Monday, 30 November 2015

101 Christmas Movies You Must See Before You Die: "It's a Wonderful List" (2016 update)



Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Not even a mouse
They were all sat downstairs
By a big-screen TV
Waiting patient for Santa
And watching a movie
But not just any old film
Made the room all a-flicker
Why that's John McClane
Yippee-ki-yay Motherf… (cough)


"And so this is Christmas, and what have we done? We've watched Christmas movies, every single one..."  Yes it is indeed that time of year again, when we all hang humbugs from trees and celebrate the birth of the Baby Jesus by slaughtering all living poultry. Something like that anyway. Best of all, it means that it's time to start watching Christmas films again.

For as long as I've been a human, raised by humans, I've been a bit of a Christmas films obsessive, and have seen all the classics more times than is sensible. However, watching the same old stuff year after year was starting to get a little repetitive, so in 2015 I set out on an epic quest: to find and watch as many Christmas films as I possibly could, and then produce a massive list of my favourites.

So now, after an exhaustive amount of research and viewing, I present my 101 116 Christmas Movies You Must See Before You Die (2016 update: 15 new films added, and every film rated). 

Hopefully a unique festive film list, naturally including all the films you watch every year, along with many hidden gems and surprising entries - I can almost guarantee you'll find something here to enjoy that you've not seen before. Myself, I made several discoveries that I think are genuinely extraordinary.

I’ve tried to keep the list free of spoilers, so you can read on even if you haven’t seen all of them (one entry has slight spoilers for a reason, and is clearly marked). At the end you’ll find the full list in downloadable PDF format, plus Letterboxd and IMDb links, so you may tick off your progress with any of those if you so choose. And if you have any festive film suggestions of your own I’d love to see them, please drop them in the comments box on your way out.

So what defines a Christmas film? After a few seconds of vigorous thought, I decided each film should meet either of the following criteria:

  • The story is about Christmas (i.e. Santa, elves, rampant consumerism).
  • Or, it passes the Meet Me in St. Louis test: some or all of the events integral to the story are set at Christmastime or have some kind of obvious Christmas link.

All genres are welcome, so the list includes action, comedy, family, war, crime, animation, horror, drama, adventure, romance, fantasy, mystery, thriller, anime, sci-fi, musical and Terry Gilliam. Without further ado, here are my 116 Christmas Movies You Must See Before You Die.

My additions for 2016 are in red. And don't go complaining about my ratings, it's just a bit of fun. Scrooge.

___________________

29th Street (1991)

The quote on the DVD says “Goodfellas meets It’s a Wonderful Life”, and it’s as good as that sounds. A true story about Italian-American Frank Pesce (Anthony LaPaglia) whose numbers come up in the first New York State Lottery on Christmas Eve - only it turns out that's the last thing he wants. One of those hidden gems that hardly anyone knows, yet those who do tend to rave about. The DVD is out of print now so you’ll have to get hold of a used copy on Amazon/eBay (or Lovefilm in the UK has it to rent) - but however you find it, don’t let another Christmas pass without having seen this. The first of three films on the list to feature the ever excellent Danny Aiello.

All Is Bright (Almost Christmas) (2013)

I enjoyed this far more than I expected to, especially when I saw Paul Rudd's name attached. Paul Giamatti plays a guy fresh out of prison, and without a home or job to go to, resorts to heading to New York with an old acquaintance to sell Christmas trees. A quiet, downbeat comedy with a melancholic tone that stands out amongst the mass of must-appear-happy festive films.

Arthur Christmas (2011)

The mad rush is over for another year. Presents delivered around the world, everyone at mission control can put their feet up, job done. But wait! They've missed a child! And so it's up to Santa's son Arthur to save the day. Heart-warming animation from Aardman, full of wit and imagination (the toy with "risk of mooing: 98%"), and a fine voice cast including James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie and Bill Nighy.

Bad Santa (2003)

Every Christmas, a drunken, foul-mouthed slob (the brilliant Billy Bob Thornton) and his ‘little man’ sidekick play the role of shopping mall Santa and elf - so they can then rob the store of it’s cash on Christmas Eve. The comedy is puerile, disgusting and mean-spirited in equal measure, and I think you either love it or hate it for that, but ultimately it does have a heart.

Batman Returns (1992)

Tim Burton was a great fit to direct this. Everything is over the top, his signature gothic darkness suits Gotham down to a tee, and it’s all topped off by Danny DeVito's deranged Penguin. Christopher Walken also features, and as we all know, any film can be instantly improved by casting him. I still prefer the darker Christopher Nolan series, but you couldn't imagine those working as Christmas films. Plus it's nice to know that even comic book characters celebrate the birth of Jesus (admittedly by trying to kill each other, but at least they take the time to put up the twinkly lights first).

Beyond Tomorrow (Beyond Christmas) (1940)

The sort of movie where people get together to sing Jingle Bells around the piano. The sort of movie where a fully grown man asks a policeman for a ride of his horse, because "he sure is priddy". The sort of movie where everyone goes around saying "mighty fine" and "well I do declare". The sort of movie that makes you go "shucks, I wish this was how people behaved in real life".

The Bishop's Wife (1948)

A Bishop (David Niven) has become obsessed with getting funding for a new cathedral, and has lost sight of what's important in his life and job. He is visited by a quiet well-dressed angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) who tries to reawaken the spirit of Christmas and humanity within the Bishop and his wife. A slow starter that builds into a lovely, warm, gentle film - with a message that gets right to the heart of what Christmas is meant to be about. Having said that, I must question the central premise - there are surely many worse things you could do in life than attempt to raise money for a new church. I mean if you’re trying to raise cash to fund a drug distribution startup, or perhaps fill your entire home with every piece of furniture Ikea sells, just for the hell of it, then Dudley would be perfectly entitled to drop in. But just for trying to save a cathedral?

Black Christmas (1974)

And from there we head to the opposite end of the Christmas spectrum, where we find a psycho hiding in a girls' sorority house making obscene phone calls and waiting to bump them off. Classic festive slasher that later inspired the likes of Halloween and Scream, and I particularly liked the ending.

The Bourne Identity (2002)
In preparation for the release of the latest film in the Matt Damon starring franchise, I decided to re-watch the original trilogy, still the pinnacle of the action film genre as far as I'm concerned. Lo and behold, I realised that the first one is actually a Christmas film, taking place entirely over the season of goodwill to all men. I'd never noticed before how Christmassy the film is, with all it's twinkly lights, beautifully decorated trees, CIA cover-ups and deadly assassins with headaches and amnesia. It's everything the Baby Jesus would have wanted.

Brazil (1985) 

It’s a Terry Gilliam film. If you’ve ever seen any of his work, you’ll know it’s completely bonkers. So Gilliam’s vision of a Christmas movie features a futuristic dystopian city, dreams and reality mashed together, and a ‘Minister of Information’ giving lectures dressed as Santa. This is either going to be incomprehensible or genius depending on your tastes - to me it goes down as enjoyable nonsense. I wish he'd make a festive film using his animation style and comedy from Monty Python - now that would be something to see.

Bridget Jones' Diary (2001)

Lonely woman seeks Mr. Right, keeps choosing the wrong one, unexpectedly finds him at a Christmas party. The central character in the film, Bridget, is actually based on myself, except for me being male and different in every possible way, and nothing in the story having ever happened in my life. The film is also to blame for the rise in popularity of large pants and the Christmas jumper, thankfully two trends that I have yet succumb to. Colin Firth plays the role of Colin Firth. Hugh Grant plays the role of Hugh Grant.

