It is a well-begrudged fact among my friends and family that I am a fan of Christmas. Every year, without fail, I count down from the moment my birthday is over (for reference, my birthday is in August…) until the 25th December. As someone who suffers from depression, and just in general struggles to ever see even a droplet in the glass, having something to look forward to helps me get through each day. I like how the minute November hits, I never fail to hope that when I wake up it’ll have snowed, despite the fact that’s only happened about twice in my life. I like how since I’ve moved out my parents still wait for me to come home before decorating the tree, and I’m always told off for playing obnoxiously loud Christmas music. I like the fuzzy feeling you get when you wake up on Christmas morning and your face is frozen because your window’s wide open, but the rest of you is cosy underneath three blankets and you can feel the gentle weight of a stocking at the end of your bed that rustles suspiciously when you roll over. Christmas makes me feel like a child again. And frankly the older I get, the more I appreciate that.
So! Nostalgic digression over, let’s get to the relevant part of this post – Christmas films! A dear friend said to me yesterday that we have to judge Christmas films on a different scale, and although I tend to be a harsh critic of films, I couldn’t agree more. It’s up to you whether Christmas is a time for general forgiveness, but I do try to forgive Christmas films their flaws. So below, I’ve listed my favourite Christmas films that I will be stubbornly trying to watch while fighting university deadlines. I know I’ve missed off many of the ‘classics’ but personally, these are my picks for the holidays (and lots are appropriate even in the height of Summer, too!)
Day One – the musical: Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Directed by: Vincente Minnelli Written by: Irving Brecher & Fred Finklehoffe Starring: Judy Garland, Lucille Bremer
As I’ve mentioned before in this post about my top Classical Hollywood Musicals, Meet Me in St. Louis is one of my favourite musicals. Although it does span over a whole year, the climactic events all take place during the Winter segment; specifically on Christmas Eve/Day, so I think that’s acceptable. I adore Judy Garland, and all the characters in this film provide such an accurate depiction of family that it’s a great film to watch at Christmas time, especially when your own family is starting to get on your nerves, and you need to remember that you love them. It doesn’t help that the singing is wonderful, too.
Day Two – the obligatory romcom: The Holiday (2006)
Written and directed by: Nancy Meyers Starring: Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Jack Black
This is the epitome of Wintery romcoms. Not only is The Holiday‘s cast excellent – despite my normal meh feelings about Diaz – but it’s perfect whether you’re stuck in rainy England (it never snows like in the film – I wish it did) or a sunny Christmas paradise like California. It’s got the usual romantic-comedy quota of cheesy lines and sickening romance, but I guess that’s expected, and this film actually does it quite bearably. Whether you’re watching this with a significant other, friends, family or just your cat, it’s going to be enjoyable for all.
Day Three – the festive fantasy: Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
Directed by: Andrew Adamson Written by: Ann Peacock, Stephen McFeely & Christopher Markus Starring: William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley, Tilda Swinton, James McAvoy & Jim Broadbent
When I was younger I would watch this film on repeat, with the actors’ commentary, whenever I was ill and home from school. I knew the commentary inside-out. To be honest, the DVD menu is magical enough you could just watch that on a loop. I don’t know whether it was the young female protagonist, the beginning of my love for fantasy, or the mind-blowing VFX that I had never seen on such a grand, realistic scale before, but I fell in love. The film may not end during winter, but the 80% that is truly justifies it as a chilly Christmas adventure and well worth indulging in. (Plus – did I mention the amazing VFX?!)
Day Four – the literary classic: Little Women (1994)
Directed by: Gilliam Armstrong Written by: Robin Swicord Starring: Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, Kirsten Dunst, Trini Alvarado, Christian Bale & Susan Sarandon
Similarly to The Holiday this is another film I strongly associate with Christmas, even though some of it takes place at other times of year. Christmas feels grounding to Little Women, both in the book and this excellent adaptation, it invites us into the March household and by Boxing Day we’re in love with each of the beautifully funny and flawed sisters. Little Women is a heart-warming film about familial bonds and growing up, which seems quite appropriate for the festive season.
Day Five – the nostalgia kick: On Christmas Eve (1992)
Directed by: Brian Cosgrove Written by: Peter Collington & Joy Whitby
I still don’t quite know how I came to discover this film. I think perhaps my father accidentally recorded it at the beginning of another film he was video-taping. But however it happened, since then I have consistently watched this every Christmas. With no dialogue, it’s a half hour animation that explains how Father Christmas delivers presents to children with no chimneys. The sleigh bell soundtrack is subtle enough to make everyone whisper after you finish watching it, and even though it’s ‘just drawings’ you’ll feel the icy chill of the snow softly falling. Although this film is layered with nostalgia for me, so perhaps I’m biased, it is a legitimately magical Christmas film (especially for young ones).
