Well, we are back here again. The year is coming to a close and with it comes the festive season, AKA one of the most divisive times of year. Either you absolutely love it, vehemently detest it or have complete indifference (I’m jealous of those people).
However, the sad reality is that Christmas magic disappears for many of us by adulthood and December can be the most difficult time of year. Whether it be the fact you work retail and the general public are insane, you don’t partake in Christianity, you don’t have the ‘picture perfect’ big family get-together, you find the rife commercialisation of a single day in the year abhorrent… the list goes on and on.
So if like me, Christmas brings out the worst in you (or someone in your orbit) - never fear, I've got it covered. Here are some of the more palatable festive films to revive the sense of Christmas spirit - and no Hallmark, I promise.
How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Every family has a staple Christmas film and this is mine. Of course it had to be first on the list. Jim Carrey’s version (NOT the 2018 one) of the Grinch takes on new meaning as an adult - as in, he is now far too relatable and it is concerning. If you’re unfamiliar with the works of Dr. Seuss (I pity you) or you’ve lived under a rock for the past 20 years (I envy you), here’s a short synopsis. Based on the children’s classic, How The Grinch Stole Christmas takes place in Whoville, a town populated by the ‘Who’s’, people who are OBSESSED with Christmas. All but one, the Grinch who lives an isolated life on the peak overlooking Whoville (with his dog Max, the film’s MVP). The Grinch, a bright green, furry being (I honestly struggle to find words to describe him) lives off the town’s garbage and despises all things Christmas. Genuinely the anti-social poster boy. This is how things have been every year in Whoville, until a little girl named Cindy-Lou Who finds herself feeling disassociated with Christmas and increasingly curious about the Grinch.
Image source: IMDB
Whilst this is a family movie, there are plenty of adult jokes thrown in, and it takes place in an absolute fever dream of a location. In his own manic way the Grinch provides a fair point in his disapproval of the commercialisation of Christmas. Thematically we are given a film that emphasises a departure from the materialism we have grown to associate with the holiday in favour of the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas - a day to extend kindness to those around us.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Image source: IMDB
Frank Capra’s Christmas classic to end all classics. The thing that is surprising about It’s a Wonderful Life is that it is a great film for people who find the yuletide period insufferable - Christmas is barely mentioned until the third act of the movie. The protagonist, George Bailey, a businessman with a kind heart, views himself as a failure. After accumulating a multitude of seemingly insurmountable problems, he is considering taking his own life on Christmas Eve when an angel is sent to show him how life would have been if he had never been born.
The impact of this film feels all the more relevant after the past two years. Even the most cynical viewer can engage with George’s feelings of despair over unrealised dreams, and his inner conflict over the personal sacrifices he makes to help those around him. In a time where comparison has been rife for most, George’s constant scrutiny between his circumstances and that of his friends feels highly relatable.
For a movie that turned 75 this year, its charm remains timeless. Honestly if you don’t cry by the final ten minutes, maybe check to make sure you aren’t some form of cyborg?
Die Hard (1988)
Image source: Express.co.uk
Listen, I'm not here for arguments. I am simply obliged to society at large to include the number 1 non-Christmassy Christmas movie on this list. If anything, enjoy the explosions and watch for the gloriousness that is Alan Rickman.
Bad Santa (2003)
Image Source: NME
This one is for the truly irredeemable Christmas cynics out there. If you’ve never seen Bad Santa, I have no idea what you were doing during the early 2000s because this dark comedy was everywhere. Billy Bob-Thornton once tried to ruin Christmas as the US president in Love Actually and now he’s back at it again. He plays Willie, a professional conman who poses as Santa Claus each year alongside his (literal) partner in crime Marcus, allowing them access to ransack department stores on Christmas Eve. When Willie meets Thurman, a naive kid in poor circumstances, his lack of empathy is challenged.
Bad Santa’s comedy is crude and dark - the protagonist is literally an alcoholic, sex-addicted version of Saint Nick. As a result, it’s a perfect antidote for anyone who finds the spirit of Christmas in general difficult to stomach.
IF YOU ENJOY ANIMATED FILMS
Image Source: Vulture
My brother pestered me for a whole year to watch this random animated film on Netflix, and it wasn’t until I finally gave in that I understood why. Klaus is a flawless example of a film that can be enjoyed by literally anyone. The visuals are sublime, the voice cast is top notch, the narrative is engaging, you will go through a myriad of emotions - it even has an Oscar nomination backing it up.
