The holidays are coming, and since Christmas films are arguably one of the best ways to get into a festive mood, Charlotte Hain has prepared some recommendations for the Christmas season.
2020 has been a tough year, and many of us are longing for the cheerful Christmas spirit more than ever. You may have decorated your house already, Christmas music is playing everywhere, but the festive atmosphere won’t be complete without a collection of fun Christmas films to watch. Nadia has already introduced some of Netflix’s new festive releases, but there are also a number of wonderful films from the past years and decades that are well worth watching.
You can never go wrong with a classic.
On every “Best of” list, there are certain titles people will expect to see. These classics have been around for decades and are popular to this day (though not necessarily in the UK) because there is something timeless about them that makes them perfect for the Christmas season.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
In this originally black-and-white film, a kindhearted and slightly peculiar department store Santa endears himself to the children and causes trouble among adults when he insists he is the real Santa Claus. It is easy to see why this film became a classic and even got a remake in 1994. Not only is it very amusing and features charming characters and actors, it also reminds us of what makes Christmas a truly magical time: love, kindness, and the wonders of imagination. Miracle on 34th Street is available to stream on Sky, or on BoB (learningonscreen.ac.uk) via your Essex account.
Three Wishes for Cinderella/Three Gifts for Cinderella (1973)
To me, Christmas is the perfect season for fairytales. Thanks to Disney, everyone knows Cinderella’s story, but this year, why not try this Czechoslovak-East-German film based on Božena Němcová’s version of the classic fairytale? In many European countries, this cheeky version of Cinderella is a cherished Christmas classic, beloved for its enchanting score and the endearing titular character who impresses the prince not only with her beauty, but also with her boldness and hunting skills. A Czech version with English subtitles is available on YouTube.
Little Lord Fauntleroy (1980)
Although not strictly a Christmas film either (though its finale takes place on Christmas), this adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic has become a Christmas tradition in my home country Germany, where it’s aired every year during the holidays. Indeed, the story about an American boy who moves to England upon learning that he is the heir to an Earl conveys the Christmas spirit perfectly: Kindhearted and generous Cedric, portrayed charmingly by Rick Schroder, endears himself to everyone including the viewers, and even manages to melt his grumpy grandfather’s (Alec Guiness) heart.
Season of love
Christmas is said to be the season of love, so naturally, a list of Christmas films would not be complete without some festive romances.
The Holiday (2006)
In this romantic comedy, English journalist Iris (Kate Winslet) and L.A. film trailer producer Amanda (Cameron Diaz), who have both recently been disappointed by love, swap houses over the Christmas season. The two love stories involve a swoony Jude Law and an adorable Jack Black, but Iris’ story also focuses on her learning to stand up for herself and be the hero of her own story — all accompanied with a wonderful score by Hans Zimmer. Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and Sky.
Love Actually (2003)
Richard Curtis’s romantic comedy has arguably become a modern Christmas classic, featuring a strong ensemble cast consisting of actors such as Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, and Keira Knightley. The film tells a line of very different yet intersecting love stories; both romantic, sad, and sometimes tongue-in-cheek. I have a strange relationship with this film and watch it every year, both to enjoy iconic moments like Hugh Grant’s dance or the cute scenes with Sam and his stepdad, and to get exasperated about some parts of the storylines (What are you doing, Harry?) and the film’s problematic aspects (Just stop it with the fat-shaming already!). Available to stream on Sky.
Fun for the whole family
It is my firm belief that one is never too old to enjoy a good children’s film. So no matter if you have any younger relatives to watch them with, there is a wonderful selection of family and children’s Christmas films to choose from.
Rise of the Guardians (2012)
Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman, and the Easter Bunny team up with Jack Frost to save the world from the evil Pitch Black, king of nightmares. This one is technically not a Christmas film since it takes place around Easter, but the inclusion of Santa and the topic of children’s hopes, dreams, and wonder nevertheless makes it perfect for this season. With its beautiful and adorable animation work, a playful take on well-known folkloric figures, a stellar voice cast and an atmospheric score, this film is guaranteed to be a family favourite. Available to stream on Netflix and Sky.
Have you ever wondered how the legend of Santa Claus developed? This beautifully-animated film offers a funny and heartwarming origin story in which a spoilt postman and a solitary toy maker team up to bring joy to the children of a small, hostile town. It is great fun to look out for all the references to Santa Claus as we know him, and the ending might make you cry a little, even as an adult. Available to watch on Netflix.
Home Alone (1990)
Watching other people’s childhood favourites as an adult for the first time does not always work out for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed this film about eight-year-old Kevin McCallister whose family accidentally leaves him home alone when going on vacation. There is a certain charm to bratty but clever Kevin, and it is oddly satisfying to watch him get creative (and slightly sadistic) when defending his family home against two burglars. John Williams delivers the perfect magical score for the whole adventure. Available to stream on Disney+ and on BoB.
The Santa Clause (1994)
In one of my childhood favourites, Tim Allen plays the cynical toy salesman Scott Calvin who involuntarily becomes the new Santa Claus, much to the joy of his young son. This is the highly entertaining story of a growing father-son-relationship and a man who rediscovers the magic of Christmas. Among Scott’s sarcastic comments, his comical transformation into Santa and the trouble it causes, and the sassy elves, there is plenty to laugh about for both children and adults, and it’s hard not to take little Charlie and his unshakable faith in Santa to your heart. Available to stream on Disney+ and on BoB.
If you don’t have time for a whole film…
…you could try some of the wonderful Christmas-themed short films out there. I recently discovered two new personal favourites:
Angela’s Christmas (2017) & Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020)
Who is cutting onions here? Based on a story by Irish author Francis McCourt and set in Limerick in the 1910s, the first of these adorable animated short films tells the story of Angela who “borrows” Baby Jesus from the church to keep him warm at home on Christmas Eve. In the sequel, she and her brother Pat try to get their father home for Christmas from Australia to surprise their mother. Brave, imaginative and kindhearted Angela, who just wants everyone to be happy on Christmas, will warm your heart, and might even make you cry. Or maybe that’s just me and my soft spot for emotional children’s films. Available to watch on Netflix.
Not in the mood for Christmas films?
Fair enough! If cheesy speeches about love and kindness aren’t your cup of tea, Die Hard (1988) might be just up your alley. In this action film filled with iconic lines and impressive fight scenes, police detective John McClane has to single-handedly save the day when his wife’s office’s Christmas party is crashed by a group of ruthless robbers. Alternatively, you could just use that extra bit of free time over the holidays to tick off some other films from your watch list, or to revisit old favourites. How about a Lord of the Rings marathon (extended version, of course), or a Marvel movie night?