Calvaire (The Ordeal) (2004)

Holy moly. Where to begin? A French horror film that is unmentionably weird, horrifying, fascinating, and by comparison makes something like Straw Dogs seem like a children's story. When a man's vehicle breaks down in the middle of the Ardennes Forest, a local leads him to an Inn for the night. Nothing could prepare him (or me) for what happens after that. Even a year after my first viewing, I'm still trying to come to terms with it, it's just so strange and deeply unsettling (and isn’t supernatural horror, in case you're like me and prefer to avoid that type of thing). Fans of the dark British comedy series The League of Gentlemen will spot many similarly macabre things happening here, so much so that it must have been an influence. "You'll see. This will be the best Christmas ever". Never have such pleasant words been so sinister. Seriously, if you like bizarre horror, you have to see this. I've no intention of watching it again mind you.

Carol (2015)
Director Todd Hayes' films have a very distinctive look to them, with a saturated colour palate and lots of old fashioned period detail. It's a little like watching Mary Poppins or The Sound of Music, only there's no singing and everyone's miserable. A curiously satisfying experience. I especially enjoyed when Cate Blanchett went toy shopping and bought a wooden train set (gee, thanks Mum) from shop assistant Rooney Mara, without even seeing it, thereby basing her purchase solely on the shop assistant's description of the item. All Christmas shopping should be done this way, much less hassle. Plus, if you also get them to wrap it unseen before delivery, it's a bit of festive Russian Roulette on Christmas morning for you and your ungrateful children.

Carol For Another Christmas (1964)

And from there we move on to what is probably the bleakest Christmas movie ever made. When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, I wonder if he imagined it might one day be made into a film about the horrors of nuclear war? Funded by Xerox as propaganda for the United Nations, it originally aired on US television (ABC) on 28 December 1964. Despite the impressive cast (Sterling Hayden, Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland) reaction to the film was understandably negative, with distinctly un-Christmassy scenes that include a visit to Hiroshima. The "Ghost of Christmas Future" section with Peter Sellers is so surreal that I'm now wondering if this film actually exists or was just a weird dream. It is by a long way the rarest film on the list, ABC never aired it again and it has become a bit of a lost classic, though I believe it is aired in America on TCM every few years. It also pops up online now and again, so keep an eye out.

The Children (2008)

A sort-of-horror film in which a family head to a countryside retreat for a Christmas get-together, and everything's idyllic until something curious starts happening to the children. What I found interesting about this was that while most horror films require darkness to create the fear, this is reasonably effective despite taking place entirely in daytime. Though after seeing Calvaire it feels fairly timid.

Children of Men (2006)

***This entry contains very slight spoilers in order to explain why it's on the list***

A miracle pregnancy. A man forced to undertake an arduous journey escorting the pregnant woman. The birth in a place of squalor and filth. Themes of hope, faith and the possible saviour of mankind. Earlier this year I came across an article explaining that this futuristic dystopian thriller is actually a modern take on the original Christmas story. I hadn't picked up on that before, and it's fascinating to watch it again with this in mind. One scene even a takes place in a barn with animals. A brilliant film from Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity), with seriously impressive cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, this is probably the ultimate not-obvious alternative Christmas film.

A Christmas Carol (1999)

My favourite version of the Dickens classic, starring Patrick Stewart as Scrooge and Richard E. Grant as Bob Cratchit. There's more depth to the character of Scrooge in this one, and I think Stewart produced the definitive performance of the role. So much of what we now do at Christmas is influenced by Dickens, I feel like I have to watch some version of this story each year just because it's not really Christmas if I don't.

A Christmas Carol (2009)

Disney's animated version by Robert Zemekis, with Jim Carrey voicing Scrooge and the three ghosts. There's nothing much here that improves or changes the story, but the animation is really something (and so it should be given the $200 million budget). Blu-ray was made for films like this.

Christmas Holiday (1944)
A fairly typical 40's noir film in which a woman struggles with the fact she's married a scoundrel. A scoundrel I tells ya! All the usual noir traits, the femme fatale etc, are present and predictable. What raises the bar however is the casting of Gene Kelly as the baddie, he plays against type so well that it's a puzzle he didn't do it more often. But where's the tapdancing? As he famously said in another of his classic films, "The first rule of Tapdance Club is you do not talk about Tapdance Club. The second rule is similar. The third rule is, if this is your first night at Tapdance Club, you have to tapdance." But that's another film. My favourite bit is a midnight mass scene in which the woman sobs quite a lot, always enjoy that sort of thing. Or perhaps I'd choose the bit when they stand beside the fountain and talk to each other. So many highlights.

Christmas in Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck is a celebrated magazine writer who writes columns divulging her perfect home and family life, and extravagant home cooked recipes. Only thing is she's been faking the whole thing - she actually lives alone and hasn't any idea how to cook. When the magazine rewards a naval war hero by sending him to stay with her for Christmas, she begins an elaborate ruse to cover her tracks. Got me thinking that the Coens could do wondrous things with such a setup. However, and this is an open letter to 1940's Hollywood; do we really need an unnecessary slushy romance side-story tacked onto every script?

A Christmas Story (1983)

A nine year old boy wants nothing more than a Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas, all he has to do is convince someone to get it for him. This is apparently a popular TV favourite in America but doesn’t seem to be well known elsewhere, in the UK it remains little more than a curio. This could be down to cultural differences, children pining for guns is quite rare on this side of the pond, but also some of the humour doesn’t cross over so well for me (mainly due to the boy being incredibly irritating). If it was up to me, I’d be telling him if he doesn’t give the whole gun thing a rest, he’ll be receiving a lump of coal in his stocking and can be grateful he's even getting that.

A Christmas Tale (Un Conte de Noël) (2008)

When the mother of a large family is diagnosed with a terminal illness, and the only person who can provide a transplant is the family outcast, the Vuillards come together for a Christmas filled with recriminations and revelations. With fantastic performances from the likes of Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Amalric, it's an impressive multi-layered drama that keeps pulling you back in just as it seems the story is starting to drift. Also features one of those endings that you immediately want to rewind to see again.

Comfort and Joy (1984)

“Alan Bird is getting nothing he wants this Christmas”. A delightful little-known Scottish comedy from Bill Forsyth, director of Local Hero and Gregory’s Girl, about a radio DJ (Bill Paterson) who gets caught up in Glasgow’s infamous ice cream wars. “Mr. Bunny” and “Mr. McCool” go to war in a bid to claim the streets as their own, with farce and humour aplenty (though the funniest joke is ripped from Groucho Marx), and the finest ice cream van tune ever conceived. I always find this a treat to watch with so many quirky Scottish traits to relate to, but even without that connection I still think the humour has a broad appeal.

Convicts (1991)
Time now to take you back to the good ol' times of Christmas on the slavery plantations of Texas. A teenage boy comes to work for a senile plantation owner, Robert Duvall, in order to save enough to buy a gravestone for his deceased father. Adapted by Pulitzer prize-winning screenwriter Horton Foote (To Kill a Mockingbird, Tender Mercies, The Trip to Bountiful) from his own stage play, he has a uniquely sobering way with dialogue, and his characters are always humble, simple people that are very easy to warm to. This is especially impressive when the central character is a slave owner. Slow, gentle and I thought highly engaging, though because it's based on a play, I can imagine there will be viewers thinking it's too slow and stagey. Either way, there certainly aren't any other festive films like it.

Cronos (1993)

An unusual object, some 400 years old, finds it's way into the hands of a man who discovers it can create eternal life, but also a thirst for blood. This original and gory take on the vampire genre is set at Christmas and comes from the twisted mind of Guillermo del Toro, hinting at what's to come in Pan's Labyrinth.

The Dead (1987)

Based on a James Joyce short story from Dubliners, this is the masterful final film from John Huston, about a group of individuals who gather for an annual festive dinner party. I was blown away by this, parts of it are so poetic and beautiful that it would be an insult to Joyce's words to even try a description. Even the incidental moments have purpose and poignancy by the end. Huston knew he was dying whilst they were filming, and passed away shortly after completing one of the greatest films ever made - what a way to bow out.

