It’s that time of year; the time when families prepare for what seems to be the most popular vacation of the year, that is Christmas. People shopping for gifts and decorating their lounges with trees and lights, you name it, and showings of films which represent Christmas.
That’s why this month, I’m going to review what I personally regard as the top 12 greatest Christmas features. Why top 12? Because it’s Christmas!
12. Miracle On 34th Street (1994)
Kicking off this list is the remake of the classic festive film of the forties. You still have the same characters; Kris Kringle, the Walkers, you know the rest, and the similar story, only a little different. The film stars the late great Richard Attenborough as Kris and Mara Wilson as Susan Walker. In this one, Kris is in court for assaulting a rival department store Santa Claus for taking advantage of him. To follow, we witness a really interesting debate on Santa Claus’ existence.
I’m sure we’re all aware that Santa’s existence is a myth (yeah I know); this brings me to one of my top points with this film and that is part of Susan’s introduction. She at one point talks about Santa and states, “he’s not real”. I can so relate to what she’s saying, because not all kids believe in Santa. One of my friends never believed in him and he was only nine when he stated so. Of course, when Susan meets Kris, her beliefs start to rise.
This brings me on my next point; this film demonstrates that one shouldn’t control another one’s rights and I say this from a lefty’s point of view. There’s a heart-warming moment where Kris states how aware he is of Santa’s ‘existence and follows it with “but is it wrong to believe?” which I think is a great question to ask ourselves. I also admire the line from the lawyer Bryan Bedford; “I ask the court to judge which is worse: A lie that draws a smile or a truth that draws a tear”.
The friendship between Kris and Susan is adorable and I can honestly say if there was a guy who could replace Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle in a remake, Richard Attenborough deserved that role. He’s the kind of guy you want as a department store Santa Claus. He’s the kind of guy the kids would want to cuddle up with. As for Mara Wilson, she’d make a great live-action Lisa Simpson, though I’m glad The Simpsons Movie stayed animated. I doubt a live-action Simpsons would’ve worked much.
11. Polar Express
The creator of Back To The Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and Cast Away brings you this animated epic Christmas tale.
The Polar Express is about a young boy who witnesses a train parked outside his house known as the Polar Express, which is due to depart to the North Pole. Curious, he boards the train and comes across a rather commanding conductor, voiced by Tom Hanks, and a few kids each with different personalities; one being a nerdy know-it-all, another a quiet kid who doesn’t have much of a social life and the third, a girl…, and the train sets off to the Pole. During the trip, the lad learns about friendship, bravery and the spirit of Christmas.
What can I say about the Polar Express? It’s a highly visual. The CGI animation is amazing! The Polar Express is in fact the first motion captured animated feature. I often wonder if maybe Pixar ought to have tried out that technique, but oh well. It paved the way for the forever awesome Beowulf. Anyway, I’m drifting off a bit. Not only do I praise the animation, but it’s so cleverly written. The conductor is very dedicated to his scheduling, there are various mishaps with the kids’ tickets and the train is a lot of fun to watch; derailment, skidding across the ice, etc. Too much to say.
10. Santa Claus Conquers The Martians
Some of you are probably thinking ‘what the hell?’. Yeah, it’s a B-Movie in a similarish format to Plan 9 From Outer Space, and it’s on IMDB’s Bottom 250 list. But I think there are worse films. SCCTM (I’m using an abbreviation, to keep this short), like Plan 9, is a film I so find hard to hate.
This one portrays a group of Martians who are concerned about their children, because they are watching too much Earth-related TV, in particular, a TV interview with Santa Claus on the North Pole. They believe Santa is corrupting their minds and of course realise the children’s fun and freedom is very limited, so they come with one alternative, kidnap Santa and take him to Mars.
SCCTM is one of the most underrated festive films ever to have been released. We can see both sides of the Martians and Santa; the Martians don’t get much of a festive spirit and know not a lot about earth, hence getting confused with the fake Santas, and ‘Santa’ is just trying to do his annual job. They do inspire each other and the film does give us a laugh now and then. It’s very colorful which adds to the spirit. I recommend at least one viewing.
