Welcome to our winter wonderland of Christmas movie nostalgia…firstly, let’s look at what makes a Christmas movie, well… a ‘Christmas movie’?
An obvious answer might be the film’s setting. Film such as ‘Love Actually’ (2003) and ‘The Grinch’ (2000) clearly sit within the Christmas category, however there are several films that you might consider as Christmas films (some of them are within our top 5 below) which either don’t have Christmas as a feature within the film, or merely have the festive season as a passing moment or irrelevant backdrop to the story such as in ‘Die Hard’.
BFI’s Head of Distribution Margaret Deriaz also questions whether ‘setting is absolutely essential’, instead she highlights ‘The notion of a ‘feel-good movie’ as being key to it’s categorisation as a Christmas film.
Christmas is a time of year for the family/friends/loved ones and, it feels like anything is possible (perhaps given its closeness to the new year; giving everyone an opportunity to change, forgive and grow). Christmas films often maintain a positive plot message along these lines.
Christmas films are there to entertain and delight in a light-hearted manner, normally with a key Christmas moral message of good overcoming evil and in many cases love and giving outshining self centred behaviours.
The sensation of nostalgia is linked to when the films were viewed. For us, our top nostalgic Christmas films are movies we watched as children and therefore ones that induce the sense of excitement and wonder which seems to sadly diminish in adulthood. The magic of Christmas movies is the opportunity to relive this experience.
Grab your sherry, mittens and mince pies and jump in our one-horse-open-sleigh as we take you on a journey through our top five Christmas nostalgia films…
Our Top Five
Scrooged (1998) – Director Richard Donner
Selected by Sarah Moore
For me, Scrooged is a perfect film! From the adverts showing at the start of the film, which reminded me of the satirical side of Robocop or Starship Troopers, to the incredible effects and opportunity for audience participation at the end of the film, the tale is funny, poignant, intelligent, silly, sad and uplifting, all at the same time.
As the film is a modern day re-imagining of A Christmas Carol, it gives Richard Donner a good excuse to get creative with the three ghosts and how they interact with Bill Murray’s character (some of the sequences when Frank meets the third ghost are pretty mind-bending!) and to bring the tale up to date, using the world of Media as the canvas.
All of the actors are great in their own right but Bill Murray really steals the show; his blend of charm, excellent comic timing and sarcasm is something to be treasured. It’s worth mentioning that all of Bill Murray’s actor brothers – John Murray, Joel Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray – make appearances in this film.
Scrooged is a romantic comedy which is full of slapstick humour and themes which every one of us can relate to and is definitely a film I would watch all year round.
When Bill Murray crashes onto the stage after seeing frozen Herman, director Brice calls him joker, in reference to Bill Murray’s consideration to be the villain in 1989’s Batman.
Hook (1991) Director Steven Spielberg
Selected by Emily Cook
Hook, starring Robin Williams as Peter Pan, Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook and Julia Roberts as Tinkerbell has to be not only one of my favourite Christmas films, but also one of my favourite films of all time.
The film is a remake of the classical Peter Pan story, but this time with a twist. Peter Pan, who left Neverland years ago, has now grown up and become a self-centred workaholic with kids of his own. He must return to Never Neverland, rediscover his inner child and with a touch of fairy dust, fight the pirates in order to retrieve his children who have been captured by Peter’s arch nemesis Captain James Hook.
With pirates, faries, good conquering evil, not to mention the ability to fly… Hook has it all to stimulate a child’s imagination. What more could you want from a Christmas film?
Some people have said Hook’s not a Christmas film, well I have to disagree, as not only is it set at Christmas time ( I counted several Christmas trees), but for me the fact I watched it at Christmas time growing up firmly awards it with that title.
For me it’s personally special as it was the go-to VHS brought out every Christmas at my Granny’s house form the age of 3-10. The USA TV would be wheeled out specially in order to play the NTSC copy and the TV would remain wheeled out for the duration of the festive period as inevitably the film would be watched and re-watched several times over the holidays. I associate the film with a sense of intense childhood joy, love and Christmas cheer.
Because Tinkerbell was often in the air, Julia Roberts had an assistant whose sole responsibility was cleaning her feet.
