24 Days of Christmas Films: Day 15-Miracle on 34th Street

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The words genuine and heart-warming has been thrown around a lot this month in regards to some of the films on this list, but believe me when I say that this is the iconic film that first inspired those feelings.

Although the 1994 version will always hold a special place in my heart as I was obsessed with Mara Wilson after Matilda, it’s the 1947 version that I think truly embodies Christmas spirit.

Doris Walker (Maureen O’Hara) is an event planner for Macy’s Department Store and after finding that her hired Father Christmas is drunk, a man named Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) offers to take his place. He does so well that he ends up working as the store Santa but due to his continual insistence that he is the Father Christmas he ends up committed to a mental institution, and his only option is for the court to be convinced that his is the real deal once and for all. It sounds like a slightly depressing concept initially but the real joy in the film comes from Kris (spoiler alert) convincing everyone, in particular Doris’ sceptical young daughter Susan (Natalie Wood).

Watching both young children and adults fall under Kris Kringle’s spell and rediscover their belief in him is so uplifting and enjoyable to watch, and in the end I think that’s part of the success as I believe everyone would deep down still like to believe in Father Christmas. The performances are outstanding and the natural chemistry between the characters, especially between Susan and Kris Kringle is integral to the reason this film continues to inspire people over 50 years after its release.

“Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to.” It’s that optimism that runs throughout the film, and that’s why I had to include it on this list as I think that’s what people quintessentially love about Christmas, the idea that it feels like anything can happen, maybe even a miracle.

 

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24 Days of Christmas Films: Day 14- Arthur Christmas

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Another one of the more modern entries on this list but I couldn’t resist including it as I think it’s one of the smartest, most genuine Christmas films I’ve ever seen.

We’re introduced to Father Christmas (Hugh Bonneville) and his two sons Steve, the focused man on the ground in charge of running Christmas operations, and Arthur (James McAvoy) his good hearted but hopeless son who is in charge of the letter department. After a terrible mistake Arthur takes it upon himself to rectify it, and with his GrandSanta (Billy Nighy) and a wrapping elf named Bryony (Ashely Jensen) he sets off to ensure that no child will ever be without a gift on Christmas.

The thing I like most about this film is how it plays on the traditional Christmas myths such as making ‘Santa’ a title which is passed down, and the ingenious explanation as to how Father Christmas manages the incredible feat of delivering presents to all the children across the world in one night.

The recognisable voices add a sense of inherent likability to the characters, as although you might not be able to name the actor, you know the voice and relate to the character as a result. The family focus of the film and Arthur’s determination to deliver the forgotten present means it’s truly heartwarming to watch, but also manages to create genuine sentiment which is what makes it so enjoyable too. It’s such a witty and intelligent film that it makes it a perfect choice for both adults and children and is a sure fire way to keep everyone happy on Christmas day.

24 Days of Christmas:Day 13- Nativity

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It’s around this time every year that one of the most important parts of the run-up to Christmas takes place, and that is the Nativity.

For those of us in the UK it’s something we hold dear to our hearts, and usually with bittersweet memories of the terrible parts we got. Although kudos to you if you managed to bag the coveted Gabriel/Mary/Joseph roles, 6 year old me was quite put out being a narrator.

It’s a wonder that it took so long for someone to make a film about such a beloved right of passage, and as a result it’s no surprise that this is arguably one of the most successful Christmas films of recent years. We start with three friends at theatre school Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman),  his girlfriend Jennifer Love (Ashley Jensen) and their friend Gordon Shakespeare (Jason Watkins) as they’re about to perform a show. We then flick to a few years later and Paul and Jennifer have split up with her pursuing a career in Hollywood as a producer, whilst Gordon works for a prestigious school running their highly regarded Nativity every year. Paul works in a lesser performing school and by an act of misfortune is placed in charge of the Nativity this year,with the headmistress’s childish nephew Mr. Poppy (Marc Wootton) to help him. After hearing a chance encounter between Paul and Gordon, where Paul is goaded into bragging that a team of Hollywood producers are coming to see their show, Mr. Poppy spreads the exciting news until  the whole town knows. The only problem is that Paul was telling a big fat lie, and that he now has less that a month to contact and convince Hollywood bigwigs to come to see the show…

