Musicals, romance, animation and more festive films you need to see
Time Out staff
Christmas movies are all about snow, Santa and saccharine sentiment, and from cosy suburban and gangster flicks to Grinches, Charles Dickens and Charlie Brown, there’s a whole world of entertainment for the holiday season. We round up some of the best (and the worst) festive flicks that show what Christmas cinema is all about. Ho ho ho!
Cartoons and Christmas are a perfect fit, which is probably why every year DVD shelves are stocked with keep-the-kids-quiet movies about magical reindeers and happy elves. But rising above all of them are a variety of classics, the greatest among them being the animated television specials, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966), and the perennially awesome A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) – one of the sweetest, most beautiful films ever made for children. Christmas scenes pop up in a fistful of Disney flicks, from Lady and the Tramp (1955) to Toy Story (1995). But if your family is of a crazier turn of mind, there’s always Tim Burton’s stop-motion freak-fest The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
Love it or loathe it, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is one of the most important Christmas movies. Its themes of generosity and forbearance in the face of adversity always strike a chord with viewers worldwide, so it’s hardly surprising that the film has proved a massive influence on Hollywood depictions of the festive season through the ages. Movies as diverse as Miracle on 34th St (1947) and The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) celebrate or satirise Capra’s twinkling all-American aesthetic, but the most unique Capra pastiche is undoubtedly Gremlins (1984), in which director Joe Dante tears down all the cosy small-town clichés through the savage critters. Dickens
When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, he couldn’t have known that he was penning a world-changing piece of literature. The internet lists no less than 21 adaptations of the classic tale, but considering that list doesn’t include the Bill Murray comedy Scrooged (1988), we can safely assume there are many more. Among our favourites, the ever-so-lively 1951 version starring Alastair Sim stands out, but the maddest, most entertainingly off-the-book version has to be the woolly and wonderful The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Families at war
Simmering familial spite fiestas as disparate as Kramer vs Kramer (1979), Icelandic gem 101 Reykjavík (2000) and The War of the Roses (1989) all feature memorable Christmas references. But the Daddy of them all is The Ref (1994), in which burglar Denis Leary forces bickering yuppies Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey to enjoy the festive season – at gunpoint. Sometimes that’s what it takes… Musicals
One may imagine that the era of the Christmas sing-song is a thing of the past, but it wasn’t always like this: Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) contains one of the greatest Christmas songs ever, as Judy Garland laments her impending departure from her hometown with a stirring rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. What about Albert Finney’s musical take on the miserly anti-hero of Ronald Neame’s Scrooge (1970)? But if there’s one man in cinema who is unable to keep his wild enthusiasm for Christmas under wraps, it’s Bing Crosby, star of Holiday Inn (1942) and White Christmas (1954). Both films are as sugary and gloopy as an eggnog tsunami, but that’s exactly what you want on a December morning.
Christmas is a time for families rather than couples, but that specific sense of loneliness that descends on the lovelorn over the festive period can add much depth to the most average romcom – case in point Love Actually (2003), a reprehensible slice of Britcom treacle in which Bill Nighy’s sad Christmas rocker is the only palatable portion. Many great romances visit Christmas fleetingly – When Harry Met Sally (1989) or Annie Hall (1977) – but the most successful festive love fest must be While You Were Sleeping (1995) a deeply drippy, wholly loveable Noo Yoik love story in which Sandra Bullock falls for subway crash victim Peter Gallagher, only to realise that she should be with his less comatose bro, Bill Pullman. Unwanted visitors
There’s a fifth wheel at many a Yuletide gathering. But spare a thought for the interloping chancer at the office Christmas party or the sob story from the pub that you end up inviting back for a turkey dinner, because they, like Jim Carrey’s bitter, twisted, hairy, green spoilsport in Ron Howard’s How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000), are probably decent enough at heart. And don’t miss Billy Crystal in Rabbit Test (1978) (directed by Joan Rivers) who spends Christmas in the full bloom of male pregnancy. Now that’s what you call an unwanted guest!