Favourite Christmas Movies

Love Actually (2003, Dir. Richard Curtis)

Love Actually Christmas movies
It's not perfect, noFar from it. And if ever the phrase 'guilty pleasure' had to be used it would be in relation to this film. But you'd have to be a total cynic not to find the dozens of interweaving stories of these lovable characters heartwarming. It's one of those films that 'tough guys' pretend that they hate but secretly they find it quite lovely. As an admirer of other Richard Curtis related pictures like Bridget Jones and Four Weddings and A Funeral it's nice to see the cast of such pictures all together in one film - it makes you proud of all the talented comic and dramatic actors that Britain has produced.

It looks at love in all forms, from a child's first crush to the affection that a sister holds for her ill brother - all in the few weeks leading up to Christmas. It notable that despite the huge range of characters on show, you still grow to recognise each and every one, and this could have easily gone wrong in the hands of another director, resulting in a picture with a host of forgettable people. There are lots of different romantic set pieces, some of them are cliche'd and slightly corny, but most are hilarious or moving and achieve their aim of just making you feel all warm and fuzzy. The various stories all lead towards the Christmas eve finale which culminates in a montage where 'God Only Knows' by the Beach Boys plays over footage of loved ones greeting each other at Heathrow airport and it's totally cute. Love Actually gets alot of criticism but it's not difficult to see why it's become a loved Christmas staple on TV - Richard Curtis has such an affinity for love stories and makes sure that every one he makes is charming and memorable. 

Bill Nighy's performance is definitely one of the highlights, who practically steals the whole film (although everyone is good) as a washed up rockstar who's trying to get a Christmas no. 1 with his crap cover of Love Is All Around. His antics help to offer a contrast with the more mawkish moments and every time he appears on screen it's a treat. Other cast members include names such as Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Kiera Knightley, Alan Rickman, Martin Freeman, Liam Neeson, and Rowan Atkinson just to name a few!

It's A Wonderful Life (1946, Dir. Frank Capra) 

Well, obviously. 

A Christmas movie list without this film isn't a Christmas movie list at all. It also had a special place in the heart of its lead star - James Stewart said it was his own favourite pictures and it was the first picture he made after coming back from military service in WWII. Much to his disappointment, neither commercially or critically was it much of a success, but a few decades later the copyright expired which gave hundreds of TV channels the ability to show it when they wanted. Other interesting trivia includes the tit bit that it was actually filmed during an intense heatwave - when Stewart is praying on the bridge he's not sweating because of his amazing acting skills (although that's what you'd assume), it's because it was 90 degrees fahrenheit! 

It's massive rise in popularity means that, despite much of it being set in other times of the year, is rightly labelled as the quintessential Christmas film. James Stewart plays a man called George Bailey, who dreams of leaving his hometown of Bedford Falls to explore the world - but through circumstance and his own kindness is never able to fulfil this dream. On Christmas evening he is saved from committing suicide by his guardian angel, who shows George how many lives in the town he has touched in his life. What follows is one of the most uplifting scenes in any movie, when George runs through Bedford Falls counting his blessings and running to his wife and kids. If you manage to get through your first viewing without crying at least a little bit, them I'm sorry but you're probably not human. 

Although it's known for being an uplifting film, there is more than enough sadness to George's journey - like with Vertigo which also flopped upon release it was a film that showed Stewart as something other than an 'aw shucks' good guy. His breakdown at the end where he crashes his car and shouts at his children may have been something that was unexpected for audiences at the time because they were used to his other persona. It's A Wonderful Life marks the point in his career where he would start to work regularly with Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann - which bought with it much more darker roles that cemented him as one of the most loved actors of all time. 

The Shop Around The Corner (1940, Dir. Ernst Lubitsch) 

Think of James Stewart + Christmas and nine times out of ten you'll picture him running through the streets of Bedford Falls in It's A Wonderful Life. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but The Shop Around The Corner really deserves to be spoken in just as high esteem as its more famous counterpart.  Ernst Lubisch claimed this the best picture he ever made in his life and it's most likely James Stewarts most underrated film. Him and Margaret Sullivan play Alfred Kralik & Klara Novak, two people employed in a Budapest shop who are constantly one another's throats at work, but what they don't realise is that they've fallen for one another in the letters they've been exchanging as pen pals. If the plot seems familiar that's because it was remade in 1998 with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for You've Got Mail. 

