If you’re not in the Christmas spirit yet, perhaps these great festive movies will kick-start your anticipation for Santa’s arrival. Dan Grant talks about why Christmas means so much to him and why these particular films are a perfect way to enjoy the season.
In Canada, it is said that the Christmas season starts after November 11th (Remembrance Day). For me, it starts the day after Halloween. I love Christmas. I love everything about it. The Christmas Carols, the benevolence of people, the snow, hot chocolate, the Tree, the decorations and everything else. But if you aren’t quite as excited for Christmas as I am, then these ten films will help to get you into the festive spirit.
Editor’s Choice: The Snowman (Jackson, 1982)
Produced for the then-fledgling UK TV broadcaster – Channel 4 – Dianne Jackson’s adaptation of English author Raymond Briggs’ pop-up picture book, The Snowman, was an instant hit. In fact, it won a BAFTA and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Like the book, it eschews dialogue in favour of dreamy hand drawn animation. The 26-minute TV special, about a magical snowman who takes a child on a winter’s adventure to meet Father Christmas, is also memorable for its musical score and the song “Walking In The Air” performed by Peter Auty. Since its first appearance on UK TV, The Snowman has become a staple part of the season.
10. Home Alone (Columbus, 1990)
Home Alone will get you into the Christmas spirit for several reasons. The Chicago setting is simply breathtaking in some scenes. Here we get to hang out with Kevin McAllister who spends most of his time in his massive house decorated festively for the season. What makes this one such a Christmas elixir is that underneath all of the slapstick comedy, you have a film about family and appreciating what you have. The subplot with the old man next door, Old Man Marley, is heartwarming and will bring a lump to your throat. Home Alone is known for it’s hilarity but when it slows down to talk about family, love and forgiveness, it takes things to another level.
9. Die Hard (McTiernan, 1988)
What Christmas list is complete without mentioning Die Hard? You can throw this one on anytime after the American Thanksgiving and it’ll get you in the mood for Christmas. This film was released in the dog days of summer and it contains more action than most other films but producer Joel Silver is a big fan of the Christmas setting (see Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang), so we’re treated to huge Christmas trees, off-beat Christmas carols and a dead terrorist with the words HO HO HO written on him. Die Hard is a classic Christmas film in setting only but it has become a staple at Christmas time.
8. A Christmas Story (Clark, 1983)
Beautiful toys displayed in department store windows. The agonizingly long wait for toys ordered via mail and learning too late they are not quite what was expected. The excitement of buying a Christmas tree, the joy of setting it up and how much bigger Christmas trees seemed when we were kids. Ralphie wanting a BB gun more than life itself. Mom covering trouble for Ralphie to his dad, and the same mom making him eat soap for uttering words — learned from Dad. A panicky visit to a tired Santa. An unwanted gift from a well-meaning aunt. The furious unwrapping of gifts on Christmas morning. The Asian restaurant open on Christmas Day (check out the top 10 restaurant scenes in movies). I could go on and on. A Christmas Story is a staple of my Christmas season and because this is such a classic film, it can get you in that Christmas mood pretty quickly.
7. Scrooged (Donner, 1988)
There are hundreds of films out there that are some kind of variation and interpretation of the classic Dickens story, A Christmas Carol. The 1951 version is considered by many to be the best of the bunch. That may be true but to get you in the mood for the season, the best version is the Richard Donner/Bill Murray classic. Bill Murray does Scrooge like only he can. Here he plays a womanizing, slimy, cold-hearted TV executive who fires people on Christmas Eve. But then he is visited by three ghosts at Christmas and they help him change his ways. Carol Kane almost steals the film from Murray as she plays the Ghost of Christmas Present and she kicks the bah-hum-bug out of him. Scrooged will get you in the mood and it will have you laughing all the way through.
