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December 20, 2012

The 12 Films Of Christmas

The season is finally upon us and it’s time to talk about, if not actually watch, some Christmas films. This is my list of favourites, twelve films in fact, that will be screening on our TV during the festive season. I’m not going to claim these are the “best” Christmas films, largely because trying to […]

Love Actually

The season is finally upon us and it’s time to talk about, if not actually watch, some Christmas films. This is my list of favourites, twelve films in fact, that will be screening on our TV during the festive season.

I’m not going to claim these are the “best” Christmas films, largely because trying to decide what constitutes a Christmas film (let alone a “good” one) is an essentially abstract, angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin-exercise I would rather not subject either you as a reader, or myself as a writer, to endure.

Anyway, caveats and apologies aside, here are my 12 Films of Christmas.

12. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) – Tim Burton has created many remarkable animated films although this one might still be his best. With a visual style influenced by German Expressionism, a story that draws upon Dr Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas and one of Danny Elfman’s best scores, this is a wonderfully twisted treat from start to finish.

11. A Christmas Tale (2008) – Catherine Deneuve starred in the delightful Christmas musical 8 Women, then came back a few years later in this ode to painful family Christmases full of resentment, conflict & bitterness. This film portrays a side of Christmas we seldom want to admit, but know often bubbles under the festive veneer. With remarkable performances from Jean-Paul Roussillon and Anne Consigny, this is an exquisitely shot and occasionally heartbreaking look at the tensions of one family, falling apart at Christmas.

10. Black Christmas (1974) – One of the earliest slasher films and still one of the creepiest, this movie has in many ways become a template for seasonal horror. All the classic elements are there; a sorority house, an ill-fated party and obscure menacing phone calls. Definitely one for those who like a little gore mixed in with the usual cheer.

9. The Bishop’s Wife (1947) – All too often overlooked on Christmas film lists, this gentle yet engaging classic stars Cary Grant in one of his most effortlessly charming roles. Grant (who also stared in an earlier notworthy Christmas film, Penny Serenade) plays an angel sent to guide a stumbling Bishop, portrayed by David Niven and who begins an unusual relationship with the Bishop’s lonely wife, exquisitely played by Loretta Young. Witty and beautiful in roughly equal measures.

8. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – What better way to accentuate the violence in a bleak action film than to set it at Christmas time? While some may argue for films like In Bruges or Eastern Promises as the best examples of this device, I still rate Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, a massively underrated, genre-bending caper film, as my preference. Bleak, yet very funny, this is one of my favourite films from the last decade and one that I always enjoy screening at this time of year.

7. Holiday Inn (1942) – While most lists prefer White Christmas, I’ve always felt this earlier film, which was the original Oscar-winning outing for the classic song, White Christmas, is a stronger and more satisfying experience (despite the WWII tub-thumping and totally un-PC blackface number). Excellent performances from Fred Astaire and Bing Cosby in the lead roles and a delightful story that runs the course of a year, from one Christmas to another.

6. Twelve Monkeys (1995) Setting a tense film at Christmastime can create powerful and dramatic contrasts in the mind of the viewer. This is especially the case if you want to create the impression of a futuristic society gone wrong. Terry Gilliam used this to brilliant effect in his 1985 classic, Brazil and ten years later employed the same device in Twelve Monkeys. This is one of the strongest time travel movies of all, possibly the best thing Bruce Willis has ever done and gives us a young Brad Pitt in a delightfully unhinged role as a mental patient.

5. The Shop Around The Corner (1940) – Every critically correct list has to put James Stewart in there somewhere for his role in It’s A Wonderful Life. Which is a shame actually, because it means not enough is written about this delightful romantic comedy made a few years earlier, alongside Margaret Sullavan. The Shop Around The Corner served as the inspiration for Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s 1988 hit, You’ve Got Mail. Though on every level, this film is a smarter, funnier and more urban outing. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is one the best romantic comedies of all time.

4. Love Actually (2003) – My favourite “romantic” Christmas film, this is an unfairly maligned, modern ensemble classic. A star-studded cast, solid editing and a very witty script keep this inventive if slightly bloated comedy from getting bogged down in its multiple story lines. I’ve seen this film every year since it was released and every viewing still makes me smile, cry, cringe and laugh, again and again.

3. The Apartment (1960) – We might not want to admit it, but for many people Christmastime is a season of depression, substance abuse, broken relationships and the fallout from raucous office Christmas parties. Few films have explored these topics in a more direct way than The Apartment. Fantastic performances from Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray add depth and humour to one of the most honest seasonal films ever made.

2. Die Hard (1988) – Sure, it’s a big, dumb 80s action film that just happens to be set at Christmas time. But, it still continues to be one of the funniest, most quotable and fundamentally well put together big dumb action films of all time. I still remember the first time I saw this film on it’s original cinematic release (I went back and saw it again the same week) and I can’t count how many times I’ve seen it since then. An absolute classic that has aged surprisingly well.

1. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) – Although It’s A Wonderful life struggled at the Box Office when it first came out, this movie has quite rightly come to be seen as the classic Christmas film. While the it oscillates from bleakness to cloying sweetness there is still a deep emotional satisfaction in watching this portrayal of a man whose obsession with his unfulfilled hopes has blinded him to the reality of his existence. If Christmas is a time of peace and reflection, a time of family, love, thankfulness and hope, then this is the film for this season.

Naomi 12 years ago

The Bishop’s Wife is one of my favorites!

Paul 12 years ago

My top ten would include the following. The order might shift a bit from time to time…but overall these are the films I watch every year. 🙂

1. White Christmas (1954)
I love Danny Kaye and I love the overall story of this film. Bonus points for part of the film taking place in Florida.

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
A huge fan of Chevy Chase, this is my favorite of all the ‘Vacation’ films.

3. Scrooge (1951)
I enjoy all version of the Dicken’s tale, but this version with Alastair Sim remains the one that comes first to my mind. The new Jim Carey animated film is a close second for me.

4. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
I loved the original film, but the cast of the remake was so good that it became an annual favorite for me.

5. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s simply a wonderful film. I have a huge crush on Donna Reed’s character of Mary.

6. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
Ok, not a film really, but always in my annual line-up

7. A Christmas Story (1984)
I love the Normal Rockwell-esque feel of this film.

8. Scrooged (1988)
Yet another remake of Dicken’s classic but with Bill Murry’s charm.

9. Elf (2003)
Not a huge fan of Will Ferrell but I loved him in this movie.

10. Rare Exports (2010)
A film so strange that I had to love it.

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Paul – thanks. That’s a great list. I must accept a critical demerit on my part, because I haven’t seen Rare Exports yet. Must rectify that!

Fernando Gros 12 years ago

Naomi – thanks. I’m often surprised how few people have seen The Bishop’s Wife.

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