1. “The Man Who Came to Dinner” (1942) Based on the hit play by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, this hilarious film pits the poisonous radio personality Sheridan Whiteside — laid up with a broken leg — against a well-to-do Ohio family at Christmas. It has witty dialogue, a brisk pace and a cast of characters based on members of the Algonquin Round Table. What more could you ask for? Oh yeah, Bette Davis is in it.
2. “Christmas Holiday” (1944) People forget the bleakness of “It's a Wonderful Life” until the happy ending. The stark “Christmas Holiday” is set during the Christmas season, boasts a young (and creepy) Gene Kelly, and hits the same hard notes — except that there's no happy ending this time. So have yourself a film noir Christmas, where yuletide can be deadly.
3. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) Wiseacres may sniff that this classic piece of Americana (starring Judy Garland) is not exclusively a Christmas movie, but the heartwarming film about a Missouri family's travails at the height of the 1904 World's Fair does contain Garland's impeccable unveiling of the eventual Christmas standard, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”
4. “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” (1987) Hollywood has never really given Thanksgiving its due, but this funny John Hughes film — which is as much about holiday travel as it is about the holidays — is a notable exception (certainly not a turkey). As the world's most high maintenance passenger, the late John Candy scored one of his greatest roles.
5. “The Family Stone” (2005) One of the few movies to capture the sometimes-contentious dynamic that occurs within families at holiday time, “The Family Stone” follows a Christmas gathering in Connecticut that takes several rocky turns — secrets, lies, political debates and indiscriminate throat clearing — before the prerequisite happy ending. If you don't mind a bit of familial reality invading your holiday escapism, this film co-starring Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson and Rachel McAdams is the one for you.