In case you haven’t noticed, it’s December and just about everyone is in full-blown holiday mode. Since Thanksgiving, television networks have been trotting out their annual line-up of Christmas movies and specials, from classics like Rudolph and The Grinch and Christmas Story, to more recent creations, such as Sofia the First’s Holiday in Enchancia or whatever computer-generated abomination Disney has vomited onto the airwaves this year in their latest effort to sell poorly made toys to kids. With so many holiday-themed movies from which to choose, you might feel overwhelmed when it comes time to decide how to spend your precious viewing time.
Well I’m here to help, folks. And the solution to your problem is simple: The only movie you need to watch is National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s the world-champ of Christmas movies, and it’s unlikely that any contender will emerge to challenge its title in our lifetimes. Here’s why.
1. The house-lighting scene.
There isn’t a man alive over the age of 25 who hasn’t imitated this scene at least once when plugging in the Christmas lights (or changing a light bulb or fixing a small appliance).
2. It was the last truly great movie Chevy Chase ever made.
Most of the internet generation knows Chase simply as the weird old guy on Community or the magical hot tub repairman from Hot Tub Time Machine. And that breaks my heart. In reality, Chase is, with the possible exception of Bill Murray, the greatest comedic actor of the last 40 years. And I don’t say that lightly. For my money, I’d put Chase’s five best movies — Vacation, Fletch, Caddyshack, The Three Amigos, and Christmas Vacation — up against any other comedic actor’s top five every day of the week. In his prime, Chase was the king, effortlessly portraying all the greatest comedic leading-man archetypes: the everyman with an edge, the silver-tongued ladies man, the put-upon father, and the fast-talking wiseass.
Sadly, Christmas Vacation represents the last time Chase was at the top of his game. The flick was released in 1989 on the heels of two sequels that weren’t as good as their predecessors (Fletch Lives and Caddyshack II), and it was all down hill from there. Like a great athlete whose body fails him, allowing the game he loves to pass him by, Chase lost a step comedically and was never able to fully recover. With the possible exception of the super-weird and widely panned Nothing But Trouble (which, in my opinion, isn’t as bad as its reputation might lead you to believe, and its faults certainly aren’t due to a lack of effort on Chase’s part) and Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Chase’s star never shone as brightly as it did in Christmas Vacation. That makes it worthy of the top ranking if for no other reason than it’s basically like watching Michael Jordan hit the game-winner over Byron Russell in the 1998 NBA Finals, right before he retired for the second time and then embarrassed himself by playing for the Washington Wizards.
3. Aunt Bethany’s rendition of that beloved Christmas classic, The Star Spangled Banner.
Actually, pretty much anything Aunt Bethany says is the greatest. My personal favorite is when, upon arriving at the Griswold home and seeing all the twinkling lights, she asks, “Is your house on fire, Clark?”
4. The best PG-13 freak-out scene in movie history.
Sure, the language is only slightly NSFW, but has anyone ever made phrases like snake-licking, dirt-eating, dog-kissing, stiff-legged, and spotty-lipped sound filthier than Chevy Chase?
5. Johnny Galecki as Rusty and Juliette Lewis as Audrey.
Of all the actors and actresses who have portrayed the Griswold children, Galecki and Lewis are the best all around combo in the series. Sure, Anthony Michael Hall was the OG Rusty and can’t be topped, and Vegas Vacation’s Marisol Nichols was easily the hottest Audrey of the bunch. But the Galecki-Lewis duo delivers an unbeatable one-two punch. Lewis’ Audrey perfectly captures that weird teenage dichotomy between being too cool for everything while still being secretly excited about the family rituals and traditions that come with the holidays. And Galecki’s Rusty is the perfect straight man to Chase’s Clark, a faithful son who is painfully aware that his father is a bumbling doofus, but who never lets that get in the way of his admiration for his pops.
6. Ellen’s instinctive protection of the Griswold family jewels.
7. Clark’s open contempt for his neighbors.
The holidays are a time for spreading tidings of comfort and joy, but whom among us hasn’t used Christmas and all that comes with it — the decorating, the gift giving, the holiday parties — as a chance to throw some good, old-fashioned shade on an annoying neighbor or a frenemy? Clark Griswold knows what I’m talking about. He lives next door to a couple of judgmental yuppies (played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Nicholas Guest), and his barely hidden disdain for their overly sanitized, modern-decored existence is hilarious. Not only does he make their lives a living hell by blinding them with countless strands of Christmas lights and destroying their stereo system by sending frozen ice missiles through their windows, he goes so far as to don a Jason-esque hockey mask and thrust a running chainsaw in their general direction. If that isn’t what Christmas is all about, I don’t know what is.
8. Cousin Eddie.
Randy Quaid appeared as Cousin Eddie in every Vacation movie except European Vacation (he even starred in his own made for TV sequel to Christmas Vacation, 2003’s god-awful Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure). But Christmas Vacation finds Eddie at his loud-mouthed, snot-covered, RV-living best. His cream-colored sweater and black turtleneck Dickie look is so Cousin Eddie it hurts. And he delivers one of the best lines of the entire movie when he informs the yuppie neighbors that he’s standing outside in his mini-robe, emptying the chemical toilet from his RV into their sewage drain because, well, “Sh*tter was full!”
9. The True Meaning of Christmas.
Strip everything else away — Audrey’s brush with frostbite, the flirting with the lingerie saleswoman, the crass relatives, the disastrous holiday dinner, the melted cat, the exploding sewer gas, the kidnapping, the SWAT team raid — and what’s left is a movie that captures the Christmas spirit as well as any holiday-themed movie ever made. For all his faults, the Christmas Vacation version of Clark Griswold is a model father; his only motivation throughout the entire film is to surround himself with family and give everyone the best Christmas possible. As everything else crumbles around him, he realizes the true meaning of Christmas isn’t the “bonuses or gifts or turkeys or trees.” It’s family and spending time with the ones you love. There’s no way a stop-motion reindeer or a taller, skinnier, animated rip-off of Oscar the Grouch could ever deliver that sentiment better than Chevy Chase and his perfectly dimpled chin.
So, if you haven’t already, do yourself and your DVR a favor and delete your recordings of all those other Christmas specials. Make Christmas Vacation the defining movie of your holiday experience. Twenty-four straight hours of it on Christmas Eve isn’t enough. Buy a TV and a DVD player and set up a dedicated viewing station in your house, one that runs Christmas Vacation and nothing but Christmas Vacation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every year from Dec. 1 to Dec. 26. That’s a sure fire recipe for the hap-hap-happiest Christmas ever.