Christmas seems to arrive earlier and earlier each year. The second the summer is officially over, our shops are full of cards, gifts and reminders that you only have 120 shopping days to go! Advent calendars, candles and other trinkets offer their own ways of counting down the last few days until Christmas.
I have my own special way, just for you – instead of eating your way through a chocolate calendar, view your way to the festive season with the Christmas Movie Advent. Not sure which film to watch, what’s a Christmas Cracker or a Festive Flop? Then use this handy guide and enjoy December!
*I’m more than aware of the vast selection of Christmas movies out there and I have missed some classics, they can’t all feature… not unless you double up and do two a day.
Now there’s an idea…
We begin our countdown early with a classic, not technically a Christmas movie but excellent to kick-start the festive season. The advent begins this year on Thanksgiving day, and what better way to celebrate this most auspicious of American occasions than joining Steve Martin and John Candy as they travel from New York to Chicago via any means possible.
Steve Martin and the late, great John Candy star in this touching travelogue. Desperate to get home in time for Thanksgiving, Neal Page (Martin) struggles against the tide of the holiday traffic and is beleaguered at every turn by travelling shower-curtain ring salesman, Del Griffith (Candy). Griffith is kind, caring and incredibly annoying, whereas Page is selfish, self-obsessed and irritable. The perfect combination! This is a comedy classic and is perfect to begin the countdown. With a heart-warming ending that will thaw even the frostiest of souls.
If you’re not quite feeling festive enough this early in December, then there is nothing better to start us off properly than a couple of kick-ass, full-on action movies to get you in the mood. Lieutenant McClane (Bruce Willis) has flown over to LA for Christmas to visit his wife who works in the Nakatomi Plaza. Before long, the Plaza is besieged by terrorists led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). McClane is the only cop in the building and, shoeless and scared, has to take on the killers and save the day, all before Christmas.
To complement the Christmas Action-fest that is Die Hard, we have another blood-filled, high-testosterone, gun-pumping festive treat. Sergeant Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) and Sergeant Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) team up to create one of movieland’s most iconic cop partnerships: straight-laced and professional Murtaugh has a new partner – the psychotic and deadly killer: Riggs. Together, they must uncover a colossal drug ring, rescue his daughter and completely rebuild his house. If you look carefully enough, there is a Christmas tree in the last act.
Crude, lewd and yet, somehow touching. Billy Bob Thornton stars as the baddest, drunkest, most disturbing Santa Claus around. He lurches from one job to another in search of the next bottle of scotch, or vodka, or gin… His pint-sized elf (Tony Cox) works with Santa in the nightmarish build up to Christmas until the 24th December when the pair rob two shopping malls blind. Santa and his elf move to another city, another store and countdown to Christmas. In the meantime, Santa bizarrely moves in with a young boy and his grandma where he is cruel and crude, yet, somehow, a relationship develops that challenges this anti-Santa and suddenly Christmas isn’t so bad anymore. Don’t watch it with your grandma!
Tim Allen stars as one of the jolliest incarnations of Santa Claus yet. He mistakenly dons the traditional red suit after a rooftop mishap killed the previous Mr Claus and due to a hidden ‘clause’ is now the next giver of gifts for a lifetime. All three of the films are great fun, Allen is a brilliant Santa and the films are daft enough to enjoy with the children. Martin Short appears as Jack Frost in the third installment to bring added danger to the Clause family. Watch one, two or all, try not to do it all in one sitting mind you.
December 5th – Arthur Christmas (2011)
A brilliant recent addition to the DVD advent. With an excellent cast: Jim Broadbent, Hugh Laurie, James McAvoy and Bill Nighy,second son of Santa: Arthur Christmas is a funny and clever take on the winter story. Arhur has to deliver a forgotten present to one poor child. Will he get it to her before the sun is up on Christmas Day?
December 6th – Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)
One of the lesser-known Christmas films to appear on this list but, nevertheless, one you should treat yourself to. Far, far away on the fourth planet, live the Martians; they are generally a happy bunch and look uncannily like humans with odd-shaped hats on. Alas, poor Girmar – a young Martian girl – is deeply troubled, she sits and watches earth TV and sees Santa delivering presents but not to them. Her father wants to appease his daughter and sets about bringing Santa to Mars. Santa and two human children end up on the red planet where one of the Martians seeks to stop this plan and end Santa for good. Low budget and quite odd but worth a viewing this early in the advent.
Martin Freeman stars in this new addition to the family favourites’ box as tired, grumpy and mean-spirited junior school teacher. Paul Maddens (Freeman) has, he believes, the worst class in the world: talentless, naughty and fed up of their teacher’s perpetual misery. Only one thing can make it better (worse), Maddens has the unfortunate job of putting on the class nativity and they have to compete against award-winning rivals: the High School. Throw in an infantile adult helper, a donkey, loads of great songs that will have youYoutubing them as soon as it finishes and you will have a heart-warming treat to get you in the mood for the festive season.
