorority house, a few days before Christmas.  The girls start receiving bizarre (and I mean bizarre) phone calls from someone unknown, then begin disappearing, one by one.

The movie corresponds to standard slasher-film formulas, but was made years before Friday the 13th, etc., and is much, much better.

I have a DVD copy squirreled away, and break it out every December.  And while it’s not quite as scary as it seemed in 1976, it still makes me pull the blankets up a little higher in bed.

Someone did a remake a couple years ago, but I haven’t seen it.  I hear it sucks, and have no interest in bringing bad vibes to the Black Christmas experience, thank you very much.

The Homecoming Some folks accuse me of being ironic when I sing the praises of this film.  But that simply ain’t the case.  It’s my favorite Christmas DVD by far, and I couldn’t be more sincere.

The movie takes place during the Great Depression, way out in rural Virginia somewhere, on a plot of land known as Walton’s Mountain.  A big family lives there: the parents, the grandparents, and a metric shitload of children.

The father is working out of town, and is due back for Christmas.  But he’s running late, and a radio news report of an overturned bus — with fatalities — has everyone on edge.

The film works on many levels.  It’s not only a better-than-average made-for-TV movie (the basis for The Waltons series), with a feel-good ending that never fails to put a lump in my cynical throat.  But it’s also filled with some of the best lines of dialogue in cinematic history.

In fact, I don’t think a week has gone by, in a couple of decades, when something hasn’t caused me to crank off a quote from The Homecoming.  Just ask my long-suffering wife…

Patricia Neal’s portrayal of the (slightly crazy?) mother is classic, and the almost-psychedelic scene in which John-Boy is driving Charlie Snead’s car to find his father, is mind-blowing.

“Shoot the turkey, John-Boy!  Shoot him!!”

“I cain’t, daddy.  I want to be just like you daddy, but I hate huntin’…”

Every scene is memorable, almost every line a keeper.  I’ve probably seen it thirty times by now, and shout dialogue at the screen, like a nerd at The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The Homecoming is a cult classic, without a proper cult.  For years it was impossible to find, and I thought about buying a fire safe for my prized VHS copy.  But now it’s readily available on DVD, and I have two copies.

You know, just in case.

So, where did I go wrong?  What did I leave off the list?  What are your Essentials?  Set me straight in the comments.

And this was originally going to be a Suggestaholic post, but it turned out to be a lot longer than planned.  So I’m posting it here.  What of it?

Before I go, here’s something worth revisiting.  You know, since we’re talking holiday cheer…

Have a great weekend, my friends.

I’ll see ya next time.

Surf Report shirts available now!


  1. CADude says

    Let’s see…I’m comment #50-something, and the first to mention “Home Alone”.
    No opinion, though. Just thought I’d throw it out there.

  2. says

    This is totally off subject but you guys have to see this report put out on wasteful spending before it hits FARK.

    Senator Tom Coburn

    Makes me proud to be an American.

    It includes gems like:

    Search for Alaskan Ice Worms – New Jersey ($326,733)

    Captain John Smith Water Trail – Virginia ($446,500)
    Seafaring taxpayers can hardly wait for the completion of the Capt. John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail in 2009 – the nation’s first trail completely under water.



  3. Good2go says

    Bad Santa – saw it in the theatre just before Christmas, went back and saw it again after New Year’s, then bought the DVD as soon as it came out.

    Up here in Canada we no longer get TBS (we get something out of Atlanta called Peachtree TV). Christmas just isn’t the same without the Ralphie marathon.

  4. says

    I like the newer version of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – oddly enough, my kids are watching that right now.

    I like Love, Actually. Yeah, yeah – it is girly and unrealistic. But fukkit – I love it anyway.

    The weird one that I always seem to watch around Christmas is “The Perfect Storm”. Not very uplifting. And why we always watch it around Christmas, I have no earthly idea. It has nothing to do with Christmas whatsoever.

  5. DTO says

    Me and Sis bought Dad (with Mom’s money) one of the Norelco floating head things based on that ad. He was a morning Bermashave and razor guy but I guess the ad worked. I think it’s still ‘new in the box’ as they say on e-Bay.