The success of the film is largely down to the stellar performances of the children who manage to be both incredibly cute and adorable without being sickly sweet, and give great overall performances. Of course the majority of the film is building up to the final performance and to see whether Hollywood does arrive, and boy is it worth the wait. The songs put ‘Away In A Manger’ to shame, and I defy anyone to not attempt to sing along so catchy are the songs, with ‘Nazarus’ and ‘Sparkle And Shine’ being my personal favourites.

Due to the subject matter and performances it’s truly a heartwarming film and the perfect choice for reigniting the nostalgia of childhood, and what you used to love about Christmas. It’s the perfect time to watch it to get you into the Christmassy mood, as even if you’re too old to have your own Nativity this is one you can enjoy again and again. Plus if you’re going to be brutally honest with yourself, you know your Nativity was never this good.

24 Days of Christmas Films: Day 12-A Charlie Brown Christmas

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This is an oldie but a goodie. While my sister and I never really watched the Peanut cartoons when we were little (I preferred the comics), my mother used to love them and it was a love she used to try to pass on by encouraging us to watch this every year.

With imaginative, relatable characters and iconic music it’s not surprising that A Charlie Brown Christmas is something that still manages to compel children, long after they’ve transitioned into adulthood. It’s surprising re-watching it as an adult how profound the message is behind this short film, as when I was little all I noticed was the Charlie Brown was sad about Christmas. But as an adult I realised that it’s actually the widespread of commercialism that’s got Charlie down, and is the cause as to why he throws himself into directing the Christmas play, although alas to no avail. As Charlie’s friends come together and we see Charlie realise that there is still more to Christmas than shopping and presents, it’s not just Charlie’s spirits who are raised. Whilst Linus’ recitation of Luke 2:8-14 highlights the simple intentions of what Christmas should really be about, peace and goodwill to all men.  Whether you’re religious or not it’ll have a different impact for you, but as someone who is the latter I love this reference as it brings me back to my childhood performing the Nativity, and the genuine joy and promise that Christmas would bring every year.

At its core that is what a Charlie Brown Christmas is all about, characters coming together in a touching and sentimental way to remind us what should be most important at Christmastime, and that is something that I think we sometimes need to be reminded of.

 

24 Days of Christmas Film: Day 11- Scrooged

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There have been over 20 film adaptations of Charles Dickens’ famous novella which would allow me to fill this list rating those alone. Unlike most popular subject matter that spawns countless adaptations, a majority of these adaptations are actually very deserving of a place on this list. So I gave it my absolute best to whittle them all down to the versions that I thought had the most to give, and with that we start with Scrooged.

It’s a kooky, kitsch version of the traditional tale with a dash of consumerism too as Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a selfish television executive whom on the premise of his live TV version of A Christmas Carol is visited by three ghosts of his own to teach him a lesson. But these aren’t like any Christmas ghosts you’ve seen before as Frank is visited by a manic taxi driver, a verging psychopathic fairy, and a version of death who’s genuinely still scares me at 23 years of age.

As a result the first two thirds of the film are incredibly funny, and due to great performances from the whole cast make the Ghost of Christmas Future’s predictions all the more heart-breaking. It says a lot about the quality of the film that it manages to deliver great, consistent comedy, but also has the emotional pull to make the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Future truly horrifying to the audience. In my opinion it’s often this believability of the character’s relationships that drives the success of any Christmas Carol adaptation, as without it it makes the celebratory ending feel flat and false, and most importantly a lot less festive!

Scrooged is essentially A Christmas Carol and you’re not going to get much more Christmassy than that, plus it has the bonus of being a genuinely fantastic film. It’s perfect for the family members who are sick of the typical Christmas films and fancy a great laugh. Plus did I mention Billy Murray’s in it?!

