1. About a Boy (2002)
Whereas a recent re-watching of High Fidelity (2000) sadly didn’t stand up to that second looksee, I’ve seen About a Boy quite a few times, and again recently as part of my research. It stands up. Independently wealthy, layabout bachelor, Will (Hugh Grant), is befriended by preteen Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Sweet and funny, with a great soundtrack if you go for broody British tracks. A favourite with a couple of lovely Christmas scenes.
2. The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) is the venomous titular character who has a Christmstime doorstep slip and fall, and who is thus compelled to spend the season with the Stanleys. Sheridan is a hilariously wretched houseguest, hurling out a barrage of catty lines like “Shut your nasty little face” and “my headache is gone with the wind.” Bette Davis and Billie Burke – best known as Glinda the good witch – also make appearances.
4. A Child’s Christmas in Wales (1987)
A live action presentation of Dylan Thomas’s poem of the same title. Beautiful prose read by Denholm Elliot, who plays grandpa Geraint, nostalgically reflecting on the Christmases of his childhood.
I can’t offer you a trailer, but the full version is (currently) available on YouTube.
5. 12 Gifts of Christmas (2015)
With so many offerings from the Christmas film factories, this one is a surprisingly good one. Anna (Katrina Law), a struggling artist who has Christmas spirit in spades. She becomes a personal shopper and teaches her only client, Marc (Aaron O’Connell) – a curmudgeonly workaholic advertising executive – the true meaning of Christmas. Love – and cliché – abound.
6. The Holiday (2006)
With so many Christmas films giving former soap stars employment, it’s a rarity to see one utilising stars at the top of their game. Workaholic Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and unlucky-in-love Iris (Kate Winslet) swap houses for Christmas. Romance ensues. The Holiday stands up as a decent romance – even outside of my Christmas recommendations – and Iris a lovely fleshed-out example of that great line from The National’s Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks: “All the very best of us string ourselves up for love”.
Eli Wallach is a gem as Arthur and Jack Black who I have a love (School of Rock) and hate (Shallow Hal) relationship with is quite great in this. (Incidentally, the same storyline plays out in the substantially less good Finding Christmas (2013), just in case you find yourself a sucker for holiday house-swap hijinks).
7. A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)
In 2016 it’s all taken a bit for granted that Christmas can conjure mixed feelings of melancholy and ambivalence about all the commercialism. Some 50 years ago however, Charlie Brown was dwelling on these very same issues. Lovely, and perfectly enjoyable even if you had no prior relationship with these characters – I certainly didn’t. And only 25 minutes long it’s perfect if you’re more comfortable with smaller doses of spirit.
No trailer but you can watch it in full on YouTube.
8. The Family Stone (2005)
The idea of a “last Christmas” is done quite a bit in film so The Family Stone isn’t breaking any new ground. But it’s got some lovely – if at times over-the-top – performances, with the Stone children all back home for Christmas with Mom (Diane Keaton, overacting – and charming – as usual) and Dad (Craig T. Nelson).
Be prepared to keep the tissue box clutched to your bosom.
9. Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
A magazine writer’s lies are exposed when the perfect provincial life she writes about – and claims as autobiographically – has to be hastily materialised when she is asked by her boss to host a war hero for Christmas. A Christmas screwball comedy with a nicely subversive ending. The film was also my introduction to Barbara Stanwyck who I’ve developed a fondness for.
(Rumour has it that there’s a 1992 remake directed by Arnie. Tracking down a copy so far has proven fruitless).
10. A Wonderful Christmas Time (2014)
With Porthcawl, Wales as the backdrop, this is lovely indie film about two people licking their respective wounds after break-ups and taking a sweetly meandering time over Christmas to find their way to each other. Complete with a great indie-pop-folk soundtrack.
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