With the nights drawing in and a frosty chill in the air, there’s nothing to get you feeling festive quite like a Christmas movie washed down with copious amounts of mulled wine and an entire tin of Celebrations. Whether you fancy a classic or an unknown gem, let Quench give you some suggestions to while away the evenings this Winter with our pick of the ten best Christmas films for a festive night in.
Love Actually (2003)
It is worth watching Love Actually with a pen and paper at the ready if you want to successfully track the multitude of relationships that thread their way through this countdown-to-Christmas comedy. Featuring names such as Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth and Martin Freeman, who is charming as a socially awkward and romantically inept movie-sex double, the storyline follows more than twelve different relationships, both romantic and familial, towards a timely and unitive finale on Christmas Eve. Richard Curtis’ directorial debut, in the words of Hugh Grant’s Prime Minister character, aims to warm our frost-bitten hearts with the notion that ‘love, actually is all around’, and, whilst cheesy in the extreme, is somewhat successful.
The beauty of Elf lies in the fact that despite essentially being a children’s film, its humour transcends all ages, so there’s absolutely no need to feel guilty about laughing hysterically at a grown man in tights. The decision to cast Will Ferrell in his first leading role as a human that grows up as an elf in the North Pole and returns to New York to introduce himself to his cynical father proves highly successful as even the most Scrooge-like viewers will find it extremely difficult to resist his addictive, peppy outlook and will inevitably find themselves singing loud for all to hear – it’s the best way to spread festive cheer.
It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
This film is probably around 50 years older than most readers of this article. However, it has been voted the nation’s favourite Christmas film in more festive opinion polls than you’ve had turkey dinners. Downcast bank manager George Bailey intends to commit suicide on Christmas Eve until his guardian angel shows him the difference he has made to the world and those around him and he realises that *spoiler alert* he does indeed have a wonderful life. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the black-and-white picture will fail to capture the full festive experience. What this movie lacks in technicolour, it certainly makes up for in old-school glamour and a heart-warming message.
The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992)
It would be hard to find someone in the English-speaking world who is unaware of Dickens’ infamous Scrooge and his feelings about Christmas. To find an original take on the story amongst the sea of remakes therefore, must be even harder. The Muppets’ take on this classic does not, as some might expect, ‘dumb down’ the storyline in order to appeal to younger viewers, and many of Dickens’ most poignant lines are lifted straight from the original text. Michael Caine’s Scrooge never suggests that the Muppet cast are anything less than human and the result of this is a surprisingly moving retelling of a Victorian classic.
Bad Santa (2003)
If the mere thought of another sickly sweet family movie is enough to send you crackers (no pun intended), then perhaps Billy Bob Thornton’s portrayal of a safe-breaking sex addict posing as a department store Santa in order to rob shopping malls is worth a watch this Christmas. With such a lewd script there is always a danger of a film like this being offensive enough to overshadow its own humour, but Bad Santa manages to successfully avoid this, making it the ultimate in anti-cute festive programming.
Home Alone (1991)
After a few cameos in Austin Powers and a recent disastrous UK tour with his band The Pizza Underground, I think it is fair to assume that the Home Alone franchise was the high-point of Macaulay Culkin’s career. The original 90s family favourite sees eight-year-old Kevin revel in the freedom of accidentally being left behind when his family fly to Paris for the Christmas holidays. When burglars target the house thinking that it is empty, Kevin is forced to use his cunning to outwit the thieves using a series of booby-traps. It’s hard to find a festive movie that better embodies the phrase ‘Christmas Caper’.
Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Halloween and Christmas collide in this stop-motion animation that is a result of the characteristically gothic production style of Tim Burton. After accidentally opening a portal to ‘Christmas Town’, ‘The Pumpkin King’ Jack Skellington decides to usurp Santa in order to provide us with a decidedly more creepy Christmas, flying across the winter sky in a hearse-like sleigh pulled by skeleton reindeer. Unsurprisingly, shrunken heads and and vampire teddy bears don’t feature highly on the wish lists of many children, but if you’re interested in a spooky departure from the generic Christmas heart-warmer, then this is a safe bet.
Die Hard (1988)
When considering films that truly capture the spirit of Christmas, the original Die Hard movie does not immediately spring to mind. Amid the thrilling action that sees maverick cop John Mclaine single-handedly battling a gang of terrorists led by Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, it may be easy to forget that all this takes place during the office Christmas party. Despite perhaps not having a completely festive vibe, this is a must watch, if only to see what Bruce Willis looks like with hair.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Another black-and-white film with a strong message – Santa exists. Kris Kringle is an old man who takes on a job as a store santa when the man due to fill the role is found to be drunk. It soon becomes evident that Kris believes himself to be the real Santa leading the in-store psychologist to bring a case against him before a judge to rule that he is insane. What follows is a surprisingly tense courtroom battle where prosecution fights for the ruling ‘Santa Claus does not exist’. I won’t spoil the end for you but I will say that this version is infinitely better than the 1994 remake that is so sickly-sweet it actually succeeds in making you feel more cynical about Christmas than you did when you sat down to watch it.
If you are sick of the often over-produced sweetness that goes hand in hand with big-budget festive flicks, Nativity! provides a refreshing change. Martin Freeman plays a primary school teacher tasked with creating a nativity play to rival all others (gripping, I know, but bear with me). The majority of scenes with the children are improvised (rather than scripted) giving the humour a more home-grown feel and sweeping even the most cynical of viewers along for the sleigh-ride.