In honour of the season that is now officially upon us (or as the world of retail would have you believe, it’s been upon us since May) we thought we’d wax on the genre of Christmas film and in the tradition of High Fidelity give you our ‘All Time, Top 5’ Christmas films.
It’s fair to say that in recent years, the world of film hasn’t managed to produce the best Christmas films. There’s just something about the genre that makes it difficult to tick all the required boxes but still produce a special Christmas film. It’s unbelievably cliche to say and probably a little too over dramatic, but a Christmas film has to have that feeling to it; that special feeling that only certain films can give.
Like all genres, Christmas films need to encompass certain elements in order for them to be classified as such. Like an action film has tits and guns, a Christmas film has snow and stockings, open fires and golden turkeys. A message of selflessness and unity is often portrayed through a characters journey, and the theme of Christmas is used to show that family members, though different, come together this time of year to realise the true meaning of Christmas.
Now, we’re all for Christmas films that give you those feelings and make you feel festive – but let’s be honest, very few films really hit the nail on the head on what Christmas is really like. There aren’t enough arguments, sprouts, unwanted presents or dry turkey in them to become the perfect Christmas film – but some come close. It’s fair to say that if all Christmas films were like that then there would be no enjoyment from the escapism of the true Christmas, so it’s nice to know there are Christmas films out there that offer a perfect-world version. It’s a healthy mix, and here are the top 5:
5. The Polar Express (Robert Zemeckis, 2004)
Who as a kid hasn’t envisiged the North Pole? Who as a kid hasn’t dreamt of the wonders of such a place and how it could all possibly be? And who as a kid hasn’t wished they could go there? The beauty of this film is that it is told from a child’s perspective, and the visuals really play to that. True, the animation (especially the eyes) does make them look one render away from the walking dead, but it’s a beautifully realised film that without CGI would not have been possible. The colours contrast perfectly between the harsh blue of the cold outside and the warm orange glow of the carriage inside, and the North Pole is one of the best interpretations out of all Christmas films.
Best Bit: The runaway train speeding up and down the twisty-turny railroads – nauseating in 3D.
Worst Bit: Steve Tyler. As a CG elf. Again, nauseating in 3D.
4. The Family Stone (Thomas Bezucha, 2005)
Now, in no way is this an out and out great Christmas film; in fact, if the element of Christmas didn’t feature and it instead took the Dan In Real Life route of the family coming together in the middle of Autumn, then this would be an awful film. So why is it in the top 5 I hear you bellow? Because individually and together, these characters make for a very close resemblance to your typical family. It has an eclectic mix of individuals that when put together in their family environment makes for great watching, especially seen as it’s Christmas. The film encompasses a lot of those Christmas elements: the large dining table full of food and endless, cross-over chatter; quabbles and differences between family members and outsiders; Christmas bringing them all together and making them value what they have. Unfortunately, it does feature a ridiculous storyline in which brothers swap girlfriends and somehow (AGAIN!) someone manages to fall in love with Sarah Jessica Parker.
Best Bit: Any scene with Diane Keaton.
Worst Bit: Any scene with Sarah Jessica Parker.
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol (Brian Henson, 1992)
The unmistakably infamous tale from Charles Dickens has seen many interpretations along the years, but few can capture the spirit of the story. This, quite remarkably, is one of them. Who can believe that Kermit could knock it out of the park like that? And Michael Caine as Scrooge! The film instantly had the winning elements for the perfect Christmas film: the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, the powerhouse of Disney as producers, and the all-American heroes: The Muppets. Released in the early part of the 90’s, it is a classic for a wide generation and will remain one of those films that you can stumble upon one Sunday afternoon in December on TV and no matter what part of the film its at, you’re happy to put the remote down, your feet up and enjoy a rather peculiar but winning take on the classic Dickens tale.
Best bit: The opening song introducing the man that is Ebenezer Scrooge.
Worst bit: Realising that Tiny Tim is a frog puppet but somehow still manages to tug on your heart strings.
2. Scrooged (Richard Donner, 1988)
Again, the tale of Charles Dickens is modelled but this time updated to (at the time anyway) modern day, interpreting Ebenezer Scrooge in the character of Frank Cross, a television network president with about as much Christmas spirit as a Loose Women panel. With many versions of A Christmas Carol a lot of the book can be seen; with this film, its more of a basic template than a step-by-step run through. It just has something completely different and unique about it that, whilst straying quite far from the source material, still manages to make it stand out as a modern Charles Dickens film. Bill Murray is superb, clearly at the height of his career here – and the supporting cast make this one of the funniest Christmas films around.
Best Bit: Frank’s long speech at the end, which sums up the true spirit of Christmas along with how Christmas can often make us feel.
Worst Bit: The fact that it had to end.
1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1989)
One of the greatest Christmas films ever. Fact. It has everything: snow, decorations, lights, music, comedy, family, food – but most importantly, it is probably one of the closest representations of what Christmas is really like. The in-laws, the reluctant visit from the black sheep – and Clark Griswold. Easily one of the best creations played by a seasoned comic actor in Chevy Chase, he embodies a lot of what we see at Christmas: an enthusiasm for the season that refuses to falter despite the obstacles that occur. Sure, some of the situations are exaggerated for comic effect (of which all them pay off; perhaps in another actors hands they could be seen as slapstick) but ultimately the themes are there, from the feeling to the family. It’s a perfect Christmas film, one that can be watched year after year.
Best Bit: Clark’s non-stop rant about his boss.
Worst Bit: The fact that even though you want a sequel every year, you know that it ends just as it should.
Film at the best of times causes divided opinion, so no doubt these choices will differ for everybody – so let us know in the comments section what you agree and disagree with, and what you think we have left out.