’Tis the season to be spreading festive cheer for all to hear; and so I’ve roped together some lovely people to tell me about their favourite Christmas films.
To me, the most endearing quality of Christmas movies is how so many of us have a small selection dear to our heart that have become tradition to watch with family or friends every year to really mark a Christmas celebration.
Each of the following films is special to those who’ve shared with me today.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Dir. Frank Capra, 1946
Tom: It’s been timely since the day it released, and the times we’re in, it’s a perfect reminder of the power of the people in face of capitalist rule. What better anecdote for Christmas!
Dir. Martin McDonagh, 2008
Ian: You asked which film we’d defend as a Christmas holiday film, controversially mine is In Bruges. Sure it’s a violent dark comedy, but at its core it’s a film about forgiveness & sacrifice, about becoming part of a chosen family—Brendan Gleeson—not one you’re born into.
Dir. Todd Haynes, 2015
Jamie: Yes, thank you for giving me the opportunity to ramble about Carol for three hours!! The reason why Carol is objectively the best Christmas movie is that is doesn’t use Christmas as a plot device, which I think can make other movies quite predictable and forcibly cloying. But seeing Rooney Mara in a Christmas hat working at a department store is enough to make it the best. It’s shot in a way that captures the loneliness that can come with the winter season and while it’s not the most feel-good seasonal movie, it’s everything a film should be – emotional, excellently-crafted, and has a lot of things to say about its themes. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are obviously fantastic and I LOVE when films use time periods/events as backdrops. Don’t get me wrong, I love things like Happiest Season and It’s a Wonderful Life with all my heart which very directly tackle Christmas, but there’s something about the coldness of the colour grading and the use of windows and reflections in the cinematography that really does immerse you in the winter world of the film. And it also doubles up as a gay road trip romance family drama…what more could you want?
National Lampoons Christmas Vacation
Dir. Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989
Dom: My family watch National Lampoons Christmas Vacation every year and it’s one of those films where as well as all of the big jokes in the script, there’s a lot of little background jokes you only notice when you rewatch it.
Dir. Greta Gerwig, 2019
Ilze: To me, Christmas is about two things – family coming together and that vibrant atmosphere of joyful chaos and excited chatter and laughter. That’s exactly what Little Women offers. It will make you imagine yourself sat by a rustic fireplace, wrapped under a soft blanket, with a big cup of hot chocolate in your hands. It will teach you lessons of being true to yourself, bravely chasing your dreams and always choosing love. It will make you feel like you’re a part of a large, loud and, most importantly, loving family – like you belong, like you have a place in this world. And I don’t know about you, but that’s all I want to feel every Christmas. Cosy and warm, in a home filled with music and conversations, with love within and all around, full of hope, light and optimism. And if you still need some convincing that Little Women can be put in the category with real Christmas films – it does have an absolutely wonderful representation of Christmas, with singing and feasting, sharing and coming together, all in a dreamy winter wonderland!
A Christmas Story
Dir. Bob Clark, 1983
The Don’t Tell Show: A Christmas Story is the best Christmas film because it’s the most honest and basically a live-action Simpsons.
Dir. Martin Scorsese, 2011
OLLIE: Although probably not considered a Christmas movie to a lot of people, I think that Hugo is a brilliant one to watch. It has this intriguing mystery that leads to the magic of cinema. It’s incredibly heartwarming and makes you fall in love with silent film cinema
THE MUPPETS CHRISTMAS CAROL
Dir. Brian Henson, 1992
Michael: Obviously the best Christmas film ever made is The Muppets Christmas Carol, it holds up as the best adaptation of the story, the music is perfect, the use of a narrator and original text from the book is beautifully interspliced throughout the film, and Michael Caine’s acting beside puppets is one of the all time great performances, he is my definitive Scrooge! No other Christmas film even comes close!
dIr. Sergio Pablos & Carlos Martínez López, 2019
Sjöberg: It’s such a refreshing original take on the story of Santa, beautifully animated, heartwarming, and a lot of fun!
