And so this is Christmas – almost.
Around this time every year I try and cram watching as many Christmas films as I can before the ‘big day’.
I enjoy a good festive flick but it’s a weird little idiosyncrasy of mine that I refuse to watch Christmas films after the 25th December. Even though I’m off work until early January and there’s a whole week of ‘not doing much’ between Christmas and New Year (that some people refer to as Twixmas) which would be perfect for sitting around and watching Christmas-themed films, I find that if I haven’t watched a Christmas film by Christmas Eve, I’m probably not going to watch it until next December.
But from mid-December up until Christmas Eve, I do like to watch as many as I can. There are, of course, too many cherished festive films for me to watch all of them every year, but equally there are some that, if I don’t get to watch them, then, while it might be an exaggeration to say Christmas would be ruined, I would certainly feel more than a little put out.
And the thing is, they aren’t necessarily the best of the genre. Indeed, although some are indeed fine examples of exactly what makes a great Christmas film, others make the list because of a mawkish nostalgia – I watch them because I’ve always watched them but these days I’m no longer certain that I actually like them all that much.
Still I watch them nonetheless.
As I say there are many Christmas-themed films that I will happily watch if I have the time, and indeed I can readily recommend the following (in no particular order of preference) if you’re looking for some festive inspiration this year:
1. It’s A Wonderful Life – if you don’t feel a warm buzz after sitting through this then there’s genuinely something wrong with you. In fact, anything by Frank Capra is ideal if you want a bit a life affirmation, but ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ has the added magic of a vague Christmas theme at the beginning and the end, even if the majority of the movie has nothing much to do with the 25th December.
2. Miracle on 34th Street (the original) – I’ve got nothing against the 90s Richard Attenborough remake – it’s charming enough in its own right, but Edmund Gwenn’s portrayal of Kris Kringle in the 1947 original is what I imagine Father Christmas would actually be like if I ever got to meet the great man.
3. Die Hard – ok it’s not really a Christmas film but it is set on Christmas Eve, and it’s probably the best action film ever made. Fair warning though, not all ‘Die Hards’ were made equal and while ‘Die Hard 2 – Die Harder’ (also set at Christmas) is worth a watch (if you can get over the gratuitous and horrible air disaster in the middle of the film which, to be fair, most of the characters seem able to) but the other three sequels are in no way linked to Christmas and seemingly only linked to the original Die Hard in name. The third one is still alright, but four and five are best avoided.
4. Gremlins – even less Christmassy than Die Hard, but with a weird little nod to Frank Capra as little monsters tear apart a small town that could easily be mistaken for ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’s’ Bedford Falls. Not for everyone – scary for kids (as I recall from watching it when I was a child) but a horror film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and pretty funny for the most part.
5. Home Alone and Home Alone 2 – I couldn’t comment on the other sequels, having never sat through them (my understanding is that they are quite bad though) but despite the excessive cartoon levels of violence and some unashamedly syrupy sentimentality, Macauley Culkin’s ‘Kevin’ and Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s bumbling ‘Harry and Marv’ really make for a compelling romp in the original. The relocation to New York for the sequel does help to mask the fact that it is essentially a rehash of the first film and Tim Curry also does a sterling job as a pompous and blundering concierge to add a new comedic element to the mix. Donald Trump also makes an appearance in the sequel but he doesn’t stick around long enough to ruin the film and is mostly forgettable – perhaps a good omen for his forthcoming presidency?
6. Scrooged – One of three ‘retellings’ of Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ that make my annual ‘must see list’. Bill Murray stars. Need I say more?
7. Blackadder’s Christmas Carol – An inverted retelling of the classic tale as ‘Ebeneezer Blackadder’ is converted from the “nicest man in England to the horriblest man in the world” thanks to the efforts of Robbie Coltrane’s Christmas Ghost. Strictly speaking this was more of Christmas ‘special’ shown on the BBC than a proper Christmas film but it’s on Netflix and it’s 45 minutes well spent.
8. The Muppets’ Christmas Carol – literally the one film I would not be able to forego any Christmas. Surprisingly faithful to the original text (I can live with an extra Marley) and totally brilliant. Classic Literature, Christmas and Kermit – what’s not to like?
Other Christmas films are available but you can’t go too badly wrong with the above. Unfortunately, there are still others that complete my ‘essential viewing’ but I’m not sure I’d recommend those quite as heartily to people who haven’t yet discovered them.
But year upon year I sit through them so it’s only right that I own up to my crimbo crimes.
