Video Krypt’s Top 10 Christmas Movies…

10. Love Actually (2003)

To borrow my colleague Mr Holly’s standard reviewing motif, if Love Actually was a relative at Christmas, it would be your granny – a bit dotty, bloated on mince pies, a bit tipsy on sherry, disorganised, showering you in sloppy kisses, but full of love and presents.

Too long by far, Richard Curtis’ rambling, star-studded ensemble comedy romance has at least two segments that could be done away with – most obviously the bit where a dweeby English guy goes to America to score some hot chicks using his English accent, and Liam Neeson’s vomit-inducing, ET-eyed, trembly-chinned son.  All he really wants for Christmas is some hair on his knackers so he can pull the popular bird at school.

But the whole thing is tied together by Bill Nighy’s incomparable rogue of a washed up rock star, looking to make good one last time with the drossy cash-in Christmas Is All Around, a sly nod to the Wet Wet Wet mega-hit Love Is All Around from Curtis’ own Four Weddings and A Funeral.

It’s not all laughs and japes, and surely the standout moments are Emma Thompson’s heart-rending tears when she realises her hubby may be having an affair; and Andrew Lincoln’s heart-melting declaration of love to Keira Knightley, done a la Bob Dylan to Silent Night.  And honestly, if you can’t warm to Love Actually‘s generous intentions, I think you’re some weird, stunted, cold-hearted bastard, ripe for a visit from three Ghosts on Christmas Eve…

9. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Tim Burton‘s pop gothic ascetic finds a perfect muse in Henry Selick’s sublime stop-motion animation as Jack Skellington, the skull-headed leader of Halloween Town gets all Christmassy and kidnaps Santa, in order to put his own unique spin on Christmas.  Some of the songs are pretty naff, and it drags a bit despite its short running time, but Jack’s Christmas is delightfully ghoulish.

8. The Great Escape (1963)

A film that has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.  However, I’m from a generation of English blokes for whom Boxing Day wouldn’t be Boxing Day without a large plate of turkey sandwiches and a re-run of John Sturges’ POW-breakout caper.  An international cast hams it up gloriously, Bernstein’s rousing score makes sure you know where you’re supposed to be emotionally, and it is always gripping no matter how many times you’ve seen it.

7. The Snowman (1982)

This short feature has been a staple of Channel 4’s Christmas Day schedule since its first airing back in 1982, loving rendered from Raymond Brigg’s cherished picture book.  The twee shenanigans at the North Pole leaves me a bit cold, but the boy and the Snowman’s breathtaking flight across the snowy landscape to Walking In The Air still inspires a sense of childlike wonder.

6. Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell has always been a bit too deliberately “out there” with his usual shtick for me, but gives a wonderfully funny and big-hearted performance as Buddy, a human raised as an Elf in this feel-good festive comedy.  A fish-out-of-water comedy, bringing Buddy from Santa’s workshop to the Big Apple, his wide-eyed innocence and passion for all things Christmas are brilliantly counterbalanced by his cynical, sneering biological father, played with shark-eyed relish by James Caan.

5. Bad Santa (2003)

Officially the sweariest Christmas movie of all time, with the F-word used a grand total of 170 times, Bad Santa is Terry Zwigoff’s wilfully acerbic tale of Willie T. Sokes (Billy Bob Thornton), an alcoholic, ass-fucking, misanthropic safe-cracker who makes a living as the world’s worst department store santa.  He is assisted by a bitter, foul-mouthed dwarf (Tony Cox), who matches him as the world’s worst Christmas elf.  For all the gutter filth, Bad Santa still plausibly warms the heart, as even Willie finds some goodwill for his fellow human beings, playing surrogate father to the world’s worst fat annoying kid (Brett Kelly).

4. Scrooge (1951)

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has been adapted for the screen countless times, with Ebenezeer Scrooge portrayed by actors as diverse as Reginald Owen, Albert Finney, George C Scott, Kelsey Grammar, Ross Kemp and Jim Carrey.  Notable mentions go to Bill Murray, who warmed up for Groundhog Day in the modern day, scattershot update Scrooged! and Michael Caine, who played Ebenezeer completely straight despite being  surrounded by Kermit and mates in A Muppet Christmas Carol.  For my money, still the best Scrooge is Alastair Sim in this classic adaptation, with his heavy-lidded, haunted eyes and droll, deadpan delivery – never was the classic miser so deliciously mean, sad and comical, which makes his eventual change of heart all the more joyous.

3. Die Hard (1988)

I can’t say for certain, but I feel sure that when the screenplay for Die Hard was first pitched, they didn’t imagine that twenty years later it would be creeping into people’s lists of top Christmas films.

Bruce Willis’ blue collar New York cop John McLane heads out to LA to visit his estranged wife for Chrimbo, and ends up crashing arch-criminal Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman)’s festive safe-cracking party at the Nakatomi Plaza.

Despite heads getting blown off, necks broken, bodies chucked out of skyscraper windows, Die Hard still feels very Christmassy, not least due to Michael Kamen’s sleigh bell laden soundtrack, and a serious commitment to family at Christmas: McLane goes through all hell to rescue his wife from the robbers, his “partner” Sgt Powell (Reginald VelJohnson) is drawn out from behind his desk to confront the criminals with a pregnant wife back home, and slimy newsman Thornburg (William Atherton) rewarded for encroaching on the sanctity of the McLane homestead at Christmas with a broken nose.

2. Gremlins (1984)

Joe Dante gleefully trashes picture book small town Americana in this anarchic horror comedy.  Nice boy Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan) receives an unusual pet from his inventor father for Christmas, with three important pet care tips to follow – don’t get it wet, don’t feed it after midnight, and don’t expose it to sunlight.  Naturally, he proceeds to get it wet and feed it after midnight, unleashing a horde of cackling Gremlins on the peaceful town of Kingston Falls.  A mischevious Christmas classic which pulls of that 80’s trick of being subversive, feel-good, funny and scary all at the same time.

1. It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

It is always tempting to try knocking Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life off top spot, but that would just be churlish.  In our increasingly atomised, consumerised world, where the true spirit of Christmas (whatever that means) is often lost, this film carries a simple, universal, uplifting message: “No man is a failure who has friends”.

This is the tale of a good-natured but ambitious young man, George Bailey (James Stewart), whose dream of leaving his hometown of Bedford Falls is repeatedly thwarted by his commitment to doing the right thing by family and friends.  He is eventually driven to the brink of suicide by the threat of financial ruin.

Luckily, his guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers) is on hand to grant him a wish – to show him what life would be like without him.

It’s A Wonderful Life is often too easily passed off as a feelgood Christmas classic, although much of it, especially the nightmarish parallel universe without George Bailey, is incredibly dark.

James Stewart puts in a complex, layered performance as Bailey, his selfless persona frequently conflicted by a desire to pursue his own dreams – watch his face cloud over when he realises he won’t be able to leave town to go traveling on his brother’s return.  The key to Bailey’s frustrations comes in a  confrontation with his nemesis, Harlan Potter (Lionel Barrymore) – “You once called me a warped, frustrated old man, but what are you but a warped, frustrated young man?”

George’s life is a catalogue of compromise and broken dreams, and he is pushed to the very brink – which makes his eventual epiphany so wonderfully life affirming.

About leerobertadams

Lee is an English writer, blogger and film critic living in Brno, Czech Republic. When not watching and writing about movies, he loves football, reading, eating out, and enjoying his adopted home city with his girlfriend and two children.

Posted on 05/12/2013, in Comedy, Film, Movies, Reviews, Top 10... and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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