Second Star to the Left / The First Snow of Winter
Dir. Graham Ralph, 2001/ 1998
Joe: The best two of all time are Second Star to the Left and The First Snow of Winter, back to back, same director. Sheep do a river dance in First Snow, and in Second Star you have Babs from Eastenders playing a hamster. It’s brilliant, you need to check them out! I’m telling you, it’ll change your Christmas life
Dir. Nancy Meyers, 2006
Elise: I truly adore The Holiday and think its an absolute classic: I hate Christmas and it makes me feel really nice about it without being too in your face about it and it also addresses challenges in a light hearted way.
The Santa Claus 2
Dir. Michael Lembeck, 2002
Alex: On the surface it’s a riotous Christmas romp with as much Christmas rammed into there as possible, it’s genuinely funny and the inclusion of other mythical beings like the tooth fairy and Mother Nature is genuinely brilliant as part of the story.
But beyond that it teaches you that growing up doesn’t mean you should abandon your childhood wonder. The scene at the teacher staff Christmas party is equally one of the most heartbreaking and heartwarming scenes in a Christmas movie ever! Those adults who have surrendered themselves to a boring existence finding pure joy through their childhood games like rock em sock em robots is just a beautiful moment.
Dir. Chris Columbus, 1990
Georgie: Absolutely without a doubt, Home Alone and Home Alone 2 are THE Christmas movies that make me feel festive. They are the epitome of Christmas to me. Every time I think about watching a Christmas movie it’s always Home Alone because they just make me feel so good and happy, they’re great for all the family and they just encapsulate what Christmas is about. This is now a Home Alone Stan account.
Rhys: Home Alone, to me, is the absolute embodiment of Christmas. From the chaotic, house full up with extended family of the first act, to the indulgence of eating anything and everything you can get your hands on in the second, to the realisation of just how important this time of year is to you and your family, it ticks all the boxes. John Williams’ score (it gets lost in his career of brilliance but it truly is one of his best) has a perfect Christmassy vibe to it, it’s laugh out loud funny still today thanks to John Hughes’ sharp script, hilarious performances from Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern, and there’s a strong argument that Macauley Culkin’s Kevin McCallister is a Christmas season icon. The best Christmas film is Home Alone, and keep the change, ya filthy animal.
My personal Christmas essentials are pretty simple, and tend to get watched each and every year interspersed with many of the above:
Dir. Richard Curtis, 2003
This is a divisive film that you either adore or despise: I am in the adoration column. The eight storylines each have such a distinct tone, each one with it’s charming moments and many with heartbreaking ones; but but ultimately I love it as a Christmas film because it’s about many walks of people and the various real-life struggles they have in the build up to the holidays.
Ludovic: The Snow Gift
Dir. Co Hoedeman, 2002
This fourteen minute short is a stop motion animated film about a little bear and a Christmas miracle the stumbles across – my family still haul out the VHS every year. It’s charming and just beautifully made, with a delightful little voice actor who I will still insist on doing impressions of every year.
Dir. Sergio Pablos & Carlos Martínez López, 2019
I agree with Sjöberg’s choice: I first watched Klaus on the long London commutes of December 2019 on my phone, and ended up sobbing on the Northern Line. The animation style is exquisite and wildly unique, and the story itself as reinvents and invites so much warmth and hope into your heart. It’s wildly underrated.
Dir. Clea DuVall, 2020
FINALLY: GAY CHRISTMAS! This film treads the line between beloved holiday tropes and very real sincerity with such skill. Exceptional cast with some killer moments.
For more recommendations, here’s a tiered list from two years above ranking festive films from God Tier to Hell Tier.
Thank you so much to everyone for sharing their festive films with me: I’m looking forward to watching these and getting into the holiday spirit.
Merry Christmas from fivethreeninety.