Category Archives: Christmas week

The oddity of the Christmas film

As traditional as turkey, carols, presents and the John Lewis advert, the end of the year sees the re-watching of many classic (and some not so classic) Christmas films. They end up on hard rotation, churned out more than other films and have become part of a cultural tradition.

Yet there is something of an oddity regarding just about every Christmas film. Think about how many of them actually take place at Christmas. No, really think about it. Be it Home Alone, It’s A Wonderful Life, Elf, Love Actually, Die Hard, A Christmas Carol (Muppets or otherwise), Bad Santa, Meet me in St. Louis, Scrooged, Miracle on 34th Street, The Nightmare before Christmas or any others you can think of, none of them are set primarily at Christmas time.


Let’s take a step back. If we consider that Christmas is, in its official capacity a twelve day festival that begins on 25th December and then look at the aforementioned films we start to realise that, the ending scenes aside, the vast majority of these take place before the festivities begin. Kevin McAllister wishes his family would disappear, learns to realise he misses them and fights off Harry and Marv by Christmas Eve.

George Bailey meets with Clarence and realises that he has had a wonderful life before the clock strikes midnight to welcome in the festivities. John McClane defends Nakatomi plaza on 24th December. Buddy the Elf goes in search of his father in the early part of the month. Jack Skellington goes looking for Christmas just after Halloween. Scrooge (in the many incarnations) is shown the error of his ways and come morning decides to honour Christmas in his heart and keep it with him all the year. The Grinch, who was sick of the stockings and tags but when he removed them, saw the real meaning of Christmas in the light of Christmas morning. The US government acknowledges that Santa exists on courtesy of the 34th Street miracle. Alonzo Smith tells his family that, as per their wishes, they will be staying in St. Louis, again on Christmas Eve. Willie Stokes actually finds that he maybe isn’t entirely a bad Santa and delivers a down on his luck child his chosen toy on the 24th.


These films all exist in the lead up to Christmas but don’t have much action set during the actual festival itself.

This is a reflection of our culture. Christmas may well start on 25th December but all the festivities take place before that. Carol concerts, Christmas parties, nativity plays, pantomimes, family gatherings, opening advent calendars, Secret Santa, shopping, listening to Christmas music and even the watching of the aforementioned classic titles take place before the big day. Cinema reflects society and this is an example of how much of Christmas is about the apprehension and the excitement of what is to come. Do we watch Christmas films after Christmas day? Does anyone really listen to Christmas music post Boxing Day? And speaking of music, if we listen to the lyrics of many Christmas songs, we see a similar trend – Driving home for Christmas, Santa Clause is coming to town, it was Christmas eve babe and so forth. It’s all about the anticipation that come Christmas morning begins to unravel, much like the presents that were carefully wrapped up the night before.

Yet it is more than just the material side of Christmas that means films set at this time of year conclude around the 24th or 25th of the month. Christmas means different things to different people in our culture – be it a period of change stemming from the pagan origins in yuletide, the Christian belief of the arrival of a baby to show us the way or the more humanist notion of reflecting on ourselves- it’s all tied up in the many reasons for celebrating in December.

Many of the aforementioned characters go on a redemptive journey pre-Christmas, culminating on 25th December, a date which carries with it a magical sense of arrival. Fictional Christmas narratives tend to derive, thematically or otherwise, from the two most oft-repeated seasonal stories of A Christmas Carol and the nativity, both which are set just primarily before Christmas day, culminating on that day with their respective messages.


So many films can live or die by their endings, as it’s the element of any story that we remember the most when the credits roll. Therefore it makes perfect sense for films about us at the most wonderful time of the year to reach their conclusion on Christmas morning – a point of arrival, a moment of change and with a view to the future. Kevin McAllister gets his family back, Scrooge and the Grinch what it’s actually about and become all the better for it, George Bailey realises his life isn’t so meaningless, Alonzo accepts the importance of his family’s happiness ahead of his job in New York, the court decides that maybe, just maybe Kris Kringle is the real Santa.

The subsequent reward for these characters is a change of heart that arrives, not before Christmas when they go on a journey, but on Christmas day when they reach a happy ending and things change for the better.

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Our Favourite Christmas Films: Part 3

The third and final part of our favourite festive picks. There’s so many Christmas films we’ve not commented on but the ones we have find that perfect mix of festive nostalgia and great filmmaking.

