The New Holiday Classics: Christmas Movies For The Next Generation

Welcome to the end of 2015 and, more specifically, welcome to the end of the 2015 holiday season. Starting tomorrow, seasonal decorations will officially start to come down, Christmas songs will vanish from the radio, and the usual holiday movies will be packed away until next year.

And maybe we should leave them packed for a little while. Much like how it's nearly impossible to pen a new Christmas song that gains any traction alongside the tried-and-true classics, a handful of movies grip the final weeks of every year with an iron fist. Many of these movies are legitimate classics that have earned their status, but let's face it – it's time for a change. It's time to shake up the Christmas movie canon. We have an entire year to prepare, so let's take a moment and induct a few new movies into our annual rotation. Let's end this holiday season by ensuring that we have something fresh and new to watch next year.

Welcome to the New Holiday Canon, a collection of newer films and lost gems that deserve to be in the conversation every December.

The Go-To, Nonstop Holiday Movie: Elf (2003)

What It Should Replace: A Christmas Story

Why It's a New Classic: Jon Favreau's 2003 family comedy about a human raised by elves was warmly received upon release, but it's spent the past 12 years steadily growing into an annual tradition for families, as well as the go-to "holiday movie to have on a loop" in the department store of your choice. It's hung around for a reason: Elf is charming and sweet and just irreverent enough to get the older kids to gather around the television with their younger families.

Like A Christmas Story, it manages to blend innocence and cynicism in equal measure, acknowledging the hypocrisies of the holiday season while ultimately embracing the traditional and admittedly saccharine elements of other holiday favorites. If there has to be a movie that everyone finds themselves watching ad nauseam each December, you can do far worse than this.

The Christmas Action Classic: Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

What It Should Replace: Die Hard

Why It's a New Classic: Let's not have the "Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?" debate. We've had that one before. Too many times. People are always going to watch John McTiernan's action masterpiece when the holidays roll around thanks to its seasonal setting and holiday-flavored dialogue ("Now I have a machine gun; ho ho ho"). But if you're going to deliberately go against the grain and watch something gnarly and bloody in lieu of something sweet and family-friendly, why not shake things up and go with Shane Black's Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang?

Set during Christmas and filled with holiday imagery, this is the kind of movie that uses "the most wonderful time of the year" as a background for noir-tinged plotting, filthy jokes, violent gun battles, and hilarious "buddy cop" antics from Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer. Like Die Hard, it's barely a Christmas movie, but its festive theming is the perfect excuse to make a movie this fun a tradition.

The Hilarious Endurance Test: The Magic Christmas Tree (1964)

What It Should Replace: The Star Wars Holiday Special

Why It's a New Classic: For years, movie fans have tortured themselves and others with bootleg copies of The Star Wars Holiday Special, the infamously terrible debacle that George Lucas spent years failing to bury. But for fans of the odd, the unusual, and the inexplicable, there's a far superior example of seasonal WTF-ery available for your so-not-ready-for-this eyes.

The Magic Christmas Tree is one of the best bad movies you will ever see, 60 minutes of jaw-dropping lunacy that you have to see to believe. Things start weird (a witch gives a boy a magic ring), get weirder (he uses the ring to create a talking Christmas tree that can grant three wishes), and then steadily descend into unintentional horror and depravity. Of course, none of this is intended to be unsettling – The Magic Christmas Tree thinks it's a heartwarming kids' story – but the film is so tone deaf and odd that is has to be seen to be believed.

The Movie With Every Feeling: Love and Peace (2015)

What It Should Replace: Love Actually

Why It's a New Classic: If you're looking for a sweet and endearing movie that runs the gamut of every single emotion known to humankind... you should watch Love Actually. It's readily available and popular and time-tested and no number of thinkpieces will undo its sweet pleasures. But if you want to take things to the next level and don't mind doing a little hunting, Sion Sono's Love and Peace is your next great adventure. The story of an office drone whose magical, wish-granting turtle (yes) transforms him into a pop star, this genre-hopping oddity is sweet and strange and powerfully moving when it's not drowning you in melancholy.

This is the only Christmas movie you will ever see that features armies of living toys, talking housepets, full-blown musical numbers, and a massive kaiju attack sequence. While the film is ultimately hopeful and joyous, it is also brutally honest about the season it depicts holidays. Love and Peace gets It's a Wonderful Life-style dark in its second act, but this deep dive into sorrow is necessary for the exhilarating conclusion. After all, wishes and dreams only come true after you've pulled yourself out of the muck. Unfortunately, Love and Peace isn't widely available yet (it played the film festival circuit throughout 2015), so go pick up a region-free Blu-ray player and keep your eyes open. Adventurous movie fans are going to want this one in their library.

The Go-to Holiday Horror Movie: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

What It Should Replace: Gremlins

Why It's a New Classic: I didn't set out to write about Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale three times in as many months, but what can I say? Jalmari Helander's dark comedy about an archeological dig unearthing an ancient and not-so-nice Santa Claus is a rollicking adventure, a nasty horror flick, and a surprisingly effective tale of fathers and sons finding common ground. Most importantly, it's a Christmas movie through and through, with all of the laughs and scares organically emerging from a story that has the holiday season in its bones. You can practically smell the eggnog and gingerbread (and blood) in every frame. Like Gremlins, here is a macabre (but not unpleasant) horror movie that wears its seasonal setting on its sleeve like a badge of honor.

The Unlikely Documentary: I Am Santa Claus (2014)

What It Should Replace: Miracle on 34th Street

Why It's a New Classic: Strip away the festive and colorful trappings and the holiday season is all about sacrifice. You spend your money to purchase gifts for your loved ones. You utilize your valuable time to travel and make connections with family. While a little sloppy in its presentation, the documentary I Am Santa Claus understands this and refuses to sugarcoat the lives of its subjects: professional mall Santas.

These men spend the bulk of the year scraping by, living on the cash they earn in the final weeks of the year by getting in costume and igniting the imagination of countless children. Although former professional wrestler and Christmas aficionado Mick Foley is our tour guide through this world, it's the non-celebrity subjects that prove the most captivating. These men live such different lives – some live in comfort while others struggle on a daily basis – but they're all connected by their desire to create magic, to live in a world that doesn't exist and make dreams come true. This movie will change the way you look at every mall Santa – there is a human being under that beard.