24 December 2013

Christmas Movies

Here are ten films we'll be watching in this house over the month of December. They're in alphabetical order... until you get to my favourite "Christmas" movie.


How does Santa get all those presents to all the kids in the world in one night? According to this CGI animated film from Aardman, it's mostly down to Santa's thousand-reindeer-powered sleigh-shaped ultra-high-tech spaceship. He is also aided by an incredibly efficient team of elves, equipped with more camouflage and covert-ops gear than you'd find in most military films.

The role of "Santa" is also hereditary. The current Santa (Jim Broadbent) is nearing retirement, and getting ready to inherit the suit is son Steve (Hugh Laurie), who as Operations Chief is in charge of keeping all the missions running smoothly. There's also younger son Arthur (James McAvoy), who at the beginning of the film is stuck in the Letters department, answering letters children send to the North Pole.

When one child's present is accidentally missed, it's up to Arthur and GrandSanta (Bill Nighy) to try and save the day.

DIE HARD 2 (1990)

It's Christmas Eve, and everyone's snowed in at Dulles Airport when ex-military types hijack control of the skies. Good thing John McClane is there to meet Holly on the plane, eh?

I don't feel the bad guys are quite up to the standard of those in instalments 1 and 3 of the series, but it certainly goes for the "Die Harder" aspect, with even more fights and explosions than the original. It is amusing how McClane almost seems to realise that he's in a sequel... "Another basement, another elevator... how can the same s#!+ happen to the same guy twice?"

ELF (2003)

I hadn't seen this movie till a few years after its release. I was introduced to it by my (now) wife and her family, and it's been a welcome addition to holiday viewing fare.

Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a North Pole elf who is shocked to discover that he isn't actually an elf, but an adopted human. Learning that his real dad (James Caan) is on Santa's "Naughty List", he heads to New York City in order to help spread some Christmas cheer.

Not every joke hits the mark, but the movie, directed by Jon Favreau ("Zathura", "Iron Man"), is for the most part funny and charming. Also, Buddy is one of Will Ferrell's more likeable comedy characters.


Amanda (Cameron Diaz) is a marketing executive who makes movie trailers in Hollywood. Iris (Kate Winslet) is a journalist in London. Each experience guy troubles right before Christmas, and are keen for an escape. Via a "holiday exchange" website, they swap homes in each other's countries.

As you might guess from the poster/DVD cover art featured above, they each meet a local guy. Amanda meets Iris's brother Graham (Jude Law), and Iris meets Miles (Jack Black), a composer who works with Amanda. The great supporting cast includes Eli Wallach (you may know him, as I do, as Tuco from "The Good, The Bad & The Ugly") as an old screenwriter from Hollywood's Golden Age.

As a romantic comedy, certain outcomes are of course predictable. But getting there is an enjoyable journey, thanks to good dialogue, (mostly) realistic characters, and helped along by Hans Zimmer's score.


A fictionalised account of the Christmas Truce of 1914, during the trench warfare of the First World War. On the night of Christmas Eve, during a temporary ceasefire, troops from the German, French and Scottish armies manage to find some common ground with carols, stories, and football. Of course, when higher-ranking officials find out about such fraternisation, all will not be well. After all, there's a war on!

A highly-recommended film, which shows the best and worst sides of national rivalries. It benefits greatly from its international cast, avoiding the usual Americans-as-Brits and Brits-as-Germans you sometimes see in such war films.


This is the story of several relationships (some more romantic than others), woven together by writer-director Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral), featuring an ensemble cast of some of Britain (and Ireland)'s finest. Bill Nighy is in his element as aging rock star Billy Mack, attempting to make some cash with an incredibly cheesy Christmas-ised cover of "Love Is All Around". Liam Neeson is good as recently widowed Daniel, trying to deal with now being a single parent to his stepson Sam. Sappy as it is, my favourite plot-line is the one with author Jamie (Colin Firth).

Also amusing on our most recent re-watching was Alan Rickman complaining about company Christmas parties. His first feature film role involved crashing one.

It's funny, it's cleverly done, and we've since seen a number of similar attempts at the massive-intertwined-cast-romantic-comedy thing from Hollywood - "Valentine's Day" etc.


An incredibly faithful adaptation of Charles Dickens' classic story, which just happens to feature all-singing, all-dancing puppets, with seams and wires showing. The Muppets fill major and minor roles from the book, while retaining most of their Muppet personalities - dialogue aside, Kermit is still clearly Kermit The Frog. The star is well and truly Michael Caine's outstanding performance as Ebenezer Scrooge. I also enjoy the Fourth-Wall-breaking absurdity of Gonzo (who appears as narrator Charles Dickens) and Rizzo, who provide exposition as well as commentary on onscreen events.

Released by Disney, it's a far cry from a typical "Disneyfied" musical aimed at a younger audience. There's music and colour, sure, but there's just as much darkness and misery in this version of Dickensian London. It's brilliant.

(Currently watching this one.)


A realistic portrayal of the Christmas story from the Bible, recounting the lives of Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Joseph (Oscar Isaac) leading up to their journey towards Bethlehem. Filmed on location in Morocco and Italy, the scenery and costumes really help the actors to bring the 1st-Century setting to life. Ciaran Hinds (fresh from playing Julius Caesar in HBO's "Rome") seems to enjoy playing the role of Herod.

It's a refreshing change from the usual result when film-makers (Christian or otherwise) attempt such an adaptation, and try to keep it "family-friendly". (You know the kind of film I mean.)


A Finnish horror movie (expanded from some short films) that rests on an interesting premise. What if the "real" Santa Claus was a horrible monster who didn't bring presents to "Nice" children, but some kind of evil monster intent on punishing the "Naughty"? This question is answered when an archaeological/mining operation on the Finnish/Russian border uncovers something secret buried deep under a mountain.

Young Pietari and his reindeer-hunter dad get drawn into the mystery when other local children begin mysteriously disappearing. Onni Tommila's performance as Pietari is quite believable, and not just your standard "why won't the adults believe me" role.

In no way a typical Christmas movie, but certainly an interesting twist on Santa. (And on the real story behind all those shopping-centre Santas.)

And then the closest thing we have to a "traditional Christmas movie", in the sense that we watch it every single year...

DIE HARD (1988)

Probably the worst company Christmas party ever to grace the big screen, the Nakatomi Corporation's shindig has the bad luck to be interrupted by European terrorists of dubious motive. Good thing New York cop John McClane is there in the hopes of reconciling with wife Holly!

Not the most "Christmassy" of films on this list, but it still has to make an appearance every December in this house.

After all, it does feature:

  • "Ho ho ho - now I have a machine gun".
  • Christmas wrapping tape used to strap a gun to McClane's back
  • Al singing "Let it snow"

Merry Christmas, and happy movie watching!

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