Decalogue III (Dekalog) (1989)

A movie lasting ten hours is not one that immediately screams ‘watch me’. If you haven’t already skipped on to the next entry, Dekalog is a Polish drama in one-hour chunks which each form their own story loosely inspired by one of the ten commandments. Part III occurs on Christmas Eve, and although it won’t get you feeling terribly festive, it really is top-notch filmmaking by Krzysztof Kieślowski (Three Colours trilogy). I recommend viewing the whole thing, but part 3 does stand alone if you just want the Christmas tale.

Die Hard (1988)

Police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives to save the day when a loony terrorist (Alan Rickman) and his pals interrupt a Christmas party to take a bunch of people hostage. Swearing, shouting, guns and silliness ensues. This often pops up near the top of 'best xmas movies' lists, I like it but wouldn't stretch that far. You can however significantly improve it by pretending that the dismal sequels don't exist.

Diner (1982)

Coming-of-age drama in the vein of American Graffiti and Happy Days, following a group of young men as they contemplate marriage, jobs and moving on in the world. It’s set around the festive week, with the stereotypical American diner as it’s hub, and features a clever reimagining of the nativity scene.

Dinner Rush (2000)

Not much of a title, but this under-the-radar film starring Danny Aiello is a real treat. An event that unfolds one snowy day at Christmas leads into a whole host of characters with varying motives being in the same Italian restaurant on the same night. It really captures the buzz of being in a packed restaurant, when it almost becomes like theatre, and the story is like the best episode of The Sopranos they never made. Filmed in a real NY Italian restaurant that is actually owned by the film's director Bob Giraldi.

The Drop (2014)

Coincidentally, next up we have what proved to be the final screen appearance of James Gandolfini, and fittingly provided him with a quality role and the opportunity to prove he wasn't just the guy from The Sopranos. He runs a Brooklyn bar with his cousin (Tom Hardy) which operates a money-drop operation to funnel cash for Chechen gangsters. But holding all that money is bound to lead to trouble. Tom Hardy nails his performance, he's almost reaching Marlon Brando territory, and it's one of the most satisfying crime dramas I've seen in some time. Oh and a good chunk of it happens at Christmas.

Eastern Promises (2007)

In snowy London just before Christmas, a prostitute with connections to the Russian Mafia dies during childbirth. Tra la la la la, la la la la. This draws Naomi Watts into an investigation of the woman's past, and the dark underworld of the mob. If you've always wanted to see what a Christmas feast hosted by a Russian Mafia boss would look like, or Viggo Mortensen in a brutal steamroom fight scene, then you're finally in luck.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Once upon time, there was an unusual man named Edward who lived in a gothic castle and had scissors for hands. Why? Because this is a Tim Burton movie. When the local Avon lady drops by on her sales round (and I like that the castle is located atop a mountain at the end of a residential street), she discovers Edward alone and brings him home. He encounters the enthralled locals and the delightful Winona Ryder, all building up to events at Christmas. Johnny Depp is so good in this because he plays it gently and with subtlety, but the real stars are the set and costume designers.

Elf (2003)

Buddy the elf lives at the North Pole with Santa and the other elves, making toys for the children of the world. One day he discovers he's actually a human, and sets off to New York to find his real Dad. A modern classic, brilliantly funny and the role of a lifetime for Will Ferrell, with great support from Zooey Deschanel as his kooky love interest. Bye Buddy, hope you find your Dad. Bubeye.
P.S. If you have the DVD/Blu-ray, please please please go to the extras and watch the part called "Kids on Christmas". It's hilarious.

Elf: Buddy's Magical Christmas (2014)

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear". And so Elf became a stage musical. And then someone had the idea of combining the musical with the fantastic stop-motion animation style used in the original film. It looks and sounds great, of course it could never be as good as the original movie, but if you love Elf then I can't see why you wouldn't enjoy this.

The Family Man (2000)

American film studios keep trying to produce the next It’s a Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol, but do so by basically ripping off the same story in a more modern setting. Nicholas Cage is a workaholic father, neglecting his family and oblivious to the joys of Christmas, who on Christmas Eve receives a visit from a ghost. You know the rest. Sentimental enough to make you feel ill long before the end, but it's Christmas, so pass me the bucket.

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Ingmar Bergman's epic portrayal of a large wealthy Swedish family, which is either 3 or 5 hours long depending on which version you watch. I’m sure there’s someone out there who finished watching the 3 hour version and then went, you know what, I think that could have done with an extra couple of hours. The film centres around two children, starting out in winter with lavish Christmas celebrations, before heading towards less joyful plot developments as the seasons unfold. Widely regarded by critics as one of the greatest films ever made, it's length will no doubt put some people off, but it is quality that's worth seeing.

Father Christmas (1991)

What does Santa do for the other 364 days of the year? It's one of the great questions of our time. Well it turns out that he likes to go on camping holidays, only he gets a little grumpy when things don't go to plan (or runs out of alcohol, he seems to be a bit of an alcoholic). When he's not on his travels, he lives alone with his cat in an ordinary terraced house, and grumpily sorts through the truckloads of bloomin' letters he keeps receiving. A very British animation written by Raymond Briggs, entirely hand drawn with an old-fashioned textured quality that makes a nice change from the shiny slick animations produced these days. Bloomin' marvellous.

Filth (2014)

An outrageous comedy-drama about a Scottish police detective (James McAvoy) looking to manipulate his way to promotion by way of a murder case. Based on Irvine Welsh's novel, and in some aspects even more shocking than Trainspotting, I'm amazed they ever got it released. All I can say is trust me, you have never seen a Christmas film like this before.

First Blood (Rambo) (1982)

Isn't memory a strange thing? I sceptically sat down to watch this thinking 'I don't remember Rambo being set at Christmas'. And then as it got going I realised I'd never even actually seen it, despite being convinced I had. Anyway, Sylvester Stallone is a Vietnam vet who arrives in a small town to visit a fellow soldier, and ends up being forced into using his warfare expertise to evade police capture in the surrounding wilderness. Stallone back then was a much better actor than the impression I had of him, I think I need to have a look at his other 80's films as I quite enjoyed this. And yes, I can now confirm it was set at Christmas.

Frozen River (2008)

A struggling mother, with a desperate need to find cash to meet a Christmas deadline, gets drawn into illegal people smuggling across a frozen river. Brilliantly played by Melissa Leo, this is a quality downbeat film that reminded me a little of Winter's Bone.

Get Santa (2014)

Santa has crash landed his sleigh, the reindeer are running wild through the streets of London, and he’s sleeping in a garage. Attempting to get his reindeer back sees him arrested and imprisoned, and it's up to a boy and his dad to save Santa and Christmas. Jim Broadbent is fantastic, there’s humour for both adults and children, and it has all the warm-fuzzy qualities you’d expect. Amongst the better family Christmas films of recent times.

Ghost Stories For Christmas (1968 and 2000)

When you’ve tired of all the saccharine movies and forced cheerfulness, this is what to turn to. From the late 60’s onwards, the BBC used to broadcast a spooky film in the closing hours of each Christmas Eve, which ties in with the Victorian tradition of telling ghost stories at Christmas. The BFI has collated a 6-disc box set of these films, which are of variable quality, and I've picked out my two favourites (counting them as one entry in the list, and Youtube links provided for those who can't view UK DVDs):

Whistle and I'll Come To You is based on a short story by M.R. James, a name I was not familiar with before but is as it turns out one of the great writers of the supernatural. An academic goes on a break to a seaside hotel, finds a whistle which he blows, and terror is unleashed. Shot in black and white, I found it to be highly atmospheric with a deep sense of foreboding. What's most effective is that it holds a lot back and allows your imagination of what’s coming to build into something greater than the reality could show, and I can imagine viewers on the night of the original 1968 broadcast being quite terrified by it.

