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The Best of Christmas Cinema

Rob Gresham Student Life

Christmas films can be split into three categories: films that comfort you during the festive season, films actually about Christmas or films that are just sort of set during Christmas. I’ve tried to come up with the very best list for each category, and like my last piece some that you hopefully hadn’t thought of! There’s also a little bit at the bottom about stuff you can catch on the big screen.

Films that comfort you during the festive season

Christmas time often means a lot of time off, so there’s a lot of spare time to play with. This category is built for that spare time – those lonely hours laid in bed. There are certain things that come with this as well, such as TV specials (we watch The Good life Christmas special every year) but what films must be watched on lazy afternoons?

  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003)

    These films are mesmerising whether you’re a fantasy fan or not. Peter Jackson and his phenomenal cast did such a fantastic job with the story. They are long, but not tiresome, and the perfect way to waste a day. You’ll inevitably catch them on the tele, thinking you’ll just watch the first half an hour. 9 hours later you’re in tears as Frodo sets sail to leave the Shire for the last time.
  • The Harry Potter series (2001-2011)

    This is probably the most Christmassy pick for this category, because at some point in each film in the series Christmas happens. Probably most notably when Harry receives the invisibility cloak in the Philosophers Stone. These films are of course my childhood, and an incredibly well crafted series. The third one is one of my favourite movies of all time, but each of them never fails to excite, or move me. They, like LOTR, never get old and I could watch them all day every day.
  • The Great Escape (1963)

    This film is always on over Christmas time, usually on actual Christmas day. It is of course a classic, but still very much holds up today. In the slim chance that you haven’t seen it, give it a go, as it is still completely entertaining. This could be the king of the Christmas comfort films, and one that puts me into utter contentment. There is no greater joy in film then seeing Steve McQueen go back and forth from the cooler with a smirk on his face.

Films actually about Christmas

Here comes the boring category, because let’s face it, are films about Christmas actually any good? We avoid them all year then it comes to late November and everyone’s raving about how much they love Elf. Elf is fine. The Santa Claus is fine. I’ve picked a few films here that I have connected to personally, that are slightly better than fine.

  • The Night Before (2015)

    This movie manages to capture the Christmas spirit whilst also throwing on its head. It’s an adult film, with adult themes, and adult activities, yet still has a lot of heart. That heart comes from true friendship, something you begin to realise Christmas time is about. Especially now as a student living away from home, as Christmas is the time you get to see those old friends. It’s hilarious and worth watching just for Michael Shannon’s guardian angel character.
  • Scrooged (1988)

    Everyone knows Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol story, but never has it been told with such cynicism. This is one of those nihilistic Bill Murray films (think Groundhog Day) where he is so beautifully miserable. The darkness of this movie makes it so memorable and a really interesting twist on the classic tale. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, but after a lot of morbidity there is a lot of beauty here.
  • Jingle all the Way (1996)

    There had to be some cheese in this list and there’s plenty I could have picked. Although this film is properly rubbish, whenever I catch it on it stays on. There is something about it that makes it such an easy watch. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a non-action film doing only slightly action film things is so much fun and really charming. If I was forced to watch a B-rate Christmas film over and over again it would be this happy mess.

Films that are just sort of set during Christmas

This is where the fun begins, because there is a large amount of choice. Films just set around Christmas time means that we can stay away from the Santa hats and the carol singing. We can look at more interesting films that still relate (in a small way) to the festive season. 

  • Die Hard (1988)

    Obviously Die Hard had to be in this list somewhere. It’s become kind of joke that it’s a Christmas film, but it really does define this category. The film is special to me because it was the first adult rated film I saw (15 & over) and we watched it on Christmas Eve. Somehow my dad persuaded my mum it was suitable for an 8 & 10 year old, and myself and my sister loved it.  It’s thrilling, charming, and most of all loveable. There’s nothing not to like – from Alan Rickman’s hammy villain to Bruce Willis’ unlikely hero. You only have to think of – ‘Ho, Ho, Ho, now I have a machine gun’ to get all the Christmas you need.
  • Batman Returns (1992)

    This film is bonkers. Tim Burton ups the Goth meter for this sequel to the 1989 film and it is brilliant. The penguin (born to play by Danny Devito) is horrifying in this film and all of his scenes are beautifully traumatising. Not only that but it has an iconic Michelle Pfeiffer performance as Catwoman who stole the hearts of every 90’s male. Its Christmas related because most of the action occurs around Christmas time, including a scene with a massive Christmas tree in the background. There’s also a fair bit of snow, and Batman is a very winter-y character.
  • In Bruges (2008)

    It’s hard to really pinpoint why this film is Christmas related. The film only mentions Christmas a couple of times, but it definitely has a festive feel to it. I mean, the film is pretty dark, but on a technical level is very Christmassy. The final part of the film is lit in that style, with fairy lights backing most scenes, and a snowfall in the closing moments. More than that In Bruges is the ideal Christmas location – a town lost in time and ‘magical’ like Brendan Gleeson’s character says throughout. An article by the AV club notes it as capturing the essence of the existential dread of the holiday season. This is a bit of a depressing view, but probably true. It’s a remarkable film and one of my favourites to watch anytime, not just over Christmas. 

At the Cinema

It’s a risk seeing a Christmas film at the cinema, especially when there’s not much buzz around them. My recommendation would be to see the new Star Wars film - The Last Jedi as there’s definitely a Christmas comfort to the pure escapism that that series brings (also a great chance for some family bonding over the break). Other than that It’s a Wonderful Life is a must see and it plays every year at the Tyneside cinema just a 10 minute walk from campus. It’s of course the ultimate Christmas film, and you can disregard this whole article and just treat yourself to seeing that in the theatre (expect tears).

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