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Top 6 Christmas Movies

December 23, 2015

A highly subjective list, and I’m not even sure if all of these would fit into a genre of ‘Christmas movies’, but they all in some way remind me of Christmas, and offer some form of clever/poignant/satiric/comic (delete as appropriate) take on their proceedings.

Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

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Not a festive movie as such, and you may need the sweetest tooth going to process the one gooey Christmas scene where Judy Garland’s Esther consoles her younger sister Tootie to the tune of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. However, if Christmas is all about nostalgia, a period of reflection at the end of the year, and a celebration of the sustenance of the family unit, then this moment of Christmas whimsy is the suitable act of catharsis to the cumulative effect of Meet Me in St Louis’ epic, kaleidoscopic, ‘year in the life of’ story – as the father finally decides not to uproot his family to New York.

Full review:

Scrooge (1951)

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This year, I’ve set myself the task of catching up with as many adaptations (direct and indirect) of  ‘A Christmas Carol’ as possible. No film does as great a job with the moral and gothic raw materials of Dickens’ source novel than this brilliant British film of the early fifties. The stark black and white photography suits the Victorian canvas superbly, the ghostly visitations are done better than in any modern, more technologically-advanced adaptation, and Alastair Sim simply owns the role of Scrooge – his unbridled joy at his ‘second chance’ nearly dances off the screen with its sheer energy and humanity.

Full review:

All That Heaven Allows (1955)

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Again, like Meet Me in St Louis, it’s not really a Christmas movie at all – set as it is over a much longer period of time. But there’s no other film I’ve seen that best captures the loneliness and bittersweet tinge that the Yuletide period can engender. Ostracised middle-aged widow, Cary, first has to deal with the poignant chance encounter with old flame Ron when buying a Christmas tree, and then, in one of the most ingenious and masterly cinematic sequences of all time (analysed by yours truly in the below article) her domestic entrapment is complete by her feckless children callously buying her a television on Christmas Day.

Scene Analysis:

The Snowman (1982)

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Christmas has always seemed a microcosm of childhood to me. Just as, so the old saying goes, childhood ends when you can truly comprehend mortality, so Christmas is never quite the same magical state again when you know that Santa doesn’t actually exist! It’s why I think Christmas is still so special to many adults, quite apart from whether you have your own children or not. It’s an opportunity for unadulterated fun and cheer (for many adults, read slipping back into juvenility), to return to your youth, to bask for a short while in that halcyonic bubble when childhood and Christmas were wondrous, sacred states. The film that best captures this sentiment of Christmas is the live action version of Raymond Briggs’ “The Snowman.” It’s a silent movie, the animation is stark and simple – a world away from the calibrated, smarmy excesses of the Hollywood/Pixar stable, and the twist at the end is beautiful and heartbreaking all in one. Oh, and David Bowie shows up at the beginning, with a brilliant framing scene as the grown-up boy reflecting back….

Trading Places (1983)

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Christmas is the ‘elephant in the room’ in this brilliant satire of Reagan-era Capitalism. In many ways, director John Landis intuitively imagined his eighties setting as canvas for a neo-Victorian fable: the wealthy live ostentatiously, the poor are just so for some kind of moral failure, and never the twain shall meet! Trading Places is also a riotously funny film.

Full review:

Honourable Mentions

Wizard of Oz though not a Christmas movie in itself, is one of the movies (think The Great Escape or Raiders of the Lost Ark) that always seems on during the holiday season, and also in its own way, its theme of the magical state of childhood and the sanctity of the home, chimes with the themes of Christmas so well. Un conte de Noël, was one of those ensemble Christmas family dramas that Hollywood buggers up on an annual basis (think The Family Stone, Christmas with the Kranks, Christmas with the Coopers), yet done as it is by the French and Arnaud Depleschin, it’s infinitely classier and more perceptive about how the ‘pressure cooker’ of Christmas can bring family tensions to the surface. Joyeux Noël was a noble concept – a dramatisation of the famous 1914 Christmas Eve trenches football game – and though it has some lovely moments, it’s undone by a slight air of reverence and cliché. Eyes Wide Shut would perhaps be the most leftfield addition to the pantheon of Christmas movies, but the presence of the aura of Christmas (lights, trees, the wholesomeness of the whole festive period) acts as ironic contrast to the “long day’s journey into night” that Bill Harford (Tom Cruise) is undergoing. For Jim Carrey’s brilliant comedy performance alone, The Grinch deserves a mention too.

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