First, a disclaimer: you will almost certainly not agree with everything on this list.
In fact, some readers may not even class a couple of these films as Christmas movies at all, but here’s the thing; these are films that make me feel Christmassy. How does Christmassy feel? I’m not entirely sure, but let’s just say, happier, more tolerant and less hate-filled. So, here are my top 10 Christmas films.
Love Actually (2003)
Mawkish and saccharine, but Christmas is a time to let all that slide. Against all the odds, Richard Curtis’ Love Actually makes it into my list by virtue of being unashamedly romantic, sentimental, funny and touching; all held together with an unmistakeably British sensibility.
Bernard and the Genie (1991)
A TV movie made for the BBC, Bernard and the Genie is not widely-known at all.
Mild-mannered art buyer Bernard Bottle (Alan Cumming) loses his job and is ditched by his girlfriend, but discovers a genie (Lenny Henry) in an old bottle who helps him get his life back together. I know, it sounds terrible, but factor in Rowan Atkinson, a wonderful Blackadder-esque script from Richard Curtis and a killer Christmas soundtrack, and Bernard and the Genie is a lost gem.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
The Santa Claus at Macy’s department store reckons he’s the real deal, which leads to him being declared insane and locked up. A young lawyer steps in to save the kindly old man, and with him, the spirit of Christmas. Despite being perhaps the most implausible of all the films on this list (as we know, shopping centre Santas are either nonces, funny-smelling weirdos or ‘resting’ actors called Henry), Miracle on 34th Street never gets old. The 1993 remake is worth a watch too.
One Magic Christmas (1985)
Christmas angel Gideon (Harry Dean Stanton) is sent to help Ginny Grainger (Mary Steenburger), a cynic who hates Christmas and who ruins the festive period for her children and husband. Can he do it? Yes, but only if he kills her whole family to show her how much worse things could be.
For a Disney film, One Magic Christmas is a weird one, but it’s a genuine tearjerker with quirky performances and a dark underbelly.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
It’s the Citizen Kane of Christmas films (no respecting journalist dares exclude it from a ‘best of’ list), but that doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant. The finest work Frank Capra and James Stewart ever did, It’s A Wonderful Life isn’t just one of the best Christmas films ever made, it’s one of the best films ever made of any genre, and is another example of an uplifting festive film that houses a dark heart.
Most 21st century Christmas films are just an excuse for Vince Vaughan to dance or Tim Allen to mug at the camera and/or fall over, but Elf bucks the trend by being funny and original with just enough schmaltz to stir up dormant Christmassy feelings. Buddy (Will Ferrell) This is Will Ferrell’s film and his turn as manchild Buddy the elf, generates tons of sympathy and sniggers, while Zooey Deschanel gives things a kooky charm.
Home Alone 1 (1990) & Home Alone 2 (1992)
They should really get separate listings, but I can’t watch one without watching the other, so in my head at least, Home Alone 1 and 2 are one long, silly, sentimental slapstick-filled Christmas film. Two grown men hunting down a pre-pubescent child might not be everyone’s idea of a family film, but throw in a Christmas setting, a wonderful soundtrack and a load of ‘goodwill to all men’ kind of stuff, and it’s positively encouraged.
An 80s retelling of A Christmas Carol starring a never-better Bill Murray, Scrooged is hilarious, unsettling, touching and inspirational in equal measures. If your only experience of this film is when they put it on TV every other year, go and find a DVD pronto, because the TV version has been cut to ribbons. Although credit is due to the censors for always keeping in the scene where Frank Cross (Murray) suggests attaching tiny antlers to a mouse’s head with staples, they always take this bit out:
Frank Cross I want to see her nipples.
Censor But this is a CHRISTMAS show.
Frank Cross Well, I’m sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.
Carpenter You can barely see them nipples.
Frank Cross See? And these guys are REALLY looking.
Unlike a lot of 80s films, Scrooged hasn’t dated too badly, and besides, where else can you see Bill Murray get his ass handed to him by an ultraviolent fairy?
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) & Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)
Maybe it’s the snowy scenes; maybe it’s the twinkly music; perhaps it’s the occasional mention of Christmas, but the first two Harry Potter films carry with them an undeniably Christmassy feel.
Santa Claus the Movie (1985)
Beginning hundreds of years ago, we see how an old man is chosen to become Santa Claus and deliver toys to children all over the world. The film then moves into the modern day (well… the 80s), in which head elf Patch, strikes out on his own and falls in with an evil toy manufacturer who wants to corner the market and eliminate Santa Claus. It’s got homeless kids, Dudley Moore and cheapo special effects, and I love it. (Fact fans: TNA wrestling’s Daffney appeared in the film as ‘Bratty Kid at Ballet Class’).
Nothing reminds me more of Christmas as a youngster than this film. So, bittersweet memories to say the least, but isn’t that what Christmas is about? Melancholy-tinged happiness and hazy images of half-remembered Transformers beanbags and Commodore 64 games.
- A Christmas Story
- The Muppet Christmas Carol
- Die Hard
- The Nightmare Before Christmas
- Planes, Trains and Automobiles
- Catch Me If You Can
- The Snowman
- Blackadder’s Christmas Carol