6. It’s A Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946)
One of the things that endears me to Christmas is the message the season conveys. It’s a time of year where people are a little more charitable. Strangers greet you in the street. The family that seemed a burden during the year suddenly is a welcome sight. It’s a Wonderful Life touches on all of this and much, much more. It’s religious in theme but not to the point where the theme takes away from the rest of the film. There are many classic lines and when you watch it and hear words like, “Look, Daddy. Teacher says, every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings” and “Merry Christmas, movie house! Merry Christmas, Emporium! Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!” you can’t help but get into the spirit of Christmas. It also helps that the film’s main message is to appreciate what you have and not fret over what you don’t.
5. The Polar Express (Zemeckis, 2004)
I watched The Polar Express for the first time with my 4-year-old niece a few years ago and even though she didn’t really understand all of it, she sat in pure wonder at the visual beauty of the film. It’s an incredible feast for the eyes and ears. What makes the film such a success is not so much the story but the execution which somehow manages to inject every frame with a feeling of childlike wonder and exuberance. In addition, there are so many clever touches and details added throughout that a feeling of mystery and excitement just fills the viewer. Among these are the waiters dancing and singing while serving hot chocolate to the kids on the train, the factory where the presents are prepared, and a ghost-like hobo who is never really explained, but is incredibly crucial to the feel of the film. At one point, three of the children wander lost through the empty streets of Santa’s North Pole town. As they wander, various old Christmas recordings are heard playing on phonographs throughout the town. The music provides a pleasant and nostalgic ambience to the scene. It’s touches like this that absolutely make the film.
4. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Chechik, 1989)
No one does Christmas like the Griswalds. Everything you need to get you in the mood for the festive season is here. You have every single Christmas trope here. The family that comes by once a year, the over decorating, the hunt for the Christmas tree, the Christmas dinner and the true spirit of Christmas. What I love about this movie is that beneath all of the zany and crazy situations (cousin Eddie is still one of the best parts of the film) that are played for laughs, you have a film that has the true spirit of Christmas at the heart of it all. Clark tells us that what matters most is family and this is one of the things I think Christmas is all about.
3. Doctor Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Jones, 1966)
It’s the Christmas film with the most simple of messages. Christmas isn’t about commercialism and presents, it’s about family. The Grinch learns this, of course, after he tries to steal Christmas from the Who’s of Whoville. This is the version that will stay in our memories. Chuck Jones takes the book we all know and turns it into a masterful twenty-some minutes of excellence. The music pulls at our emotions and the character of the Grinch is so well portrayed. The signature character plots with his little dog Max to steal everything he deems is a part of the Christmas world. He believes it is about things. He thinks it is about excess. He thinks it is about greed. As he plots his way to stealing the season from under the Whos, he drools with anticipation of the pain he is causing. Of course, we all know the story. Boris Karloff narrates this film in a way that perhaps no one else could.
2. Planes, Trains And Automobiles (Hughes, 1987)
This is the only film to make the list that is not a Christmas film or even has a Christmas setting. It takes place over the American Thanksgiving as John Candy and Steve Martin struggle to get home for the holidays. The reason this makes the list is that in America, once Thanksgiving is over, everything is geared towards Christmas. This is the catalyst into the holiday season. It’s a beautiful film where two men go on a journey of discovery. It will bring a lump to your throat at times as both men learn things about themselves and by the end of the film the cold-hearted, work-a-holic is a changed man. The final scene is the definition of cinema perfection as Martin finally gets to see his family as the snow falls and “Every time You Go Away” plays over the soundtrack.
1. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (Roemer/Nagashima, 1964)
The quintessential Christmas film. The North Pole, the abominable snowman, Yukon Cornellius, Hermey the elf who wants to be a dentist, it’s all here and it’ll get you in the mood. Maybe because this is one of the TV films that me and my family used to set our schedules around, this one just gets me in the mood for Christmas trees and wrapping presents. It also has Burl Ives narrating and some of his great songs are sung in the film, including Have a Holly Jolly Christmas. Everything about this film gets you in the mood for the season. There’s even a nice denouement as the fearsome giant snowman becomes a friend to Santa and his village. And of course Rudolph guiding Santa’s sleigh just brings a warmth and grace to the film. It’s a perfect film to get you in the spirit
Written & Compiled by Dan Grant
Your turn? What Christmas films get you into the festive spirit? Let us know…