With a Cast to die for, this should be a Christmas classic, however, it is not nearly as good as it promises but, it still finds a place nestled in our movie advent. Vince Vaughan stars as Fred Claus, yes Santa’s disapproving little brother. Fred is not festive, is a gambler and has no interest in the family business. That is, until one day when he goes bust and is in desperate need of cash. Who can he call – that’s right, his brother. Enter the brilliant Paul Giamatti (Santa) who can turn even the most desperate of roles into something special. Will the brothers get along at the North Pole? Will Fred see the error of his ways? Will Santa pass his audit (yes, I know)? If nothing else, watch it for Elizabeth Banks and Rachel Weisz. Winner.
December 9th – Jingle All The Way (1996)
Schwarzenegger is not a name synonymous with comedy, especially Christmas comedy but he more than lives up to the role in this family funfest. The muscled Austrian plays harassed businessman, Howard Langston, too busy for his son, too overloaded with work to remember important events. All his son wants for Christmas is the highly sought after toy: Turbo Man. Howard obviously forgets and embarks on a manic mission to get the toy and earn back his son’s love. Arnie is brilliant in this festive gem and it should be an annual treat in anyone’s film stocking. One of my films of the year.
Tim Burton does Christmas. In his own twisted and dark way, Burton brings a slightly askew take on spreading the joy. Jack Skellington, (Chris Sarandon, Danny Elfman – singing) King of Halloweentown stumbles upon Christmastown and likes it. A lot. Jack kidnaps Santa and decides he’s going to do things his way. Great songs, amusing scenes and very memorable. It’s hard to let the festive season roll by without seeing Jack and his demonic friends trying to get down and jolly, their way.
Humphrey Bogart stars in a rare comedic role alongside the brilliant Peter Ustinov and the charming Aldo Ray. It is Christmas Eve, 1895 and three convicts have escaped Devil’s Island and are looking for somewhere to hold up until morning. They soon stumble upon the Ducotel family and their dilapidated store. Before long, these ruthless thieves and murderers realise how kind and caring the Ducotels are and they do everything in their power to show them a wonderful Christmas and to save them from their devious cousin – Felix Ducotel (Basil Rathbone). We’re No Angels is a wonderfully old-fashioned film with more than enough humour and warmth to keep you going through this cold and frosty month.
The old classics start rolling in now and this one is another gem. Dudley Moore stars as Patch, a budding entrepreneurial elf with aspirations of grandeur. He works hard in the North Pole with Santa (David Huddlestone) but soon leaves to further his ambitions. Patch meets up with the devious toy maker B.Z played expertly by John Lithgow and suddenly Patch’s skills and magic are caught up in a media frenzy. Nobody wants Santa anymore; they are caught up in B.Z’s twisted plans. Great fun and very festive.
Whether you watch George Seaton’s or Les Mayfield’s version, you are treated to the same story: a white-bearded stranger, Kris Kringle, turns up in town claiming that he is Santa Claus. Many people believe him to be mad and run several tests on him in an attempt to prove the old man insane. Only a young girl believes in Kris Kringle’s claims. Has Santa really appeared on 34th street? What a Christmas miracle.
The first of our Christmas Carol trilogy; this is one of the most adapted tales of all time and is one of the best known. The very name Scrooge is even used to describe a person’s miserly character and no-one has played the role better than Albert Finney. This is a fantastic version of A Christmas Carol, dark and foreboding, yet in places, cheery and comical. A definite addition to the advent and a must for fans of the archetypal miser.
Another remake of Ebenezer Scrooge’s life, this time told through Jim Henson’s masterful creations. Kermit stars as Bob Cratchit, whilst all the regulars turn up as ghosts and paupers. Statler and Waldorf appear as Jacob and Robert Marley and Miss Piggy plays Emily Cratchit. Gonzo narrates the tale expertly but it is Michael Caine as the villainous Scrooge that tops this film. A brilliant spin on a classic tale.
Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross, the meanest and harshest businessman around. Cross fires people at will, gives thoughtless and cheap gifts to family members and cares nothing for anyone. That is until, his old boss, Lew Hayward, appears as a ghost and informs him that he will ‘be visited by three ghosts…’ Scrooged is one of the more recent adaptations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and is a funny, touching and thoughtful view of this dark journey into a man’s soul.
Probably one of the funniest yet tender entries into our festive cracker. Will Ferrell plays Buddy – a young and innocent (some say stupid) elf… human born and raised as an elf. Buddy soon realises that he is too big and too clumsy for life at the North Pole and embarks upon a mission to New York to find his real father: Walter Hobbs (played brilliantly by James Caan). Buddy, despite his foolishness and naivety soon touches the hearts of everyone he meets, including the beautiful Zooey Deschanel and, of course, his father – Hobbs. A Christmas classic, miss this at your peril. The 12 second burp is reason enough to take this treat in.
Jim Carrey stars as the green nasty famed by Dr Seuss. Ludicrous, daft, completely American and incredibly festive. The Grinch despises Christmas and everything that surrounds it, including the inane village of Whoville where everyone and everything is obsessed with presents, tinsel and fairy lights. The Grinch decides to ruin Christmas once and for all and almost does! If it wasn’t for the love and devotion of one small girl, Cindy Lou Who: “Oh Mr Grinch, no-one should be alone at Christmas.” Funny, charming and quite tearful.
