Mike Check: No Elf on a shelf

IMDB.com photo"It's a Wonderful Life" is sports reporter Mike Whitlow's favorite Christmas movie while sports editor Steve T. Gorches has turned against it as he's gotten older.

What defines a good Christmas movie?

That question can't be answered with a simple answer. There's plenty that goes into a solid Christmas movie. The cast, the story and the humor (because you have to have humor) are all vital to a good Christmas film. It's almost like a good sports organization or any other movie for that matter, only Santa Claus is usually involved in the discussion.

When I was asked to pick my favorite and least favorite Christmas movies, it was easy to think of plenty. The hard part came in trying to figure out which ones I actually liked and which ones I don't.

I picked a list of my five favorites and included the backstories behind my choices, along with five movies you should avoid more than your aunt's lackluster version of chocolate chip cookies that your cousins are leaving out for Santa.

The best of the best ...

5. (Tie) The Year Without a Santa Claus/The Nightmare Before Christmas: I couldn't pick just one in the final slot here, so I picked two animated films that I watch every single year without any hesistation: The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Year Without a Santa Claus. The former is a movie about a man named Jack Skellington, who discovers Christmas during an adventure in his native Halloween Town, while the latter film is about Santa Claus catching a bad cold and putting the Christmas holiday at risk of not happening. You can't tell me Jack wouldn't be a dominant big man on the hardwood. His size and length? He'd be a superstar.

And as for the latter, I just watch the latter one for the Miser Brothers. They're amazing.

4. The Best Man Holiday: Let me preface this film with this: The Best Man Holiday isn't a five-star movie, but a predominantly black cast was a refreshing sight to behold and helped me enjoy this one more. Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, the lovely Nia Long and the ageless Regina Hall all star in this one. It's a bit goofy at times thanks to Terrence Howard's role, but it's a movie I enjoy for the humor and for the lessons learned about friendship, faith and family ... oh, and football too, I guess.

3. Die Hard: Let's end this debate now: Die Hard is and always has been a Christmas film, and an excellent one at that. Bruce Willis and the late great Alan Rickman as the villain Hans Gruber? This should be in your movie rotation during the holiday season without any questions asked. Yippee ki-yay.

2. Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas: No disrespect to Jim Carrey, but there's only one Grinch and that's the one voiced by Boris Karloff (who actually voices the narrator, too!) in 1966. I watch this on every Christmas Eve night. It's my own tradition and one of my favorite films to watch this time of year. It's an absolute classic.

1. It's a Wonderful Life: Ah, yes. The classic black-and-white film starring James Stewart, the handsome devil from Indiana in Pennsylvania. Stewart plays a down-on-his-luck husband/father that gets to see what his life is if he didn't exist. It's a personal favorite of mine because it's my mother's favorite movie ever. The part when his character says he'll lasso the Moon for Mary? I'm still waiting to use that one on my crush. Beautiful movie.

And the bad ones ...

5. Miracle on 34th Street (from 1947): Hi, I'm here to tell you that the newer 1994 version of this movie is better than the 1947 version. It's not an opinion. It's just a fact.

4. Batman Returns: Believe it or not, Batman Returns with Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader is a Christmas movie. Even with Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken and Danny DeVito as The Penguin in the cast, this was easily the worst pre-Christian Bale Batman film made. It's really bad. Just watch the original from 1989 with Prince's music.

3. Jingle All The Way: As a kid, I actually enjoyed this movie ... until I realized that the only role I actually like seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger in is The Terminator. Not even young Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) could help this one out. It's not worth your time. Plus, the next-door neighbor (the late Phil Hartman) is creepy.

2. A Christmas Story: Oh yes, I went there. This isn't really so much about the film itself. It's about that 24-hour marathon every year. Why? It's not that good to be shown that many times. Sorry, folks. Don't shoot your own eyes out trying to watch it for a full day.

1. Elf: Yes, Elf is awful and you should feel awful for liking this movie if you do. It's arguably Will Ferrell's most annoying role ever and it stinks. Thankfully, Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage beats him up in one scene, so it's not completely bad.

Just missing the good cut: Home Alone (1 and 2), Jack Frost (1998), Friday After Next, Lethal Weapon, The Polar Express and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation.

And more bad ones: Santa with Muscles, Christmas with the Kranks, Santa's Slay, I'll Be Home for Christmas and Jack Frost (1997) might be one of the worst films ever made.

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