The 12 Films of Christmas!
Now that it's December I can get excited about Christmas right?
Actually it's more the run up to Christmas that I love; Christmas fayres, parties, catching up with friends, present buying, present wrapping, I love the lot! I particularly love how these events evoke the Christmas spirit within you. In fact just days ago I visited the picturesque village of Shere in Surrey with a good friend. We Christmas shopped, enjoyed succulent pork belly in the oh so cosy and historic White Horse pub, and soaked up the wonderful Christmas atmosphere of a village where Christmas Carols in the village square is still an annual event.
But one thing that I really enjoy in the holiday season is a good Christmas film. My little tradition for myself when wrapping presents is to enjoy a glass (read bottle) of Baileys while watching Scrooged and taking my time expertly wrapping the presents I have carefully picked for my loved ones....although have still not learnt how to wrap a tube without making it look like a pound shop cracker!
One reason I love film is that it can transport you to a world away from your own and allow you, for a short time, to experience another life. It allows you to forgot that you live in a world where people are being killed in their hundreds over someone using their religion as a reason to cause terror, it allows you to forget you live in a world where someone as heinous as Donald Trump is elected to President and it allows you to believe that maybe, just maybe, things might turn out ok in the end.
So this season, I intend to lose myself, once again, in the films that bring me Christmas joy. But before I share them with you I must give a special mention to my personal TV Christmas favourite; 'Blackadders Christmas Carol'.
This 45 minute laugh a minute take on 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens is a sheer beauty. Rowan Atkinson is of course Blackadder, the kindest man in England who owns a moustache shop in Victorian England. His assistant Baldrick, played by Tony Robinson, is always at his side. This is a tale where the three ghosts convince lovely Blackadder that bad guys have all the fun and manage to flip his personality to the Blackadder that we all know and love. There are also brilliant performances by Miriam Margoyles and Jim Broadbent as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.
Just a wee clip of my favourite part. The German Prince Albert in disguise to reward the kind people of London meets Blackadder...
And onto the films!
12. THE HOLIDAY (2006)
In 2006, the Christmas rom-com was perfected with the beautiful film 'The Holiday'. The reason I describe it as beautiful is because it is just that. The actors are beautiful, the village setting is beautiful, the storyline is beautiful, if somewhat predictable. But that's ok, because this film does it's job brilliantly. It makes you feel warm, fuzzy, Christmassy..and depressed if you're still single. Perfect Christmas rom-com material.
Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Iris (Kate Winslet) are two young women recently betrayed by the men they love. Wanting a change in their lives, they swap houses for part of the holiday season. Amanda finds herself in a quaint English chocolate box cottage (pictured above) and Iris finds herself in Los Angeles, in a huge mansion complete with an ageing Hollywood ex-scriptwriter neighbour; played charmingly by the late Eli Wallach. Although both women are wanting no complications, that soon changes when the charming Graham (played dashingly by Jude Law), who is Iris's brother, walks into Amanda's life and Amanda's good friend Miles (Jack Black) strikes up a friendship with Iris. Still with me?
'The Holiday' is just lovely. It's written and directed by Nancy Meyers who is known for her focus on providing women in lead roles and it ticks every box for a feel good Christmas film. But one word of warning. Though it will be hard, try not to fall in love with the cottage Iris lives in (pictured above), it doesn't exist! It was built purely for the film by an excellent production team and is in fact, just a field!
11. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
In the question of 'how long does it take to come up with a title for a Christmas horror film'? This probably took 5 seconds. But don't be fooled by the slightly lame title - this film is a perfect slice of 1970's horror and is considered by many to be one of the first in the slasher genre.
The storyline is familiar; a group of sorority girls living in a sorority house start receiving threatening phone calls and suddenly, one by one, are being brutally murdered. Yes it sounds like 'Scream', yes it sounds like 'When A Stranger Calls', but this film came first and does a great job of building suspense. Some of the acting is questionable but when you have a young Olivia Hussey playing the lead, it makes up for that. Feel for her...she went on to be kidnapped by a giant spider in 'IT'. Warm and fuzzy it is not, but that doesn't stop it from being a great Christmas film! Just don't watch it alone in a big house with a landline.
