I like Christmas movies as much as the next guy, but when they're bad, they're really bad, as in Christmas with the Kranks or Deck the Halls. Most times I prefer a different kind of experience. Sometimes a movie simply set during the holiday season can weave Christmas into its storyline without making an overt holiday statement, and these can evoke a warmth and nostalgia -- or sometimes the opposite -- of their own.
1. The Shop Around the Corner (1940, Ernst Lubitsch)
Lubitsch rarely balanced comedy and pathos so beautifully as in this movie about a busy Hungarian department store during the month before Christmas. Hardly anyone mentions the holiday until the final scenes, but the hope and despair that the season can bring hovers everywhere. Jimmy Stewart plays a clerk having an anonymous pen-pal love affair with a girl (Margaret Sullavan) -- who happens to be working right next to him in the shop, unbeknownst to either of them. The entire cast is remarkable, from Frank Morgan as the shop's owner to William Tracy as the delivery boy. Unhappily, Nora Ephron remade this in 1998 as You've Got Mail.