24 Days of Christmas Films: Day 10-The Night Before

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Gather round children there’s a tale to be told, of an orphan and his friends and holidays old. The boy was so sad his dear friends did think, I know what’ll fix it, a damn great big drink! From that Christmas Eve On, they’d have high-jinks and drink, un-til their friendship did near reach it’s brink.

As this film opens with a holiday rhyme I thought I’d give my hand to attempting one, so please bear with me. This is the most modern film on this list and I tell you know, is definitely one for fans of Seth Rogen’s stoner movies, and those who like their Christmas films with drugs, parties, the odd song and dance number and a lot of inappropriate humour.

We meet Joseph Gordon Levitt’s Ethan on Christmas Eve just after his parents have died and his friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Antony Mackie) decide to take him out to cheer him up, and so a Christmas tradition is born. But years later as Chris is a rising major league football star and Isaac is about to have his first child, they decide that this year is to be their final hurrah. As luck(or a Christmas miracle) would have it, Ethan finds three tickets to The Nutcracker Ball, a party they heard about that first Christmas Eve but is so exclusive they’ve been unable to track it down or get hold of an invite, until now.

It has an amazing cast for comedy fans from Ilana Glazer, Mindy Kaling, Michael Shannon, Lizzy Caplan, and of course in true Seth Rogen fashion, James Franco. I kind of can’t help but think of it as a millennials version of a Christmas film, but that shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing. It’s pretty funny and the three leading men have enough chemistry between them to convincingly carry the film, but it does lack the convincing sentiment and good-cheer of other classic Christmas films.

Overall the younger members of your family and your friends will enjoy the final party and the sometimes extremely random cameos (here’s looking at you Miley), but this is not one for the parents and extended family. It has it’s highs and lows, but overall I think it’s a great change from the typical Christmas film and one that’s well worth watching this holiday season.

 

24 Days of Christmas: Day 9- Bad Santa

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Warning: today’s choice is most definitely not one to watch with the family, not unless they are very liberal.

If you’re looking for a conventional film full of holiday cheer and good-will this is not the one for you. Whereas if you like your Santa with a touch of alcoholism and swearing then step this way!

My mother is a self confessed ‘Grinch’ at Christmas and as a result she loves this film. Billy Bob Thornton plays the aforementioned Bad Santa who with his partner in crime elf Marcus (Tony Cox), use their positions as an store Santa and his helper to rob a different department store every year. I won’t say anything else except there’s plenty of interesting characters including a barmaid with a Santa fetish, a child who’s a few chocolates short of a full advent calendar and a wise cracking security guard.

It’s a lewd, outrageous and weird film, but the reason behind the film’s success is that it’s just really bloody funny. The humour is darker than a lump of coal but it is endlessly quotable, and still manages to deliver on the Christmassy feels without any cheesiness.

It’s ideal for people like my mum who find the idea of any cheese or sentiment at Christmas intolerable, or for those who fancy something different than a typical Christmas film, or just a really good laugh.

24 Days of Christmas Films: Day 8- An ode to the Christmas Horror Film

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I knew I wanted a horror film on this list but when it came to what film to include I couldn’t decide as they all seemed as equally bad/good. So I thought why not dedicate a whole post to the massively underrated genre of Christmas horror films (insert heavy dose of sarcasm here).

In all seriously though I do genuinely love a horror film at Christmas as I don’t think there’s a better way to count your blessings than to see someone on screen literally have the worst Christmas ever. You might be unlucky such as in the case of Krampus and your family is being hunted by a horned demon from folklore and his evil elves,  or maybe your new pet has spawned evil lizard skinned creatures such as in Gremlins, or maybe it’s just that your sorority house has just been revisted by the cannibalistic son who used to live there as in Black Christmas. Either way as an audience member you’ll realise you have a lot of blessings to count.