10. NATIONAL LAMPOON'S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
If there's one thing guaranteed to make you smile, it's a good National Lampoon film! While 'Christmas Vacation' might not be the best in the series, it certainly is worth a mention.
In his quest for the perfect family Christmas, Clark Griswold (played to hilarious perfection by the uber talented Chevy Chase) manages to create complete chaos around him, including inducing a city-wide power shortage with the 25,000 Christmas lights on his house, insulting his boss when he fails to give Clark his Christmas bonus and instead signs him up with a year long membership to the Jelly of the Month Club, and fry the family cat! Look closely at the kids in this installment as you may recognise a very young Juliet Lewis and Johnny Galecki!
9. THE POLAR EXPRESS (2004)
If there was ever a Christmas film for you to completely be drawn into another world - this is it. Based on the 1985 book of the same name, 'The Polar Express' is simply stunning. Not only is the film animated but it uses the motion capture technique to turn the human actors (one of which is Tom Hanks playing six different characters) into animation.
A young boy is doubting the existence of Santa Claus and the notion of Christmas itself. He is awoken one night when the steam train 'The Polar Express' stops outside his house and offers to take him to the North Pole so he can see the existence of Santa Claus for himself. Along the way he meets other children on the train who are also on their way to the North Pole. After several adventures on the train he arrives at his destination which is where 'The Polar Express' really comes into it's own. The filmmakers have created a world so beautiful, so wonderfully immersive that, as an adult, you feel like you are a child again, witnessing the excitement and fantasy for the first time. I really can't recommend it enough.
8. DIE HARD (1988)
'Die Hard' a Christmas film? Well yep, it surely is. And one of the best! Is there a better action hero than John McClane (Bruce Willis)? Is there a better villain than Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman)? Well maybe yes to the first question, definitely no to the second. Alan Rickman is the real star of this film. His chilling, yet amusing portrayal of the German terrorist is legendary and is still the character the late Rickman is remembered for (although let's not forget his genius Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves!).
John McClane is a cop from New York. He arrives in LA to surprise his estranged wife Holly at her office Christmas party. Just after he arrives, the building and everyone in it are taken hostage by a group of German terrorists who are actually just after the £640million in bearer bonds in the buildings vault. But of course, one partygoer manages to slip away and John McClane is on a one man war to bring these terrorists down. Die Hard is action packed, cheesier than a Ritz cracker and full of surprising turns. In short, it's brilliant!
7. SANTA CLAUSE: THE MOVIE (1985)
Despite being a financial disaster and receiving mostly negative reviews when it was released, 'Santa Claus: The Movie' has a loyal following and is now considered a Christmas classic. One of the most endearing things about this film is it attempts to give an idea of answers to many questions about Santa Claus. How did he become Santa Claus? How do his reindeer fly? What does Santa's workshop look like and who works in there? For children, this is a magical film.
Starting off in the 14th Century, Claus is a woodcutter and lives with his wife. Together they deliver toys he makes to the local children. When a terrible blizzard strikes they, and their two reindeer, are swept off into the ice mountains where they are greeted by several elves including the wise elf Dooley who tells them they are there to deliver toys to children the world over every Christmas Eve. With a great performance from Dudley Moore as Patch the visionary, 'Santa Claus: The Movie' is one that all the family can enjoy at Christmas.
6. TRADING PLACES (1984)
One of the brilliant comedies of the 1980's, 'Trading Places' has become a classic, and part of the must see Christmas film line up! In a time where the rich were getting richer and the poor getting poorer (hmm sound familiar?) 'Trading Places' showed the real divide of attitudes of those who have money and those who don't.
Often compared to Mark Twain's 'The Prince and the Pauper', 'Trading Places' tells the story of wealthy Louise Winthorpe III (Dan Ackroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), a homeless guy who is street smart with a charm. Winthorpe and Valentine are unknowingly drawn into a bet by the Duke Brothers and their lives are swapped. Valentine finds himself with all of Winthorpe's wealth including his home, while Winthorpe loses his home, his bank account, even his girlfriend. The film is hilarious and performances by both Murphy and Ackroyd are among their best.
5. HOLIDAY INN (1942)
A silver screen joy, 'Holiday Inn' is probably best known for the beautiful seasonal song 'White Christmas'. Starring Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale, this film is dripping with holiday charm and wonderful Christmas spirit.
Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby) is part of a New York City musical act. Due to marry his co-star Lila (Virginia Dale) and move to a farm in the country, Lila declares she is not ready to marry him and is in love with another man, Ted (Fred Astaire), who is also in their act. Jim, brokenhearted, moves to the farm without Lila. However, a year later he comes back to New York after finding farm life a struggle and announces he is turning the farm into a musical venue called 'Holiday Inn'.
Without giving away any spoilers, this story is about friendship, the struggle to make a dream come true and good old fashioned jealousy. Great stuff!
4. SCROOGE (1970)
Albert Finney stars as Scrooge in this adaptation of Charles Dicken's 1843 novel 'A Christmas Carol'. There have been countless adaptations of this story but for me this one stands out because of two things. Albert Finney's wonderful performance, and the stunning score which is composed by Leslie Bricusse who composed musicals such as 'Jekyll & Hyde', 'Doctor Doolittle' and 'Victor/Victoria'.
I'm sure we all know the story of 'A Christmas Carol', but just in case it's passed you by; Ebeneezer Scrooge is a man who hates Christmas. A mean man who cares only for money and profit. He reluctantly gives his clerk Bob Cratchitt Christmas Day off, but says he must come in even earlier the next day to make up for it. Whilst in his home he is visited by the ghost of his old partner, Jacob Marley, who tells Scrooge he needs to change his ways before it's too late. He informs Scrooge that he will be visited by 3 ghosts and to expect the first at one 0'clock.
'Scrooge' is a must for a Christmas line up and both children and adult alike will marvel at this timeless tale.
3. THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992)
Few things is life will ever give you as much pleasure as 'The Muppet Christmas Carol'! Another adaptation of 'A Christmas Carol' by Charles Dickens, it stars Michael Caine as Ebeneezer Scrooge and the Muppets as everyone else!
From the opening Victorian market scene (the turkeys for sale that are told to get down still makes me giggle every time I see it) this film is utter genius. Gonzo the Great potrays Charles Dickens himself and narrates the film with the help of Rizzo the Rat. Kermit the Frog takes the role of the long suffering Bob Cratchitt and Miss Piggy is his wife, Emily.
The story you know, but if you have never seen this wonderful wonderful film then stop reading right now and watch it, I promise you won't regret it.
2. MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947)
If your heart needs warming towards the festival season then look no further than the comedy-drama 'Miracle on 34th Street'. The 1994 remake was lovely in itself, but nothing can beat the 1947 original.
Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) is a department store Santa Claus who believes he is the real Santa. Of course this concerns his bosses at the store who worry that Kris may be insane. They send him for psychological evaluation which he passes but still has to prove he is the real Santa Claus.
'Miracle on 34th Street' is a fun Christmas favourite and will certainly make you believe that anythings possible.
1. SCROOGED (1988)
For me, the ultimate Christmas film is the very brilliant 'Scrooged'! Another take on 'A Christmas Carol', it stars Bill Murray as a modern day Scrooge, although named Frank Cross. This modern adaptation has a host of famous faces throughout it and is set in a television studio preparing for their live version of 'Scrooge' on Christmas Eve.
Frank Cross (Murray) is the President of the IBC Television Network. In his rise to the top he has become ruthless, mean, arrogant and unspirited. Whilst working on their live adaptation of 'Scrooge', Frank puts out a promo for his own 'war' version of 'Scrooge' which scares a viewer to death - literally has a heart attack. Frank sees this as great promotion. After meeting another power exec whom his bosses have bought in to help with the live version of 'Scrooge', and meeting with his brother whom he refuses to spend Christmas with and tells him 'it's a crock', Frank returns to his office and is visited by the ghost of his former boss Lew Hayward (John Forsyth). Lew informs Frank that he has lost his way and will be visited by 3 ghosts. He is to expect the first 'tomorrow at noon'.
Special mention has to go to Carol Kane as the ghost of Christmas present; an insane, violent fairy princess who punches like a boxer and even uses an iron to get her point across!
'Scrooged' is wonderfully brilliant in every way and I defy you to not be super emotional by the end when Bill Murray delivers a heart wrenching speech about the true meaning of Christmas and the love we all need to show each other. Little did the filmmakers know in 1988 how true that would be in 2016.
Seasons Greetings folks!