Ghost Stories For Christmas with Christopher Lee (2000) is a series of four 30 minute films (The Stalls of Barchester, A Warning to the Curious, The Ash Tree, and Number 13) in which a group of Eton College students sit in front of the fire, sipping drinks and listening to M.R. James stories told by Christopher Lee. What I love about this is that it takes you back to being a child and having a good story read to you, and the way it's filmed makes it feel like you're the room with him. Lee is fantastic, totally engaging, and following his death earlier this year I like to think that watching these is a nice way to pay tribute to one of the truly great actors.

Gremlins (1984)

A man goes looking for a present for his son, and finds a cute looking "Mogwai" named Gizmo in a shop in Chinatown. The care instructions are simple; don't get it wet, expose to bright light, or feed after midnight. Things go awry and the unleashed Gremlins begin terrorising the town on Christmas Eve. A comedy horror classic.


The Hateful Eight (2015)
Yes, Tarantino's latest divisive masterpiece really is a Christmas film. Playing out like a whodunnit set in a remote lodge, the story revolves around a crazed woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) intent on delivering her to the hangman. Forced to stop off at the lodge due to a snowstorm at Christmastime, things don't exactly go to plan, and in some respects becomes more of a horror than a western (it even uses music from The Exorcist 2). Like all his films, the violence is super violent and the blood is plentiful. It's quite the ensemble cast too, with Samuel L. Jackson the standout, though Leigh does a fantastically demented turn in the lead role. The highlight is an astonishing scene in which Jackson reels off a story to another lodger, with a Christmas song being tinkled away on a background piano. So cinematic. By the time the credits rolled, it felt like I'd spent a really good night at the theatre, sat in the front row and splattered in red.

Hector (2015)
What a pleasure to find a modern Christmas film that actually has something to say. Peter Mullan, one of Scotland's finest actors, plays a homeless guy who has to hitchhike his way from Glasgow to London in December. The specific destination is a shelter he returns to each Christmas to meet up with the fellow homeless folk he now calls family. The film sits nicely alongside another homelessness-themed tale recently released in the UK, Time Out of Mind (starring Richard Gere), but here the impact of seeing such a life is made that much more powerful by the festive setting. Thoughtfully written and directed, with a few wee dashes of Scottish humour along the way, this is a refreshingly low-key and humble Christmas film that really is worth seeking out. Helpfully it's just been added to Netflix.

The Holiday (2006)

Two single women (Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz) swap their L.A. and English homes for a seasonal holiday, and each promptly fall in love with a local (Jude Law, and the curious casting choice of Jack Black). Clearly I am not the target market here, so the only way to watch films like this is to switch off cynicism and just go with it. For the first twenty minutes I found the characters insufferable and was hoping it would unexpectedly turn into a horror/disaster movie that wipes everyone out, but it slowly grew on me with enough pleasant scenery and nice moments to overlook the cloying sentimentalism. Bonus game: spot the disappearing and reappearing snow. I guess someone forgot to book the snow machine for each day of filming (oops, cynicism).

Holiday Affair (1949)

Robert Mitchum is a salesman in a toy store, who sells a train set to a Christmas shopper (Janet Leigh) who is not all she seems. (This all sounds somewhat similar to the earlier mentioned Carol, does it not? There’s a smidgen less lesbianism in this one though). An incident follows which has the unlikely effect of creating a love triangle between them and her existing beau. In the middle of all this is her meddling son Timmy, who teeters perilously on the line between annoying and sweet. Billed as a comedy, but I'd call it a romance drama because it isn’t funny.

Holiday Inn (1942)

To be honest I’m not a huge fan of this fairly plodding and formulaic musical featuring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, it’s more on the list because I feel obliged to include it. The film did introduce “White Christmas” to the world after all, cursing us to the annual disappointment of looking out of the window on December 25th and seeing anything but snow. I literally have nothing else to say about it.

The Holly and the Ivy (1952)

An interesting stage play adaptation with a host of high-end stage actors, about a family who gather for Christmas at a vicar's house. Secrets unravel and accusations grow as the events unfold. It's a very British film, quite old fashioned, deliberately paced and literate, and examines deeper issues than you typically find in Christmas films. I think this is one that will improve with repeat viewings.

Home Alone (1990)

KEVIN! An eight year old boy is accidentally left at home at Christmas, on the very week that two crooks decide to rob it. But it's his house, and he has to defend it. When I was young, all I wanted out of life was a whole cheese pizza, just for me. Now I’m a proper grown up , still all I want out of life is a whole cheese pizza just for me. I've been watching Home Alone every single year since I was eight, so it must surely be my most viewed film ever. My favourite scene is when the cop on the phone eats a doughnut and a piece of it falls onto his handset. Love that bit. On the other side of the Home Alone coin, I loathe the part when Kevin watches The Grinch on TV, hate that Grinch, and you might notice Jim Carrey’s interpretation of the offensively green hyperactive weirdo is nowhere to be found on this list. He’s mean and he can sod off. The Grinch that is, not Carrey. Although… yes also Carrey. But I digress. When the Home Alone tune kicks in, that's when you know it's Christmas.

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)

Hello? Is that social services? Yes I'd like to report... Poor Kevin has been left alone yet again by his parents, this time getting on the wrong plane and heading to the Big Apple, only to bump into his old pals Harry and Marv. I could have done without the worthy pigeon lady stuff, but otherwise it's almost as good as the first one, and the casting of Tim Curry as the hotel concierge was a masterstroke. For completists, there were another seventeen sequels made after this, all with exactly the same premise. I may be in the minority here, but I thought the series started to tail off around the eighth instalment, and by film number 12 I was like, nah that’ll do me.

The Homecoming: A Christmas Story (1971)
Also known as The Waltons Christmas Movie! Or as I like to call it, Just What Is Up With Mary Ellen? A Jolly lovely film it is too, with a proper weepy ending that even had me turning on the computer to search Google for a nearby shop still open at this time of night where I could buy a pack of double ply Kleenex. The balsam kind. Near the start of the film there's a scene where a boy asks another boy to play a Christmas tune on his harmonica, but Harmonica Boy refuses because it's not Christmas yet. And they're having this conversation on Christmas Eve. That's the spirit Harmonica Boy, Christmas is December 25th only, anyone who says otherwise can get stuffed. I jest of course, I prefer the current trend of Christmas lasting for seven months. But what of the film? If I had to sum it up in words, and clearly I do, I'd say it was a steaming mug of hot chocolate sat in front of a roaring fire all wrapped in snuggly blanket kind of a movie. That does admittedly place it on the warmer side of cosy, but this is The Waltons goddammit, and I'll sweat if I want to.
P.S. Genuinely, this is a great film if you have kids or like It’s a Wonderful Life type weepy endings. It’s on Youtube.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)

Tim Robbins plays Norville, a dim-witted unemployed man who gets a job in the mailroom of a toy company. In a conspiracy to manipulate the company share price, the boss (Paul Newman) quickly appoints the least qualified person he can find to be company President, again Norville. Only he manages to come up with an idea for a toy that becomes a roaring success. Takes place across December, leading through the festive season up to New Year. Since release it seems to have been left behind as one of the Coen brothers' lesser regarded films, but it's packed with Coenisms and classic screwball comedy traits, and I think it deserves a reappraisal.

The Hunt (Jagten) (2012)

Once every so often, I'll see a film that reminds me why I watch films. This is one of those. It's a gut-wrenching story about a nursery teacher who is accused of something that leads to his whole life being ripped apart, in the period leading up to Christmas. Mads Mikkelsen delivers the role of the accused with such restrained precision, an exceptional performance that I think very few actors could produce. This will stay with me for a long time. Must-see.

