Written by Grae Westgate
Everyone has their own way to get into the festive spirit. Some put up their decorations mid-November, often to the chagrin of neighbours. Others insist on parading ties and jumpers like they’re in some kind of holiday-themed Lady Gaga video. Bournemouth Council, meanwhile, for some reason deems it festive to fill the town with naff knickknacks and blast ’Fairytale of New York’ at the highest possible volume from an over-priced pop-up bar in the middle of the town square. ‘Cause nothing says Christmas more than paying six English Pounds for half a sip of warm cider.
For me - much like the rest of the year if I’m honest - Christmas is made up of movies. A select few that simply must be watched on an annual basis in order to ensure levels of holly-jollyness reach a peak in time for the big day.
Of course, everyone has their opinions on what makes a Christmas movie; I would happily sit through Die Hard and appreciate the heartwarmingness of seeing Alan Rickman tumble from the top of Nakatomi Plaza, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be a yearly event. A dear friend of mine uses the Rocky saga as his own annual advent calendar. Others claim Elf to be the ultimate Christmas movie, though I’ll admit that I’ve never managed to sit through it.
But here, in no other order than their own chronology, are the movies that make up my Christmas. The ones that have never missed a year and, on the rare occasion they have, I have felt a real sense of a family member being absent from the feast.
Oh Phoebe Cates. Please come back to acting. Amidst the ingenious mischief of this cautionary tale, young Kate’s story of The Year Daddy Didn’t Come Home is one of the greatest movie monologues of all time. Gremlins could easily have become a forgotten B-movie, like so very many other eighties creature features, but Joe Dante’s masterful directing, coupled with animatronics that (mostly) still hold up, a fantastic cast, and a score that sticks in your noggin for days after, Gremlins is a stand-out in an often over-looked sub-genre. Added to that, the utter adorableness of Gizmo ensured that merch would keep on rolling out for decades to come.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Christmas 1992, I was given a choice akin to Sophie’s: when visiting Santa, old St. Nick forced my six-year-old self to pick between going to see Jason Donovan in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, or hit the cinema for the new Muppets movie. To this day, I maintain I made the right choice. The Muppet Christmas Carol is not only the best Muppet movie (Treasure Island coming in a close second, and the hideously underrated Muppets from Space in third), but arguably the best interpretation of Dickens’ classic tale. Yes, Scrooged is awesome, and even Kelsey Grammer has a bizarre charm, but from the moment Michael Caine steps into that opening musical number to his (admittedly godawful when you actually listen to it) finale, he brings the role to life with aplomb. His acting opposite the Muppets is simply sublime and, save for The Cider House Rules and those tears in Nolan’s third Batman, this is Mr. Micklewhite at his absolute finest.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
I’m going to come out and admit that, as I grow older, this film is beginning to lose some of its charm. Over the last few years, it’s gone from a “must watch” to a “yeah, I guess I have to…” That’s not to say it’s not still wonderful; Elfman’s soundtrack and Sellick’s stop-motion, coupled with Burton’s maudlin style remains the seminal piece of cinema that it was twenty-five years ago. The gothic imagery and fantastic characters are fabulous, and the songs never fail to raise a smile. So why I am somewhat tired of it? Perhaps it’s that as I grow older, Jack seems more and more of a selfish prick. Perhaps it’s association with the Ghost of Girlfriends Past. Or perhaps it’s simply Burton fatigue. Maybe I should take a few years’ break. Or maybe I’ll just power through it tonight. We shall see.
Jingle All the Way (1996)
This film is on the list for one reason and one reason only; Arnie bellowing “I’m not a pervert!” in the middle of a shopping mall. Yes, on one level, it’s a clever parody of nineties commercialism; that last minute race to get a tamogotchi in the days before online shopping negated the majority of festive panic, but when all’s said and done, it’s pretty naff. And yet, amidst the over-Americanisation of Arnie’s “Howard Langston” and the utter annoyingness of Sinbad, there’s a bizarre charm that makes Turboman an integral part of the holiday season.
Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman (2000)
Okay, so this movie is absolute crap. But dear lord does it know it. Found in a bargain bin at Blockbuster back in the first year at university, what started as a joke present quickly became an annual tradition, shared with new friends and family members each year. A sequel to Jack Frost (NOT the Michael Keaton one), a holiday horror movie that takes itself far too seriously, JF2 sees a notorious serial killer reincarnated in the form of a mutant snowman. Thereafter, he terrorises a tropical island, only to be defeated by a banana. Yup. Filled with hilarious characters, ingenious one-liners, and more product placement for Asahi than a Shibuya off-license, this is a film that needs to be seen to be believed.
Every Harry Potter Film (2001-2011)
Harry Potter isn’t, by any definition, a series of Christmas films. Sure, there’s always a Christmas sequence when Harry and whichever friends are unwanted by their parents on any given year are left behind at Hogwarts for the holidays, and those first two Columbus films have a horrible Boxing Day tweeness to them, but overall there’s not much that screams “Christmas” about the Wizarding World movies. So why do they make the list? Possibly it stems from that same Boxing Day fatigue. The Harry Potter films became an annual stocking-filler during their DVD releases, and since then it has become a subconscious tradition to stick on The Philosopher’s Stone the day after Christmas and then lazily make our way through the rest up until New Year’s. And still, after all this time? Always.
Love, Actually (2003)
I don’t know what it is about Love, Actually that draws me in every year. Since the first viewing all the way back in 2004 (fourteen years now… jeez…) this film has never once failed to make me cry. And it’s always at a different point. Andrew Lincoln at the door… Emma Thompson trying to keep it together for her family… Colin Firth’s butchering of Portuguese… The passing of one of my greatest screen heroes, Mr. Rickman... But perhaps that’s the magic of it; Love, Actually is a film that can be watched endlessly, giving you something completely new each time. It’s twee, it’s daft, but dear god it’s Christmassy AF.
The Polar Express (2004)
I’ll start by saying that I freakin’ hate The Polar Express. Its uncanny valley animation is simply disturbing, the story is utter bobbins, and this is a rare blip in Tom Hanks’ otherwise unblemished career. This is a film that I have never once sat through as a complete viewing but, due to my father’s utter obsession with it, have managed to puzzle together over the course of the last decade. A running joke amongst myself and my siblings, this has become the point in the season where we plop dad in front of the telly with a box of chocolate liqueurs and take turns to leave the room for annual phone calls and a sneaky cigarette.
Better Watch Out (2016)
The newest addition to this list, Better Watch Out is one of those rare horror-comedies that actually hits the mark. A twisted mix of classic babysitter horror and Home Alone, with a sprinkling of Funny Games for good measure, this is a movie that subverts a whole bunch of conventions to create a wildly original Christmas classic. Its young cast eat the scenery with equanimity, with fourteen-year-old Levi Miller a true breakout star. There’s not much more that can be said without giving the game away, so hurry up and add this to your watch list!
What movies make up your festive favourites? Let us know in the comments below. And from all of us here at Forge & Flint, a very happy Holiday season!
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