My Favorite Christmas Movies

I guess this is our Christmas greeting of sorts.

I’m personally not a big fan of Christmas, so these might not be exactly what you expect.

One important question is, of course, what exactly constitutes a Christmas movie? Is Das Boot a Christmas movie, because there is Christmas? No. How about In Bruges, which happens around Christmas? Since I didn’t even remember it happened around Christmas before starting this research, I would say it’s not an important enough theme to count. So, Christmas has to be an important part of the movie. I can’t really say more than that. Most of the movie needs to happen at Christmas or the time leading to it. I guess that’s what I’m going with.

Once again, chronological order.

A Christmas Story (1983)

Okay, this is pretty classic. I like it because of the certain cynical bent. Everything goes wrong for our kid. He gets arbitrarily punished by the world for everything and this is what he is talking about as the narrator as an adult. The one time he doesn’t get punished randomly is when he loses control and kicks the ass of a bully. What is this child learning here? Why are these the memories he is telling us as the adult looking back at his life?

Die Hard (1988)

Do I need to explain?

Batman Returns (1992)

What’s more Christmas-y than a bunch of rich people abandoning their children to a madman to go to a party?

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Actually one of my favorite movies, period.

I like how this has grown over the years. Disney wouldn’t even release this under Buena Vista at first, but now Jack Skellington is everywhere. It’s also received quite a few re-releases (four in the US – 2000, 2006, 2007, 2009) in an age where it doesn’t happen anymore due to home market.

Burton did not direct this, but his fingerprints are definitely all over it.

Love Actually (2003)

My favorite romantic comedy, actually.

Usually romantic comedies are very templated. They are always around 100 minutes long. The first act is when we meet our characters and it’s established that they don’t really like each other… at first. Then, for the next 50 minutes, they become closer and closer, until something happens at the end of the second act and they are separated. Then, one of them realizes how much they actually love the other person and they need to prove that somehow or there’s some other complication.

Love Actually doesn’t follow this template, as there’s eight separate stories and they don’t have the time to do all of them based on the same formula. What they did instead, was to lose the second act on all those stories. This does mean that not all of them are emotionally very satisfying, but the combination of the eight stories does hit hard enough to count.

Joyeux Noël (2005)

This was released as Merry Christmas in some English speaking territories, but that’s way too generic, so I kept the original name.

This is about the armistice that happened spontaneously between the sides during the Christmas of 1914 in the battlefields of WWI. I’m not sure, since I’ve never researched this, but I suppose this is an amalgamation of various stories from that time, since these happened in a number of places.

This is just a beautiful movie about the human spirit and how the system tries to break it. And the system did, because by next Christmas, there weren’t any more of these armistices. This only happened because the war hadn’t gone on for very long yet and everyone was still thinking it would be over soon enough. Still, it’s nice to see the three different nationalities (Germans, French and Scots) come together and try to find just a little bit of solace in the middle of horrible war. Although, at that point, it was only beginning, because the chemical weapons hadn’t come in yet. (And BTW, it was the French, not the Germans, who brought them in first.)

Christmas on Mars (2008)

I guess this is kind of obscure, because this movie is the 20th hit on IMDb when searching for the title. And no, there isn’t other movies with the same name.

This was a pet project of the Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne, who directed this over an eight year period in sets built in his backyard. In it his fellow bandmate, Steven Drozd, plays the commander of a Mars colony, who starts to go insane during Christmas time.

I’m not going to explain this in more depth, because I really can’t. What you do need to know, is that the band, of course, did the music.

Rare Exports (2010)

Our rare Finnish entrant on these lists.

There’s a foreign businessman drilling into a mountain in Lappland. The whole thing is quite mysterious. Then, one day, the reindeer of the local herders are found dead and some of the children from the community go missing. The herders capture a weird naked old man hanging around and we get to go deep into the myth of Santa Claus.

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

This was a time when 3D was already dying. It was about two years after Avatar and after that 3D movies went down fast. I guess they still do them, but it was definitely a fad. This movie seems to know it, since usually when 3D is used, it has a sense of breaking the fourth wall and basically understanding how little it does for the movie, except as a joke in itself.

Otherwise, there’s the usual slightly transgressive elements these movies tend to have.

Krampus (2015)

This is an excellent horror movie. Krampus is actually closer to the Santa Claus traditions from around Europe than the current Coca-Cola inspired safe version (I know it was around before Coca-Cola). For example, in Finnish, Santa Claus is Joulupukki, which is literally Christmas Goat and in my childhood (I’m talking early 80s here as I was born in ’77), the Santa wore grey and had a much more of a goat-like beard. He wasn’t jolly and fat either. The Finnish tradition (although I think there’s a lot of regional and family differences here) is that the Santa Claus comes in on Christmas eve to inspect the children and if they are well-behaved enough, he’ll let them have the gifts. This usually means that the kids prepare some sort of song to sing for the sake of keeping the tradition. There isn’t any actual withholding of presents.

There’s just so much to love here. The design of the creatures, the family dynamics (which would often bore me), and the aspect of movies that is often forgotten by us who don’t work with movies, the sound design. Everything just seems to work. It isn’t gory, but it definitely has scary moments in it, so in that sense it’s highly stylized instead of going for realism. You know, just right for Christmas.

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