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Holiday movie reviews through the years

By Bruce Andriatch

"Home Alone" was on the other night, as I'm sure it will be many more times before Christmas.

The 1990 classic about a child inadvertently left behind by his vacationing family who must use his wits and a series of booby traps to fend off a pair of bumbling burglars is a sure thing at this time of the year, joining a long list of films that can be seen on networks or on demand.

But some of these movies became classics in spite of how they were received and reviewed at the time, which got we wondering: What did News critics think of the films when they were first released?

Well wonder no more.

Home Alone

"(Writer John) Hughes has done well wrapping his new film in holiday trimmings. It worked last year with 'National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation,' and he has improved the formula with 'Home Alone.' However, be warned: You'll have to wade through at least 20 minutes of unbearable examples of children's cruelty to children before you find the good in this film. Hang in there, though, because it's worth the wait." --Dorothy Keenan

Home Alone 2

"Not the least of the things that (John) Hughes knows is that the way to make a sequel in an unfussy modern era is to find a reasonably inventive way to make the exact same film again while fooling people into thinking they're watching something new. Unlike genuinely creative sequels like 'Gremlins 2' and 'Superman 2,' that's exactly what happens in 'Home Alone 2.' It's virtually impossible to mind, though. --Jeff Simon

Elf

"It's funny, but nonetheless predictable, as is most of the film. Even the kids will guess what's going to happen to Buddy, his dad, the cute girl from the department store and whether or not enough holiday spirit will find its way back into the world to get Santa's sled working again (the sled is fueled by the holiday spirit). That predictability won't detract from enjoying this charmer thanks to hilarious scenes such as Buddy exposing a department store Santa as a fraud or filling rooms with snowflakes and other paper decorations he crafts with the same efficiency of Edward Scissorhands around a full head of hair." --Toni Ruberto

The Nightmare Before Christmas

"It's as overstuffed as an eccentric, fanciful kid's bedroom, but then, so was "Batman Returns." In this case, it's overstuffed with bizarre, macabre imagery. If anything, that underscores how tedious and cliched the narrative is." --Jeff Simon

Miracle on 34th Street

"Miracle on 34th Street" is just as magical as ever, and even more colorful. Hughes, as producer and co-writer, takes the holiday mood he perfected in earlier pictures and shines it to a touching point, instead of using it as counterpoint to mayhem." --Melinda Miller

Bad Santa

"No, they weren't kidding with the title 'Bad Santa.' So - and I can't emphasize this enough - leave the kids at home. This is a deliciously wicked holiday film for adults. The film's main character has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Sure it's a riot, but it's also cruel, rude and crude. And it's offensive with laughs at the expense of overweight children and women, midgets and one gal's Santa fetish." --Toni Ruberto

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

"Jim Carrey, as the Grinch, goes so far over the top that his furry feet practically scrape the moon. And, let's face it, Carrey is the franchise here. The whole enterprise rises and falls on whether we love him as the foul, malicious holiday-basher of Whoville, even though his spectacularly expressive face has been covered up by Rick Baker's elaborate Grinch makeup." --Jeff Simon

A Christmas Carol

"Giving the real Jim Carrey a computer-generated face is like slapping prosthetic feet on a cinematic Fred Astaire or giving a bionic arm to Bret Favre. You're taking away his greatest asset. As a voice actor, Carrey, as Scrooge, is surprisingly splendid - especially, when, at the end with Scrooge's final dance of conversion to Christmas-worship, both he and his director are paying clear-cut tribute to Sim in one of the greatest scenes in movie history. But it's Carrey's virtuosically plastic face and gloriously nuclear ego that got him where he is. Both are sorely missed in all the facial deadness and human absence of (Robert) Zemeckis' 'A Christmas Carol.' "--Jeff Simon

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation

"This film by John Hughes marks the third in the National Lampoon vacation-in-hell series, and is just about as inane as expected. Happily, this film is a lot funnier than expected, too. It has every type of humor conceivable, from bathroom humor, sexual innuendo, slapstick and geriatric bashing, to in-laws, and dumb animal humor." --Dorothy Keenan

Love Actually

"What's better than one holiday gift, wrapped more exquisitely than the contents inside warrant? Ten holiday gifts -- all festooned with shimmery paper, wrapped in glittery bows and placed in a smart London setting! This is the fantasy world you enter in 'Love Actually.' " --Elizabeth Barr

Home for the Holidays

"Misery, as all adults know, is why we all have families. Oh, all right, love, too -- it must be admitted. But I don't care who you are, alienation is almost guaranteed when the whole family gets together for those occasions that seem to insist that everyone get together. And on top of that list is always Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Leave it to director Jodie Foster to make a movie comedy out of it -- a comedy so  acute about our common agonies that, in one subtly wonderful scene, our heroine walks through an airport next to a bank of phone booths, each one occupied by someone clearly on the way home and having a harrowing and demeaning discussion with someone at his final destination." --Jeff Simon

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