The Film & TV editors and four of our writers have chosen their favourite holiday films to savour this Christmas.
Black Mirror: White Christmas, 2014
Dir: Carl Tibbetts
Chosen by Patrick Sullivan, Film & TV Editor
IMDb / Black Mirror / Channel 4
It starts with the Wizzard classic ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ and unravels slowly after establishing a Christmas dinner scenario with two strangers, Matt and Potter, played by the smooth Jon Hamm and the tetchy Rafe Spall. Matt (Hamm) is an invasive love guru who uses the latest technology to feed live information and guidance to his pathetic clientele, and streams it all to an online audience. Classic Black Mirror.
What makes White Christmas an exceptional episode of the anthology series and an unconventional Christmas pick, are the layers of mystery on offer. From Matt and Potter’s location and purpose, to the encounter between virgin Harry (Rasmus Hardiker) and schizophrenic Jennifer (Natalia Tena), and the technologies of the ‘Z eye’, ‘cookies’, and real life ‘blocking’, there is plenty to wrap the mind around. Black Mirror: White Christmas is a lengthy episode of TV for those who prefer a dramatic, shocking Christmas.
Home Alone, 1990
Dir: Chris Columbus
Chosen by Luke Silverman, Film & TV Deputy Editor
IMDb / Twentieth Century Fox
If you are looking for a film to put a smile on your face, then look no further than this comedy classic. Macaulay Culkin plays Kevin McAllister, one of many in the McAllister family. When the family leave to go on holiday for Christmas, Kevin is accidentally left behind amidst the confusion. This leaves Kevin to fend for himself. However, the real hilarity starts when a pair of robbers, played by the brilliant duo Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, decide to target the McAllister home, figuring it is empty. All out war between Kevin and the so called ‘wet bandits’ ensues with slapstick comedy galore. This brilliant film never gets old, and having watched it multiple times, it only seems to get funnier the more I see it!
The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992
Dir: Brian Henson
Chosen by James Turnbull, Film & TV Online Editor
IMDb / Walt Disney Pictures
You know The Muppet Christmas Carol is something special when Michael Caine can cry ‘This is Fozziwig's old rubber chicken factory!’ and it doesn’t take you out of the magic of the film for a single second. This beloved adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol features the heartwarming whimsy and memorable musical numbers you’d expect from The Muppets, but the sheer emotional power is what sticks with me - and that comes from Michael Caine’s turn as Scrooge. He commits to every second, as if the supporting cast didn’t all have puppeteers’ hands up their backsides opening their mouths for them. For me, Christmas isn’t Christmas without it.
The Apartment, 1960
Dir: Billy Wilder
Chosen by Miles Jackson, Student Film Correspondent
IMDb / MGM
Is there a film that presents Christmas’ best qualities better than Billy Wilder’s The Apartment? Despite the wryly satirical depiction of office life and wage slave capitalism, the film exudes warmth, kindness and decency. The yuletide romcom follows Bud - a lowly insurance clerk whose bosses use his apartment for extramarital affairs - and his yearning for Fran, the elevator operator in his building. Not once does the film shy away from presenting horrifically dark subject matter, up to and including suicide, yet it does so with an exceedingly light touch, with ingenious visual comedy and Jack Lemmon’s heart-melting performance anchoring the darkness in a compassionate warmth. Much like Christmas itself, the film takes a ruthless, wintry world and finds a glimmer of hope in it.
Love Actually, 2003
Dir: Richard Curtis
Chosen by Ethan Luc, Chief Proofreader
IMDb / Universal Pictures
If you google Love Actually reviews, you’d be forgiven for thinking all film critics were heartless monsters. ‘Love? Actually, no.’ But chances are if you ask the people around you, they would cite it as the greatest Christmas film of all time. Why?