Although they hate each other in real life and take to arguing over things as trivial as cigarette boxes, the two of them are convinced that they've found the absolute perfect other half in their correspondence - which helps to set up some funny moments, especially when Kralik first goes to meet this supposed woman of dreams with his colleague and friend Pirovitch (Felix Bressart). He makes Pirovitch take a peek through the cafe window to describe what the woman looks like, only to get this response: "well if you don't Miss Novak then you're not going to like that girl.... because it is Miss Novak". This being a classical Hollywood romance, their initial contemptuous relationship of course slowly builds to affection, which leads up to the touching finale on a busy Christmas eve in the shop.

The supporting cast is great too and their various sub plots are sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking. The ambitious and confident young errand boy Pepi (William Tracy) is definitely responsible for most of the laughs in the picture whilst the manager Mr Matuschek (Frank Morgan), who is a strict but also friendly man goes through an extremely sad ordeal that helps to transform him by the end of the picture.

The film largely takes place in the charming little shop and it perfectly captures a time before internet shopping became the norm - when people relied on their local establishment to make sure they had all their Christmas presents. Hopefully it will, one day become as well known as It's A Wonderful Life, which is what I try to make true every single Christmas by banging on about it.

The Office Christmas Specials (2003, Dir. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant)

The Office Christmas Special So this isn't a motion picture, but for me it's as much of a tradition to watch it at Christmas as the above films are, plus it runs at about 2 hours so it still counts. After suffering through two excruciatingly cringy seasons that saw David Brent (Ricky Gervais) head-butt a woman, boast about his Sergio Georgini Jacket and unexpectedly find a dildo in his office before being made redundant and reduced to tears - this two part special returned to the offices to see how the staff were getting on a few years after his departure. Tim (Martin Freeman), the most relatable character of the series is still annoying Gareth (Mackenzie Crook), still hating his job and still in love with Dawn (Lucy Davis) - who has given up on her dreams of becoming an illustrator because her boyfriend Lee insists that she pursues something more practical to help them get by in their new life in America. Brent's reached rock-bottom and using his five minutes of fame from the documentary to partake in dehumanising corporate gigs in grim pubs and function rooms around the country (that is, when he's not singing or selling tampons and cleaning products in his day job as a door to door salesman). 

The Christmas setting is important here because it sets up the different scenarios that leads to a simply perfect ending. Brent, who regularly visits his old workplace to 'keep up morale' is allowed to attend the Christmas party being held in the office with a plus one - so begins his search for a date with the help of Gareth of all people, who helps him to write his dating site profile. As expected, the different meet ups largely end with the viewer wincing at Brent embarrassing himself more and more - especially when he brings up the topic of cave men (something Karl Pilkington found amusing and confusing in equal measure) to one poor woman. Back at Wernham Hogg the staff are taking part in a secret Santa, which helps Tim to finally show Dawn how much he cares about her when he gets a thoughtful painting kit that with the words 'never give up' written on a picture that she drew of him. Their relationship had been building up for 13 episodes and the documentary format is great because when Dawn returns to the party to see Tim you're left to pick her out in the background - it culminates in one of the all time memorable screen kisses on TV. 

The word that best summarises the two episodes (the last one in particular) is 'satisfying', particularly when David finally grows up and tells Chris Finch to fuck off after he's insulted Brent's date (a woman who seems to genuinely like his company). 'Finchy', a man who is for some reason idolised by David is literally one of the most horrible characters in TV, but that helps to offer a contrast between an despicable person vs a sympathetic person like Brent who's worthy of our empathy - he may be the boss from hell but it's pretty clear that he's actually a good guy that's just trying too hard to be popular. Standing up for the woman he's just met basically redeems him for all the stupid things he's done in a split second, and to top it all off Brent finally makes all of his former employees laugh as they pose for a photograph at the end of the Christmas party, which is what he always wanted to do. 

Gervais and Merchant have both mentioned several times in the past about how they were influenced by Billy Wilder's The Apartment (which, along with When Harry Met Sally is great to watch on New Years Eve if you're having a quiet night and want to watch something other than Jools Holland Hootenanny for once). It's noticeable in both The Office and Extras in the way that all three of them are the perfect combination of comedy and melancholy. Jack Lemmon (on his Inside The Actors Studio interview) himself stated that he found comedy much harder to act in and write for than drama, but what was more difficult than the either of them was trying to 'write a drama with comedy - which is what life is'. This may be why The Office is so memorable, it captures the daily grind of work - the highs and lows are so accurately depicted that everyone who watches it will be able to recognise aspects that resonate with their own lives.

Another Christmas favourite is The Snowman - I used to watch this all the time on VHS and here it is uploaded to Youtube - and yes that's Bowie introducing it.