Join the Griswalds as they embark on another crazy adventure – this time, they’re not even leaving the family home. Clarkis desperate to have a traditional whole family Christmas with all the trimmings and will stop at nothing to give his loved ones what he thinks they deserve. This is the funniest film in this movie advent without a doubt and every year, Clark’s downhill ride on a turbo-greased sled is enough to have all the family in tears. Christmas gold!
Whether you watch Holiday Inn or White Christmas, you are treated to a song-and-danceathon. The two films have essentially a very similar story and Bing Crosby appears in both. White Christmas seems the more festive choice and in it Crosby and Kaye (Danny) swoon ladies and get into all sorts of romantic mix-ups whilst trying to save the Vermont Inn. A beautiful classic that you can sit and share with your granny. Throw in a piece of random trivia – that the song White Christmas was first sung in Holiday Inn and you’ll look even more impressive. Pass the Quality Streets.
Christmas simply cannot slip by without this tinselled treat appearing on our screens, and a good job too. Macaulay Culkin stars as spoilt brat, Kevin McCallister who by misfortune has been left home alone. At first, he loves the freedom to eat what he wants and to do what he likes but that is soon spoilt as two crooks attempt to break into his house and steal all the presents. This is now a classic and a must for the season. Culkin plays the annoying brat very well but it is Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as The Wet Bandits who steal the show. The sequel, set in New York, is not as clever but the final half hour is even more brutal and toe-curlingly funny.
December 22nd – The Polar Express (2004)
The Polar Express charters the journey of a young boy who has lost faith in Christmas completely. He boards a mysterious train with the encouragement of the conductor (Tom Hanks). The train is travelling to the North Pole, home of Santa Claus, and along the way, the boy soon discovers that magic and miracles are real. He discovers friendship, fun and faith. A beautifully made and enchanting tale that warms the soul delightfully.
A staple classic of Christmas, miss this one and Santa may not come down your chimney! James Stewart stars as George Bailey, husband and father and owner of a lovely home in Bedford Falls. This is not enough for George and he decides to end his life. A guardian angel, Clarence Odbody, (Henry Travers) takes George on a series of flashbacks through his life to show him just how important he is to his family, to his friends and to Bedford Falls. This is a beautiful story that I never tire of watching. Enjoy.
December 24th – The Snowman (1982) and The Snowman & The Snowdog (2012)
Everything about this beautiful animated short declares: Christmas is here. From the hauntingly wondrous soundtrack to the innocent-eyed boy who believed that his Christmas was one of true miracles. This is an absolute must for the festive season and perfect for Christmas eve. Just watching it back will conjure up childhood memories when Christmas was all about snow and presents, Santa and magic – utterly adorable. And, if you’ve the emotions to cope with more, there is the recently crafted Snowman & The Snowdog – equally wonderful and magical.
…And the Christmas Turkeys!
Of course there are always those films to avoid. I have saved you the time of wasting energy on these drab efforts – more disappointing than a ‘bangless’ cracker.
Jenny McCarthy ‘stars’ as Santa’s only daughter, Mary Class in this made-for-TV festive flop. Santa has suffered a near-fatal heart attack and his career-minded daughter takes over the family business. Her grand ideas of turning a gift-making grotto into a 21st century technological factory line ends in disaster, much like the film. The only thing worse than McCarthy’s acting are the special effects of Santa’s sleigh ride. Give it a go, however, if you want to see McCarthy squeezed into a Santa suit! Nice.
Deck the Halls (2006)
I have been told to remove this effort on the grounds that it is somewhat amusing – you can view it and decide whether it deserves a place on the list…
Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito go head-to-head in this painfully pitiful Christmas attempt. Buddy Hall (DeVito) has just moved into the neighbourhood opposite anally retentive self-titled king of Christmas Steve Finch (Broderick). It is Buddy’s ambition for his house to be so lit up with decorations and bulbs that it is visible from space. Cue the war of attrition between the neighbours. Despite being predictable and easy money for these Hollywood middleweights there are one or two laughs often at the expense of innocent bystanders. Sadly, these are not enough. Watch it and lose ninety minutes of your life. Forever.
Or… if you’d rather get gritty and gory, there’s always these classics:
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
The jolliness of the Tim Allen trilogy too much for you? Then get dirty and dark with this horrifying take on the guy in red. Our protagonist Billy suffers a terrible ordeal as an 8-year-old boy: he witnesses his parents get brutally murdered by a Santa Claus-suit-wearing thief. Billy obviously has to live in an orphanage and is further tormented by the overly cruel and sadistic mother superior (Lilyan Chauvin). All this is too much for Billy and, many years later, as a teenager all his angst and aggression bursts to the surface. He is forced to wear a Santa suit at the department store in which he works and his sanity snaps! Billy grabs an axe and descends into a blood-letting rampage. Merry Christmas; someone pass the choccies.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a good night.