Is Home Alone The Best Christmas movie of All Time?

Could 1990 comedy Home Alone be the best Christmas movie of all time?

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Gremlins is great and Elf is ace. Bad Santa is bitchin’ and The Muppets Christmas Carol is sensational, inspirational, celebrational, and Muppetational. Die Hard is dead good, Miracle On 34th Street is magic, and It’s A Wonderful Life is truly, erm, wonderful.

None of them, though, can confidently state that they are the Best Christmas Movie of All Time. Only one film can claim that title, and that film is Home Alone, which is undoubtedly and without question the Best Christmas Movie of All Time. There might be space for a debate as to whether Home Alone 2: Lost In New York deserves the prestigious label but, really, with Home Alone being the original article I think it’s only right that we let it stand as number one.

There’s a chance that this might be news to you, and you may be taken aback by the revelation that Home Alone is the best seasonal blockbuster ever conceived and brought to screen. You may be hollering “I demand an explanation!” and so, duly, I’ll explain it to you. First, though, I just want you to know that Home Alone‘s optimum status does not make your personal favorite festive flick an inferior or bad film. It just means that it’s not the Best Christmas Movie of All Time.

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It’s also crucial that you know that Home Alone isn’t just the Best Christmas Movie of All Time because I say it is. Science has proven that the John Hughes-penned, Chris Columbus-directed classic of 1990 is the ultimate filmic Yule affair in a number of surveys and experiments conducted by illustrious institutions the world over. The brightest mathematicians specialising in motion picture data analysis, statistics and logic have all concurrently come to the same conclusion – that it’s impossible to top the story which has latchkey kid Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) taking on two thieves on Holy Night.

I won’t put the findings of those investigations before you because they’re very heavy on complex jargon and inaccessible intellectual terminology. Instead, I’ll cite the testimonies of several people who are (or were) never wrong. “Home Alone is to Christmas what Groundhog Day is to Groundhog Day,” said Bill Murray, allegedly, at a December party somewhere at some point amidst the wispy snow-flecked mists of time. “What is best in life? To crush your enemies, see them suffer in your own booby-trapped abode and hear their lamentations ring out on the frosty twilight winds,” said Conan the Barbarian to the Khitan horder during one winter solstice feast.

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It’s anticipated that Home Alone will be the movie taken back by future time-travellers to screen across No Man’s Land after the famous truce football match of 1915 (we’ll never know for certain, because those events will have occurred in an alternate timeline). Pope John Paul II once whispered to an associate that, as far as he was concerned, Home Alone was the most-transcendent family-friendly entertainment for the festive season and the film that best embodied the values of the holy holiday.

According to Kenneth Branagh’s unauthorized and unpublished ghost-written autobiography All-Bran Flakes, “It really is the artform at its highest – spiritually, sensually and cerebrally… well, as far as seasonally-specific commercial pictures go”. Ingmar Bergman – the Swedish auteur famed for such bleak existential artworks as The Seventh Seal and Persona – is well known to have raged that he wished he could make a motion picture “as pure, shockingly visceral and as soul-stirring” as Home Alone.

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Anyway, enough of the cranberry sauce and let’s get to the stuffing (or talk turkey, or roast the potatoes or some other confused Christmas dinner metaphor). Home Alone is indeed the Best Christmas Movie of All Time because it covers all the season-specific bases, is replete with jingle bell spirit and effectively embodies the Four Fundamental Principles of Christmas. Those principles are: ‘Excess’, ‘Iconography’, ‘Generosity’ and ‘Family’. I’ll bring them out and light ’em up for closer inspection later. (It will be like the flaming Christmas pudding, brought out for you towards the end of this awkward engagement and by then you may be drunk and more amenable to all the silly madness that you’re experiencing for reasons that remain vague.) 

Home Alone is infused with frivolous merriment, sentimentalism, music and snow and it takes place during the days counting down to Jesus’ birthday. As far as backdrop goes everything is just fine for a film which deftly uses Christmas as a narrative engine on which to power a resonant comedy-action-drama.This super-charged feature continues to resound, but it’s not what you might call a ‘timeless’ movie because, superficially it’s dated pretty badly. Nevertheless, that in fact only further strengthens its status as the absolute Best Christmas Movie of All Time.

