‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

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‘Twas the night before Christmas, when in the failing light

I thought to myself: “What festive feature shall I partake in tonight?”

Yes, it’s a Christmas list, and yes, mine, like any sane person’s favourite Christmas film is IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Nothing else can really compete with Frank Capra’s iconic dark moral fantasy. Let’s get that out of the way from the off. Even so, here are a few other favourite viewing habits to mark Yuletide.

LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)

I know, it’s soppy, it’s sickly-sweet, it’s way too long and not all of the individual elements work. That said, for some reason at this time of year I can’t resist watching Richard Curtis’ ensemble rom-com again. The character arcs that work do so really well, and the performances are good across the board. The Alan Rickman/Emma Thompson marriage-on-the-rocks story is my favourite, striking me as very heartfelt and real, and Laura Linney’s character sacrificing any real romantic relationship for the sake of caring for her mentally ill brother always gets me. I even like the melodramatic, emotionally blackmailing soundtrack from Craig Armstrong. I get why it’s a little hard for some people to stomach, but if you can’t get overly sentimental at Christmas, then when can you?

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE (2005)

The first, and so far, only good instalment of the NARNIA film series manages to be different enough from its main fantasy film rivals, namely LORD OF THE RINGS and HARRY POTTER, in addition to being technically impressive and emotionally investing in its own right. Like C.S. Lewis’ books, it carries a fitting festive message about the importance of family, friendship and forgiveness, and thankfully doesn’t overdo the religious symbolism. Yes, it’s got Father Christmas giving out swords, and Aslan is a four-legged Jesus, but a colossal battle scene, beautiful production design and scene-stealing performances from the young Georgie Henley as the bright-eyed innocent Lucy and Tilda Swinton as a chilling White Witch make you not care.

EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)

The Tim Burton goth-favourite doesn’t all take place over the festive period, but the key emotional punches of the story do. His story of a typically Burton-y outcast – pale, thin, with scissors for hands – remains an affecting and imaginative hybrid of FRANKENSTEIN and PINOCCHIO, and the story builds from metaphor for teenage awkwardness to a really beautiful festive romance. Ice sculpture, an unconventional family, Vincent Price – what could be more festive?

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL (1992)

The most gleefully enjoyable film on this list, and bound to put you in festive cheer, Kermit and the gang, and a certain Mr Caine deliver a joyous romp that’s endearing and hilarious in addition to being a cracking musical and a pretty fine Dickens adaptation. All the key story elements are there, lovingly recreated in Muppet-vision, and with their usual brand of gentle, knowing humour. The highlight is Gonzo’s narration (as Charles Dickens) but Michael Caine also turns in a far stronger and more nuanced performance than you might expect in a family Christmas movie as Scrooge.

TOKYO GODFATHERS (2003)

TOKYO GODFATHERS is a bit of a hidden gem that more people really need to get into their lives. It’s a touching fable covering family, responsibility and the triumph of the human spirit, and one of the very few examples of a Japanese Christmas film. Satoshi Kon was a genius of animation, and this is a great entry point for the uninitiated, as it’s certainly his most accessible and outright enjoyable film. Give this story of hobos trying to return a baby to her mother a go, and I challenge you not to feel lifted, warm and tingly inside.

Note: I didn’t actually end up watching any of these films on Christmas Eve. I may have watched STARSHIP TROOPERS. SSP

About Sam Sewell-Peterson

I'm not paid to write about film - I do it because I love it. Favourites include Sam Mendes, Guillermo del Toro, Bong Joon-ho, Steven Spielberg, Danny Boyle, Spike Jonze, Rian Johnson and the Coen Brothers. All reviews and articles are original works owned by me. They represent one man's opinion, and I'm more than happy to engage in civilised debate if you disagree.
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