Christmas is fast approaching (it’s just a few sleigh rides away you know…) and if you’ve exhausted yourself with eating mince pies, preparing seasonal recipes, decorating the house, ice skating, wrapping presents and *enter stereotypical Christmas activity here*, what better way to enjoy the cold weather than from the comfort of your own home beside the fire with these familiar classics and Christmas viewing suggestions (this is a rhetorical question). If you feel overloaded with sentimentality afterwards, you can always just kick over someone’s snow man (if it snows that is…)
Here are 10 films to kick start the holiday season:
1. Home Alone
Macaulay Culkin was a fundamental part of my childhood movie diet. He was my ‘greens and veg’ alongside Kirsten Dunst. He was Richie Rich, Miles, and Thomas J. Sennett. But first and foremost he was Kevin McCallister. With his angelic ‘top of the Christmas tree’ looks but troublesome attitude, Kevin manages to live out the situation that every child desires and dreads in equal measure: he gets left home alone – parentless! With his parents in Paris, Kevin enjoys his new found freedoms; he survives on a diet of ice cream and old movies, but it soon becomes clear that a pair of mismatched chancers have their sights set on their rather palatial Chicago home. Harry and Marv aka the wet bandits have noticed that Kevin is living all alone and begin to make advances on the house. What ensues is comedy, but also drama, because when I was a child watching this film, every inch of me was on edge waiting to see who would come out tops: the kid, or the big, bad grownups. This film is excellent at getting into the mindset of a frustrated and creative child who feels largely ignored and rejected by his parents in a crowded and bustling home. It’s hilarious, but also heart warming and it also inspired a generation of children to booby trap their homes should an invader drop by for the holidays. Last I heard the McCallister family home was actually on the market, so should you plan on moving to Chicago (and have a fair bit of money in your pocket); you might actually be able to watch this film from the very house it was set in!
2. Home Alone 2: Lost In New York
Mr and Mrs McCallister should be nominated for the parental equivalent of a Razzie for their truly lax parenting skills as they manage to leave Kevin behind for a second time. This time, they manage to get him as far as the airport, but Kevin ends up in New York whilst they stare out of rain soaked windows in Florida. The sequel follows the same formula as the first; Kevin exploits his liberated status in a glitzy New York hotel whilst relaying on the stonker of a story that his father is constantly caught up in business meetings, leaving him free to make the most of his credit card and as usual kick back and eat tonnes of ice cream and watch black and white films in his hotel room. The reality and gravitas of his situation sets in when he realises that the wet bandits have reinvented themselves as the sticky bandits and are planning on robbing Duncan’s Toy Chest on Christmas Eve. The hotel staff, ingeniously smarmy (there is an exceptional comedic turn from Tim Curry), are also on Kevin’s back when they discover there is no ‘dad on business’ and Kevin is further intimidated by the locals that frequent the city, including what appears on first impressions to be a mad pigeon lady (every city has one). There is the same heart-warming comedy to be found as Kevin bats for survival, dishes it out to the bad guys and returns to the family fold, hopefully to never be left behind again. This is essential Christmas viewing if only to see the Big Apple all lit up for Christmas.
3. The Muppets Christmas Carol
This has always been my favourite Christmas film because ‘The Muppets’ themselves represent everything that Christmas itself stands for; friendship, acceptance and family. Existing as a motley crew of oddballs, eccentrics and rejects, the Muppets embrace one another as a hodgepodge of different characters who manage to mesh…somehow. This is a spirited venture which takes on the traditional English tale by Charles Dickens, relaying the stingy and spiteful character of Ebenezer Scrooge as he is visited on Christmas Eve by three spirits who each seek to provoke him to acknowledge a new way of life and embrace the holiday season. Michael Caine takes his turn as Ebenezer, the man who loathes Christmas and happiness and has a way of sucking the joy out of all he comes across, but this is a victorious and transformative film lead by Gonzo and Rizzo, with Kermit and Ms Piggy portraying the Cratchits. The ending is of course triumphant and bursting with joyful songs and true merriment, as well as a sense of frivolity, wonder and humour. Caine also considers this to be one of his finest roles, and given the man’s career, that is quite the accolade. You can catch a showing of this at the Prince Charles Theatre from the 16th December to the 22nd if you happen to be an English citizen and local to London. It’s quite astonishing to think that man made muppets can convey more emotion that some flesh and blood actors (coughKeiraKnightleycough).