9. It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie
This is the Muppets’ take on the famous film It’s A Wonderful Life. The obvious difference is that The Muppets play the casting roles. But the names and personalities are also different. Instead of Potter, you have a woman of her late-thirties/early-forties Rachel Bitterman. The setting is the present day. It’s A Wonderful Life was set in the present day too, but the timelines do differ. That’s also the same with Oliver & Company adapted from Oliver Twist and Pretty Woman adapted (ish) from Cinderella.
The Muppets are in financial trouble when Bitterman takes their theatre. Kermit is depressed and so begins the mission of Daniel, an ‘angel’, to help Kermit. Kermit rejects Daniel’s support and wishes he’d never been born, so Daniel demonstrates how the world would differ if he didn’t exist.
It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie is a TV movie, but what the hell. It’s one of the most humorous and dramatic films in Muppet history. We’ll start with the funnies. The show the Muppets put on is awesome, when Miss Piggy nearly loses her singing bit and when Pepe fills in for Fozzie’s monologue. I also love the scene where Piggy joins the cast of Scrubs and they cast her as an extra much to her annoyance. Pepe’s lust for Bitterman is also fun to watch. And I particularly enjoy the scene where Fozzie attempts to deliver the money to Bitterman before the deadline, aside from the ‘Whos’ who mistake him for the Grinch. And did I mention the way Kermit rabbits “I wish I’d never been born!”.
Now the drama; seeing Kermit in a depressed mood and feeling guilty for the financial loss, one would feel really sorry for him. I’d laughed towards the “I wish I’d never been born!” bit, but we can understand Kermit’s problem. Actually, when Fozzie brings the news to Kermit, Kermit gets annoyed and I have to admit, I had never seen him so angry. Well, technically, what I mean to say is that I’d never heard him shout like that. I would of course say the same things for the Thunderbirds puppets, because it is quite hard to make puppets cross eyebrows. Hell, Kermit even snaps at Piggy near the start. Geez.
There is a scene where Gonzo and Kermit sing Everyone Matters. This is easily one of the best songs they had ever performed. John Lennon would turn in his grave! Everyone Matters contains a strong political message and demonstrates the truth about the world, that everyone matters.
Have a look and see for yourself.
I’m referring to the 1950s version with Alistair Sim. This version pretty much goes by the Charles Dickens novel. You have Ebeneezer Scrooge (duh!), Bob and Emily Cratchet and of course the ghosts of past, present and future.
And you have the simple storyline; Scrooge starts off as a selfish fat-cat jerk who has an awful history with previous Christmases he was involved in. But then, he learns from the three spirits what life and Christmas is all about, even if they prove haunting.
I dunno about you guys, but Alistair Sim’s portrayal of Scrooge reminds me of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons; mainly due to his voice. Yet, you can definitely relate Mr. Burns to Scrooge. They’re both selfish and rich and own successful businesses and they’re,… old. Sorry, I don’t mean that in an ageist way. But of course, this film portrays solid messages and as Scrooge learns; Christmas is about sharing and caring. Tiny Tim’s famous line ‘God bless us everyone’ says it all too.
7. Muppet Christmas Carol
Another version of A Christmas Carol and another Muppets film. I know the Muppets are quite pantomimic, but I think this is the greatest version of Dickens’ story.
The film does go by the book, same story with Scrooge starting off selfish, then learning from the spirits. But with Dickens himself, well,… Gonzo, contributing to the story, and with Kermit and Miss Piggy as the Cratchets, there’s so much more.
Michael Caine is badass as Scrooge. The way he snaps at Bob Cratchet and his other employees, that got me opening my eyes wide. The histories the Ghost of Christmas Past are rather dramatic and sad to watch and we can see how upset Scrooge gets when he views the visions. The Christmas Present Ghost puts a smile to my face, the way he lives so much in the present, his memory is bad and to see him die is quite dark. But the most haunting part of the story is the bits with the Ghost Of Christmases Yet To Come, who says nothing and just uses it’s gestures, no face, just showing Scrooge the bad things that are about to happen to him, and yes, the death to Tiny Tim (no, not Tiny Tim! The songs are great to listen to as well.
