It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…and so we find ourselves staring into the face of a festive special. I’ll be taking a look at some of my favourite Christmas films from days of yore and hopefully getting into the spirit in time for the big day. The films featured here cover a wide range of classics to the…not-so-classics but, and I genuinely mean this, I LOVE Christmas films so anything goes, really! Anyway, enough of my yakking, we’ve got some festive work to do…
A Christmas Carol is a perennial go-to for Hollywood filmmakers and there have been many movie versions of this classic story – Scrooged, Scrooge and The Muppet Christmas Carol – to name just three. This musical retelling of the story sees Albert Finney take on the role of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey of self-redemption. With an all-star supporting cast that includes Alec Guinness, Edith Evans, Kenneth More and Anton Rodgers, Scrooge is a somewhat bleaker version but ultimately is uplifting thanks to the music and lyrics of Leslie Bricusse.
WATCH IT FOR: I Like Life
THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992)
And, while we’re on the subject of Scrooge – here’s the aforementioned Muppets and their take on the story. The majority of the story remains the same, Ebenezer Scrooge (here played by Michael Caine) faces up to his past as he’s visited by three spirits, but with the added Muppet twist of musical numbers and featuring Gonzo as Charles Dickens, the narrator of the tale. I can’t tell you how much I love this film. From Paul Williams‘ original songs to Miles Goodman‘s score, this is guaranteed to warm the cockles of anyone’s cold heart. Plus, you get Michael Caine singing!
WATCH IT FOR: One More Sleep…
Here’s an altogether different take on a Christmas film. A fantasy horror that finds a young boy, disillusioned with the festive season and his dysfunctional family, accidentally summoning a demon – Krampus – who wreaks havoc and forces the family to fight for their lives. Toni Collette and Adam Scott star in this dark, twisted and really rather funny modern fable.
WATCH IT FOR: You Better Watch Out
THE GRINCH (2000)
From one monster to another (sort of) monster in the form of The Grinch. Ron Howard‘s live-action version based on the original Dr Seuss book and subsequent 1966 animation sees Jim Carrey don layers of prosthetics to bring the creature to life. Carrey is brilliant as the mean creature who steals Christmas from the inhabitants of Whoville but then suddenly finds himself feeling warmth towards them. It is, as with some of Howard’s work, overly sentimental in places but with Carrey’s energy beaming from the screen, The Grinch is a wonderful festive treat.
This charming British film from writer/director Debbie Isitt has fast become an annual festive treat. With most of the film being improvised, Nativity! brings a special kind of warmth and realism that most Christmas films lack. Most of the charm comes from the natural performances of the children who pretty much steal the film from everyone else. Martin Freeman stars as Paul Maddens, a primary school teacher who is charged with putting on the school’s annual nativity play. With stiff competition from his old friend and rival, Gordon Shakespeare (brilliantly played by Jason Watkins), Maddens tells a big, fat lie that Hollywood is coming to turn the play into a movie. With the aid of classroom assistant Mr Poppy (Marc Wootton, who steals every scene he’s in!) they put on a show to end all shows!
WATCH IT FOR: Trailer
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947/1994)
Originally I was only going to choose one version of this film but in the end I couldn’t decide between them. The 1947 classic starring Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood is one of the finest films ever made. Gwenn won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a man who claims to be Santa Claus and is subsequently deemed insane and institutionalised. When it was remade in 1994 with an updated screenplay from John Hughes, there was really only one person who could embody the role of Father Christmas – Richard Attenborough. Although slightly more saccharine and “Hollywood” than the original, this newer version stills brings the charm thanks to Attenborough and Mara Wilson, taking on the role made famous by Natalie Wood. I could watch both films without a problem, but if I were to choose…well, that would be telling!
The original Home Alone movie became one of the biggest comedy films of all time, breaking box-office records left, right and centre. It was almost inevitable, then, that this sequel would follow. Macaulay Culkin returns as Kevin, the most obnoxious anti-hero in any kids’ film, who finds himself sans family once again at Christmas. This time, the rest of the McCallister clan lose their delightful relative in the airport on their way to Florida. Kevin, however, gets on a different flight and ends up in New York. Also in The Big Apple for the holidays are Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci & Daniel Stern), newly escaped from prison and on the lookout for another quick buck in the shape of money intended for charity that has been donated by patrons of a toy store. Basically, it’s the same movie as the original only transplanted to New York. Kevin defends the toy store, and then his uncle’s rundown house, while his family make their way to meet him in time for the big day. It’s bigger, often funnier, and has added Tim Curry, what more do you want?
WATCH IT FOR: Merry Christmas, Ya Filthy Animal!
RISE OF THE GUARDIANS (2012)
Featuring the voices of Chris Pine, Jude Law, Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin hamming it up as Santa Claus, Rise of the Guardians is a delightful animated film that sees all the major holiday icons join forces as the Immortal Guardians. Together, they must protect the innocence of the earth’s children from the evil spirit, Pitch (Law) while trying to get along with each other. It’s a wonderful family movie that deserves more love than it got on it’s release. You should give it a go, you won’t regret it!
WATCH IT FOR: Jack Frost vs Easter Bunny!
SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE (1985)
I saw this film at the cinema when I was ten-years-old but for a long time afterwards I avoided watching it again as my young brain didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I did. It wasn’t until many years later that I revisited it and remembered all the reasons why it is such a classic. David Huddleston stars as a master toymaker who discovers a magical kingdom in the North Pole and becomes Santa Claus. Santa’s head elf, Patch (Dudley Moore), seeks something bigger and heads to New York where he comes across evil toy baron, B.Z. (John Lithgow) who plans to takeover Christmas. It really is a magical movie made all the more special by a Henry Mancini score and a lead actor who embodies the role of Santa like he was born to play it.
WATCH IT FOR: Trailer
When the Griswold family goes on holiday, disaster usually follows so you’d think staying at home for Christmas would be different. Not a chance! Clark (Chevy Chase) is trying to stay positive amid unexpected houseguests, outrageous decorations and hideous neighbours by focussing his mind on his impending Christmas bonus. It’s daft, crazy and very funny and is a must-watch at this time of year, if only to see a family in a worse position than your own!
HOLIDAY INN (1942)
Two men, Bing Crosby‘s crooner and Fred Astaire‘s dancer, chase after the same woman, Marjorie Reynolds, in this wonderful musical. Crosby plays Jim Hardy who runs the Holiday Inn, an establishment that only opens on the holidays. He falls for Linda Mason (Reynolds), an up-and-coming performer who is being pursued by suave dancer Ted Hanover (Astaire) to be his new dance partner after being jilted by his ex. They all converge on the Inn where they sing, perform and fall in love. This film is notable for bringing us one of the biggest-selling songs of all time, White Christmas.
WATCH IT FOR: It couldn’t be any other clip, could it? White Christmas
And there you have it, another Christmas sorted. There are, of course, plenty of other festive treats to see – All I Want For Christmas, Christmas With The Kranks, The Polar Express, White Christmas – but I don’t have the space to cover them all (a couple have already featured) so you’ll just have to seek them out for yourselves. I also considered adding a couple of television specials but, again, there are so many that I might just save those for next year! I hope this year hasn’t been too stressful for you all – mine has, but I won’t bore you with those details! – and that you get everything you wish for yourselves for the coming year. Normal service will resume in the new year with plenty more editions of My Life In Film/TV… as well as the occasional special, but until then all that’s left is to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!