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10 Best Heartwarming Christmas Movies

Deck the halls with affection — and a tear or two

Catherine O'Hara and Macaulay Culkin star in the film Home Alone

20th Century Fox/Allstar Picture Library Ltd./Alamy Stock Photo

Catherine O'Hara (left) and Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone."

En español | The funny-beautiful thing about most feel-good movies is how well they leverage feeling bad. Sorrow and fear get spun into the gold of life lessons. This is especially true of Christmas offerings, in which miserliness and misery often precede the bliss and blessings of the season. It's time to deck the halls with renewed affection, gratitude, grace — and to remember that life's lumps of coal are often followed by that satisfying lump in the throat.

The Preacher's Wife

Sometimes the joys of the season come in the bounty of those gathered on-screen. Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston and Courtney B. Vance sparkle in Penny Marshall's 1996 remake of the 1947 classic The Bishop's Wife. Washington is the smiling angel, and Vance and Houston the titular beneficiaries of his heavenly intervention. Come for the stars, stay for the rousing rendition of “Joy to the World,” with Houston leading the Georgia Mass Choir.

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Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square

Nothing brings to mind “feel-good” quite like these two words: Dolly Parton. In this Netflix movie — too new to be a classic but too sparkly to pass up — the angelic philanthropist dons heavenly wings as she drops in on a frozen-hearted businesswoman (Christine Baranski) who plans to evict the denizens of a small town — on Christmas Eve no less.

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Elf

Will Ferrell's oversize elf heads to New York City in search of his birth father. James Caan plays the less-than-welcoming dad, whose fixed grimace would seem to make him ill-suited for his role as the publisher of children's books. Can openheartedness trump the dyspeptic? In this particular season, whaddaya think?

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Home Alone

Feel-good goes hilariously (but not scarily) sadistic when 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin) fends off two fully incompetent robbers. The bumbling thieves (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) take quite the beating in order for the youngster to learn some enduring truths about his place in a loving family.

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Nothing Like the Holidays

When the Puerto Rican Rodriguez family gathers in Chicago for a Christmas celebration, the adult kids and cousins expect the usual big, raucous affair. What they don't anticipate is Mom saying she's leaving Dad. Pass the .. .wha?!!! Of course plenty can — and will — happen before that declaration of departure, and family love prevails. This 2008 comedy has a cast to relish: Elizabeth Peña, Alfred Molina, John Leguizamo, Luis Guzmán, Freddy Rodriguez and Debra Messing.

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Love Actually

This omnibus holiday romance has aged fairly well, with its collection of couples – current, would-be and unlikely. It's jam-packed with class acts: Hugh Grant as a singleton prime minister; Liam Neeson as a widower; Emma Thompson as a wife aware of the impending departure of her husband (Alan Rickman). Joni Mitchell's version of “Both Sides Now” is brilliantly crushing. But Bill Nighy steals the show as rocker with nary a friend – or so it seems.

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The Santa Clause

Heroes aren't born so much as rise to the occasion — often after trying to wriggle out of duty. Tim Allen's Scott Calvin is one such soul. When he inadvertently dispatches Santa and then dons the red suit, the fine print states he's it — like it or not. His personal growth — aided by a wise-guy elf and a wee, wise-souled elf — is cause for merriment. Apparently, he got the hang of the gig enough for three sequels.

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A Christmas Carol

When Ebenezer Scrooge throws open the window to ask a lad what day it is, his transformation from skinflint to benefactor is complete, no matter which version of Charles Dickens’ classic you watch. Nearly everyone has her or his fave twist on the saga: Kermit and Miss Piggy in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Bill Murray as a self-absorbed network television exec in Scrooged. But the 1951 British version, starring Alastair Sim, is one fine gift.

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Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

An outcast with a blinking red schnoz and an impressive vertical leap meets an outcast with a hankering for dentistry, plus a beachhead of poorly constructed but oh-so-game toys in this made-for-TV stop-motion lesson in acceptance. Even Santa vows to do better. Burl Ives narrates – and sings classics – as Sam the (vest-wearing, pocket-watch-consulting) Snowman.

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  • CBS, Dec. 1 and 12, 8 p.m.
  • Vudu

It's a Wonderful Life

Those who thrive on payback are always a wee bit frustrated that Mr. Potter never gets his comeuppance in director Frank Capra's perfect snowflake of a tale. Forget seeing him being carted away in handcuffs for theft, we don't even get some “hah!” shot of the banker all alone at a vast and empty dinner table while Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey — a little worse for the wear after seeing what Bedford Falls would have been like without him — basks in the love of family, old friends and his community. Zuzu's petals will give you wings.

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