The Ice Harvest (2005)

In terms of Christmas movies, Billy Bob Thornton is of course best known for Bad Santa. He also appears in this alongside John Cusack, as a pair of shady individuals who, on Christmas Eve, go on the run with a large sum of money taken from a mobster. It’s no masterpiece but it is fun and Billy Bob as a baddie is always worth watching. Sling Blade fans should also get the DVD and have a look at the extras, it’s worth it.

I'll Be Seeing You (1944)

A woman (Ginger Rogers) gets released from prison for Christmas, meets a soldier (Joseph Cotton) on a train, and so begins an old fashioned romance. Do people get out of prison for a festive holiday? Especially given the level of crime she was imprisoned for? It all seems very unlikely, I can't imagine the warden going "We've decided to release you all temporarily seeing as it's Christmas, but you make sure you come back after New Year". Maybe Hollywood was having one of those writers' strikes at the time, and the studio boss handed script writing duties to his eight year old son, who unfortunately had no understanding of the US penitentiary system.

In Bruges (2008)

Now for one of my favourite films of all-time. Two hitmen, Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, hide out in snowy Belgium during the festive season after a job-gone-wrong. Wonderfully funny and surprisingly poignant - the rest is best left a surprise. My family have been to Bruges several times because of this film, it feels like you’re walking around a giant film set. If you need another reason to visit, the cafes are also mad on soup bowl sized servings of hot chocolate.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

One of those “really? that’s a Christmas film?” films. Director Shane Black seems to set all his films in the season of perpetual hope, he even stated that this one takes inspiration from A Christmas Carol (though I'm struggling to see that link myself). Robert Downey Jr is the reason this superhero franchise is a cut above most others, because like the script, he doesn’t take it too seriously. In what I’d like to think is a nod to Home Alone, there’s even grenades fashioned from Christmas ornaments.

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

Everyone knows how this goes, so instead here’s a fun fact: It’s a Wonderful Life was not an especially popular film on initial release, and came nowhere near to recouping it’s budget. It was only in the late 70’s, when a clerical error led to the copyright lapsing, thereby allowing television networks to start airing it regularly without having to pay royalties, that it came to be regarded as a classic. I mostly enjoy watching this for the creepy girl at the end… “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets it’s wiiiiiiiings”. Sure they do creepy girl, sure they do.

Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) (2005)

An extraordinary true story based on the events that unfolded on December 24th 1914, in the midst of the First World War, when the troops of opposing nations laid down their arms and undertook an unauthorised peaceful gathering on the battlefield. What a wonderful tribute to the soldiers who brought about such an uplifting moment during a time of such fear and horror, beautifully told and with some of the most hauntingly cinematic uses of music I’ve ever come across. If the purpose of a Christmas movie is to lift the spirit, make you reflect and bring people together, then there are few stories better than this. A war film for those who don’t usually like war films, a Christmas film for those who don’t usually like Christmas films. Christmas Eve this year (2016) will mark 102 years to the day since the No Man’s Land truce. I can’t think of a more fitting way to bring in Christmas Day than by watching this.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Robert Downey Jr, back at the start of his renaissance, is ideally cast as a con-man on-the-run who accidentally lands a part in a movie, and then becomes embroiled in a highly convoluted L.A. murder mystery. A box office flop which has become something of a cult Christmas favourite. Although I found it reasonably watchable, I still feel like there was something missing that stopped it being great, I just can’t put my finger on what that thing is.

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

Imagine Jason Bourne was female. That's exactly this film, if nothing like as good and more comedic. Geena Davis is an amnesiac who discovers she was formerly an assassin working for the US Government. Samuel L. Jackson is his usual Tarantino-esque self with the best of the humorous lines, and even if it loses it's way in the latter part, the first half or so is really quite fun. Set entirely at Christmas.

Love Actually (2003)

Schmaltz Actually. One of the most emotionally manipulative movies I've ever seen, produced with the apparent intention of making lonely people feel lonelier and to reassure those in a relationship that they really have found the only means of true happiness. All tied together by a crass message of love on 9/11. What saves it is that some of it pretty funny, Richard Curtis knows how to write humour and I wish he'd go back to his Blackadder / Four Weddings days where that is the central focus.

The Matador (2005)

James Bond as a drunken assassin who develops a guilty conscience about his work? Count me in. Pierce Brosnan followed up his Bond outings with this black comedy in which he lures a businessman (Greg Kinnear) into assisting him with his latest job. At a bullfight in Mexico. The second half picks up at Christmas six months later. Brosnan is an underrated comedic performer, and this really deserves to be seen by a wider audience.

Meet John Doe (1941)

As it reached the snowy finale I couldn't help but wonder why this classic Frank Capra tale isn't regarded in the same bracket as It's a Wonderful Life, for it carries a similar message and I think is Capra’s best film. A newspaper receives a letter from a man who intends to commit suicide on Christmas Eve in protest at society's treatment of the "little people". Only the whole thing is a stunt by a reporter to boost newspaper circulation and save her job. Things spiral from there when a man (Gary Cooper) is persuaded to pretend to be 'John Doe', with developments that no-one could have predicted. Really should be an annual favourite on the TV schedules. Give It’s a Wonderful Life a skip this year and try this instead.

Meet Me In St. Louis (1944)

Nostalgic technicolor musical starring Judy Garland as part of a family who are obsessed with the upcoming World's Fair. When the father lands a promotion involving a move to New York, they get terribly upset at the idea of missing the fair, though frankly I can't see what all the fuss is about. Structured in four acts across the seasons of a year, with the winter act focussing on Christmas. Judy Garland singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is one of the all-time great movie scenes and is what really makes the movie special. Warning: contains violent scenes of snowmen decapitation that some viewers may find distressing.

The Merry Gentleman (2008)

Michael Keaton directs and stars in this lovely, intelligent drama about a depressed hitman who crosses paths with a woman trying to escape her past. Kelly Macdonald is superb and it's refreshing for a filmmaker to allow her to speak in her native Scottish accent, harking back to her debut role in Trainspotting. I found this completely by chance on Roger Ebert's website, where he gave it 3.5/4, and I have to agree that it's worthy of that. Because of the title, I looked up the song "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" afterwards, and it did make a few connections with the story, plus there are various moments in the script that could be subtle references to biblical stories (I don't know enough about that to say for sure though). Keaton is clearly a gifted director with something to say, and on the basis of this I'm intrigued to see what else he's produced.

Metropolitan (1989)

It's Christmas in New York, and the well-to-do young socialites are out attending their regular black tie events, dining out on the fancy food and debating literature, art and life. It's an interesting insight into a life that I or most people will never know, and portrays a class of people in a modern setting that aren't usually seen outwith period dramas.

A Midnight Clear (1992)

Similar to Joyeaux Noel, this is an apparently true story from WWII about American and German soldiers who held a temporary truce at Christmas, as the war drew towards a close. Less poetic than Joyeux Noel and nearer to a traditional war film, but nonetheless this is well made and features a host of now-recognisable young actors like Ethan Hawke and Gary Sinise. Sank without trace on original release, for some reason the studio decided the best time to release it would be in the Spring, it's another title that merits more attention.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997)

The research for this article has thrown up quite a few surprises, films that I’d never seen any reference to previously. In this one, John Cusack is a magazine writer who is sent to Savannah, Georgia to cover the event of the season - an extravagant Christmas party hosted by Kevin Spacey. There’s a strong Gatsby vibe going on, hosting fancy parties for fancy people in a big house, and Spacey even goes around calling everyone “Sport”. Beyond that I really can’t explain how unusual this film is, it must jump through at least half a dozen genres and goes in all sorts of directions, but somehow it kind of works. I think. Cusack spends much of the time standing with his jaw dropped wondering what on earth is going on, just as most viewers probably are. It’s like they had a normal story and then got Baz Luhrmann, David Lynch and the Coen brothers together to add every idea they could think of to the script. I wasn’t paying attention to the credits at the start, so was really not expecting to see “Directed by Clint Eastwood” pop up at the end - that only adds to the peculiarity.