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Christmas is a celebration that lives and revels in the past and in our minds we picture the festival as either the ancient Biblical Nativity, as an antiquated Dickensian scene or as our own childhood. We’ll never be able to create the perfect Christmas because it’s an unattainable myth that exists in one of those three imaginative frameworks, “Somewhere in my Memory” to quote the lyrics of John Williams’ theme song. Home Alone is the latter kind – both textually and meta-textually (At least, it is if you’re like me and were a child when the definitive Home Alone movies first appeared.)

Columbus’ flick represents both a childhood long left behind and, indeed, a bygone age that doesn’t make sense anymore viewed from the 21st century. The entire premise of Home Alone is now an impossibility, because how could a child end up accidentally abandoned and declared missing in this new Millennium of mass communication? With post-War on Terror airport security checks being what they are, the McCallister parents couldn’t possibly get on a plane to Paris without noting that one of their group is AWOL.

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Today, Kevin would be live-tweeting his ordeal, sticking giddy selfies all over cyberspace and then – if he started to feel frightened and forlorn – signing-in to Skype to call up his folks in France. It’s actually quite fascinating and strangely comforting to revisit this quaint pre-internet, pre-mobile phone era of VHS tapes and 4:3-ratio TVs. Furthermore, with regard to its precise place in history, as a film it also marks the timely convergence of John Hughes in his peak with a star about to go stellar and a cultural environment that was ideal for Home Alone‘s explosion as an international mega-hit. Fortune was on this film’s side, the cosmos aligned and a new Noël legend was born to rule over the Earth. 

Made today, it’s more likely that this picture would bomb. It’d probably be recognized as a market-tested, lowest common denominator product pitched directly at kids – I’m willing to bet highly-puerile without any guile – or possibly as a po-faced yuletime spin on Panic Room. As it is, Home Alone represents a specific moment in time, crystallised in a snowglobe of perfect conditions for its ascendance to be ‘The Best Christmas Movie of All-Time’. Even so, while it may function as a time capsule document it’s simultaneously a very relevant and relatable portal into modern childhood and the everlasting magic of Christmas.

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The secret to Home Alones longevity is its sublime balancing of a sense of peril and menace, a sense of fun and a sense of sweet Christmassy-ness – all elements beautifully expressed by John William’s wonderful score. The other reason it endures is its eternal youthfulness, for this is the holiday that is most centred around children and, through Kevin’s ordeal, we really acknowledge that and feel it on a cognitive and sensory level.

This is a very knowing film of sharp wit and sophistication, but as a screenwriter John Hughes was the best in the business when it came to writing young people. Just as with all his other teen and family-orientated comedy-dramas, Home Alone feels like a film that has been formed as a collaboration between Hughes, Columbus (a great director of child actors) and their pre-teen muse Macaulay Culkin – the High Prince of the Hughes oeuvre, and I’ll discuss him in more detail shortly. Though the movie is written and shot by smart, very aware adults, it’s most remarkable for its childish heart and mind (in the best way).

Home Alone is aglow with innocence, playfulness and a refreshing absence of malice, when you get down to the soul of it all. Experiencing most of the movie from Kevin’s wide-eyed viewpoint, we come to appreciate everything from a youngster’s perspective and that means we get a very especial, imaginative understanding of his little world. In this paradigm a house becomes more than a living space – it becomes an adventure with the stairs reconfigured as a sled run, the laundry chute as a target range and the vast gap between the main building and the treehouse envisioned as a zip-wire route.

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I’m sure Jackie Chan would approve of the way in which every object and area of the McCallister mansion is adapted so that it can be used as a weapon or platform on which to stage a stunt set-piece. When those glorious sequences do happen they tend to unfold according to the laws of cartoon physics, Harry and Marv flying high and getting whacked up like live-action duplicates of Wile E Coyote or Tom to Kevin’s Roadrunner or Jerry.

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The Looney Tunes aspect goes beyond the third-act spectacle and is deeply ingrained in the characterisation as all the cast around Kevin are painted in thick broadstrokes. After all, folk seldom wants subtlety during Christmas and “The Wet Bandits” are the perfect pair of dumb villains for both this particular tale and for the season. Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern are pantomime boo-hiss baddies par excellence and, besides the despicable scheming and genuine threat, they provide terrific physical and verbal comedy and an odd, ugly charm.

