Today: May 24, 2024

Christmas Crackers

Nothing quite says Christmas (besides over-indulgence, dodgy jumpers and crap TV repeats) like a feel-good film full of goodwill to all men.

Nothing quite says Christmas (besides over-indulgence, dodgy jumpers
and crap TV repeats) like a feel-good film full of goodwill to all men.
Granted, what warms the cockles of one viewer’s heart may make
another feel vaguely nauseous, but with this festive top ten (which is in no
particular order) we hope there’ll be something for all of you, from festive
comedies to moving war stories. In fact, if this collection of timeless little
beauties doesn’t get you feeling ‘Christmassy’ and restore your faith in
humanity, then you really are as cold-hearted as Scrooge. So jump into your PJs, crack open the
Roses (stuff the diet, it can start next year) and get comfortable.

A Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Sometimes the oldies are the best,
and that’s definitely the case with George
Seaton’s offering which is so darn
festive you wish you were in New York in the midst of all that old-fashioned
festive cheer. A genial old man who maintains he’s Santa is, unfortunately, but
perhaps understandably, dispatched to the nuthouse. However, a young lawyer decides to defend him and argue he
is what he says he is – and in the process allows six year old Susan, played by
a young Natalie Wood, to hold onto a
dream she’s always had. The best line has to be when Wood’s character
challenges his authenticity saying: “”If you’re really Santa Claus, you
can get it for me. And if you can’t you’re only a nice man with a white beard
like Mother said”. Schmaltzy as hell, and we love it.

The Holiday (2006)
Rom-com fans will understand the
easy appeal of this picture-postcard film, which boasts eye candy in the form
of Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet and Jude
Law
. Oh, and Jack Black’s in it
too. The cinematic equivalent of a box of chocolates, this ‘chick flick’ is a
great advert for the romantic attractions of the English countryside at
Christmas (it was filmed in a snowy Cotswolds). The plot is a preposterous one
which involves an English journo (Winslet) and an LA-based producer of film
trailers swapping houses for Christmas. Both unlucky in love, they find romance
on opposite sides of the pond. It’s a film that requires no brainpower
whatsoever, but who cares? It’s guaranteed to make you want to fall in love
again and while away your evenings in a charming little pub in the middle of
nowhere. With Jude Law, ideally…

Holiday Inn (1942)
The incredible star pairing of Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, plus the sounds of classic Irving Berlin numbers, make the lack of any semblance of a plot in
this bright, sugar-coated musical romp no issue, really. In it, an unlucky in
love performer decides to retire and open a country inn, where a new female
performer sets heads turning. Holiday Inn actually won itself an Oscar (for White Christmas) and was the
springboard for two other films based on songs from the movie (White Christmas and Easter Parade) … and spawned a big
multinational hotel chain. Would Irving be turning in his grave or dancing
under the mistletoe at what he set in motion?!

The Nightmare Before Xmas (1993)
If you prefer your festive viewing
to possess a good deal of dark comedy, then Tim Burton’s your man.
Kids and grown-ups alike return time and time again to this stop-frame
fantasy classic in which Santa is kidnapped and tortured! Creepy and funny in
equal measure, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, happens upon a strange
alternative place called, you guessed it, Christmastown, peopled with odd and
intriguing characters. This might give tiny tots nightmares but it’s adored by
older kids – and their parents. Slightly subversive and wonderfully inventive,
and with a superb soundtrack by Danny
Elfman
who also voices Jack, this is Burton at his whacky best.

Elf (2003) (Main Picture)
It’s got Will Ferrell in it, which is enough to give you a fairly good idea
of the tone of this movie. A holiday comedy packed full of laughs, Ferrell
plays Buddy, a mountain of a man, who was raised by Santa Claus in the North
Pole to be an elf. When he eventually finds out he is an elf only in name, he
heads to NYC to discover who his true parents are. Cue laughs a-plenty as Ferrell’s character takes in the
delights of the Big Apple as only an elf can. The flimsy plot is saved by
Ferrell’s great talent for physical comedy. Totally daft and perfect for a
stress-free two hours in front of the TV, it also stars Zooey Deschanel and James
Caan
.

The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)
Like many on our Christmas top
ten, this is an obvious yet somehow unavoidable choice. This delightfully
tongue-in-cheek take on Charles Dickens’ classic has been re-released this
Christmas and will no doubt win a whole new young generation of fans. And it’s
got a lot to commend it, in particular Michael
Caine’s
deadpan yet strangely likeable Scrooge, and Gonzo as narrator
pretending to be Dickens. Directed by
Jim Henson’s
son Brian following his father’s death, it sees our favourite
fluffy parodists in fine form as top tunes are warbled by Miss Piggy and her
cohorts.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
The Christmas classic to end all
Christmas classics is one film that, regardless of taste, should be on every
cinema fan’s holiday viewing list. Frank
Capra’s
bittersweet triumph is a class act from its charismatic characters
to its optimistic direction. Not many people could pull off a positive movie
whose central character George Bailey (James
Stewart
) is considering topping himself. Bailey is a decent man who feels
life in the dead-end town of Bedford Falls has dealt him one bitter blow too
many. An aging angel (Henry Travers)
is sent down to terra firma to convince him otherwise, with examples of how the
world would be a worse place without him. Its themes of hardship and
despondency are, unfortunately, extremely relevant to the modern day. Fine
acting and subtle direction make It’s A Wonderful Life not only the perfect
yuletide watch, but a great example of filmmaking.

Joyeux Noel (2005)
You might need to get the hankies
out for this deeply moving, Oscar-nominated drama set during the Second World
War, which tells the real story of French, German and Scottish troops who
called a ceasefire for Christmas Eve. Even during the most heartless of
conflicts, enemies put aside their differences and showed true humanity. It’s
sure to put spats at the dinner table over who won the cracker and how much
turkey you’ve been served in comparison to your sister into perspective – at
least for a couple of hours.

We’re No Angels (1955)
Christmas shenanigans are the name
of the game in this film, which sees the great Humphrey Bogart reunited with his Casablanca director. No, Bogart didn’t really ‘do’ comedy, so this
was a rare happening and apparently he, Peter
Ustinov
and Aldo Ray had a total
blast playing good-hearted ex-cons on the run. Do not confuse it with the 1989
remake with Robert De Niro and Sean Penn. They should have been, erm,
locked up for their performances, the pair of them.

The Polar Express (2004)
If you can’t bear the sight of Tom Hanks in any film, then look away as
this one stars not just one Hanks, but a whole ensemble of Tom Hankses. If on
the other hand you love a bit of Hanks, then you’re bound to find something to
love in The Polar Express, a fast-paced adaptation of the well-loved children’s
book of the same name, with some impressive if creepy motion-capture technology
(the little kids on the enchanted train look a bit scary and Tom Hanks looks
like he needs a serious holiday in the sun, but it’s impressive!). Oh, and it’s so saccharine that it
might test the most benevolent viewer, even at Christmas. But what is Christmas
about, if not joy and sweetness? You say what?! You bunch of old Scrooges …

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