A Midwinter's Tale (In The Bleak Midwinter) (1995)

Molly: What is the show, anyway? My brother wouldn't even tell me. Oh, I hope it's something Christmassy, a comedy.
Joe: It's Hamlet.
Molly: Great. Hello kids. Do stop watching Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and come and watch a four hundred year old play about a depressed aristocrat.

Kenneth Branagh directs this amusing British comedy about a group of misfit actors attempting to put on a Christmas production of Hamlet, that most Christmassy of plays, in a small English village. Packed with sight gags, fantastic one-liners and performances especially from Richard Briers, and a ridiculous silliness (woman roller-blading up a woodland hill, or moisturising her face with low-calorie mayonnaise). Bafflingly, despite being a British film, you can’t get it on DVD in the UK - it’s only available as a manufacture-on-demand disc from the US. For that reason it remains virtually unknown, yet it deserves so much more than that.

Millions (2004)

Danny Boyle went in a completely unexpected direction with this sweet festive story about a boy who finds a bag full of money, and has just the last few days of the year to spend it before the country switches to the Euro. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s screenplay is gentle and charming, and the performance of the little boy in the lead is amazing, what a find he was. Hard to believe this is from the same director as Trainspotting and Shallow Grave.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

A man becomes a hugely popular Santa Claus at Macy’s Department Store in New York, yet people begin to question his sanity when it emerges that he calls himself Kris Kringle and insists he is the real Santa. When he’s plonked in an asylum, a lawyer vows to defend him in court and prove he is really is Santa. A classic family movie that ticks all the boxes.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

One or those rare remakes that’s nearly good as the original yet leaves neither version redundant. Richard Attenborough is just the right kind of Santa; chubby but not too chubby, jolly but not too jolly, and played just vaguely enough to leave it up in the air whether he’s genuine or not.

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)

A lightly comedic drama set in a small asbestos mining town in rural Canada, following the relationship of a boy and his uncle Antoine, undertaker and owner of the general store. Starts out like a comedy before a second-half shift in tone, this is regarded by many critics as a masterpiece, and the best Canadian film ever made according to Sight & Sound’s ‘best ever films’ poll. One to check out when you’re in the mood for something with a little more depth.

Moonlighting (1982)
"I can't mess up now or Christmas will be ruined”. A strange-in-a-very-good-way tale of four Polish men illegally working in the UK as house renovators. Jeremy Irons is like the father figure of the group, trying to protect them as though they are his children, after he hears bad news from home. Irons is brilliantly deadpan with a droll monotone narration, and aside from his encounters with a few shopkeepers that he's trying to steal from, and a neighbour complaining about the noise, he is the only significant character who says much of anything. It's such an unusual film, could possibly be described as a comedy though I'm not even sure that fits, I just don't think I've seen anything quite like it before. For a good part of the time we are literally just watching men ripping out walls and hammering things, eating soup from old tins, filling a skip, or sleeping. The weirdness is only enhanced by the fact that this bleak, drab, monochrome existence takes place entirely over Christmas. I can't wait to see it again. 

Moonstruck (1987)

"An intoxicating romantic comedy set beneath the biggest, brightest Christmas moon you ever saw. It's a monster moon, a Moby Dick of a moon, whose radiance fills the winter sky and every cranny of this joyous love story" (The Washington Post). Yeah, that. Nicolas Cage and Cher are superb, as is the script, and alongside Dinner Rush and 29th Street makes a fine Danny Aiello triple-bill.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Gonzo the long-nosed purple Muppet narrates as Charles Dickens, in the Muppety comedy musical. Michael Caine gives one of his career best performances as Ebenezer Scrooge, and there's plenty funny moments and catchy songs to entertain adults and children alike. I would have been quite happy even if this film consisted solely of the bit with the mouse asking for some cheese.

My Night at Maud's (Ma Nuit Chez Maud) (1969)

Acclaimed drama from Eric Rohmer about a devout Catholic who intends to marry, yet whose strict moral code is challenged when he spends the night at another woman’s flat. That night is Christmas Eve, and with a script exploring and questioning faith and Catholicism, it’s one of the few films on the list to actually deal with religion.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)

All Chevy Chase wants to do is put on a great Christmas celebration for his family, yet as soon as their holidays begin, things start going horribly downhill. The only thing that is getting him through the multiple disasters is the expectation of his Christmas bonus. Chaotic comedy written by John Hughes, fun but not in the same league as Home Alone which came out the following year.

Nativity! (2009)

Martin Freeman (The Hobbit) is a teacher who lands the job of organising the school nativity play. Attempting to outdo a rival school's play, he claims a Hollywood crew is coming to make a movie out of his. This is a lie. But then they try to make it happen for real. For kids more than adults, if you're unlucky enough to have kids I'd suggest putting this on for them and go watch something else in another room.

The Nativity Story (2006)

I'm not religious in any way, but I did feel that the list wouldn't be complete without some kind of depiction of the original story that started all of this Christmas business. A solid retelling of the story, the not insubstantial $30 million budget did allow for decent production values especially in the visual department, and the music and fonts seem like Lord of the Rings leftovers (it was produced by the same studio, New Line Cinema). The only recognisable face is that of Oscar Isaac (Inside Llewyn Davis, Ex Machina) as Joseph, and some other guy who seemed familiar but I couldn’t place. Sadly I'm still none the wiser as to what frankincense and myrrh are though.

The Night Before (2015)
If you like crude humour then I'd advise you to get hold of this immediately: there are things I saw and heard in the film that my innocent little ears have never before been subjected to. The plot involves three guys (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie) getting together for one last Christmas night on the town before they all grow the hell up. This involves parties, drugs, Miley Cyrus, and a running gag involving the content of a mobile phone that is just... no i can't even go there. It's Michael Shannon who steals the show though, as a more-than-meets-the-eye stoned drug dealer. Not generally my kind of humour, but I still found a few bits funny, there's one or two nods to older Christmas films that I enjoyed, and any film that features dancing on the giant piano from Big is always going to have something going for it. 

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Twenty-plus years on and Nightmare still looks and sounds as fresh as ever. Tim Burton's visionary animated musical tells the tale of Jack Skelington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town. Having accidentally discovered Christmas Town, he is won over and decides to become a jolly Santa Claus instead. But as with all true stories, things never go to plan.

Nobody's Fool (1994)
A film I only recently encountered by way of the New York Times 1000 Best Movies list, and one that made my top 40 from that list. Paul Newman, in what proved to be his final Oscar nominated performance, plays a cranky old man who distracts himself from his family troubles by stealing his neighbour's lawnmower and tranquillizing his dog (the neighbour's, not his own obviously). Melanie Griffith, Bruce Willis and Phillip Seymour Hoffman turn up in roles so early in their careers that they don't even warrant a mention on the DVD case. Gently comedic, warm-spirited, and a beautiful film score that I can't stop listening to, it's another one of those set-at-Christmastime films that can be watched any time of year.

One Magic Christmas (1985)

Despite the family image, Disney do like to give their characters a hard time. A mother (Mary Steenburgen, also played the mum in Elf) struggling to raise a family on the breadline, reaches breaking point when events cause her to lose faith in Christmas and life in general. Then magically, a guardian angel named Gideon appears and tries to show her the true meaning of Christmas. In terms of redemptive festive films I would actually put this above It’s a Wonderful Life, because the situation seems more real and honest, and they’re a family you really come to root for.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

“This never happened to the other fellow”. George Lazenby takes over from Sean Connery as Bond, and heads for the Swiss Alps to spend Christmas with a bunch of women with allergies at a mountaintop research institute. Haven’t we all done that at some point in our lives? I know I have. The direction and writing is a mixed bag; on the one hand there’s a kind of sleazy ogling at women vibe, yet there’s also the storyline of Bond genuinely falling in love, which has an emotional depth not touched on again until Casino Royale almost 40 years later.