You certainly won’t find the smartest or scariest horror films in this genre but they’re the perfect guilty pleasure films, and sometimes the source of a good laugh considering how laughably bad some of them are.

Not to mention that there’s a film for someone on either end of the horror film fan scale, from Gremlins which definitely errs on the black comedy side of things, to the original Black Christmas which provides jump scares whilst the remake is a full on slasher flick. Other highlights (or lowlights depending on your preference), include Jack Frost where a serial killer comes back as a killer snowman, Silent Night Zombie Night (pretty self explanatory there), or one of the many evil Santa films, you’ll find the perfect film for every type of horror fan.

After today we’ll be returning to the typical Christmas genre films but I just thought I’d include a few suggestions for someone looking for something a little different this Christmas time (and maybe a little scare). Please, please, please let me know if you’ve seen any of these films, or whether you have a personal favourite horror film as I’d love to know if there’s any other hidden gems out there!

 

 

 

24 Days of Christmas Films: Day 6-A Christmas Story

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This is often quoted as a lot of people’s favourite Christmas film and it’s easy to understand as it’s packed with Christmassy nostalgia .

It certainly lacks the extravagance of Christmas that we’re used to seeing in more modern Christmas films, but that’s part of the charm as we’re reminded of the joy that can be gleamed simply with a child receiving their dream gift on Christmas morning. Every person watching can relate to the plight of 9 year old Ralphie and his attempts to persuade his parents that the one gift they are adamant he can’t have, is the one that he wants more that any other. I mean in my case it was an Amazing Aly (prime example of only 90s kids will know) but the pain is still the same.

Another factor working in its favour is that it’s a genuinely funny film, with moments such as when Ralphie is forced to literally clean his mouth out with soap after swearing and takes the moment to reflect on the differences between the types of soaps he’s been forced to taste. Plus who can forget the iconic bunny onesie scene?! Ultimately it’s the realistic script and natural chemistry between the actors that has made this film one for the ages, as every person watching will be able to recount similar experiences from their childhood, as we watch Ralphie tackle un-sympathetic teaches, nagging parents and the brutal battle zone that is the playground.

There’s a certain innocence in the portrayal of Christmas in this film where children would gather around the radio as opposed to the product placement heavy children TV shows of today. Not to mention that buying a 9 year old a BB gun nowadays whilst not only probably being illegal, would stir up a whole host of media debate. I know I sound like the stereotypical grandparent insisting that everything was better in the ‘good ol’days’ but in the case of this film that is what makes it such a success. Plus if there was ever a time for some good old nostalgia then it’s at Christmas time.

24 Days of Christmas: Day 5-Jingle All The Way

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I really had to resist just writing “Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Christmas film” as today’s blog post, because frankly if that doesn’t sell it to you I don’t know what will.

The main main himself plays a workaholic father who fails to buy his son the one gift he wants, which also happens to be the must have gift of the season. Calamity ensues as he sets off on Christmas Eve to track down the sold out action figure for his son and takes on desperate parents, con-men and the police.

You’re certainly not going to find world class acting or script writing in this film, but it’s pure farcical comedy at its best, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is great as always (although I’ll admit I am biased as he could say boo and I’d laugh). It’s easy going fun for the whole family and any parent watching will empathise with his plight of trying to track down the must have Christmas present for their child. It’s very heavily set at Christmas so there’s plenty of holiday backdrops to get you feeling festive, and if that doesn’t work the classic Christmas soundtrack definitely will.

All in all the film is certainly not life changing but it’s very funny and the perfect type of film to put on when people are tired and fancy something enjoyable that you don’t really need to pay attention to. My family and I watch it every year and the over the top explosive ending still makes me laugh, and I think that the fact that we keep coming back to it year after year and enjoying it is the sign of a truly great Christmas film.

As always let me know if you guys have seen this film and what you thought of it, I know it can be pretty divisive in my friendship group depending on who’s an Arnie fan! I’d love to know what you guys have thought of my choices so far and what you’re hoping will be next!