‘Marv’ makes the bold claim that ‘kids are stupid’ in the original ‘Home Alone’. While he is not entirely accurate in his assessment of the indomitable ‘Kevin’, I can’t help but feel there is some truth in his assentation.
At least as far as I was concerned.
Because I genuinely loved the following films at one time and it can only be because I was a stupid kid.
Nonetheless I sit through these two films annually because Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas if I didn’t:
The first is ‘Yogi’s First Christmas’ – my dad recorded this off of the telly for my sisters and me when we got our first ever video recorder sometime in the mid-to-late eighties. It’s not that bad as kids’ films go but it’s definitely a weird thing for a man in his mid-thirties to insist on watching every year. I went a few years without getting to see it, as VHS recorders went the way of the dodo, but a few years ago my mum surprised my sisters and I with a copy each on DVD. As the title suggests, it’s all about how Yogi Bear gets to experience his first Christmas after being accidently woken up from hibernation. What bothers me to this day is the fact that no-one acknowledges at any point during the film that it’s also Booboo’s first Christmas. That little bear needs to work on asserting himself.
The second ‘guilty pleasure’ is ‘Santa Claus – The Movie’. Not to be confused with the Tim Allen ‘Santa Clause’ trilogy (which I’ve actually never seen), this is the 1985 film starring Dudley Moore, John Lithgow and David Huddleston. The first two of that trio should have resulted in this being an all-time Christmas classic and to be fair Lithgow absolutely steals the show as the evil BZ. But he doesn’t even turn up until the final third of the film. Moore, too, is genuinely likeable and does his best to work with material which seems essentially to be a lot of jokes based on the concept that the word ‘elf’ rhymes with ‘self’ (as in “don’t be ‘elf-conscious’ and “he just needs a bit of ‘elf-confidence’). Huddleston as the titular Santa Claus is perhaps the weak link (although he does a stellar job at the ‘other Lebowski’ in the Big Lebowski) and one of the main issues with the film is perhaps that his ‘Santa Claus’ isn’t really as loveable as you’d hope he would be and actually seems to be a bit grumpy quite a lot of the time. Worse really though is the amount of screen time given to the two kids, neither of whom can really act. The wealthy but orphaned Cornelia is a vaguely sympathetic character but Santa’s particular affiliation to the ‘street kid’ Joe is genuinely perplexing – even when I was a child Joe was my least favourite character and as an adult I find it hard to find anything redeeming about him, so there’s very limited jeopardy for the viewer when Joe’s life is in danger in the final act. There’s loads of other stuff not to like about the film though, like the fact that kids are supposedly excited by brightly painted wooden toys in the mid-eighties or the fact that we’re supposed to believe that Dudley Moore’s character (Patch) has just invented the ‘Snow Globe’ in 1985 even though they’d clearly existed for a lot longer than that (and the time span of the film would easily have allowed for Patch to have invented the Snow Globe at the correct point in history if they film makers really thought about it).
The film also ends in the weirdest way ever for what is supposedly a heart-warming Christmas film. First we have the climax whereby Santa saves the lives of Patch and Joe by getting his reindeer to perform the ‘Super Duper Looper’ (essentially a loop-the-loop) so that they can swoop under an exploding flying car at exactly the right moment, even though he’s never managed to get the reindeer to perform that particular feat before. It’s a tried and tested trope, the protagonists have to perform a manoeuvre they’ve never previously succeeded at in order to resolve a crisis, except that it’s entirely inexplicable why they need to perform the Super Duper Looper when they could just fly underneath the soon-to-explode flying car without the need for such an extravagant trick. I can live with that though, but what I really struggle with is the fact that once we’ve seen Patch and Joe rescued and we’ve had our denouement at the North Pole where we discover that Joe and Cornelia are going to be adopted by Santa and Mrs Clause and the film has ostensibly come to an end, we have one final scene where we see the evil BZ, clearly terrified and floating off into space to meet his untimely demise. Not the cheeriest way to end a child friendly Christmas film. Maybe it’s just me.
Anyway, despite clearly being aware that neither ‘Santa Claus – The Movie’ or ‘Yogi’s First Christmas’ are really top quality films, I insist on watching them every year. Mrs Proclaims humours me, but although she has sat through them with me on one occasion each, she prefers to let me to watch them on my own these days, generally having better things to do with her time.
I can only blame my inner child for these indulgences. But then when it comes to Christmas my inner child has a lot to answer for. Not least of which will be an excessive amount of very bad food consumed between now and the beginning of 2017.