Christmas is a genre unto itself when it comes to the movies. Every year we’ll find some new releases, each adding their own spin on that most wonderful time of the year, to borrow a lyric or two. Ranging from bawdy laughs to gushing (nauseating?) sentimentality; the many faces of Santa Claus, the glad tidings for our families or offerings of a deeply Dickensian kind.
So, while we know that any list is subjective and a Christmas list doubly so, here are just a few films that we feel need to be watched before we can truly say the holidays have gotten underway.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
It’s the quintessential Christmas story, as told by the Muppets – how can it be anything other than a major seasonal WIN?
Blending the typically subversive humour and sense of joy for which Jim Henson’s furry creations are famous with some spectacular set-pieces, engaging sing-a-long numbers and the in-built drama of Dickens classic tale of redemption. This is a wonderful version of an oft-told tale. Michael Caine is oozes Scroogeyness, with a transformation that brings genuine emotional heft among the more Muppet like moments of madcap comedy.
The Polar Express
Robert Zemeckis’ early foray into performance capture animation, this is a must see movie to get the family into the Christmas spirit and remind us all of the magic that comes when you truly ‘believe’.
Tom Hanks stars as the conductor aboard the eponymous train, on this magical journey to the North Pole for those kid’s in need of a gentle reminder of who leaves the gifts under the tree each year. Yes it’s a dip into twee sentimentality but strong acting, a subtle streak of darkness and some stunning set-pieces (the city in the north is a wonder to behold) makes this a movie to watch under the fairy lights with the family as the holiday approaches.
It’s A Wonderful Life
Too easily written off as a descent into syrupy sentimentality, this is a much darker movie than you remember and all the better and more dramatic for it.
James Stewart is at his everyman best as the kindly George Bailey, driven the brink of despair as Christmas approaches. Don’t be fooled by the idea of this movie as a feel-good favourite, there’s a good deal of Shawshank before Mr Bailey finds his ultimate redemption.
A genuine Christmas classic.
Miracle on 34th Street
There are two versions of this heart-warming tale of the man who claims to be Santa. For me, however, it’s the 1994 remake with Richard Attenborough taking the role of kindly Chris Cringle in a role the white bearded old thespian seemed born to play. It might be a tad on the traditional for some palettes, but immerse yourself in this festive favourite and Sir Dicky will have a believer out of you by the end, for sure.
If you want a touch of subversive anarchy to invade your ideas of archetypal Christmas then this is the movie for you.
Using a Capra-esque setting of small-town Americana before unleashing chaos in the form of murderous little beasties, this is a riotous ride into a Christmas from Hell. Skewering small town sensibilities and prejudices and delivering some darkly funny moments of mayhem, Gremlins is a thorough guilty joy. But don’t feed after midnight and be careful of showing it in front of young children – because there’s a major Christmas spoiler delivered by Phoebe Cates that might upset some.
Will Ferrell stepped out of Saturday Night Live and into the oversized Elf outfit for an instant Christmas classic. Another take on the traditional message of the importance of family, the mood is never allowed to get too twee thanks to a barrage of quick-fire hilarity as Buddy causes sugar-fuelled chaos upon James Caan’s home and work, before a suitably Christmassy happy ending for all.
Hostage action movies packed full of profanity, explosions and bloody violence may not be the most traditional Christmas movie to come to mind. But dig beneath the carnage at its surface and you’ll find a film that’s as festive as eggnog and rotund men in red coats.
It’s the film that made Bruce Willis a fully-fledged movie star, blending smart comedy with high-octane action with a subtle Merry Christmas vibe from its soundtrack to its George Bailey influenced notions of seasonal reconciliation.