Watching festive films is now as synonymous with the holiday season as listening to Christmas songs while wrapping presents and enjoying a glass or two of Bucks Fizz.
What constitutes a Christmas film is a hot topic. “A Christmas movie is like a Christmas song – you don’t want to listen to it except at Christmas,” suggests Letterboxd co-founder Karl von Randow. By this logic Frozen (2013) is out while horror-comedy Krampus (2015) is firmly in.
Christmas films come in all shapes and sizes, and more and more are released each year. Perennial favourites that regularly feature on top 10 lists include Elf (2003), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
For my Christmas viewing this year, while I did rewatch a handful of favourites, I decided to focus on films that I hadn’t watched before in the hopes of potentially finding a new favourite to watch year after year.
- Holiday Affair (1949) – I had a lot of fun with this sweet Christmas film starring Janet Leigh as a widow with a young son (played by a delightful Gordon Gebert) being wooed by two very different men. It’s a Christmas film through and through and utterly charming. ★★★★
- Krampus (2015) – I wasn’t sure what to expect of Krampus, as horror isn’t usually the genre I associate Christmas films with, but I had a lot of fun with this. Comedy and horror is perfectly balanced and it is quite the accurate observation, revelling in family disputes that can so often come to a head during the festive period. ★★★★
- Click & Collect (2018) – At just one hour this is very fun, and while on the whole it is predictable, there are some scenes that will surprise you. ★★★★
- Tokyo Godfathers (2003) – In sharp contrast to the Studio Ghibli films that I have been watching this year, Satoshi Kon swaps whimsy and folklore for gritty realism, homophobic slurs and gangland encounters. It’s an interesting story and packs a lot into its 88 minutes. ★★★½
- Single All the Way (2021) – This is a delightful film, and leads Michael Urie (Peter) and Philemon Chambers (Nick) are well cast. It’s formulaic but still feel-good and fun, and an LGBTQ+ Christmas film is very welcome. ★★★½
- Love Hard (2021) – While this is very predictable, it does have some witty moments and a fun dynamic between Nina Dobrev and Jimmy O Yang. ★★★
- Call Me Claus (2001) – The casting (Whoopi Goldberg and Nigel Hawthorne – plus Taylor Negron) is spot on, but it lacks magic. It could have been a lot more on a bigger budget. ★★★
- The Santa Clause (1994) – This is a Nineties film through and through, which is no bad thing. However, it doesn’t have as much charm as contemporaries such as Jingle All the Way. Tim Allen is still a lot of fun, though. ★★★
- The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) – Whimsical fun, and heavily inspired by Alice in Wonderland. Keira Knightley’s voice is rather grating, but when Helen Mirren comes on screen all is forgiven. ★★★
- A Castle for Christmas (2021) – This is very predictable, but it’s nice to see middle-aged love for a change rather than another pair of 20-somethings. ★★½
- Grumpy Christmas (Una Navidad no tan padre, 2021) – Grumpy Christmas provides a fun glimpse into a Mexican Christmas, but it feels very budget and the padre that the film focuses on is quite uncharismatic. ★★½
- Last Christmas (2019) – There is a fair amount to enjoy with Last Christmas, but there’s also quite a lot that doesn’t land well. Henry Golding makes a joyful, attractive supporting actor, and the story is one of hope and great personal growth. However, Emilia Clarke’s lead is just not likeable, even after all the personal growth. ★★½
- Office Christmas Party (2016) – There are several laugh-out-loud moments, but on the whole I found it a tad obnoxious and OTT. But hey, perhaps that’s because none of my work parties have been like this! ★★
- Father Christmas Is Back (2021) – Everyone was miscast in this. Even the children. It is predictable, overtly sexual in places, lacks character depth, and comes across as very cheap. ★½
I had a lot of fun with my two highest rated films – Holiday Affair and Krampus – for very different reasons. Holiday Affair has the love and charm that makes an archetypal Christmas film while Krampus offers a reprieve from the saccharine and is a witty take on the bleaker side of Christmas. I think both films could be added to the festive roster.