Selected by Sarah Moore
Gremlins is, hands down, one of my favourite films from my childhood and is a film that I’ve watched countless times, especially around Christmas. Directed by Joe Dante (who also brought us the amazing Small Soldiers, Inner Space and The Howling) and starring Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates and Corey Feldman, Gremlins has elements of a children’s film but it twists the genre into something much darker and more violent (it was generally credited, along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, to influence the MPAA to create the PG-13 rating, as many felt the scenes of violence in both movies were too much for a PG rating but not enough for an R rating).
It’s hard to pin down exactly why this film is such a masterpiece but I feel it is a lot to do with the well-developed characters, the massively cute Gizmo, the excellent effects and the memorable one-liners. The film is set at Christmas and Joe Dante really has fun with transforming what should be a magical time of year into a living hell!
The fact that I’m a child of the 80s may make me biased but I don’t think the studios make such original films which stand the test of time anymore. Some of the films of today are incredible (Pixar, Sony Pictures Animation and Illumination especially are producing some memorable and uplifting children’s films) but they don’t blend the genres in the same way as Gremlins (The Hole, also directed by Dante, and Coraline are notable exceptions and are definitely worth a watch).
Gremlins, essentially, is a creature feature, set at Christmas with an over-arching good versus evil message.
It’s interesting to hear that Gremlins 3 is in development (click here for more info) but I have a feeling it won’t be anywhere near as good as the original two. Chris Columbus, please prove me wrong!
In Cantonese, mogwai means devil, demon or gremlin.
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)
Director Chris Columbus
Selected by Emily Cook
I’m generally not a fan of sequels but for some reason Home Alone 2 works. As with Hook, Home Alone 2 became a Christmas ‘go-to’ film to keep us occupied during the holiday season, rendering it close to my heart.
The film tells the story of 8 year old Kevin (McCaulay Culkin), who after a mix up at the airport, ends up spending his Christmas vacation alone in New York, whilst his family fly to Florida. When Kevin discovers that the Sticky Bandits (Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern from Home Alone 1), are on the loose he pulls every trick in the book to stop them from robbing an elderly man’s toy store just before Christmas. It’s a fast paced and fun film with a Christmassy backdrop. With an 8 year old child as our guide, the film presents the essence of Christmas from an innocent, childish perspective. Home Alone 2 is all about fun, wonder, magic and good overcoming evil, isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
Macaulay Culkin was paid $4.5 million to star in this movie, the biggest paycheck ever to a 12 year-old child.
Die Hard (1988) – Director John Tiernan
Selected by Sarah Moore
It’s true. Die Hard is an action film and initially doesn’t seem to fit into the Christmas film mold as well as a film like Elf, The Snowman or Trading Place (all superb films). However, people often watch Die Hard at Christmas because the film is set on Christmas Eve, at a Christmas Party, and it’s about a man trying to save the love of his life (as well as the rest of her colleagues) from an evil man (played by the inimitable Alan Rickman, in his first feature film).
The reason I cited this as one of my favourite Christmas films is that it breaks the rules of what these sorts of films should be about. Christmas actually runs through the film (Christmas songs play on the radio, carols are hummed and jingle bells can be heard punctuating the action) but this is offset by building tension, a smattering of deaths (although these are violent, there are surprisingly few throughout the movie), a double cross and one of the most unforgettable bad guy deaths in cinema. In essence, though, the film is a story of a man trying build bridges with his estranged wife, healing his broken family and includes an element of someone trying to make amends for mistakes he has made in the past (namely, Al). The turning point for John is when he faces the possibility that he may die and wants Al to let Holly (a nice Christmas nod!) know he is sorry for all his has done to destroy their family.
Given the adult nature of this movie, it’s good to see some lighter moments on screen; Argyle’s relaxed appeal, the tip for how to get over jetlag and McClain’s insults are just a few instances of when the film is elevated away from the drama engulfing the characters.
All in all, Die Hard reminds us that David can overcome Goliath and good can save the day (even if the person fighting the darkness is a foul-mouthed and intolerant grouch!)
Christmas certainly features in the film but I would say there’s no clear Christmas message, other than supporting the idea that good will save the day and greed isn’t always good!
Trivia fact: The addresses and phone numbers depicted on the LAPD dispatch’s computer for the Nakatomi plaza management are the actual numbers for management of Fox Plaza, where the film was shot.
We’d love to hear from you…. which five films would you put on your Christmas list this year? #FilmFocusChristmasNostalgia
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Happy Movie Going and a Merry Christmas!
This blog was written by Sarah Moore and Emily Cook