Will Ferrell is a love him or loathe him kinda guy…which makes him perfect as the portrayer of Buddy the Elf; a sickly, sappy, soppy and absolutely loopy human being who stowed away in Santa’s sack as a child and was raised amongst the elves at Santa’s workshop. Buddy never truly acknowledges his human status until his superior height and inferior toy making abilities render him an obvious outsider. When he is returned to the human world (New York City of all places) his ignorance and naivety with regard to human civilisation mean that he makes just a few social faux pas (including ripping off the beard of a false Santa). Buddy reunites with his father, Walter Hobbs, played by James Caan, who is firmly on Santa’s naughty list. For me this was an ingenious (yes I’ll say that again, ingenious) casting choice because you can’t get any more different that Will Ferrell and James Caan. Caan manages to be perfectly exasperated and deadpan throughout. This is a film that strengthens the importance of prioritizing family over a hectic work schedule and also incorporates the positive properties of hope, belief and engaging with the wants and needs of our inner child from time to time. In a society where Christmas is closely affiliated with consumerism and capitalism rather than peace and goodwill to all men, Buddy’s insane positivity ruffles a few feathers, but also gains him an unlikely love interest in the form of saucer eyed Zooey Deschanel as elf imitator Jovie.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
The eagle-eyed among you will recall that this film made a guest appearance on my recommendations for Halloween films entry. It is a difficult film to place as it boldly merges two very distinctive holidays. Despite the memorable Halloween styling and imagery, this film does incorporate a strong Christmas vibe. Jack, the Pumpkin King and most respected amongst his fellow Halloween Town citizens for his successful scares, becomes apathetic with his holiday and stumbles upon Christmas Town, which awakens a new sense of childlike wonder in Jack as he discovers snow and the concept of presents for the first time. Jack attempts to bring the Christmas Spirit to Halloween Town and give Santa a well deserved rest whilst taking his place. Unfortunately, good intentions collide with his misunderstanding of the Christmas Spirit and Christmas goes terribly wrong. He manages to reacquaint himself with his own holiday and accept his identity as a man of jeer, not cheer.
6. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (The Grinch)
Dr. Suess’ simple story is transported onto the screen in one of many countless renditions. Within a single snowflake exist the ‘who’s’ who inhabit ‘Whoville’, a joyous and merry place. Just beyond the reach of the ‘who’s’ lives the Grinch, a social outcast who despises Christmas and generally everything else. He can’t be described as a misanthrope precisely, because the Who’s aren’t specifically human, but there is no love lost between them. He isn’t happy enough being apart from them in essential exile; instead he plots to steal Christmas from the townspeople. It turns out that the Grinch is not simply naturally sadistic but instead a hardened and defensive victim of childhood torment and unrequited love – he fits the staple of the ‘Scrooge’ character that hardens himself in adversity and loses all sense of softness. Cindy Lou Who (who, would you believe, is played by Taylor Momsen) attempts to acquaint herself with the Grinch and help him recover his Christmas Spirit in what proves to be a long and arduous task.
7. The Santa Clause
This is any parent’s perfect Christmas film. Period. Tim Allen is Scott Calvin – a father who is desperately trying to assure his son that Santa is real and accidentally ends up killing Mr Clause on Christmas Eve. Much to his chagrin, he automatically becomes the ‘new’ Santa, begging the questions: how many fathers have accidentally killed Santa and had to step up to the plate, and what happens if a woman accidentally bumps Santa off? Scott’s encroaching transformation leaves him mortified but eventually he is able to muster up some festive cheer and build bridges with his ex-wife and her new partner Neil who have a terse (at best) relationship with one another. Allen steals the show here, perfecting the art of the grumpy father of Charlie and the festive Father Christmas, but I’d recommend watching this film simply for the ‘Neil’ jokes which fall fast and frequent and will rouse the spirits of any Christmas singletons, single parents or divorcees.
8. The Snowman
One suitably snowy Christmas Eve, a young boy creates a snow man that instantly comes to life and spirits him away on an air bound adventure to meet Santa himself. This classic Christmas tale includes no dialogue but features the angelic vocals of Peter Auty as he sings a song now unanimous with Christmas: ‘Walking in the Air’. This film is in keeping with all children’s ability to perform magical thinking and bring to life all of their deepest imaginings.
9. The Holiday
Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet play characters in dire straits who are both experiencing man issues in their native homelands. They decide that the solution might just be to switch locations to gain enough distance and a fresh perspective, so Amanda (Diaz) packs for Surrey and Iris (Winslet) departs for Los Angeles. Whilst away, they both manage to acquire new loves…even if it does seem rather unrealistic that Winslet should be paired with Jack Black. This is a cheerful holiday season film that depicts the sense of loneliness and isolation that being single during a period of traditional ‘togetherness’ can bring. Thankfully, in movie land, no-one ends up lonesome for long.
10. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, so by incorporating this film, I am being potentially blasphemous. On the same night of Jesus birth, another child is born and mistaken for the Messiah; that babies name is Brian. What follows is a hilarious case of mistaken identity as the Pythons, known for their surreal, offbeat and generally hit-and-miss style of comedy, hit the ball out of the park with every joke. This is in my opinion, essential Christmas viewing, particularly if you are an atheist or agnostic but still enjoy the festivities of Christmas. This film incorporates none of the slush or sentiment that usually comes with seasonal movies, because essentially, it isn’t a seasonal movie at all (its far more of an Easter film), but it does have a very upbeat and inspirational message, encouraging individually, acceptance and open-mindedness. It might have caused a storm of controversy upon its release, but it can now be enjoyed (hopefully) as a funny film that took a chance and didn’t skirt around a potentially very thorny subject. Most importantly in my mind, it will make you laugh a real belly laugh that Santa would be proud of.
Watch this space for further suggestions…