10 Festive Films to Watch at Christmas

The Nightmare Before Christmas

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. What better time to pop on a few Christmas favourites before Christmas day kicks into high gear and you are too stuffed to stay awake long enough to enjoy them.

Earlier this month, we asked our social networks of Facebook and Twitter to name some of their favourite Christmas films for the season to be jolly. Here’s what they came up with (and a few we added in as well):

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Is this a Halloween or Christmas movie? We say the latter, although that is just one of the beautiful things about producer Tim Burton and director Henry Selick’s stop-motion marvel. Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King of Halloween Town, grows tired of celebrating spooks and scares every year, until one day he is whisked to Christmas Town. Enamored with what he sees,  he tries to bring his own brand of the holiday to the world. With a score by Danny Elfman, who also provides the voice of Jack, it is as magical as it is twisted. We got a few votes for this, including from readers Lisa Chalmers and Justin Pearson Smith, and remains a fan favourite at any time of the year.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

Another one that got multiple votes, including reader Mike Silvester and fellow Sydney critic Andrew Buckle. What better way to kick off the list than with one of the most famous and enduring Christmas movies of all time. Directed by Frank Capra, and starring the one and only Jimmy Stewart as the man who finds out what the world would be like if he never existed, it serves as the model for virtually every Christmas film and television special that has followed it. Thanks to the film lapsing into the public domain, it became  a perennial Christmas favourite in the 1970s and 1980s thanks to repeated television viewings.

Bad Santa (2003)

This very dark comedy written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and director Terry Zwigoff (with uncredited contributions by the Coen Brothers), this is a brilliantly unforgiving take on Christmas, con men and fat kids with a penchant for making sandwiches. This is the antidote to the saccharine pap that infects the channels and the direct-to-DVD baskets at supermarkets every year. If this trailer doesn’t convince you, you are not yet living. Nigel Bridgeman and Justin Pearson Smith suggested this one, but we also would have this on our Top 5 films about Old Saint Nick every time. Bernie Mac: you are missed.

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

We swear that we didn’t vote for this. Actually, we kind of did. Both Richard Gray and Paul Ryan of The Reel Bits nominated this as a Christmas favourite. An obvious choice for the long-time followers of the ‘Bits, but this is one of our favourite “bad movies” ever. Many have also claimed that the film is incredibly mean-spirited, and at least some of that accusation is justified, as the film was trying to be shocking and offensive. However, it is clear from the start that this film is so over the top, and so cheesy, that it is difficult to take this seriously at all. It isn’t scary in the traditional sense, and the only thing better is the eye-brow work in Silent Night, Deadly Night 2.

Rudolph (1964) and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town (1970)

Rankin/Bass’ stop-motion animation became a mainstay for kids for several decades after their release, just about everybody who we spoke to mentioned these classics. It is a historical curiosity that some of the Japanese stop-motion animators who worked on these films went onto work with Studio Ghibli, but the American production company became associated with holidays for years to come. Rudolph was originally produced for NBC and sponsor General Electric. Based on the song “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”, it’s success led to numerous other specials including Easter’s Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971), Frosty the Snowman (1969) and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town. The latter used dancer Fred Astaire as a narrator, and would lead to other Christmas specials Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974), The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974), The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (1975), Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (1976), The Little Drummer Boy, Book II (1976) and Nestor, The Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (1977)

 

A Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

The Muppets are so hot right now, with the latest film being one of the best examples of pure cinematic joy around. Another take on the Dickens tale, with Michael Caine in the Scrooge role, was one of the last great film outings until the most recent one. The vote comes from Susan Mills, and everybody in the world with a heartbeat.

Santa’s Slay (2005)

Lock your doors! Bolt the windows! Block your chimneys! Naughty or nice, Santa Claus is coming to town. This black comedy certainly has a lot of fans, not least of which is Facebook fan Justin Pearson Smith. Written and directed by David Steiman, the fact that he is a former assistant to Brett Ratner should speak volumes about how over the top this film is. Stars former professional wrestler Bill Goldberg of Half Past Dead 2 fame. Check out the trailer below.

Gremlins (1984)

A recent highlight in our 80s Bits Christmas coverage, this is the Christmas movie you have when you aren’t having a Christmas movie. Something to remember when buying a pet from a shonky store this Christmas, especially ones with rules like “Don’t get them wet”, “Don’t feed them after midnight” and “don’t expose them to direct sunlight”. Naturally, in the film all three of these things happen, opening the small town up to some horror, comedy and critter mayhem during everyone’s favourite time of the year. Except those dispatched in horrible and grisly ways.

Love Actually (2003)

Frankly, we were moved by the profound love shown to this movie by a young Ben Harlum. Before the massively overcast films like Valentine’s Day and this year’s New Year’s Eve, the British gathered everybody that they’d ever seen on a screen (and Bill Nighy who is in everything anyway) and threw them into the mix. The title takes a leaf out of “Love Actually is All Around” in reference to “Love Is All Around”, the Wet Wet Wet song that became a smash off the back of director Richard Curtis’ Four Weddings and a Funeral. In fact, this borrows much from that formula, adding Yuletide for maximise feel-good vibes.

  • Ben

    Muppet Christmas Carol and Love Actually are modern day Christmas classics and tend to go overlooked. Thanks for the shoutout!