    The Ref is my total fave!! Bad Santa, Unaccompanied Minors (kinda sappy, kinda cool),

  6. BKB says

    I’m shocked there is only one mention of Miracle on 34th Street…but it HAS to be the original version with an 8-year old Natalie Wood and the quintessential Kris Kringle Edmund Gwynn. Absolute classic – it always gets dusty in the room during a couple of scenes at the end – and I’m a heartless bastard usually…

    That Sebastian Cabot remake was an abomination – don’t waste your time on it

  7. says


    You totally beat me to it… ‘Die Hard’ is indeed one of the best Christmas movies.

    I’ve never been into musicals, even when I was young. So I’ve only seen a few minutes of the majority of Xmas faves… When they started singing, my small young ass was out the door and into another room.

    I know ‘Christmas Story’ isn’t a musical, but I still have never seen it.

    And yes… The remake of ‘Black Christmas’ indeed sucks.

  8. The Evil Twin says

    Damn, Jeff – you pretty much described my Christmas favorites list to a tee!
    I’ve also given Elf a second chance and found things to like about it. I’m with you on The Homecoming. I caught that on TV when I was about 18 and damn near cried. My favorite part of all is still the scene where the Walton kids are lined up to receive the charity Christmas gifts but must recite a bible verse first. The youngest one gets prompted by Mary Ellen with a short verse – “Jesus wept.”
    I just got a good DVD copy of “A Christmas Carol” with Alistair Sim, which is the most definitive, in my book. I saw that as a young kid one Christmas and it creeped me out in ways that no film has since.

    Of all the Christmas movies I’d love to see again, I think I’d kill my mom with a dull axe for a copy of the movie “JT” – a 1969 Christmas TV film starring Kevin Hooks who plays a ghetto kid who saves a cat from certain death and learns to care for it. I cried like a freaking baby when I first saw it. It’s wonderful. It also stars the great Ja’net Dubois (you remember her from a lot of great 70s sitcoms like “Good Times”) as the kid’s mom. Seriously, if anyone out there has a disc of this flick they can dupe for me I’ll happily trade you a copy of anything in my collection of several thousand movies.

  9. EFT says

    Wow, Evil Twin – JT had a big impact on me as well – wish I could see it again, even though it ripped my heart out.

  10. says

    I somehow forgot about “Nightmare Before Christmas” until you mentioned it. My wife hates it, But I LOVE it.

    If given the choice between a spring time trail full of flowers and green things, and a fall time trail full of leafless trees and darkness, I’d choose the latter every time. I have no idea why.

  11. says

    Miracle on 34th Street (B&W) for me. It has become a much loved annual father-son episode for Pa and myself. Sometimes I feel like I live in the Imagi-Nation.

    I once worked in a restaurant/sports bar in between “real” jobs. Our staff Christmas parties were legendary. In order to get everyone in the Christmas spirit, the owner/boss/all around great guy would start the night out with Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (1966) on the BAT. The “catch” was all staff members had to start the movie with a table full of adult beverages and take a gulp every time they said the word “Who”.

    Mix one part 23 year old line cook with two parts 19 year old waitress and all the Who’s in Whoville…

    Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!

  12. says

    Did everyone forget James Stewart in ” It’s a Wonderful Life “, and Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye “White Christmas”, those are Christmas Classics.

  13. Jersey Scott says

    Evil Twin ( and anyone else interested ) – You can see “J.T.” on YouTube. It’s posted in 4 parts and a little tricky to find. After wading past too many Justin Timberlake videos I searced under “JT Christmas” and found the first of 4 chapters. I justed started part one — I’ll watch the whole show some night between now and Christmas when I don’t mind getting all sloppy toward the end. I think you can understand how that might happen.

  14. Uncle Buzz in Wheeling says

    I’m with BKB regarding MO34S.

    Two more:

    1. The best “A Christmas Carol” of all, the 1951 version, with the one and only Alistair Sim as Scrooge. All other versions pale in comparison, plus I’ve seen the DVD for less than 10 bux.

    2. The complete “The Nutcracker” by Tchaikovsky. Try to see it performed live on stage if you can.

    Today’s quote: “Never worry about the size of your Christmas tree. In the eyes of children, they are all 30 feet tall.”
    Larry Wilde, The Merry Book of Christmas

  15. says

    8 an a half hours from RIGHT FREAKIN’ NOW..

    I’ll still be sitting at a desk with a keyboard in front of me…
    only difference is there will not be a cold High Life sweating to my left..

