It’s getting close to that wonderful time of the year again, so here are my picks to get you in the festive mood in 50 words or less per film. Honourable mentions go to Jingle All the Way, Batman Returns, Gremlins, The Santa Clause and most erroneously, The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s my number 11, honest.
- The Polar Express (2004, Robert Zemeckis)
The Alan Silvestri score alone puts this on the list. Pair that with a typically awesome performance from Tom Hanks, a touching story about belief and some (admittedly dodgy) motion capture effects and you have a unique Christmas film that the newer generation will never forget.
- The Holiday (2006, Nancy Meyers)
The all-star celebrity cast are incredibly endearing, especially Jude Law and Kate Winslet. A tale of love at Christmas, this is in many ways, America’s answer to Love Actually. Hans Zimmer’s score is beautiful and the mushy moments are just well done enough to not come off as disgustingly cheesy. A beautiful tale of finding love in the most unexpected places. It’s just the custard on the Christmas pudding for us that they opted to set it in December.
- Miracle on 34th Street (1994, Les Mayfield)
Ignoring Mara Wilson’s sickeningly sweet persona and forced lisp, this one really is gorgeous. Richard Attenborough steals the show as a man who is convinced that he’s Father Christmas, even having to prove it in a court case. While the narrative may be predictable, the dialogue and themes of belief and childhood make it more than your average festive flick and well worth a look.
- Arthur Christmas (2011, Sarah Smith)
How typical of Aardman animations to bring their own sweet, silly, dry brand of British humour and manage to make it both endearing and emotionally impactful for the holidays. Following three generations of Santas’, Arthur Christmas identifies many aspects of Christmas, but also life in general. It shows the perils of getting older and the need to move on and pass the torch onto the best choice for the job. The voice cast is excellent, the jokes bang on, and the ending suitably warm and fuzzy.
- The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992, Brian Henson)
Leave it to Kermit and co to take one of the most famous stories ever, make it over the top and ridiculous and yet still make a classic. Michael Caine proves a great straight man foil as Scrooge and the rest of the Muppets somehow seem born to ‘play’ these roles. Kermit strangely works as down on his luck, kind Bob Cratchit and having Statler and Waldorf as a split in two Jacob Marley was a stroke of genius. Oh, and the songs are pretty great too.
- Home Alone (1990, Chris Columbus)
We’re into the big guns now. Before it became a juggernaut franchise, the first Home Alone is a likeable, warm and genuinely funny children’s movie. Yes, its premise is ridiculous and yes, Kevin’s pranks should’ve maimed the sticky bandits a hundred times over, but at its core, it’s a story of family and moreover, family at Christmas. Cliché and cheesy? Hell yes, but that’s why I love it. Throw in the sublime John Williams score and you have a true classic.
- Love Actually (2003, Richard Curtis)
A British institution these days and for good reason. The ensemble cast is flawless, with some of the biggest names the U.K has to offer. The intertwining, yet singular tales of love at Christmas may be incredibly superficial and presented through rose tinted glasses, but the characters formed by these talented actors make them so tangible that you won’t notice. It’s quotable, it’s sad, it’s funny; it’s a bit of everything and ends on a massive high, showing that ‘love, really is all around.’
- Die Hard (1989, John McTiernan)
So, a bit of a contrast from the last pick. The quintessential action movie, I doubt I can tell you much about Die Hard that you don’t already know. A tower block is taken over on Christmas Eve and Detective John McClane (Bruce Willis) has to take down Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, who would reprise this role in Love Actually) and save the innocent hostages, including his estranged wife, Holly. This may not scream Christmas, but the imagery is everywhere. Champagne bottles, trees, lights and a pretty funky festive jumper pattern the aesthetic. And if you have any doubt as to its status as a Christmas film, the ending credits are set to Let it Snow. I rest my case.
- A Christmas Carol (1984, Clive Donner)
The absolute quintessential version of this story (sorry Kermit), what elevates it above other versions is the casting of George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge. The man is phenomenal in the role, bringing all of the miserly qualities we expect, while also presenting a plethora of subtext of real loss, regret and bitterness, making him so much more developed than any other version. The ghosts are also great, but the other supporting cast is a little cold, coming off as bitter and angry as Scrooge himself, which seems like an odd directorial decision…At any rate, if you’ve somehow never seen this story, this version will do you know wrong.
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)
Of course, It’s a Wonderful Life is number one. Frank Capra’s classic is just that, a classic. A wonderfully made film regardless of its festive setting, the exploration of the life of one truly good man is beautifully developed, with a serious tone, deep characters way ahead of its time and an uplifting finale that will have you beaming from cheek to cheek. See it in colour or black and white, it doesn’t matter; but I implore you, if you’ve never seen this film, give it a watch this Christmas and see how fantastic it is for yourself.