Another reason why I tend to like this version better is due to the nostalgia. It’s the version I’ve seen most times. I’m sure most people my age would agree too. And I’d recommend this to your kids as well.
6. Nightmare Before Christmas
Prepare to be scared, cus ’tis the Nightmare Before Christmas! A film which was made back when Tim Burton made such original masterpieces. Then he turned to remakes, well the majority of his more modern films are remakes; Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, Alice In Wonderland (sighs), but not all of them was bad, hence Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd (smiles).
The film begins in Holiday Woods, a forest with trees containing portals, each to a town that represents a vacation, i.e. Halloween and Christmas. Halloween Town is populated by citizens i.e. deformed monsters, ghosts, witches and skeletons. Jack Skellington is the king of the town and is bored of the same yearly routine, so he decides to explore and enters Christmas Town. He is shocked at first, but impressed. He introduces Christmas to Halloween’s residents, but all fail to understand the tradition. So Jack decides to kidnap Santa Claus and take over his duties.
The film as you probably can tell combines two holidays; Christmas and Halloween. To me, it makes sense, because for some reason, they seem to broadcast horror films each Christmas. Hell, I remember seeing a stop-motion BBC2 ident and my God was it creepy. I mean that as a compliment. The film’s title is an obvious parody to the famous Night Before Christmas and the characters and backgrounds are very well designed. I have to admit the stop-motion contributes extremely well to the horror theme. I’m not saying all stop-motion is scary. You couldn’t call Wallace & Gromit scary, with the possible exception of The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, though I’d say it’s more humorous. Speaking of humour, The Nightmare Before Christmas is also hilarious. When Jack kidnaps Santa and takes his job, he replaces the gifts with such insanely scary items such as a pumpkin-in-a-box and my God, I can’t cease laughing.
The songs are also enjoyable and I have to say this is the best film Henry Selick directed. He also did James And The Giant Peach and I hated that one. We also see the Halloween residents attempting to understand Christmas, because they’re used to their own town and are curious about the others. The towns are like those attractions you attend each season and are closed for the seasons they don’t represent.
In short, Nightmare Before Christmas is about curiosity on unfamiliar worlds and the right to know these things and respecting the meanings of different holidays.
5. Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
You read my brief review of the nineties remake. This version is the original one of Miracle On 34th Street.
The film takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Kris Kringle applies for a job as a department store Santa Claus. He befriends Susan Walker, daughter of a divorcee, who is living in harsh reality. Later in the film, Kris is converted to an insane asylum, just for believing in himself as the Santa, causing the town to debate, you guessed it, Santa’s existence.
I know I ranked a version of Miracle On 34th Street earlier on, but I like this version better due to the differences. Natalie Wood is as great as Mara Wilson on the portrayal of the little girl. Edmund Gwenn is amazing as Kris Kringle. I kind of like the story better. In fact, it’s harsher. In the remake, Kris lashes out at a colleague for taking advantage of him. In this one, he believes in himself a bit too much, upsetting certain people and so he’s put in the asylum. We can relate to Kris’ attitude. All he’s trying to do is make an example to the kids and yet certain adults are just paranoid about his behaviour. When he meets Susan, he mentions various stories and fairy tales and Susan’s unfamiliar with those terms, because she’s living too much in the real world. We can’t really blame her for that, due to her mother going through her divorce.
The director of Mrs Doubtfire and the first two Harry Potter movies made such an impressive start to his career in the film industry. Yes, this is Gremlins, the first film he worked on, not just as a writer, but in general.
In this film, a teenager named Billy receives an early Christmas present, which is a strange furry creature known as a mogwai. The creature comes with three important rules; don’t feed it after midnight, don’t expose it to bright light or sunlight and ensure it doesn’t get wet. However, one of the rules is accidentally broken, causing the mogwai to produce a bunch of mischievous gremlins which begin to wreck havoc.
