Okay, so I know I said it’s NOT Christmas yet, and you all thought I was the Descendant of Scrooge, or something.
However, I do make one exception to my festive grinchiness. And that is Christmas movies. I adore Christmas movies.
Alongside our box of Christmas tree decorations, we have a box of a dozen or so DVDs which we pull out at the start of December. Then, when the weather gets cold and the evenings gloomy, we treat ourselves to a movie night, with a fire, a pot of hot chocolate and some freshly popped corn.
There are loads of Christmas movies that claim to be “classics”. For me, a movie can only be a classic if it’s sentimental. Because if there’s a time of year when you can get away with being schmaltzy, this is it. Come January, it’s back to Das Boot and shouting ALARM at the TV in a comedy accent.
Christmas classics also need to be funny – it’s cold outside and we need cheering up. And they should be knowing. I can’t abide Christmas movies that take themselves too seriously. Yes, I’m sure Miracle on 34thStreet is a great movie, but there aren’t many laughs, and definitely not enough hot people – although there’s a debate to be had about the 1994 remake, potentially.
But which movies meet these criteria?
Fear not, friends, for below is the ultimate Christmas movie capsule. Please note, this list may include some films you can watch with children, but it is most certainly NOT a list of children’s films. I do not consider Santa Clause or Santa Paws or any of that tripe to be a must-watch. Because I’m not four years of age, basically.
But if you’ve got these ten (oh, alright, 11, I couldn’t lose any of them for the sake of a neat list) movies in a box under the stairs for Christmas, you’ll never be short of top notch entertainment at Christmas again:
Will Ferrell is a man-child, raised by elves, who returns to New York in search of his birth father. This is properly funny, in an “innocent in the big bad city” sort of way, and kids love that Buddy the Elf acts exactly like they do. I don’t think I could be friends with someone who didn’t laugh at this film. I know. It’s THAT good.
I like to smile, smiling’s my favourite
National Lampooon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
A work of genius that never fails to make me laugh myself stupid. There are faulty fairy lights, tree infernos, exploding turkeys, turbo-power sledding, road rage, mad relatives and poo jokes. C’mon – what’s not to love? And at the heart of it all is just a family guy who wants the perfect Christmas.
Eddie, if I woke up tomorrow with my head sewn to the carpet, I couldn’t be more surprised
Just Friends (2005)
This one wasn’t a big hit at the cinema but has a fab cast, and tells the story of Chris (Ryan Reynolds), a geek who grows up to become a hot music industry exec. Chris is escorting a pop poppet to a concert when he gets stuck in his home town for Christmas – and runs into his old crush. What I love about this movie is it’s a sentimental love story, but all the characters are realistically horrible to people they don’t like. There’s a lot of slapping and punching and kicking among friends and family. And also – a little bit of bloodshed. But it’s really funny bloodshed.
Jamie slaps Chris
Chris: You slap like a cheerleader
Jamie punches him in the face
I’ll confess I’m not a big fan of It’s a Wonderful Life, tending to think that actually George Bailey’s life seems a bit rubbish, all things considered (this is probably why people tell me I’m dead inside). Anyway, I love a good pastiche, and Gremlins is about as good as it gets – small town America goes haywire at Christmas after cute critters turn feral. Awesome.
The most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight.
Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Of all the versions of the Dickens classic, including the tedious and borderline sinister Jim Carrey version, this is hands down the best version of Christmas Carol. It’s got great songs, it’s laugh out loud funny, and not TOO scary to watch with little kids. And watch the credits for some great in-jokes including a credit for Rizzo’s personal caterer.
Rizzo: Boy, that’s scary stuff! Should we be worried about the kids in the audience?
Gonzo: Nah, it’s all right. This is culture.
Fred Claus (2007)
Most movies about Christmas focus on Santa but this one’s all about his older brother Vince Vaughn, who ends up working at the North Pole, while evil management consultant Kevin Spacey is trying to shut down Santa for efficiency failings. Slightly weird special effects aside, this is for you if you think you’d laugh at Santa having a full-on fist fight with another man, or at someone corrupting the elves in the workshop with a bit of Elvis. It’s not high culture but the sibling support group Fred attends, along with Stephen Baldwin and Roger Clinton is genuinely funny. Didn’t deserve the hammering it got when it was released, I don’t think. Rachel Weisz’ London accent is deeply risible, though.
I think it’s amazing, he can fly around a million houses in one night, breaking and entering … scaring little children while they’re sleeping, steal all the food, eat little kids’ cookies. I get jacked out of my mind just thinking about all those laws being broken …
While you were sleeping (2005)
A Sandra Bullock Christmas movie. Yes, it’s schmaltzy, but who doesn’t identify with a single girl who accidentally gets engaged to a guy in a coma, and then realises she’s really better suited to his brother (Bill Pullman). I mean, it’s the sort of thing that happens to me ALL the time. Not strictly relevant, but Bill Pullman has a great fringe in this movie.
I’ve had a really lousy Christmas, you’ve *just* managed to kill my New Year’s, if you come back on Easter, you can burn down my apartment.
The Holiday (2006)
Hannah: God, I’ve just noticed how pathetic you are.
Iris: Really? I’m *so* aware of it.
Home Alone (1990)
If you’re looking for a movie to watch with kids, this is one of Flea’s all-time favourites – the classic tale of a family that leave one of their kids home alone over Christmas. And then the house is targeted by the world’s most inept burglars.
It turns out that a kid who rigs booby traps and inflicts unimaginable pain on strangers is the height of humour when you’re five years old. This one is packed with 80s retro charm, and some real feel-good moments.
Kevin’s Mum: How could we do this? We forgot him.
Kevin’s Dad: We didn’t forget, we just miscounted.
Kevin’s Mum: What kind of mother am I?
Kevin’s Dad: If it makes you feel better, I forgot my glasses.
This one is a complete slush-fest but it’s got John Cusack in it and hell, Nick Drake is on the soundtrack, so it’s quality slush. Basically, Jonathon (Cusack) meets Sara (Kate Beckinsale) while out Christmas shopping. Since she’s attached, she decides to leave it up to destiny to see if they’re meant to meet again – and puts her phone number into a second-hand book. What? That could happen. Anyway, it’s thoroughly lovely and I defy you not to feel warm inside when you watch it – and it’s a thousand times better than Love, Actually.
When love feels like magic, you call it destiny. When destiny has a sense of humour, you call it serendipity.
Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)
This is pretty much the best EVER ‘home for the holidays’ movie and although strictly speaking it’s about Thanksgiving, it’s winter so it still totally counts. Basically, Steve Martin and John Candy get stuck driving across America together and you have a road movie with two comic geniuses. It doesn’t get much better. This is my favourite scene of the whole movie: