What would Christmas be without a marathon of festive films? Whether you prefer to revisit cult classics, or to discover something new in the Christmas genre, here are our suggestions for what you should watch in this year’s festive period.
Elf – Georgina Davidson
Love it or hate it, this film has become a staple in the watching spree of many film fanatics. Set in a wintery, tinsel trimmed New York City, this Jon Favreau classic screams holiday season. It offers bright, candy cane colours, extravagant commercial styling, and a mixture of comedy for all ages.
A happy go-lucky, affable Will Ferrell as Buddy, means that Elf (2003) has long been a hit with parents and children alike. American culture and family values are called into questions amongst a giddy soundtrack, bright lights and spirited performances. Ferrell’s performance is unchallenged as ever by the rest of the cast. But who could deny the hilarity of the yellow stocking tights and the laugh a minute quality he brings?
A firm favourite, and a great chance to see a few famous faces cut their teeth on a classic story and setting.
Gremlins – James McCafferty
As a rare example of a Christmas family horror film, Gremlins is a unique holiday viewing. The titular characters bring a chaotic atmosphere that is undeniably brilliant. The film is full of reflections and parodies of the Christmas film genre. With a small town setting and typically unlikeable antagonist, it sets you up to think you’re watching a traditional holiday film. Only to then unleash the anarchic gremlins on the entire town. In their hedonist and consumerist antics, these loveably evil little creatures are a little closer to the average holiday shopper than we might like to think.
It’s a Wonderful Life – Michal Wasilewski
An undeniable Christmas classic, Frank Capra’s 1947 effort is one of the most uplifting films in cinema history. It has even been ranked number one on American Film Institute’s list of most inspirational movies of all time, and I can’t disagree with this call.
It’s a Wonderful Life shows how unaware we might be of the impact we have on our surroundings. It also shows how important we are for people close to us, just by being there for them. It shows the lowest of lows transform back into happiness. I’m sure it can help everyone feel a bit more valued and appreciated. Although we won’t get our guardian angel to show us the beauty of life directly, Capra’s heart-warming masterpiece might be at least its imitation. It provides a bit of Christmas magic we all need this festive period.
Klaus – Ross McFadden
Perhaps unexpectedly, this 2019 Netflix release already has the makings of a modern Christmas classic. No one on earth was asking for a Santa Claus origin story, yet Sergio Pablos Animation Studios’s work easily exceeds expectations. Heartwarming and visually stunning, Klaus is a story about how a postman’s unlikely partnership with a reclusive woodcutter accidentally created a modern legend. JK Simmons brings particular depth to the titular character. His evolution into Santa is immensely satisfying, and leads to a climax with surprisingly genuine emotion.
For the film, a team developed specific software to render more realistic lighting and shadows. The end result looks like an incredible blend of 2D and 3D. I really hope to see more of this innovative new technique in the future.
Klaus’s simple yet charming execution truly make it a perfect relaxed choice to watch with your family this Christmas.
Krampus – Tom Kuson
Most Christmas films are awful, and horror-comedy is famous for being difficult to execute well. So it is of note that this 2015 horror-comedy isn’t awful, and is in fact quite fun. Counter to the typical Hollywood festive cheer, the film starts with (generally more relatable) family dysfunction causing a boy to disavow the Christmas spirit. This invites Krampus, the evil shadow of Saint Nicolas. Certainly not a perfect film, although if you’re looking for something new to watch this Christmas you probably won’t have a bad time with Krampus.
Note: extraneous recommendation for fans of impressive puppeteering!
Rankin/Bass Christmas Specials – Editor-in-Chief, Anja Samy
It takes a special kind of film to bridge the gap between heart-warming and horrifying. The Rankin/Bass stop-motion Christmas Specials somehow manage it. With its iconic larger-than-life design, clunky movements and uncanny facial expressions, the ‘animagic’ of the movies is certainly bewitching.
While those who grew up in the UK may not have experienced the bizarre joys of these movies, they remain a festive staple across the pond. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the first Christmas creation from Rankin and Bass, came out over 60 years ago. Since then, the timeless kitschy aesthetic has had a huge impact on Christmas imagery. The creators of Elf, for example, made no attempts to hide their love of the Rankin/Bass animation style. They borrowed almost directly from it, to the point that the opening scenes could almost be canon.
Aside from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, I recommend The Year Without a Santa Claus and Rudolph’s Shiny New Year. Both are highly original festive tales, which include some truly out-of-this-world character designs and catchy tunes that you won’t be able to stop humming, and the kind of completely nonsensical plots that only a vintage children’s movie can get away with. While children seem to love these films and completely overlook the strangeness, my advice to any adult intending to watch these for the first time this month is to have several glasses of eggnog, and then throw any common sense out the window.