Gremlins, like Nightmare Before Christmas, is a festive horror comedy. You fear what’s about to happen to little Gizmo (that’s the mogwai). The writing is great. It demonstrates a brief theme of coming of age and responsibility. When you get a pet, there are rules; you must look after it and ensure it’s fed well and safe and that. Of course, accidents do happen, i.e. when Bill’s friend Pete spills a glass of water on Gizmo, causing him to create a few gremlins. It’s also amazing how a small stupid mistake creates a huge consequence.
With that said, the accidental rule breaking contributes well to the humour. And Speaking of humour, the scene where the Gremlins are watching Snow White & The Seven Dwarves at the pictures is badass. Even when they’re singing Heigh Ho, that’s hilarious! And even Bill is impressed by the sight of it. The fights with the gremlins are absolute exciting to watch. Even Gizmo contributes to the action.
Speaking of Christmas, I’m absolutely fond of this one particular conversation Bill and his girlfriend Kate. Kate confesses the reason why she stopped believing in Santa Claus in the first place; her dad dressed as Santa one Christmas and used the chimney, then he burned to death. I have to say it’s the darkest scene in the film, but it also goes to show that kids may have to learn the truth about Santa some day and it’s a horror film after all.
3. Bad Santa
What if Santa Claus wasn’t a jolly happy soul? What if he doesn’t care if you’re naughty or nice? Well Bad Santa is a stylish and unique film which answers them questions through one of the most unique characterisations for a department store Santa Claus.
Willie T Stokes is an alcoholic with a troubled past who works as a department store Santa Claus once every year and is a professional robber working with Marcus (a department store elf) to rob the store each Christmas Eve. One day, during his job, Willie gets himself a bird named Sue and befriends Thurman Merman, an 11 year-old kid, who is constantly bullied for his weight.
If there’s one fictional character who works as a department store Santa Claus and I consider the best one, I’d have to give that point to Willie T Stokes. He is the complete opposite to most Santa Clauses. He gives no damn about Santa’s home town or what he’s all about. In one scene, Thurman asks him what the elves are called and Willie confuses them with the Seven Dwarves. He does ask each kid what he/she wants for Christmas, but is rude to them each time; “get the f**k out of here”, etc. This attitude annoys his friend Marcus, who is much more friendly to the public and makes much more of an example, and this is one of the most humorous things about the movie, but I’ll get there later.
Willie’s alcoholism and bad attitude is relatable due to his back-story. This is a man who as a kid didn’t celebrate Christmas, due to his dad being a violent drunk who even took his frustrations on his own son. I really feel for that guy. I have a friend who has an alcoholic parent and was once beaten up by that parent. You can’t really blame Willie for being an aggressive jerk.
Part of the comedy is due to Willie’s constant swearing. Yeah, that sounds immature, but the joke is that you don’t expect Santa to say stuff like the s word or the f word, both unique and funny. You have his girlfriend who has a thing for Santa-dressed men and her having sex with Willie, even in public and annoying Marcus. Thurman is also a funny character. He’s naive and kind of dumb, obviously not dumb enough to believe that the elves were named after the Seven Dwarves, lol. He actually believes Willie is actually Santa and believes he actually owns reindeer, but he’s only a kid. I especially enjoy the bond between Willie and Thurman, the way Thurman attempts to provide his services to Willie, for he’s an honoured guest, i.e. fixing sandwiches, those scenes make me snigger.
I also enjoy how Willie and Thurman learn stuff from each other and I believe that to not take s**t from anybody is an extremely good moral. Bad Santa is a film about standing up for oneself. It may not be for kids, which is kind of different to most festive films, but it’s hilarious and laid back and contains great messages. It’s just great.
2. Die Hard
Die Hard maybe the last film you want to call a Christmas movie, but in the end, if you think about it, Die Hard is a film with a narrative story that takes place during Christmas Eve. So what more could you possibly want? I shall give you more detail in a sec.