The Phantom Carriage (1921)

A ghostly film from Sweden that I think is one of the most engaging and technically impressive silent pictures of the 20’s. It tells of a legend that the last person to die before Midnight on New Year’s Eve will become Death’s servant, destined to spend the next year riding the Phantom Carriage gathering the souls of the dead. The double exposure photography used to create the special effects is outstanding given the limitations of the technology at the time. One for viewing in the week between Christmas and New Year.

The Polar Express (2004)

A boy is whisked off on an adventure aboard The Polar Express, bound for the North Pole on Christmas Eve. Tom Hanks plays the conductor who really loves to punch holes in tickets. A proper rollercoaster thrill ride that sees the train hurtling up and down mountains, across frozen rivers and around spiral staircase rail tracks - I can imagine young kids being enthralled by it. The animation is a little mixed, with motion-capture facial animation that sometimes makes it seem like you're watching a computer game, yet the action sequences are for the most part spectacular.

Rare Exports: A Winter’s Tale (2010)

Things get significantly stranger now with a Finnish take on the “true” story of Santa Claus. Rather than the chubby red-suited man invented by Coca-Cola, Santa is in fact some kind of dark being who is unleashed after an archaeological dig. When children start disappearing from their beds, the townsfolk try to capture Santa and bring out the truth. A refreshingly different Christmas story, but not one to share with young children on Christmas Eve!

The Ref (1994)

Sounds like a sports film but is in fact a clever black comedy. One Christmas Eve, a bickering couple are taken hostage by a criminal on the run. Kevin Spacey is brilliant as the wisecracking husband, and Dennis Leary does a great turn as the exasperated criminal wishing he’d taken anyone hostage but them. Just the sort of film I like to get the festive viewing season under way with.

Remember The Night (1940)

A Preston Sturges penned screenplay surrounding a woman accused of shoplifiting just before Christmas. When the court case is adjourned until after New Year, the District Attorney takes the woman home for Christmas. Because DA's are always doing that of course. Very old fashioned and a trifle dull, but any film that includes a barn dance on New Year's Eve is alright with me. More barn dancing in movies please.

Run All Night (2015)

I didn't expect to be including a Liam Neeson action thriller in the list, yet here we are. You know how in Taken he's trying to save his daughter? Well in this one he's, wait for it... trying to save his son! Joel Kinnaman (The Killing) is said son, and together they go on the run from gangster Ed Harris at Christmas. Better than many of these these types of films, particularly a sequence in a tower block, and some of the flashy editing is quite impressive. Plus any film that has the good sense to use The Pogues' Fairytale of New York has got to have something going for it.

Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)

In a story that long predates Elf, Dudley Moore leaves the North Pole toy workshop and heads to New York. The difference is he's there to bring down a megalomaniac (John Lithgow) who plans to take over Christmas. If you have positive memories of watching this back in the 80's you'll probably still enjoy it, but maybe won't stand up to much scrutiny for anyone viewing now for the first time.

Scrooge (A Christmas Carol) (1951)

Many believe this to be the best version of A Christmas Carol, with Alastair Sim as the miserly Scrooge, haunted by three ghosts who help him find the true spirit of Christmas. Not much more to say about it, other than it's a classic and a Christmas film you have to see at some point in your life.


Scrooge (1970)

The excellent musical interpretation of the story, featuring Albert Finney and Alec Guinness. The story has been told on film probably more times than is necessary (there are still several that didn't make the list), but it matters not because it's a story that never dates. Still room for one more take on it though...

Scrooged (1988)

An amusing twist on the classic tale, with Bill Murray as a Scrooge-like TV executive attempting to put on a broadcast of A Christmas Carol, who ends up being visited by three ghosts himself. Almost a film within a film, Bill Murray does as Bill Murray does, and features one of the most Christmassy endings of all.

Serendipity (2001)

Yes, five. So sue me. I absolutely do not care. This is a great Christmas film and I'll stand by it until the day I'm easily persuaded otherwise. A man and woman meet whilst Christmas shopping in Bloomingdales, sense potential love, but leave it up to fate to decide whether they should be together. This is a festive romantic comedy I can get behind, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale are such likeable leads, and it presents the most romanticised vision of festive New York that I can think of in a movie (even Home Alone 2 and Elf show a darker scary side). I actually went to the real Serendipity restaurant and had one of their flavoured milk drinks, and can honestly say I have no recollection of whether or not it was any good. Let's assume not. But the film is, so leave me alone.

The Shop Around The Corner (1940)

AKA The Other James Stewart Christmas Movie. Two shop workers who can't stand one another are at the same time unwittingly writing to each other as pen pals - and falling in love. This is a movie that knows how to do Christmas right - everyone seems to wait til December 24th to buy their gifts, and the air is filled with fluffy white snow that looks like feathers. Oddly it's set in a shop in Budapest, which makes little sense when everyone in it is American, but it's still a classic romance anyway. The story was also used as the basis for You've Got Mail.

Sleepless in Seattle (1993)

A boy phones up a radio station on Christmas Eve to say that his widowed Dad (Tom Hanks) needs a new wife. This prompts hundreds of responses, but especially from a woman named Annie (Meg Ryan) who instinctively believes he could be the one, despite already being engaged to someone else. I've watched quite a few festive romantic comedies in the process of making this list, and I'm wondering if it's wrong that I'm actually really enjoying most of them. To be honest I couldn't bring myself to find a single thing wrong with this. I feel like someone is messing with my head, I'm probably going to have to re-watch Fight Club to restore my manliness.

Smoke (1995)
Harvey Keitel sits down in a cafe with William Hurt, a writer looking for ideas for a festive tale to publish. "I'll tell you what. Buy me lunch, my friend, and I'll tell you the best Christmas story you ever heard..." Sitting amongst my favourite discoveries from the 1001 Movies list, Smoke's Christmas credentials are thus: the idea for the film originated from a short story published one Christmas Day in the New York Times, “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story” by Paul Auster (which you can buy in paperback). That story, told by Keitel in flashback, forms the final act of this wonderful film set in a Brooklyn cigar store. The lead-up to that festive finale is a funny, touching, brilliantly crafted multi-strand story centred around Keitel, whose explanation for his love of photography is pure poetry - a description you could easily apply to the whole film. A real gem of a movie.

The Snowman (1982)

So much of what's good about this time of year is built on nostalgia, and this does it for me. One Christmas Eve a boy builds a snowman in his garden, which comes to life and takes him on a magical adventure. Told in silent (aside from the angelic song 'Walking in the Air') using the most beautiful hand drawn animation, it's everything I would want in a Christmas tale as both a child and adult. 26 minutes of good-old-days perfection.

Stalag 17 (1953)

Billy Wilder's Oscar-winning tale of a Nazi WWII camp holding hundreds of American prisoners-of-war, and a series of events that take place there (which I'm sure I don't need to go into) over Christmas. It can't seem to make up it's mind whether to be a comedy or drama, the humour's a little hit-and-miss for me, but as a big fan of prison movies I still found plenty to enjoy.

Sundays and Cybele (1962)
A young girl is in the process of being dumped at an orphanage. Another man, an amnesia-suffering war hero, spots the girl in distress and befriends her. Despite the outwardly apparent inappropriateness, they regularly meet in secret, and grow increasingly close. What I liked here is that the filmmaker used the festive season as a backdrop to key scenes exploring the characters' underlying loneliness; the message in the conclusion wouldn't have left nearly the same impression at any other time of year.

