Top 5 guilty pleasure films for the holidays

Arts and culture reporter Brandon King ranks his top five guilty pleasures of the holiday season

There are plenty of holiday classics out there, but what about the guilty pleasures? What about the films that, admittedly aren't very good, but have a special place just during the holidays? I want to shine a light on some of my favorites, so here are my top five holiday guilty pleasure movies.

5. "Love, Actually" (2003)

Director Richard Curtis gives us a holiday anthology of sorts, telling 10 different stories of love during Christmastime in the U.K. These range from the Prime Minister, played by Hugh Grant, possibly falling for his secretary, to a father, played by Liam Neeson, helping his son get to know his elementary school crush.

This is the one entry on this list that I actually debated whether to put on or not because I actually think this is a good movie. However, in the few years since I've seen it, I've heard a lot of people say they either don't like it or only like it around the holidays — and I can see why. 

The intermingling storylines, while cleverly set up, end up getting varying amounts of screen time, and while you might identify with your favorites, most people won't love all of them. But as with most Richard Curtis films, there's a sense of fuzzy warmth you get from this movie — from its bright set design to Craig Armstrong's score. I think it's worth a shot even if calling it a 'guilty pleasure' isn't totally accurate.

Reel FX Creative Studios | IMDb

Woody Harrelson, Owen Wilson and Amy Poehler play Jake, Reggie and Jenny in Free Birds (2013).


4. "Free Birds" (2013)

Alright this one gets weird. A turkey named Reggie, voiced by Owen Wilson, is pardoned by the president on Thanksgiving. Then Reggie is kidnapped and recruited by another turkey named Jake, voiced by Woody Harrelson, to enact a plan. What is the plan? Well obviously, to steal a government time machine to go back in time and make it so turkeys are never on the menu for Thanksgiving. Can they do it, or is the task just too much for two turkeys to fix?

Finally, a Thanksgiving movie ... now we're talking! Admittedly, this is probably the worst movie on this list and it's nowhere near as good as some other holiday flicks. However, I'd be lying if I said it didn't make me chuckle a few times, and while the animation is nothing close to excellent, I've seen worse.

At the very least, it's a film that tries to have a considerate message about reliance on meat, which is pretty difficult to pull off in a kid's film. If you need something to entertain the kids after the big meal, you could do worse than "Free Birds."

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation | IMDb

Bryan Cranston and James Franco play Ned Fleming and Laird Mayhew in Why Him? (2016).


3. "Why Him?" (2016)

Ned Fleming, played by Bryan Cranston, is trying to keep his printing company afloat when he find out his daughter Stephanie, played by Zoey Duetch, is dating Laird Mayhew, a tech billionaire played by James Franco. Ned and the family go to California to meet Laird, who tries everything in his power to convince the family that proposing to Stephanie is a worthwhile idea. 

One advantage holiday comedies have over their non-jolly counterparts is that they don't have to make me laugh consistently, but at least have a degree of heart to them. "Why Him?" does both just enough, and I can admire it for that. 

Franco and Cranston have a great back-and-forth with the cast (Keegan-Michael Key as the butler is the best part of this movie), and there are hints of some ideas about families and in-laws. Yes, Duetch is horribly underutilized, the cameos are dumb and its jokes never quite feel as poignant as they should, but I still enjoyed watching it and maybe you will too. 

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation | IMDb

Tim Allen and David Krumholtz play Santa and Bernard in The Santa Clause 2 (2002).


2. "The Santa Clause Trilogy" (1994, 2002, 2006)

In the first film, Scott Calvin, played by Tim Allen, and his son Charlie, played by Eric Lloyd, accidentally kill Santa Claus, prompting Scott to take up the mantle of Santa before the next Christmas. The sequels have Scott discovering he has to take a wife to keep being Santa, as well as coming into conflict with Jack Frost, played by Martin Short.

I know there are some people who legitimately like the first "Santa Clause" film, but I think the rose-colored glasses are tinting some perception. These are three very odd Christmas movies that make a lot of very odd decisions, and yet, I think there's something to be said about them. 

The version of the North Pole and the lore of the films is kind of unique in the pantheon of Santa backstories. Allen, even if the comedy doesn't always land, tries to portray Santa as constantly learning things over the course of the series. It's a series that, while maybe not the best of the holiday comedies, is fine for what it is and, if people have fond memories of these movies, I won't blame them. 

1. "Home Alone 3" (1997) 

In the third movie of the 90s franchise, Alex Pruitt, played by Alex D. Linz, receives a toy car from an old woman as a present for shoveling snow. However, in a completely normal holiday twist, it turns out the car has been fitted with a microchip that a team of criminals were supposed to steal. When Alex stays home from school with chickenpox, the criminals attempt to steal the car, causing hijinks along the way. 

I remember seeing this movie all the time on television when I was younger, and I can still enjoy it through those memories. The story and traps are absolutely ridiculous (even in the context of the series), Linz is not Macaulay Caulkin and director Raja Gosnell is definitely not Chris Columbus. 

What "Home Alone 3" does is embrace a lot of that 90s-era kid movie craziness, while still having a good degree of heart. I liked the relationship between Alex and the old woman, the dysfunctional relationship of the four robbers and the difference in family dynamics. 

Let me be clear: watch the first two "Home Alone" films first — those are good movies. However, I'd give this one a shot too, and it's always a fun, if very imperfect, reminder of the holidays.


Reach the reporter at brandon.D.King@asu.edu or follow @TheMovieKing45 on Twitter.

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