It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

its-a-wonderful-life christmas films

Dir: Frank Capra

Behind the snow-covered scenery in Bedford Falls, there is a dark heart beating in this picture perfect American town. While this is not exactly the Lynchian nightmare as seen in Blue Velvet (though you could argue Potter is about as repugnant a villain as Frank Booth), Frank Capra explores in George Bailey a malaise and frustration that seems to become more relevant each year, as depression and mental illness continue to be alarmingly on the rise. This doesn’t sound like the makings of a festive favourite but it is oddly this essential ingredient that elevates It’s A Wonderful Life to its revered status as possibly the greatest Christmas film ever made. Through George’s increasing dissatisfaction with his compromised ambitions, leading to his pivotal suicide attempt on Christmas Eve, Capra leads the audience to a conclusion that explodes with joy and a tremendous pay-off of feeling. George Bailey, played sublimely by James Stewart, comes to realise just what is important in life and what he has truly accomplished when it appears, on the surface, that greed and capitalism outweigh the precious commodity of being a good human being. The film is also, in equal turns, funny, warm and engaging, reinforced by a sparkling script that rewards the investment required. Christmas, through Bailey’s story, can be a time we become lost, that the dreams and hopes of a year get scattered or crushed. But, through the darkness, seasonal reflection can also bring us back in from the cold. This really is a film about family, about friends, about cherishing substance and completely and totally about what Christmas should mean to us all.

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

the nightmare before Christmas films

Dir: Henry Selick

With the commercial elements of Christmas increasing by the year, Halloween has also followed suit and it’s quite commonplace these days to discover the two very different festivals side by side in the shops in mid October. Yet the stark  contrast of these two holidays as we’ve come to know them are wonderfully demonstrated in Henry Selick’s stop-motion animation as Jack Skeleton, bored of Halloween discovers Christmas before trying, and failing, to formulaic-ally create the magic of the latter. As is often the case, the imagination on offer is the real selling point but the animation still impresses, the humour still tickles and the songs are wonderful with Danny Elfman singing ‘What’s this?’ akin to a young child uncovering the magic of the festivities for the first time.

Scrooged (1988)

scrooged christmas films

Dir: Richard Donner

This popular adaptation of A Christmas Carol is the perfect example of how to transfer a traditional story into a contemporary setting. On one hand it’s the perfect vehicle for Bill Murray and on the other it’s script shows an intelligence and respect for the classic source material. The films post-modern approach sets the tone, playing the part of Scrooge is TV ex Frank Cross (Bill Murrary), we find him in the middle of a live production of A Christmas Carol that’s being aired on Christmas Eve. The awareness of Frank Cross is where the writers (Mitch Glazer & Michael O’Donoghue) really succeed. His reactions to seeing the ghosts of Christmas past/present/future adds cynicism and hilariously comments on the consequences of modern day stresses. He’ll blames the drink and responsibilities of being a successful TV exec. From the drunk ghost of Christmas past to the violent ghost of Christmas present, the comedy is consistently fresh and having seen it recently it’s fair to say it’s stands the test of time. The films finale is where it really justifies it’s place as a modern Christmas classic. Franks final monologue encapsulates what Christmas is about. It’s not about Black Friday, it’s not about maxing our your credit card, it should be about being willing and able to embrace something good. The best compliment I can give the film is the weight of emotion felt when young Calvin speaks for the first time, he utters the infamous line..God bless us, every one.  it’s a scene we all know from A Christmas Carol but in Scrooged it’s feels like we’re experiencing it for the first time. The film can be summed perfectly in one line of dialogue, one that Bill Murray says with genuine passion and warmth,  l get it now.

Part one:

Part two:

This Friday 23rd December we’ll be sharing our films of 2016, be sure to revisit .

Our Favourite Christmas Films: Part 2

The second part of our favourite Christmas films! More to follow tomorrow..let us know what you’ve seen.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

National Lampoons Christmas Carol Christmas Films

Dir: Jeremiah S. Chechik

The National Lampoon films have always been a mixed bag: for every National Lampoon’s European Vacation there’s a National Lampoon’s Van Wilder lurking in the shadows. The peak of the series though (IMO) has to be Christmas Vacation. As with the previous Griswold adventures (European & Vacation) the film set up is pretty straight forward, with Clark and his family setting out to have a large traditional Christmas holiday. From the outset we know it won’t be going to plan: something as simple as picking a Christmas tree turns into a farce for the family and is served by some truly great comic writing from John Hughes. One of the reasons the film remains a Christmas classic is the scenario set up by the filmmakers. We can all relate to wanting the idealistic family Christmas and the problems this can create. From the stresses of Christmas shopping to cooking the perfect Christmas dinner, the film ticks all the boxes required to make this a timeless Christmas film that remains a staple during the festive season.