Employing a slightly gimmicky narrative framework of nine interconnected stories, Love Actually follows the romantic lives of its talented ensemble cast as they negotiate through stale marriages, unlikely holiday romances and boyhood crushes at Christmastime. There are moving scenes (‘And my wasted heart…’), cute scenes (Brodie-Sangster interrogating his father about love) and funny scenes (Rowan Atkinson steals the show in five short minutes). Okay, sometimes it’s saccharine but at the heart of the film is the noble idea of connecting people at a lonely time of year. 'God Only Knows' why you would criticise such an endeavour.
The Polar Express, 2004
Dir: Robert Zemeckis
Chosen by Theo Antonov, Second Year, English
IMDb / Warner Bros
The Polar Express is a masterpiece, a beautifully crafted and polished animation that exhibit the very best elements of humanity. It follows the story of the hero boy (Daryl Sabara), a child doubtful over the existence of Santa Claus, who rides a magic train to the north pole on a voyage of discovery. Along the way, he meets a girl (Nona Gaye) and a boy called Billy (Jimmy Bennett), who teach him the virtues of kindness, resolve, and courage. All the adult males are voiced by Tom Hanks, including the voiceover of the hero boy once grown up, implying that in adulthood the boy could become any one of them: the believers, Santa and The Conductor, or the cynics, his father and the Hobo. Alan Silvestri’s score perfectly matches scenes of emotion throughout the film, using themes that intermingle and develop in their orchestration to build complex and nuanced levels of meaning.
Perhaps the greatest element of the film is it isn’t sugar-coated, sycophantic, and nauseating. Throughout the film, loneliness and unhappiness are explored as much as happiness and festivity. By addressing the depressing elements along with the joyful, Zemeckis creates a timeless nuanced Christmas story that is balanced, cathartic, and an utter delight to watch.
All That Heaven Allows, 1955
Dir: Douglas Sirk
Chosen by Oliver Goddard, Second Year, English
IMDb / Universal Pictures
Cineastes looking for their festive fix of golden age studio filmmaking need look no further than Douglas Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows (1955). It follows the blossoming May-December romance between newly widowed society woman Cary Scott (Jane Wyman) and her dashing younger gardener Ron Kirby (Rock Hudson). It’s the definitive Hollywood melodrama, the mould from which Rainer Werner Fassbinder based his Fear Eats The Soul (1974) and from which Todd Haynes spun his own Far From Heaven (2002) and the superlative - and similarly seasonal - Carol (2014).
Rendered in what may be the most ravishing and evocative use of technicolour in the medium, it is a gorgeously romantic film. But, particularly when it moves into its final act, set at Christmas, it becomes one of Hollywood’s most pointed criticisms of commercialism and 50s social conventions. Most of all, however, it is an opportunity to bask in Rock Hudson’s glory as he bags up Christmas trees, feeds deer, sings songs, and basically prove that he’s a better man than we’ll ever be. A masterpiece.
Dir: Norman Jewison
Chosen by Caitlin Price, Second Year, English
YouTube / Movieclips
On its surface, Moonstruck (1987) is only casually Christmassy with a handful of festive images. However, delve a little deeper and it becomes clear that Christmas and its values are at the heart of the film which deals with the magic of love and family.
The story follows the widow, Loretta Castorini (Cher), as she falls in love with her fiancé’s brother, Ronnie Cammareri (Nicholas Cage). The film somehow manages to unite all the passion of a gothic romance with a pleasingly implausible ending that’s strangely evocative of a Shakespearean comedy. Genuinely funny moments flow into poignant ones and the paradoxes of love are explored from its strengthening trials to its imperfect, potentially ruinous, heights.
Norman Jewison’s films were rarely strangers to awards and Moonstruck went on to bag three Oscars including Best Actress for the iconic Cher who brings the magic to Moonstruck.
Featured Image Credits: IMDb / Black Mirror / Channel 4, IMDb / Twentieth Century Fox, IMDb / Walt Disney Pictures, IMDb / MGM, IMDb / Universal Pictures, IMDb / Warner Bros, IMDb / Universal Pictures, YouTube / Movieclips, Collage via Canva
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