Christmas TV Selection Box Set
They're bound to be on television, so take your pick, writes Doug Whelan
This month, over pints and parties, we're all going to be discussing our favourite Christmas films. There's no escaping the topic, and like the contents of the selection box that we're all getting from our mas in the next few weeks, everyone has their own favourite. You're pretty much guaranteed to find one or all of these on TV screens during the holidays, so here's a quick reminder of some of the best festive viewing.
Die Hard (1988)
"'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except the four assholes coming in the rear in a standard two-by-two formation."
The magic of Die Hard, widely regarded as being among the greatest action movies of them all, is that it unfolds in real time, and on Christmas Eve that counts for a lot. The sleigh bells that permeate the soundtrack help too. It's one Christmas party you wish you could have been invited to. Fact fans: did you know that Die Hard was Alan Rickman's first film role? Quite a debut.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
"There goes Mr Humbug, there goes Mr Grim."
If we were forced to choose, it's fairly certain that The Muppet Christmas Carol would be the winner of the finest Christmas film ever made. And that's fair enough, given the source material -- Charles Dickens' 1843 novel is sometimes credited with responsibility for Christmas being the pop-culture phenomenon it is today. Michael Caine, despite playing opposite a cast of puppets, gives the performance of a lifetime as Ebenezer Scrooge, but the real star of the show is Christmas itself. And the songs. Oh, and the puppets. Agh, we want to watch it right now!
Love Actually (2003)
Every Christmas film is made with the intention of breaking into the pop-culture consciousness, but none more so than Richard Curtis' Love Actually, which is so painfully Christmassy that sometimes you can't look directly at it for fear of breaking out in song. But through all the romantic plot lines and moving moments, it's a real grower and definitely one for the ages.
"Santa! I know him!"
The most recent entry into the pantheon of indisputable Christmas classics. Elf has all the charm and magic of the modern Christmas as well as capturing the childlike innocence through Will Ferrell's stunning performance as Buddy the Elf. We've got Anchorman 2; we're getting Zoolander 2, so when are we going to see Elf 2? Hurry up, Jon Favreau.
It's a Wonderful Life (1946)
"A toast to my brother George: the richest man in town."
It's A Wonderful Life is one of those films that even if you've never seen it, you know it inside out anyway, it's been parodied so much in the past 60-odd years. That doesn't take away from its brilliance, though. Jimmy Stewart's Ebenezer Scrooge-in-reverse journey, travelling through space and time and learning what a profoundly joyous effect he has had on the lives of those around him, makes you want to go out yourself and make the world a better place. There's talk of a sequel; we're going to go ahead and say we hope that never happens.
Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
"Seeing isn't believing. Believing is seeing."
When was the last time you watched Santa Claus: The Movie? We hate to break it to you, but it has not aged well. Not one little bit. Despite that, it's still deserving of its place among the all-time classic Christmas films because of its mix of hallmark holiday schmaltz and fantasy adventure madness. Worth a watch just for John Lithgow's "Christmas 2" speech.
"The sooner he learns life isn't handed to him on a silver platter, the better!"
It's A Christmas Carol retold with a media-satirical spin that still rings true 25 years later, but what makes Scrooged iconic is Bill Murray's comedic performance. He's at his sardonic, sarcastic best as Frank Cross (yes, that includes Groundhog Day), and his monologue towards the end, about the spirit of Christmas and being with your loved ones, is once again part of the reason Christmas is what it is. Charles Dickens really knew what he was doing when he wrote that book.
Home Alone (1990)
Remember when Macaulay Culkin was the coolest kid you could imagine? Home Alone blew our tiny minds because we all wished we could live as large as Kevin McCallister does. But later on, we were glad it wasn't us, because the idea of spending Christmas Eve all alone is, for a child, the worst thing imaginable. For anyone, in fact. John Williams' adaptation of O Holy Night for the soundtrack is basically the best thing ever.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947/1994)
It rarely rises to the top of anyone's Christmas film list, but throw it on during the festive season and it's guaranteed to suck everyone in right from the start. The 1947 version has a schmaltzy charm similar to It's A Wonderful Life, so it's possibly the better one, but the 1994 remake has Richard Attenborough playing Kris Kringle, who may or may not be Santa Claus. If you've never seen either, keep an eye out, you'll be utterly charmed. Special mention, of course, for the painfully cute Mara Wilson. Whatever happened to Mara Wilson?
"Now I have another reason to hate Christmas."
Gremlins is a Christmas film through and through, with all the warmth and charm that we've come to expect from one. But there's a dark heart lurking at the core, and we're not just talking about the little critters hell-bent on causing havoc in Kingston Falls. Just think back to the story that Phoebe Cates' character tells towards the end, about her father dying tragically on Christmas Eve. It's pretty dark stuff, and a complete counterpoint to the magic that we love the film for. It's a subversive classic, and can be enjoyed all year round.
Bad Santa (2003)
"I've always had a thing for Santa Claus. In case you didn't notice."
Not all Christmas films are for kids. Billy Bob Thornton's finest hour sees him drinking, swearing and stealing his way through the season, only to (of course) learn a little something about himself and realise the error of his ways. It may not be warm and fuzzy like every other Christmas film, but it still somehow looks and feels like them. A nice alternative for those who want festive, but aren't ready to have their heart strings tugged.