Day Six – the serious one: Joyeux Noël (2005)
Written and directed by: Christian Carion Starring: Diane Kruger, Daniel Brühl, Benno Fürmann & Guillaume Canet
If you’re looking for more of a serious film to watch this Christmas, then Joyeux Noël may be perfect for you. While it has its light moments, it ultimately tells the sombre story of the 1914 Christmas Day truce during WW1. It’s a real-life parable relevent for any war-torn age, and the addition of different characters speaking their native language throughout adds a compelling sense of realism. Joyeux Noël will make you feel immensely grateful for what you have this year with its timeless message.
Day Seven – the cinematic treasure: Carol (2015)
Directed by: Todd Haynes Written by: Phyllis Nagy Starring: Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett & Sarah Paulson
I praise be the gods of cinema that gifted us Carol; the ultimate Christmas film. Not only is it an adaptation of one of my favourite books, starring my favourite actress, but it is a standout film even without taking into consideration the Christmassy goodness. I got the book Carol is based on a few Christmasses ago, and then discovered the film was being made (after Phyllis Nagy spent years trying to get the script commissioned). I waited a solid year, then dragged my friends to the cinema and stared in awe at the screen for 118 minutes. Carol is wonderful. It will leave you warm inside and smiling outside, yet still somehow feeling like you’ve intruded on the most private and intimate of moments between the characters. The cinematography alone is worth watching for. If you do one thing this Christmas, watch Carol.
Day Eight – the franchise: Harry Potter (2001-2011)
Directed by: Chris Columbus, Alfonso Cuarón, Mike Newell & David Yates Written by: Steve Kloves & Michael Goldenberg Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson & Rupert Grint
I’m including these because, not only are they always shown over the festive period, but the option to watch a new film every night is always good, and the majority of the Harry Potter films do have Christmas (or at least Winter) scenes. They’re a great choice for regular family time curled up in front of a fire. And let’s be honest, who does Christmas better than snow-covered, sleigh-surrounded Hogwarts?
Day Nine – the obligatory romcom, pt. 2: The Family Stone (2005)
Written and directed by: Thomas Bezucha Starring: Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams, Luke Wilson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Demot Mulroney & Diane Keaton
I watched this again last night and, short of not being a SJP fan, this is in fact a surprisingly adequate ‘isn’t our family wacky’ Christmas film. If anything, I suggest you watch it for the moody Rachel McAdams character, and the sickeningly charasmatic Luke Wilson. In addition, within the five-children family, one son is deaf, gay and happily married/about to adopt. This kind of realistic diversity was such a wonderful surprise. Plus bonus points for showing Meet Me in St. Louis in the background of a scene.
Day Ten – the cheesy family film: Prancer (1989)
Directed by: John Hancock Written by: Greg Taylor Starring: Rebecca Harrell Tickell & Sam Elliot
I recall watching this when I was younger – I think I caught it on the TV in the run-up to Christmas – but it wasn’t until rewatching it at an older age that I realised quite how charming it was. This is another film which will reinspire you with Christmas spirit, and whether you’re young and relating to the main character, or older and being transported back to that childlike excitement and hopefulness, it’s definitely worth putting on the watchlist. Rebecca Harrell Tickell, who was only nine at the time of the film’s release, is a convincing and lovable protagonist whose holiday spirit truly resonates with both the characters in the film and the audience.
Day Eleven – the classic Hollywood: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Written and directed by: George Seaton Starring: Maureen O’Hara, Natalie Wood, John Payne & Edmund Gwenn
Miracle on 34th Street is a relatively new gem to my Christmas collection, but it’s a classic to many. While I haven’t seen the remake, it seems likely this original is more worth watching. Quite simply, this is a film perfect for any age, that will remind you of childhood and perhaps instill some of the Christmas magic back into your cynicism when the world is in such a shambles. Additionally, it gains points in my book for providing social commentary on women’s equality, as O’Hara’s character is not only divorced, but a single mother who works rather than staying at home with the children.
Day Twelve – yep it’s another romcom: Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)
Directed by: Sharon Maguire Written by: Helen Fielding, Andrew Davies & Richard Curtis Starring: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth & Hugh Grant
I’m sorry. I truly am, but apparently I can’t help myself. All year round I watch about five romcoms (and obviously they’re all gay), yet when it comes to Christmas apparently all my choices are despicably-predictable, horribly-mushy romantic comedies. But, at least this one is truly an equal balance of rom and com. Having seen the new Bridget Jones’s Baby earlier this year (surprisingly excellent, by the way) I was inspired to watch the others, and I realised how the entirety of this one is actually very Wintery, and even mostly taking place around Christmas. Plus, who doesn’t love a good Hugh Grant/ Colin Firth fist fight?
Let me know which films you have on your top Christmas films list, and if you watch any of these festive treats. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope you have a very happy and safe holiday.