Watching Pesci spit out lines like “You bomb me with one more can, kid, and I’ll snap off your cajones and boil ’em in motor oil!” is truly a Christmas present to treasure. Off the top of my head – a head that hasn’t been torched by a hidden homemade flamethrower – I can’t recall any movie villain duo who are as much fun and who have as much chemistry as Harry and Marv. 

Then the pre-eminent imbecile antagonists are treated appropriately and we rejoice in happy holiday schadenfreude as their faces are smashed with irons and paintbuckets, their bodies are glued-and-feathered and they’re put out cold on ice, repeatedly. The result is maximum pain for maximum pleasure, punctuated by the smarting, infuriated Pesci doing his best Muttley impression.

“Rushza-fruzzsha-vrusszha,” indeed, and then there are also the supplementary villains of this tinsel-festooned tableau – the McCallister family themselves. They too are about as subtle as the bricks that Kev lobs at his nemeses in his later New York jaunt. His parents – the unfeasibly wealthy and virile Catherine O’Hara and John Heard – aren’t so terrible, because parents can’t be all bad. (“Don’t you feel like a heel flying first class with all the kids back in coach?” the soon-to-be-very sorry and devastated Mom McCallister asks her husband moments before her innate maternal empathetic-telepath connection kicks in.)

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Their offspring and extended family, however, are a band of archetypal awful relations gift-wrapped for intolerable December get-togethers. Every single individual in the group of umpteen siblings and cousins is an obnoxious meanie and there are way too many of them, so we can well understand poor Kevin’s oxymoronic mission statement, “when I grow up and get married, I’m living alone!” You only need look at the way they glare at him after the pizza-fight-and-spilled-Pepsi sequence – the low-angle pan shot showing a pantheon of faces expressing nothing but utter contempt for the runt in their pack.

The most disturbing is Buzz (Devin Ratray) – the ugly older brother who pounds on and humiliates our hero and gets off lightly every time. This dumb jockstrap is so insecure about his naff haircut and his sexual frustration that he picks on the black (erm, blonde) sheep of the family to make himself feel better. Also note his pet tarantula (dread-inspiring power symbol), stash of badly-hidden Playboy mags and his self-appointed role as scare-story teller and terrorist-in-chief in this unit. Buzz is pretty much the manifest dictionary definition of ‘total prick’ – yes, it’s in my dictionary – and his serial assaults on mostly-innocent Kevin earn him victory over the Grinch as Yuletide’s Apex A-Hole.

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As for the rest, standouts would be cousin Fuller (played by Macaulay’s brother Kieran Culkin) who would deliberately wet the bed in order to upset our the beleaguered lead protagonist. The very worst of them all though is the irredeemable Uncle Frank – a hyperbole of a jerk whose only saving grace is the sing-along-a-shower-scene in the sequel (“Awwww, you’re cookin’, Frankie!”).

Altogether, when contrasted with those odious, mean-spirited figures, Kevin emerges as a pleasant young man of intelligence, wit, pluck and compassion. Nifty dialogue, considerate deeds and Culkin’s natural charisma cumulatively secure our sympathy and endear him to the audience as a guardian angel, permanently etched into posterity in that pose echoing Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream .

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We feel for Kevin and – quite fittingly, considering that he appears to have no friends apart from an allusion to a schoolmate in a bird jumper – we find him to be a pretty cool little buddy. This may be surprising if you consider that, on the surface, Kevin is a spoiled rich white kid living large in the safe Chicago suburbs. What’s more, he’s taking out his aggression on an unfortunate lower class pair doomed to lives of crime by virtue of their deprived background and lack of decent education. (Marv is clearly illiterate and in Home Alone 2 Harry informs us that he “never made it to the sixth grade.”)

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Still, despite his privilege, the youngest of the McCallister dynasty is clearly underappreciated and abused as an inferior relation and there’s something of Cinderella about his plight. His wish coming true, he defies his domineering relatives, gets to ball it up as he pleases and live his dream for a magic moment. With him we indulge ourselves in the fairytale of carefree time that is the Christmas holiday – where you’re encouraged to do nothing but stay at home, play around, eat absolute junk and watch old movies (namely, the classic gangster pastiche Angels With Filthy Souls) all day long without any sense of guilt or anxiety. 