John McClane, who works for the New York police department, must deal with a group of criminals, led by Hans Gruber, who invadea skyscraper in Los Angeles.
And who says an action thriller can’t be Christmas themed? I’d be a hypocrite if I left this film out, just because of the genre. Setting; Christmas Eve, entirely, so clearly, Die Hard is a Christmas-themed movie, or as the Nostalgia Critic quotes “f you, it’s Die Hard!”. The film not only contains a lot of action sequences which are always enjoyable, but because it’s set in Christmas Eve, all John wants to do is celebrate the vacation with his wife, but as a cop, he can’t get much of a break, hence why he’s forced to deal with the terrorists, and it’s like ‘the sooner I can get the terrorists out of the way, the sooner we can have a nice peaceful xmas’ and of course it would be further hell for everybody else if the terrorist attacks carried on through Christmas Day. So what Die Hard is trying to express is that Xmas is about everybody needing the right to celebrate Xmas without any trouble whatsoever.
The closing credits are accompanied by a festive themed song and Die Hard contains some awesome one-liners; “Yippie-yi-yay, motherf**ker”
And the number 1 festive movie is…;
It’s A Wonderful Life
And may God bless us everyone! Some of you were probably guessing that this classic would hit the number one spot. It’s popular with a lot of reviewers, it seems to hit/near the top spot in a lot of film-related lists and I can honestly say, I’m one of them guys who agrees with them people and it ain’t hard to see why.
The film centers on George Bailey, a successful businessman who plunges into a financial crisis and attempts suicide on Christmas Eve, only to be interrupted by an angel named Clarence. Through a conversation they have, George wonders if maybe his family, employees and work colleagues would’ve been better off had he not existed, leading to Clarence to demonstrate over-wise; without George, his hometown, Bedford Falls would’ve been a dump. George eventually regrets opening his big mouth.
It’s A Wonderful Life was ranked at number 1 by the American Film Institute for 100 Years 100 Cheers, a well-deserved position. I say this, because if you think about it, the film demonstrates that if you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. As you can clearly observe through the flashback from George’s childhood to his early adulthood. For example, he once saved his brother, Harry, from drowning in an icy pond. He also talked a druggist out of suicide. Through Clarence’s introduction to the world in which George is never born, you see events that have occurred otherwise; Harry has drowned, because George was not there to save him. The druggist he comforted is in jail. As a result of Harry’s death, all the servicemen who fought in the war and all of whom Harry could’ve saved have been killed. These are among the parts George eventually rethinks that maybe to wish he was never born was a selfish mistake and selfishness is the one thing you want to avoid during a time like Christmas.
We can understand how stressed George is when he finds out his business is hitting rock-bottom after his uncle Billy has misplaced the money (which is taken by Henry Potter), the way he lashes out at his uncle, which I have to admit is quite an outburst, and when he makes outbursts in a local bar and even in front of his family, which upsets them. Of course, the real villain is Potter, the guy who has attempted to make dodgy deals with George involving his business, all of which George has rejected, because he’s too smart to fall for Potter’s capitalist plans. Losing a business is often a sad day for the owners and we can understand how depressed they can feel as a result.
But of course, It’s A Wonderful Life ends with a happy one, which may sound clichéd, but if you look at it this way, George gains optimism on the fact that things may turn out better for the future. I have to be honest, when I saw the ending, I was in tears, not in a negative way if you know what I mean. I personally regard the ending as one of the best movie endings of all time. I’d also the same thing about the opening; if this film was being made now, the film would probably use CGI ghosts instead of flashing star-lights, but I can live with that. It is an old 1940s film after all. And the film contains some of the greatest lines in history; “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings”.
It’s A Wonderful Life is not only my favourite Christmas-themed movie, but one of my favourites, period. I’ve seen it several times and it’s one I would definitely show to my children. It’s a highly recommended classic.
So this was my top 12 list of my personal favourite festive movies. Feel free to leave your comments in the tab below. And merry Christmas to all of you.