When the lazy and entitled Jesper Johansen is sent by his father to become postman to the Northern Island town of Smeerensburg, he is tasked with posting 6,000 letters within a year or risk being cut off from the family fortune. Unfortunately for Jesper, he walks into a town more preoccupied with keeping up an age-old feud between two family clans than posting letters. However, his luck starts to turn when he befriends a reclusive woodsman named Klaus who happens to have a penchant for making children’s toys.
Christmas origin films can be hit and miss at the best of times, but Klaus serves as a beautiful film both aesthetically and in heart.
Tokyo Godfathers (2003
Image Source: Rotoscopers
This recommendation is a bit left of field but stick with me! Written and directed by Satoshi Kon, Tokyo Godfathers proves a deviation of sorts for a filmmaker with infamous anime films such as Paprika and Paper Blue in his oeuvre. Nevertheless, it is a credible piece of work and makes for a great quirky film to watch in December. The film begins on Christmas Eve, where a trio of homeless people find an abandoned baby whilst searching through a rubbish heap. Miyuki, a teenage runaway, Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic, and Hana, a former drag queen and transgender woman survive living on the streets by being together as a makeshift family. After discovering the baby they call ‘Kiyoko’, they endeavour to track down her parents and figure out why Kiyoko was abandoned in the first place. Throughout the story, we learn the backgrounds of Gin, Miyuki and Hana, and there are plenty of narrative twists and turns. The animation is gorgeous, illustrating modern day Tokyo in both realistic and surreal tones.
Tokyo Godfathers effectively portrays themes around family, and doesn’t shy away from the hardships faced by those existing as the outliers of society. Whilst Christmas is present (it opens during a nativity scene), it is a heart-warming and funny story, placing its protagonists in surreal situations and meeting other memorable characters along the way.
IF TV SERIES ARE MORE YOUR THING
Dash and Lily (2020)
Image Source: Buzzfeed
If you share space with your Christmas opposite - keep reading. I actually rewatched this series again for 2021 because I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it last year. Based on a Young Adult novel, Dash and Lily follows the titular characters who get to know each other through a shared notebook over the festive season. The catch? Dash hates Christmas, whilst Lily is one of the merriest people on the planet. Through the notebook, they each pass and perform dares from the other, helping to break out of their comfort zones. Whilst there’s a lot of genre cliches and unrealistic moments happening, the leads are endearing and this is a really quick, comforting show to watch. There’s major You’ve Got Mail vibes going on (complete with iconic bookstore locations), the Christmas in NYC setting is *magical*, Dash is essentially modelled as a sarcastic blonde Timothee Chalamet, heck there’s even a Jonas Brothers concert at one point. Don’t get me started on the apartment envy that you will experience. Similarly to The Grinch, this series doesn’t shy away from Christmas criticism, but slowly manages to smother you into submission with its wholesomeness.
Image Source: Marvel.com
Short but sweet wrap-up because this one currently still has episodes dropping on Disney Plus, but for the marvel fans out there - tune in. Set during Christmas in New York (shocker) we meet Kate Bishop, played by Hailee Steinfeld as the rookie archer to Jeremy Renner’s grizzly veteran Hawkeye/Clint. They get into conundrums and fight crime. It’s less North Pole and more action. There’s Broadway musicals and bow and arrows featured - that’s all I really need to say about it. Get on it (seriously, I need someone to discuss each episode with!).
IF YOU’RE AN EMOTIONAL MASOCHIST
So I promised no Hallmark films. But let’s be honest, none of us are safe from the onslaught of Netflix Christmas originals slated through November to January. Some are better than others, but for these purposes we require diving Oscar the Grouch-style straight to the garbage. Now I am not suggesting to watch these seriously (I made the mistake of watching A Christmas Prince sober).
The following movies are best viewed with a friend to make sarcastic comments to the screen with and also some form of alcohol (if that’s your thing) on hand.
The Vanessa Hudgens Christmas Cinematic Universe (The Princess Switch 1,2 AND 3, The Knight Before Christmas)
Holiday in The Wild
A Country Christmas
A Christmas Prince Trilogy
IF YOU WANT SOMETHING COMPLETELY UNRELATED
This may be a cop-out but it felt necessary to include as there are SO MANY hotly anticipated films debuting this December/January. If you’ve given up on Christmas altogether and just want to discuss the best new releases with those around you, keep an eye out for the following:
Spiderman: No Way Home
The French Dispatch
The Matrix: Resurrections
House of Gucci
West Side Story
Don’t Look Up
The Power of the Dog
From one cinephile to another… you’re welcome! Best of luck surviving the festive (or not-so-festive) season, and CONGRATS on making it through another pandemic year.