Home Alone absolutely nails the annual festivity on both the aesthetic level and on a deeper, more esoteric level. It observes all of the aforementioned Four Fundamental Principles of Christmas, and I’ll take you through them each in turn now. (This is the Christmas pudding bit, so imagine me setting fire to myself and the kitchen table while I spell this out.) ‘Excess’ is all over the show, from the decoration-graced extravagance of the McCallister pile to the juvenile anarchy of Kev’s homerule to the gratuitous slapstick violence that characterises the boss battle. ‘Iconography’, both secular and religious, is also plainly on display everywhere from the snowy weather to the lights and traditional ornaments to the church choirs to the slob Santa impersonator.

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It’s true that ‘Generosity’ is more prominent in Home Alone 2 where Kevin aids the homeless Pigeon Lady and prevents the theft of charity funds for the children’s hospital. Still, it’s alive and well in the first flick as our hero bonds with Old Man Marley (there’s a Christmas Carol reference for good measure) and gives him the gift of courage. It’s also discernible in Kevin’s taking of responsibility to protect the family’s home and provide for them, even if they don’t appreciate it (“I bought some milk, some eggs and some fabric softener!” is just shrugged off by the cheapskate ingrates). Finally, John Candy’s polka bum is seasonal goodwill incarnate as he offers Mrs McCallister a ride home so that she can enjoy Christmas and be reunited with the son she misses so much.

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That brings us to ‘Family’ – the most vital of Christmas fundamentals. The ultimate value and message at the centre of this seasonal cinematic masterpiece is one of family and, in spite of it all, the desired resolution is simply being with loved ones again on Christmas Day. Come the special morning Marley (not a family-killer as first thought) has reached out to his estranged son and reconciled and the McCallister’s have returned home to the one they left behind. Families can be a source of tremendous pain but they are important and Christmas just ain’t Christmas without them. That sentiment is reaffirmed every single year as my family and I sit down to watch Home Alone together and share its goodness as an annual tradition.

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Now, as my gift to Den Of Geek readers, I wanted to share my love of the ‘Best Christmas Movie of All Time’ and unwrap its magnificence. Hey, maybe “Later we’ll share some pumpkin pie and we’ll do some carolling,” to quote the lyrics of “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” which Kevin plays at his fake house party to convince Harry and Marv that he isn’t actually home alone. (It works, because those dopes are stupid enough to be fooled by a record player and a cardboard cut-out of Michael Jordan.)

An unreal festive house party? In fact, that’s probably an apt way to sum up this movie and it’s the neat wrapping on my sermon spelling out Home Alones incontrovertible eminence as the ‘Best Christmas Movie of All Time’. Kid Kev’s Ker-Azy Kitschmas Karnage Kick is exactly the kind of unlikely Xmas bonanza that every child (and manchild and womanchild) wished they could enjoy during the Advent season.

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It’s a sugar rush fantasy free from overbearing adult-control, where the miniature hero gets to enjoy god-like powers of creation and destruction in the house of which they are now master. Said house has become a funhouse of amusement and delirium – a juvenile obstacle course-cum-action movie set suitably decked up in the traditional seasonal pieces and paraphernalia.

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Then when it’s all over – after the exhausting hedonistic playtime period – the family returns and Kevin takes comfort in the more heartfelt holiday pleasures, so ultimately he gets to have his (Christmas) cake and eat it too. The mess is miraculously cleaned up and he gets to hand responsibility for maintaining (dis)order back to the regular authorities who now respect him a little more (meh, not much) because he’s shown that kids are better than adults when it comes to Christmas. We’re celebrating childhood, we’re celebrating family and we’re celebrating the festive season and all that this holiday symbolises and all that makes it magic. Home Alone embodies it all, and it’s so well made and played so perfectly.

“You guys give up yet? Or are you thirsty for more?” If so, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York is there to offer you more of the same with bonus Tim Curry, more outrageous stunts and the greater stage of New York City. That’s the only film that can hold a candle to Home Alone in the Best Christmas Movie of All Time stakes, but I’ll withdraw from that debate and return to enjoying my holiday as Home Alone taught me how – with family, with fun and with hilarious slapstick incidents involving domestic appliances. Merry Christmas!

James Clayton is wishing you a Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal… and a Happy New Year. You can visit his website or follow him on Twitter