Tangerine (2015)
Of all the films in the burgeoning ‘Transgender prostitutes hanging around L.A. Streets on Christmas Eve and shot on an iPhone’ genre, this is definitely one of them. It was indeed filmed on a telephone, albeit a modified one, which is technically impressive. However, regardless of what the critics say, you do not quickly forget that you're watching a film shot on a phone - it is abundantly clear throughout. Looking past the gimmick, I didn't much warm to the characters, though I gather others did, so perhaps I'm in the minority on this one. It still merits a place on the list because it's an entirely modern vision of a Christmas film, and is in many ways an inspiration for all the budding filmmakers out there who can now shoot a motion picture using equipment they already have at home.

Three Days of the Condor (1975)

Sydney Pollack's thriller stars Robert Redford as a CIA operative who is forced into hiding after his branch is targeted by unknown attackers, then risks his life to uncover the truth. Redford is so good at these roles, and the whole thing takes place at Christmas, so ideal festive viewing when you're not in the mood for Santa and elves.

Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

It’s Christmas in Tokyo, and three homeless guys (one a homosexual transvestite) find a baby amongst the street rubbish. Think the nativity with bloodshed and haikus, and you’re somewhere close to the oddness of this anime from Satoshi Kon. It looks as impressive as any anime I’ve seen, rattles along and I found it kind of magical. Well worth a look if you’re into anime at all.

Trading Places (1983)

I love the 80's Eddie Murphy. The Eddie Murphy from Beverly Hills Cop, and Coming To America, and this. He play a homeless con-artist who suddenly finds himself living the life of Riley, whilst at the same time Dan Ackroyd's life is going in the opposite direction, all courtesy of two wealthy stock traders with ulterior motives. I thought this was brilliant in the early stages (all down to Murphy) but tailed off after a while, and there's an awkward strand of racism in the humour that seems very out of place nowadays.

Trapped in Paradise (1994)

Another criminals-at-Christmas comedy, this time with three brothers (lead by Nicholas Cage) who hatch a plan to rob a bank in a small Pennsylvania town named Paradise on Christmas Eve. But when the weather turns, they’re left trapped in the town with the unwitting locals. Great idea, even if it gets a little slushy towards the end. Written and directed by George Gallo, also responsible for the brilliant road movie Midnight Run and 29th Street.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945)
A poignant, sentimental and exceptionally well acted story about a mother trying to raise her poverty stricken family in a small New York apartment. Added to this, her husband is an unemployed alcoholic, yet his fantasist daydreamer personality makes him unusually likeable. Sounds heavy, but in fact is a deserved Oscar winner of real heft, and the performance of the daughter is exceptional considering her age. It's one of those films that isn't entirely set at Christmas, but is essential seasonal viewing because the scenes set at Christmas and New Year are so Christmassy, so beautifully snowy, and fundamental to the story. If Meet Me in St Louis qualifies as a Christmas film, then so does this. To sort-of paraphrase Groucho Marx (and Woody Allen), I wouldn't want anything to do with my own Christmas films list if it couldn't find room for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

Regarded by many as the pinnacle of the romantic comedy genre. Two close friends, Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal, go through various stages of contemplating whether they can ever be a proper couple. Does the Woody Allen thing of having people wandering around New York endlessly discussing sex, in a manner that is incredibly self-indulgent, along with the iconic restaurant scene in which Meg Ryan really likes her pudding. I think that’s what she was trying to get across anyway. I’ll have what she’s having, unless there’s marzipan in it. The Christmas and New Year scenes are nicely done too, so something for everyone.

While You Were Sleeping (1995)

A well-above-average romantic comedy about a man who falls onto a rail track on Christmas Day. The man happens to be Sandra Bullock’s dream guy, and so the opportunity arises for her to save his life. She then accompanies the man, now in a coma, to hospital and ends up playing along with the family's misconception that she is his fiancee. Sandra Bullock is so charming and likeable in this, the sort of adorable woman-next-door that you only find in the movies. I mean I’d happily throw myself onto a railway line if it meant Sandra Bullock would save me, hell I’d probably do it if any lady in the whole wide world showed even the slightest interest, but then I’d discover I’d misinterpreted the situation, she’d look the other way and the 12:15 express to King’s Cross would hurtle into shot.


White Christmas (1954)

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the one I sung about previously in the suspiciously similar Holiday Inn, though I can assure you this is definitely not a lazy cash-in, may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be whiiiiiiite".


The World of Henry Orient (1964)
There's only one reason to watch this: the sight of a deserted snow-filled New York Central Park on Christmas morning. Not even the moralising pigeon lady from Home Alone 2 is hanging around to spoil things. Actually there is another reason to view: it's a Peter Sellers film, and a rather a good one, in which he plays a concert pianist who becomes convinced that two teenage fans are actually spies working for the husband of the woman he's having an affair with. If you like Sellers' style of humour then this is a must-see.

You've Got Mail (1998)

Modern update of The Shop Around The Corner, this time with rival bookshops at the centre of the 'man and woman who hate yet unwittingly love each other' storyline. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are the pen pals from the original updated to email pals (and even that already seems dated, if they made the film now they’d be Snapchatting nudey pictures to each other, or Facebooking their latest pouty selfies that are exactly the same as the previous three hundred they exchanged). The bonus with them using email is that you get to hear the old chhhhhrrrffffttchrrrrr connecting-to-the-Internet sound for the first time in years. A nice, sweet film full of nice, sweet people. Occasionally, just occasionally, a filmmaker gets nice, sweet just right. Dawwwww.


___________________


Drum roll please...










Home Alone
To quote the aforementioned You've Got Mail, "When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does". The same goes for the movies, and that's why Home Alone has always been and always will be my favourite Christmas movie. Home Alone is Christmas, and if John Hughes hadn't created it, my whole experience and impression of the festive season growing up would have been very different. I think it may even be the origin of my love of the movies - I remember there was a travelling bookshop that came to my school, that also happened to have a small selection of VHS tapes. I determinedly persuaded my parents that I didn't want a book, I wanted Home Alone on video. I won of course, and still have that tape some 20-odd years later, if not a machine to play it on. There are so many reasons why it endures; the slapstick humour, the brilliant performances, the imaginative script, the music, the excitement and fear of being a kid left alone, the whole cheese pizza, snakes, John Candy (very big in Sheboygan). But most of all, it gets the tone and writing of it's overarching 'remember what's most important in life and at Christmas' message just right. I can't think of many films that you could start watching at the age of eight and continue watching pretty much every year for the rest of your life. That's what makes Home Alone one of the best films ever made, and undoubtedly for me the best Christmas film of them all.
















Checklists


IMDb list (original 101)

Letterboxd list (original 101)



Bonus Viewing and Listening!

The Monuments Men (2014)
Just a single scene in which an art expert turned WWII soldier (Bill Murray) is sent a package containing a vinyl record. On it is an a cappella recording of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas sung by his daughter, which is played over the loudspeaker to the whole camp. There’s more Christmassyness oozing from this one scene than umpteen entire movies. Performed by Nora Sagal, just 17 years old.

Also my musician sister, Laurie Cameron, has produced a rather delightful Christmas EP called Merry Christmas From Scotland, featuring 3 original Christmas songs (and I mixed the third track). You can listen, download or order the CD on Bandcamp, and it's on iTunes.



Thanks for reading, and a Merry Christmas to one and all. Come back same time next year for what I hope will be an always-improving annually updated list, and if you have any thoughts on my selections or suggestions of your own I'd love to hear them. 

Now I'm going to give you to the count of ten to get your ugly, yella, no-good keister off my property, before I pump your guts fulla lead. One, two...