No matter how much you may dislike Macaulay Culkin there is of course no better Christmas-themed cheer than that of the Home Alone kind. When young Kevin gets left behind (or in the case of the second movie gets re-routed to a completely different city) as his family ventures off on their Hallmark holiday unbeknownst to his absence, the fun and festivities really begin. The ingenious kid, ironically labelled ‘les incompetant’ by his cousin, uses his spare time to foil a pair of dim-witted thieves and their plans to ruin the Christmas celebrations. And he doesn’t half-heart his efforts either, setting up a series of elaborate booby traps that include icy steps, flying paint cans, a tarantula and doorknobs so hot they turn into branding irons. Filled with hilarious one-liners, Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York not only showcase the comedic charms of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as bumbling bandits Harry and Marv but also the importance of family.
Can I just start by saying Billy Mack (Bill Nighy’s) is without a doubt a gift to all. I mean, doesn’t he just channel everybody’s yuletide joy when he opens this British ensemble piece by consistently forgetting the line ‘Christmas is all around’, before realising his mistake and letting out his frustration by swearing “Oh! Fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole!” The movie only gets better from there too, following a group of interconnected people who are gearing up for the countdown to Christmas. While all the naysayers continue to proclaim that Love Actually is a sexist, cringe-worthy piece, I say Bah Humbugs! What makes this festive fun instead of holiday hell is the fact thatit is irreverently self-aware of its flaws. For God’s sake, good old Billy Mack begins the movie pointing this out, stating “This is shit isn’t it?” as his record manager looks on and replies “Yep, solid gold shit”. Within all the chaos and commercialisation Christmas brings, where lobsters can too easily become part of the nativity, we are reminded that love actually is all around.
Tim Allen and Christmas films are synonymous. But his most notable dalliance with the genre comes with The Santa Clause trilogy, a series that starts out strong before tapering off into childishness and clichés. Before it does though, there’s a lot of love to be found in story of Scott Calvin, a business oriented father who on Christmas Eve accidentally causes the jolly man in red to fall off his roof (and pretty much die… wait this is Disney right?) After putting on his suit and thereby inadvertently taking on the role of Kris Kringle, (or Sinterklaas, or Pere Noel, or Babbo Natale, okay… you get the point) Calvin is tasked with saving Christmas. He is helped along by the wonderful supporting cast of his son Charlie (Eric Lloyd) and head-elf Bernard (David Krumholtz) both who deliver fantastic performances. It’s a ‘suspend-disbelief’ tale, but one that works just as well for children, teenagers and pensioners. It may not be Allen’s best work but it’s certainly up there, boasting a wonderful addition to anyone’s Christmas viewing.
When a movie begins with the words of William Shakespeare, it’s generally a sign of one of two things. Either that you’re going to lose viewers who think that ye olde English is just too damn hard to understand or you are going to gain viewers who are smart enough to understand the lesson the movie is trying to tell you. Both of which are a good thing. This is exactly what happens in The Holiday, a tale about two women who switch houses to escape the drear of ruined love lives over the festive period. The film begins with down-and-out British beauty Iris stating how extraordinary a thought it is that “Journeys end in lovers meeting’”, before going on to deliver just that sentiment, as her and her equally loveless American counterpart Amanda, strive to ignore anything romantic but are still delivered it in the form of Jack Black and Jude Law. Wonderfully acted and smartly scripted, The Holiday is a rare and heartwarming Christmas gift.
If there’s one thing DreamWorks has done right since Shrek (2001), it is produce the wonderful, enchanting and artistically stunning picture Rise of the Guardians. The story focuses on the traditional immortal protectors of children’s innocence, imagination and hope. That of the Tooth Fairy, Sandman, Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. When this group is challenged by The Boogeyman - Pitch Black - who hatches a plan to instill fear across the world, new recruit Jack Frost is brought in to discover his centre of fun and bring Pitch down. It’s an inventive tale drawn from the similarly titled book series by William Joyce and it’s one that is both emotive and surprisingly adult. It works its magic by making you believe in the world, just as children believe in Santa.
Desert, Santa, Buzzard, Tumbleweed. Four words that mean something hilarious to anyone who has ever had the pleasure of watching Disney’s I’ll Be Home For Christmas. Following 'then' teen heart-throb Jonathon Taylor Thomas as college student Jake, this festive flick follows the cross-country exploits of a disheartened youngster. Beginning the film trying to make it home in time to cash in on his father’s vintage Porsche, along his journey he finds the real Christmas spirit and the love that it brings. Filled with one laugh-out-loud and cringe-worthy moment after the other, such as Santa beards glued to faces and stolen goods delivered to sick children, I’ll Be Home for Christmas certainly knows how to make merry.
Originating in 1947 with Edmund Gwenn and Natalie Wood and updated in 1994 with Richard Attenborough and Mara Wilson, Miracle on 34th Street is arguably one of the most genre-defining films about the season of Christmas. Telling the story of a department store Santa who is brought to court over a false assault case, the tale winds up with his lawyer having to prove that not only does the mythical man exist, but Kringle is indeed him. It’s a traditional John Hughes scripted movie, full of magic and wonder and a lesson in why we print things like 'In God We Trust' on money.
Okay, the first thing one must admit about The Polar Express is that it is full of dead, beady eyes. For some reason, early motion capture animation performances just didn’t quite know how to bring the windows to the soul alive. But if one can get past this and the slightly creepy idea that Tom Hanks can play six separate characters in one film, The Polar Express makes for an extraordinarily emotional piece. It’s a pretty straightforward story, told as a memory of a young boy who awakes Christmas Eve and is magically transported aboard a train to the North Pole. Friendship, bravery and the true meaning of Christmas as scattered about but what truly makes this movie a cut above the rest is the feeling it brings with it. How it imitates that rush of pure unbridled joy you felt when you were six years old and awoke at 5am to see the sun striking the tinsel on the tree. And who doesn't still hope to hear that bell ring…
There are only three rules to owning a Mogwai. Number one – don't get them wet. Number two – keep them away from sunlight. And number three – never, ever, feed them after midnight. Seems simple enough right? Well not for Billy Peltzer, a young teenager who comes into possession of a cute little gremlin named Gizmo for Christmas. When the fluff-ball accidentally gets wet and gorges himself on food after midnight chaos and calamity erupt, as little green guys begin to tear through the town of Kingston Falls. Gremlins is not your typical holiday fare, filled with more terror than tinsel and mayhem than miracles. But that’s what makes it a classic.
Yippee-ki-yay MotherFucker! Not exactly a line you would expect from a warm-and-fuzzy holiday themed film, but then again, Die Hard is not exactly typical Christmas fare. Centering on New York City police officer John McClane and his run in with a group of dangerous terrorists at his wife’s Christmas work party, the film is arguably a classic. Filled with explosions, twinkling lights and one of the worst slow-motion falls put to film, Die Hard is not just a film but an experience. And during the time of ‘goodwill to all men’ and ‘joy to the world’, it makes for a great piece of escapist fun. So while it doesn’t really bring the Christmas cheer, it does bring the action and humour, as well as the feeling that you just want to “come out the coast, get together, and have a few laughs”…
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Die Hard 2 (1990), Elf (2003), Bad Santa (2003).
Notable Never - Mentions:
Jingle All The Way (1996), A Christmas Carol (2009), Deck The Halls (2006), Fred Claus (2007), Surviving Christmas (2004).