  16. says

    You nailed the list!
    The only one you left out was the Rankin-Bass special with the Heat Miser. I can’t even remember the name of it, but no Christmas would have been the same without it.

  17. says

    I would have to agree with Love, Actually scrooged with bill murray ” Its a TOASTER !!” gotta love diane carol. how the grinch stole christmas, and there is another obcure favorite of mine it lasts maybe 10 mintues. It is a cartoon of a boy and his snowman. The snowman comes to life and they fly all over town. There are no words, just lovely animation and music. I think it is called “The Snowman” but I could be wrong.

  18. Maecenas says

    I can’t believe no one’s yet mentioned this: “Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas”.

    Hey, it features such classics as “There Ain’t No Hole in the Washtub”, “When the River Meets the Sea”, and, of course, “Riverbottom Nightmare Band”. I ask you, what more do you need to enjoy the holidays?

  19. says

    I know this is late, but I had to think about it for a while.

    I think that Estabon, the guy that dresses like Zorro and sells guitars on television, is a living hero. He says that he can teach ANYONE to play guitar. And he makes it so affordable. The man spreads sunshine. Plus, he grows his nails out.

  20. pagan says

    The one that is missing from the list: The Christmas shoes! Dear God I wanted to go postal & kill the cast and the crew! But I was impressed by the obvious Christmas miracle: someone completely absolutely totally mentally retarded had learned how to write a script:)

  21. aminnev says

    Agree with you Jeff except for that ‘horror’ stuff. we’re always quoting the Griswalds this time of year. “Hey, that’s my name. What? Mary. No shit!”

    Plus add ‘While You Were Sleeping’ and ‘Planes, Trains, and Automobiles’. It’s a month off but starts the holidays. Oh, and ‘Family Man’.

  22. Mr Neutron says

    There are some new faves, too – “Olive, the Other Reindeer” ; “A Christmas Carol” (with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge); and “The Hebrew Hammer” (saw it once on Comedy Central and then ordered the DVD as soon as it was released!)

  23. says

    Oh gosh that J,.T. movie was so good! THANK YOU. I remember it from my childhood and what a sad little boy he was, with everyone being so negative toward him. And the bullying and fear he lived with. For some reason I remembered another TV movie that touched me so much that I have looked for over the years and I finally found it on Amazon…&x=13&y=22.

    It’s called “The girl most likely to…” with Stockard Channing (Grease) and Ed Asner. It touched something in me as I was always overweight all my life and suffered some torment and low self confidence because of it. This is a black comedy all about REVENGE. Highly recommended.

  24. Sponge says

    I too saw “A Christmas Story” in the theater. Having been a Jean Shepherd fan before the movie, it was a must see.

    I also saw him live at Princeton U in the ’70’s. One of the funniest comedy shows ever. All he did was tell stories… about for or five of them. They each seemed to be a separate story but at the end he magically linked them all together. Most memorable story: playing naked basebal while in the army and stationed in Africa. His description of the catcher giving signals had me rolling on the floor. If you ever find that one on one of his radio shows, let me know the date, cuz I’ve got all of those on dvd mp3’s too.

  25. says

    Three days late…and more than a few dollars short…

    I never watched A Christmas Vacation until 2000 when I moved back to Detroit from San Francisco. My friends from the University (when I worked there – so think Ph.Ds and other overly educated people) get together every year to watch it. I think I missed one year, so this coming Sunday will be Viewing #7 for me.

    I love A Year Without a Santa Claus (The Miser Bros make it), White Christmas (Come on, Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney – how can you go wrong?), and all of the Bass-Rankins…those are the best.

    I have to agree with whoever said the original Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus.

    I think I saw A Christmas Story in the theater on a date…beat the hell out of the other date movei from that timeframe of my life – Prizzi’s Honor – nothing says date movie like a horse’s head in the bed).

  26. Becki says

    The Little Drummer Boy.

    Christmas isnt Christmas without this one . . .

    A tearjerker with a happy ending from the same folks as Rudolph …

  27. Raleigh Polly says

    I am getting in on this late, but I see that others have already mentioned Bad Santa, which in my opinion belongs on the perfect Christmas movie list. I also saw this movie several times in the theater and own the DVD. And How the Grinch Stole Christmas is another favorite.