There. I said it. Fred Claus is my favorite Christmas movie of all time. It just narrowly beats out National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation and that Christmas movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger in it, whatever that was called.
I didn’t realize how unpopular an opinion this was until I actually started sharing it with people. I mean, people don’t just like enjoy other Christmas movies more than Fred Claus; people truly HATE Fred Claus. But they really shouldn’t. You shouldn’t. Fred Claus deserves a chance to win your hearts.
If I was going to summarize the movie in a tweet, I would go with something profound and yet accurate. Something like:
“What if Vince Vaughn and Santa Claus were brothers?”
Sure, at first glance Fred Claus appears to be just another family comedy where Vince Vaughn plays Vince Vaughn: a big, lovable, fast-talking guy whose only fault is that he’s a little selfish. Fred Claus appears to be that way, because Fred Claus IS that way. And perhaps that seems unoriginal and overdone to you. But the movie also follows another predictable Christmas movie tradition, in that it is predictably lighthearted and filled with laughter and cheer.
It hits the typical beats of storytelling, with help from Ludacris, who plays a DJ elf named Donnie. And yes, there is a delightful little dance scene in which Vince Vaughn teaches the elves how to cut loose. Rachel Weisz plays a mail(wo)man named Wanda, who is Vince Vaughn’s love interest, Kathy Bates plays Santa’s mom, and Elizabeth Banks plays Santa’s Little Helper. Whatever. Sounds dumb, right? It kind of is.
But that’s not why Fred Claus is the greatest Christmas movie of all time. It earns that title because of one single scene that is less than three minutes long.
In this midst of this cheesy and predictable family comedy is a scene with more character depth than all four seasons of The O.C. combined—yeah, it’s that good. Paul Giamatti and Kevin Spacey, two award-winning thespians, go monologue for monologue in a scene that will leave you saying, “Wait, what the fuck just happened?” This short little scene is so mesmerizing because it is, in layman’s terms, real as shit.
Giamatti’s Santa Claus is an overworked family man just trying to get through holidays like any other working stiff. He’s tired, his back has been acting up, and he can’t help but bring his work home with him. Spacey plays Clyde, an efficiency expert evaluating the working conditions at the North Pole toy factory. He’s a suit. He’s just a guy doing his job.
Honestly, as I’m describing these complex, dynamic characters, it’s pretty hard to believe that they are in the same movie as these characters:
But they are! And they’re spellbinding. In this scene, Giamatti’s Santa questions the binary system that’s been at the center of his mythos for centuries—that children are either naughty or nice. Meanwhile, Spacey’s Clyde breaks down his troubled past; a childhood in which he was bullied, scared, and ultimately angry. It’s a scene that would probably fit better in 12 Angry Men or To Kill a Mockingbird, or literally any other movie besides this one.
But, just like Sour Patch Watermelon, what makes Fred Claus so great is the contrast of flavors. In the same film that features Vince Vaughn fighting dozens of Santa Claus impersonators, is a hidden gem of a performance by two of the all-time greats.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, you’re in for a treat. And if you have a spare minute, please vote Fred Claus to the top of ranker.com’s The Best Christmas Movies of All Time list. It’s currently sitting at 48th, which is serious bullshit. Lethal Weapon is ranked 37th, and it’s not even a fucking Christmas movie. I mean, come on!