Reeling in the essential Christmas movies
Paul Whitington trawls festive schedules to find the new films and timeless classics worth watching over the holidays
Christmas is now perhaps the only time when on-line viewers return to the terrestrial TV schedules in droves and most of them come in search of movies. Watching films is as synonymous with the season as turkey or pudding and here's our pick of this year's offerings.
Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, the schedules are packed as you'd expect with kid-pleasing fare, like The Lego Movie (RTE1, 6.15pm), an hilarious animation about a plot to glue the Lego universe permanently into place, and The Penguins Of Madagascar (BBC1, 4.50pm), in which the lunatic birds from the Madagascar franchise finally get to take centre stage.
But there are some treats for older viewers, too. Bad Neighbours (RTE2, 10.35pm) is a broad but amusing slapstick comedy starring Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as a recently married couple who are horrified when a rowdy college fraternity moves in next door. And The Lady In The Van (BBC2, 9pm) is a touching comic drama based on the true story of a homeless woman who spent 15 years camping in Alan Bennett's London driveway. Maggie Smith stars.
For me, Christmas Day is all about watching the classics and Casablanca (RTE2, 4.30pm), The Wizard Of Oz (TV3, 3.10pm) and It's A Wonderful Life (Channel 4, 2.20pm) certainly fit the bill. More adventurous souls might enjoy Everest (UTV Ireland, 3pm), Baltasar Kormakur's visually impressive action film starring Jason Clarke as a guide whose party of amateur climbers gets stranded.
Little ones will be glued to the box for Frozen (RTE1, 6.35pm), Disney's irresistible sing-along about a queen who accidentally unleashes infinite winter in her kingdom. Entertainment of a very different kind is to be found in Doubt (UTV Ireland, 9pm), John Patrick Shanley's drama starring Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius, the redoubtable principal of a 1960s Catholic school in the Bronx, who becomes convinced the new parish priest is sexually abusing boys.
I like an old musical and on St Stephen's Day, Guys And Dolls (UTV Ireland, 1pm) gets a rare outing. Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando play a couple of wide-boy gamblers who try to con a Salvation Army woman.
For younger audiences, How To Train Your Dragon 2 (BBC1, 4.30pm) is a likeable animated sequel about a young Viking who's formed a strong bond with a dragon, while RTE is showing the first of Peter Jackson's Hobbit films, An Unexpected Journey (RTE2, 6pm), with the second part screening on Tuesday night.
Ron Howard's Rush (RTE2, 9.35pm) is terrific fun and stars Chris Hemsworth as James Hunt, the dashing and devil-may-care 1970s Formula One racer who nursed a fierce rivalry with Austrian driver Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).
Later on, Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren star in Hitchcock (RTE1, 12.20am), which tells the story of how Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho. Raiders Of The Lost Ark (BBC1, 1.35pm) gets December 27 off to a nice start and the first and best of the Indiana Jones adventures really does stand the test of time. Deadpool (Sky Movies Premiere, 9pm) won a lot of fans in 2016, though, admittedly, not me. Ryan Reynolds stars as an unstable masked crime-fighter in this cynical superhero comedy.
Later on, RTE is screening Jump (RTE2, 11.50pm), an atmospheric drama set in Derry and starring Martin McCann as a man who saves a young woman from jumping into the River Foyle.
Wednesday, December 28 begins with two very fine family animations, Kung Fu Panda 3 (Sky Movies Premiere, 4.15pm), a beautifully made sequel starring Jack Black as Po the Panda, and Fantastic Mr Fox (TG4, 4.55pm), Wes Anderson's charming and playful stop-motion animation based on a Roald Dahl story.
A queer relationship is explored in Blue Is The Warmest Colour (Film Four, 12am), Abdellatif Kechiche's Palme d'Or-winning drama about a lesbian love affair between a teenage schoolgirl and an older artist.
Disney's well made live action version of The Jungle Book (Sky Movies Premiere, 4.15pm) is screening on Thursday, December 29, as is Coraline (Film Four, 1.15pm), Henry Selick's sublime gothic animation about a little girl who stumbles into a nightmarish alternate universe.
Ken Loach's worthy drama Jimmy's Hall (TG4, 10.15pm) tells the story of a former IRA man who returns home to 1930s Leitrim from America full of socialist ideals that outrage the local grandees. And what more can be said of Taxi Driver (RTE2, 12.30am), Martin Scorsese's journey to the heart of 1970s New York's seedy underbelly? It's compelling, but not very Christmassy.
On Friday, December 30, things get much more festive with Zootropolis (Sky Movies Premiere, 6pm), a lively animation about a young rabbit who's always wanted to join a big city police force. The Winter Soldier (BBC1, 8.30pm) is an entertaining action sequel starring Chris Evans as Captain America, who's been cryogenically defrosted and is just getting used to life in the 21st Century when a ruthless enemy appears.
Gary Oldman heads a glittering cast in Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (RTE2, 9.30pm) as MI6 warhorse George Smiley emerges from retirement to discover the identity of a high-ranking mole. And Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie (RTE1, 9.30pm) is bound to go down well with many.
On New Year's Day, Steven Spielberg's timeless classic ET: The Extraterrestrial (RTE1, 1pm) gets an outing, just to remind us all how extraordinarily good it is. John Goodman and Billy Crystal reprise their voice roles in Pixar's thoroughly respectable animated sequel Monster's University (BBC1, 5pm), and later on, Sky are showing two of the year's biggest superhero movies: Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (Sky Movies Premiere, 7pm), which wasn't all that good, and Captain America: Civil War (Sky Movies Premiere, 9.45pm), which was better.
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