Christmas Movie Gift Guide
Yes, it’s true: Christmas is coming! In fact it will be here before you know it – and if you’re anything like the rest of us, there are still one or two (or three or four) family members you haven’t picked out gifts for.
Not only that, but there will be long evenings with the relatives in the offing. Charades is all very well, but chances are you are going to need some professional audio-visual stimulation to get you through the holiday period with body and soul intact.
Which is where we come in. Movies: we got ‘em: Seasonal stocking fillers and festive time-killers. What’s more, we can help you mix and match them so that, for instance, you don’t find yourself taking your great auntie Gladys to see A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (just when she’s finally forgiven you for Bad Santa!).
Xmas Movies For the Feckless Teen
Depending on the age and maturity of said beast, you’re probably not going to get a lot of love if gift them anything that smacks of “classic” (ie old) or “family friendly” (childish). On the other hand they have probably already downloaded the aforementioned Harold & Kumar caper so you’re probably better off side-swiping them with something unpredictable. They’re probably too young to have seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – but it’s got Robert Downey Jr before he was Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man, and a merrily mischievous script by Xmas specialist Shane Black (see also The Long Kiss Goodnight and Lethal Weapon, a potentially wicked Xmas triple bill). Note, it’s certificate 15.
Anime master Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers is rated 12, though again, it has some mature content that you might not want your younger children to be exposed to. But teens should appreciate this raucous Christmas fable about three homeless friends who discover an abandoned baby in the rubbish – on Christmas Eve of course. It’s an unofficial remake of John Ford’s sentimental western 3 Godfathers, and a wild mixture of heart, black humour and adrenaline.
You know your mum better than I do, but I am guessing she has seen Love, Actually more than enough already. And I know we have. If she has a good sense of humour you might try Just Friends, which maybe didn’t reach as wide an audience as it might have (though I’d recommend a glass or two of wine first). Let’s face it, Ryan Reynolds was good enough for Sandra Bullock and Scarlett Johansson (at least for a while), so he must have something. Or you could go an altogether classier route and try The Lion in Winter, a medieval Christmas film that won Katharine Hepburn an Oscar in 1969 (and who wouldn’t appreciate getting the young Peter O’Toole and Anthony Hopkins in their stocking?) There is also a perfectly good remake, with Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart, that wisely sticks with James Goldman’s superb script.
There have been nearly 20 film versions of A Christmas Carol – not counting It’s a Wonderful Life, which definitely borrows quite a bit from Dickens but does an artful job of rearranging the pieces. The best of these are arguably Alastair Sim’s Scrooge in the 1951 version, and Michael Caine’s in the Muppet Christmas Carol. But then again, only Richard Donner’s Scrooged boasts Bill Murray as a James Murdoch lookalike TV executive. This version also boasts Robert Mitchum, Bobcat Goldthwait and Carol Kane in a fairy outfit. And if that’s too trad for dad, I’m going to suggest The Ice Harvest, a slippery crime thriller starring John Cusack and Bad Santa himself, Billy Bob Thornton – plus Connie Nielsen as a femme fatale and Oliver Platt doing one of the best drunk acts in history. Yep, let’s make it a neo-noir Christmas. (Incidentally, the same writing team, Robert Benton and Richard Russo, are also responsible for one of my own favourite midwinter movies, Nobody’s Fool, with Paul Newman in one of his last great roles.)
For the Little Ones
Where to start? I guess Arthur Christmas is as good a place as any, and from there you can’t go far wrong with Elf, which stands head and shoulders above most recent Christmas cash-ins. Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Xmas gives you two holidays for the price of one and a scary Christmas morning with booby-trapped presents under the tree. Either version of Miracle on 34th Street is quite pleasing, you won’t find many more huggable Santas than Edmund Gwenn and Richard Attenborough, though only the black and white film will inspire morbid thoughts about Natalie Wood’s watery grave (not in the kiddies, obviously). They will surely appreciate Home Alone more than you will – it’s basically Death Wish for five year olds.
For Your Wish List
If you haven’t seen The Ref, this black comedy is the perfect antidote to too many saccharine, heartwarming yuletide charmers. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are a bickering married couple whose home is invaded by burglar Denis Leary – whose is at least preferable to Spacey’s mom (Glynis Johns). For the civilized French version, see Arnaud Depleschin’s ensemble comedy A Christmas Tale, with Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Chiara Mastrioianni etc.
Of the evergreens, the one that probably stands up best to repeated viewings best is Billy Wilder’s vinegary The Apartment, a film that’s more modern than anything been made these days. But please do not overlook the delightful romantic comedy The Shop Around the Corner, with James Stewart and Margaret Sullivan, made by Wilder’s beloved mentor Ernst Lubitsch. This is about as enchanting a movie as you could dream of. And for laughs, from the same period (WWII), do yourself a favour and check out Preston Sturges’ hilarious Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, in which Betty Hutton is impregnated by GI (or GIs) unknown. Costar Eddie Bracken (“The spots!”) turned up 50 years later in the remake of Miracle on 34th Street, so there’s a diamond double bill for you.
Another film bridging Hollywood past and (fairly) present is John Huston’s The Dead, with the director’s daughter Anjelica channeling James Joyce and infinities of sadness; a perfectly melancholy way to usher out the old year. It was the last film in Huston senior’s legendary career. And speaking of last testaments and marital regrets, Eyes Wide Shut is an odd Christmas film to be sure, but once you start counting off the Christmas trees that appear in practically every scene you’ll wonder if Mr Kubrick had some sort of seasonal message in mind. But what? Just a hunch, but judging by the movie’s emphasis on desire and conspicuous consumption, goodwill to all men probably wasn’t what he had in mind…