Dreams of a Life (2011)

Dreams of a life Christmas Films

Dir: Carol Morley

By no means the cheerful family comedy we love to enjoy at this time of year but Carol Morley’s documentary is one of the saddest and most important documentaries of recent years. The story of Joyce Carol Vincent who died alone in her bedsit and remained there, undiscovered, for four years. While at this time of year we try to remember family and friends, Dreams of a Life is a powerful reminder of how easy it can be to forget to do that, aided by the films haunting tagline ‘Would anyone miss you?’. A key component of the tragedy is that Joyce was surrounded by wrapped Christmas presents, and nobody knows who they were for – were they for family and friends she intended to reconcile with? Was she so lonely that they were for herself to unwrap on Christmas morning? Were they for a local charity? What ever way you look at it, it’s a heartbreaking story that resonates whenever you watch it and most pertinently at the most wonderful time of the year.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) 

Muppets Christmas Carol Christmas Films

Dir: Brian Henson

Just about the most entertaining version of Charles Dickens’ classic festive ghost tale you could hope to see, Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo and chums sprinkle their energy and humour over a delightful hour and a half of festive fun. It’s hard to pick an outstanding moment, although Statler and Waldorf’s turn as the Marley ‘brothers’ (bifurcated from the original creation Jacob Marley) sits long in the memory and Miss Piggy as Emily Cratchit might just be the most inspired piece of casting in film history. The songs are wonderful, the three ghosts all well rendered and the puppetry is, as you would expect, perfect. While Alastair Sim might remain the most definitive Scrooge for his wonderful turn in Brian Desmond Hurst’s 1951 version, Michael Caine really deserves full plaudits for his interpretation of literature’s most renowned humbug. He brings a deep pathos to Scrooge and his performance ensures you are invested right through to the cathartic Christmas Day. That, and the muppets themselves who raise chuckles on a delightfully regular basis. A total treat for everyone.

Part one can be found here:

Part three will be live tomorrow!

Our Favourite Christmas Films: Part 1

To celebrate entering the final week before Christmas we thought we’d share our favourite Christmas films. This isn’t a countdown and these aren’t in order of preference, they’re just great films that capture the tone of the festive season. Make sure you keep an eye for more of our festive favourites over the coming days.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Miracle on 34th street

Dir: George Seaton

Forget the gloopy re-make: George Seaton’s 1947 original is the only version you should entertain as an essential part of your Christmas viewing. The film does wear its sentiment on its sleeve but it’s genuinely winning and the sharp satire on consumerism and the notion of what Santa Claus symbolises, not just for children but also adults who are more in need of that Christmas magic than they might like to admit, adds a wry edge to the tinsel and snow. And Edmund Gwenn really IS Father Christmas: accept no substitute. Part man-child, part cynical commentator on the devaluation of the human spirit, it is through his character that the themes shine. It’s a film that, with a brilliant combination of honesty and feeling, truly instills a festive warmth while remaining relevant each year.

Gremlins (1984)


Dir: Joe Dante

With Steven Spielberg, Chris Columbus and Joe Dante at the helm, it’s fair to say Gremlins was always going to be a successful Christmas movie. However it must’ve come to some surprise to see just how successful this was upon release, the commercial/critical performance is quite the achievement considering it’s B-movie influences and adult humour. This is a genre film that’s not afraid to push buttons and play around with themes that might be considered too mature for it’s desired audience. The characters are well developed and even the smaller roles are remembered, Hoyt Axton in the optimistic inventor/father role stands out from the start. The lead role(s) though certainly go to Gizmo and his mischievous foes. The Gremlins are such great characters, in less talented hands they could’ve been generic antagonists but all of them has characteristics that make them easily identifiable. The puppetry is impressive, their movements and gestures are fluid and can easily compete with modern CGI. The key to the Gremlins though are the rules that they abide by. This a creative way of making them seem real, they become pet-like which helps you relate to them and it’s within this where the film succeeds. The domesticated locations allows the filmmakers to put these monsters alongside our cats and dogs. We’re not in some sort of fantasy world where Goblins exist, this is modern suburbia. Many films try to mix horror and Christmas, Gremlins does so in a way that’s accessible to young and old, satirical and emotionally mature. It does all of this whilst deservedly cementing it’s place in pop culture history.

Home Alone  (1990)

Home Alone

Dir: Chris Columbus

If you pick apart the plot of Home Alone, you’ll find a ridiculous set-up with a lot of contrivances and you’ll completely miss the point. For Home Alone has a sense of magic and charm that is so relevant this time of year – it’s a fable about family and how fate shows young Kevin what he thinks he wants before, come the beautiful ending, he gets what he actually wants in the guise of the ones he realises he loves and misses.It also helps that it is very funny with Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s bumbling burglers as memorable to the audience as they are insignificant to the themes of the over-arching plot. Amusing, hugely watchable and with just the right dosage of sentiment and charm it ticks all the right boxes.

Part two of our favourite Christmas films will be live tomorrow.