It’s that time of year again. The lights are on, the tree is up, people are merry, shops are busy (unless you live in Wolverhampton that is) and everyone is getting ready for Christmas. Drinks are supposed to flow, the music is predictable and there’s nothing good on the telly, right? Well, yes and no, after all Christmas isn’t for everyone and some people just want to get it over with. Personally, I love Christmas and everything that comes with it.
As such, there is always a glut of Christmas films on the television and while most of them are schmaltzy garbage, there are a few genuine treats to be found. Therefore, to save you wafting through the TV guide looking for something good to watch, I thought I would share with you my favourite films for this time of year.
If there’s anything you would like to add then please comment in the section below.
Granted, The Snowman is a short animated film, and apart from the famous song “Walking in the Air” it is also entirely wordless, so what makes it so great? Well, any film that gets played once a year every year in my house has to have something going for it, and The Snowman works on so many levels. Telling the story of a young boy who builds a snowman on Christmas Eve which then comes to life, and takes him on an adventure to meet Santa Claus is visually charming and features some delightful shots throughout the film. For a wordless short film ultimately aimed at children, The Snowman showcases some very adult themes, including friendship, loneliness & loss. Not wanting to spoil anything either, but I always felt that the ending is incredibly heartbreaking, and even as a child I felt the urge to look away as I always knew what was coming. The Snowman will be shown on Channel 4 in the UK on Sunday 22nd December, as well as Christmas Day & Boxing Day on the channels various other platforms. Don’t miss it.
One of my all time favourite films is also a Christmas classic. Gremlins is a black comedy directed by Joe Dante that see’s a small American town besieged by a group of vicious critters with mayhem on their minds. Gremlins spawned a sequel in 1990, but it’s the original that stays longer in the mind. When Billy Peltzer is given an early Christmas present from his father in the shape of the adorable mogwai Gizmo, he is given 3 rules he should never break, of course these rules are swiftly broken and pandemonium ensues. Gremlins takes its time in getting going, but once it does we bear witness to some gloriously OTT scenes, most notable of all being Mrs. Deagle’s timely comeuppance. One of the more famous scenes is when Kate Beringer, played by Phoebe Cates, finally gives in to Billy’s questions and reveals why she really hates Christmas. Her revelation is no doubt sad, but when handled so brilliantly by Dante, it is one of the most darkly comic scenes you will come across. Brilliant.
Scrooged was a modern (back then anyway) retelling of the classic Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol. The excellent Bill Murray plays Frank Cross (the Scrooge of this story) a TV executive, who, just like Ebenezer, is a cold and selfish man who abhors Christmas and who has no problem firing an employee on Christmas Eve. Scrooged is another black comedy, but one that has a heart of gold, and wants to see Cross see the error of his ways as he is visited by 3 ghosts over the course of the movie. Richard Donner directs, and fills the film with wonderful characters who are played brilliantly, but it is Murray who steals the show. Slyly charming to begin with, Murray’s portrayal of Cross develops as the film progresses and he truly does learn what a horrible person he has been throughout his life. Also, Murray’s willingness to go slapstick for this movie is genuinely delightful. Best watched once you’ve killed a few people after getting your last batch of Christmas presents.
What can be said about this movie that hasn’t already been said? Well, this is definitely the least festive movie on my list, but as its set at Christmas, I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt. Die Hard is a classic movie that shaped the action genre for years to come, and made a star out of Bruce Willis who, before this, was best known for the role of David Addison Jr. in television comedy series Moonlighting. The original Die Hard is still by far the best entry in the series and can always be found on the TV guide at this time of year, and while I admit it is not very “Christmassy”, it is a staple of this time of year, and when the films ends with the song “Let it Snow” there can be no doubt that this one of the best films to watch at this time of year.
Ah Home Alone, I’m sure I watched this film like a million times when I was younger, and despite that potential overkill, I still love it. I’d actually gone sometime without seeing it up until a few years ago, and my initial thoughts were that I was going to hate it, but no, I still really enjoyed it, although I’m pretty sure my brother feels differently to me on this one. Macaulay Culkin plays Kevin McCallister who is left home alone by his parents when they leave for a Christmas holiday in France, and has to defend his home from two bumbling burglars. The film spawned 4 sequels and turned Culkin into a household name. In all fairness I’ve only ever seen up to the second film in the series and have no intention of seeing the others. As is the case with many film franchises, the first entry is the best, and I always make time to watch this Christmas classic.
The Nightmare Before Christmas was developed at Walt Disney Pictures after it had been conceived by Tim Burton as a poem in 1982. The film went through various stages of production and at one point was going to be a half hour made for TV special, luckily the correct decision was made and Burton’s creation was turned into a beautifully realised stop motion animated film. Even though Disney were backing the film, they released it under Touchstone Pictures because they thought it to be too dark to be a children’s film. Personally I never thought it too scary as a child, and despite some wicked imagery, I don’t remember ever being scared by it. The Nightmare Before Christmas follows Jack Skellington and his attempts to change the status quo in his home of Halloweentown, after he accidentally discovers the world of Christmastown. Director Henry Selick meshes Burton’s ideas together perfectly, and crafts a film that is somehow haunting & also full of the Christmas spirit, and with Danny Elfman providing the music we have a truly original Christmas movie.
Elf is a movie that shouldn’t really work. It stars Will Ferrell as a man took in by the elf community of the North Pole at a young age, who grows up wanting to find out his true identity & who his real father is, yet somehow director Jon Favreau makes this bonkers concept work. Elf is a lovable character whose innocence appeals to both the characters in the movie as well as the audience watching, and it’s really his enthusiasm that makes the film shine. Elf is littered with great characters and truly memorable moments and comes pretty close to replicating the childlike sense of fun & wonder we all used to have around Christmas.
Bad Santa is THE alternative Christmas movie. Where most festive films are full of joy & wish fulfilment, along with a chubby, happy Santa Claus, Bad Santa instead gives us Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie. Willie is an alcoholic loser who never quite made it in life. Along with his accomplice Marcus, played by Tony Cox, the two pull of a Santa & his Elf routine every year at different shopping centres across America, talking to kids, telling them lies & most importantly cracking safes. Yes Willie is also a thief, a thief who dresses as Santa and who has vigorous sex with women in the department store changing rooms, he’s the definition of a bastard. All this makes for a darkly comic Christmas movie , and on the face of it, we should have no real reason to like Willie at all, but that’s where Brett Kelly’s The Kid comes in. The Kid is fat & dumb & gets bullied for it, but it’s his relationship with Willie that cements the film and gives the audience someone to root for. In a film layered with cynicism & dubious characters, it’s remarkable that there is any festive cheer in this film at all, but it is there and it sneaks up on you when you least suspect it, and while it may not make you believe in Santa Claus again it will make you laugh until you cry.