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When the weather outside is frightful 

Sometimes you just need a movie break during the holidays. Here are our suggestions on what to watch this season

The term "Christmas movie" means different things to different people. Just like the holiday itself — which can be both universal and extremely personal — we all celebrate in our own way, and certain films speak to us for different reasons. As "Community" once wisely told us, "The meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning. And it can mean whatever we want."

Thankfully, holiday films can come in just about any genre you can imagine, from comedies ("A Christmas Story") to superhero movies ("Batman Returns"); from musicals ("White Christmas") to slasher films ("Christmas Evil"). There's more than a few people out there who feel that "Now I have a machine gun, ho ho ho!" is an even more festive sentiment than "Happy Holidays."

This season is all about tradition, and nothing gets me into the spirit more than curling up on the sofa once the snow starts to fall, wrapping myself up in a cozy blanket, and watching one of my favorite holiday movies. While the old stand-bys can be comforting, sometimes it's good to mix things up and try something new. In preparation for the Yuletide, City has compiled a list of some of the more popular films in a variety of genres, along with some suggestions for alternative viewing. So whether you consider yourself more of a Scrooge or a Tiny Tim, there should be something here that speaks to you.

Family

click to enlarge Home Alone - COURTESY 20TH CENTURY FOX
  • COURTESY 20TH CENTURY FOX
  • Home Alone

Popular choice: "Home Alone"

For many of my generation, Chris Columbus' festive tale of negligent parenting and criminal mischief is the movie for Christmas. If you want to go all out with it, the RPO is even holding a special one-time showing of the film with live orchestral accompaniment on December 12.

Alternative choice: "Millions"

Like "Home Alone," this heartwarming fable also concerns a young boy on the run from a band of thieves. But director Danny Boyle brings a welcome eccentricity to this story of a saint-obsessed boy who decides to do some good with a bag of ill-gotten money that accidentally lands (literally) in his possession.

Comedy

click to enlarge National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS
  • PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS
  • National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

Popular choice: "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"

The misadventures of the Griswolds continue as they prepare for a peaceful family Christmas celebration, with predictably disastrous results.

Alternative choice: "The Ref"

Denis Leary plays a jewel thief who ends up taking a bickering married couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) hostage after a Christmas Eve burglary goes awry. With a caustic sense of humor, the film is a wicked delight, even if it does end up going a bit soft by the end. If you want even more bite, you might want to try "Bad Santa" on for size.   

Romance

Popular choice: "Love Actually"

Why pick just one Christmas-themed love story when you can have them all?

Alternative choice:  "The Shop Around the Corner"

click to enlarge The Shop Around the Corner - PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS HOME VIDEO
  • PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS HOME VIDEO
  • The Shop Around the Corner

You can skip the 3,475th viewing of "It's a Wonderful Life" and still get your Jimmy Stewart fix with this still-hilarious comedy from Ernst Lubitsch. Yes, it inspired a regrettable remake in the form of the instantly dated Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan AOL infomercial "You've Got Mail," but don't hold that against it. Plus, if you want to catch "Shop" on the big screen, it screens at the Dryden Theatre on December 26.

Action

Popular choice: "Die Hard"

"Die Hard" is undeniably the greatest Christmas movie ever made, but there are still worthy substitutes if for some reason you want to give John McClane the year off.

Alternative choice: "Lethal Weapon"

click to enlarge Lethal Weapon - PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS
  • PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS
  • Lethal Weapon

Sure, it's the cream of the crop when it comes to buddy cop movies, but "Lethal Weapon" doesn't always get the holiday love that "Die Hard" enjoys. And that's a shame since the movie is absolutely saturated in Christmas — though this is true of pretty much anything from writer Shane Black's filmography. The guy's got a Yuletide obsession, and just about any of his films — including "The Long Kiss Goodnight," "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," and even "Iron Man 3" — would make worthy substitutes.

Kids

Popular choice: "The Muppet Christmas Carol"

Kermit, Piggy, and the whole gang are joined by Michael Caine in this wonderfully Muppet-tastic retelling of the Charles Dickens classic.

Alternative choice: "Arthur Christmas"

click to enlarge Arthur Christmas - PHOTO COURTESY SONY PICTURES
  • PHOTO COURTESY SONY PICTURES
  • Arthur Christmas

In this wittily inventive adventure from Aardman Studios (working outside their usual medium of stop motion), Santa's well-meaning but accident prone son, Arthur (voiced by James McAvoy), takes it upon himself to make a Christmas Eve delivery in his father's place when one child's present is accidentally left behind.

Horror

Classic choice: "Silent Night, Deadly Night"

click to enlarge Silent Night, Deadly Night - PHOTO COURTESY ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT
  • PHOTO COURTESY ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night

There are few demented pleasures as keen as watching a psychotic Santa Claus unleash a reign of festival terror.

Alternative choice: "Black Christmas"

"Halloween" often gets the credit for inventing the slasher film as we know it today, but this other seasonal horror flick — about a sorority house harassed by disturbing phone calls that turn progressively deadlier — predates it by four years. Fun fact: director Bob Clark is the same guy who brought us "A Christmas Story."

Darkly funny monster movies

Classic choice: "Gremlins"

click to enlarge Gremlins - PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS
  • PHOTO COURTESY WARNER BROS
  • Gremlins

It may be difficult to classify, but this genre-defying classic, in which mischievous little monsters wreaking havoc on a small town, is pure holiday magic. If you need a break from family late on Christmas night, the Little will be showing the film at 10 p.m. on December 25 as part of its ongoing Mondo series.  

Alternative choice: "Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale"

click to enlarge Rare Exports - PHOTO COURTESY SCILLOSCOPE PICTURES
  • PHOTO COURTESY SCILLOSCOPE PICTURES
  • Rare Exports

A mountain excavation awakens Santa Claus, and he's not the jolly old man we think he is in this dark fable from Finland. "Rare Exports" is moodier than "Gremlins," but has the same pitch black sense of humor — imagine a whole movie with the tone of Phoebe Cates' Christmas monologue.

WTF

Classic choice: "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians"

click to enlarge Santa Claus conquers the Martians - PHOTO COURTESY SONY PICTURES
  • PHOTO COURTESY SONY PICTURES
  • Santa Claus conquers the Martians

Holidays or not, sometimes you just want to laugh at a truly terrible movie. For years, this bonkers film about Santa Claus getting kidnapped by Martians has been the schlock of choice for connoisseurs of junk cinema.

Alternative choice: "Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny"

Even more ineptly made than "Martians," this 70's family film follows what happens when a group of children try to help Santa when his reindeer abandon him (thanks for nothing, Blitzen!), leaving him stranded on a beach in Florida. It even comes complete with awful musical numbers. "Ice Cream Bunny" will get a theatrical release this year, courtesy of a Live RiffTrax screening in theaters on Thursday, December 3, and Tuesday, December 15. Honestly, their snarky commentary is the one thing (aside from some spiked eggnog) that might make this bearable.

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