Christmas films are my favourite part of the festive season (apart from all the food, of course). I love them whether they’re dark, heartbreaking, heartwarming, funny, cheesy or ridiculous. Once December arrives, it’s Christmas films all the way until the day itself. Over the years some have become essential viewing and sometimes I discover new favourites that demand to be added to my Christmas viewing schedule.
These are the films getting me in the festive mood this year.
The Shop Around the Corner
I saw this for the first time a few years ago at a Film Society screening and immediately fell in love with it. I had the fortune to find this online and re-watch on the weekend, and I think this just might have to be a new Christmas viewing tradition.
The Shop Around the Corner, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, is a criminally underrated romantic comedy classic that deserves far more attention than it receives.
The film is set in Budapest and stars Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan as two gift shop clerks who can’t stand each other, but are actually falling in love via anonymous love letters, neither realising their correspondent is their co-worker.
This is a melancholic and bittersweet romance with a great deal of wit and warmth at its heart. The leads share a sparkling chemistry as two humble, lonely souls caught up in romantic fantasies on the page, and unable to see that the chance for something beautiful and real is right in front of them.
The Shop Around the Corner was remade in the 1990s as You’ve Got Mail. I love Nora Ephron, but that film can’t even begin to compare to the masterful original.
The Shop Around the Corner just may be the best romantic comedy ever made. They really don’t make ’em like this anymore.
One of Billy Wilder’s best films and a stone-cold classic, The Apartment makes for sublime Christmas viewing.
Jack Lemmon is terrific as the put-upon C.C “Bud” Baxter, an office drone at an insurance company who reluctantly allows some of the executives use his apartment for their extramarital rendezvous in order to work his way up the corporate ladder. Bud begins to fall for smart and funny elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), not realising she is caught up in a miserable affair with Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray) one of the executives taking advantage of Bud’s apartment.
Again, there’s a melancholic undercurrent to this film, and it goes to a pretty bleak place, but it’s a darkly comic and wryly observed examination of a cynical corporate culture and its effect on the subordinates caught in the middle of it.
This is a poignant film that deftly reveals how cruel the holiday season can be for the hurt and lonely. It is also tender and ultimately hopeful, and as soon as it’s over, I’m keen to watch it all over again.
A Muppet Christmas Carol
This is a sentimental favourite. As an ardent fan of both Charles Dickens and The Muppets, it would be impossible for me not to love this adaptation of Dickens’ classic Christmas tale.
It’s a faithful adaptation and the Muppets bring this redemptive tale to life with their trademark exuberant optimism and warmth. I love Kermit as Bob Cratchit, Gonzo narrating as Charles Dickens, Statler and Waldorf as the ghosts of Jacob and Robert Marley, and Rizzo as, well, Rizzo. And Michael Caine is the perfect Scrooge.
I’m a total sap anyway, but this film is cuddly and heartwarming, and makes me cry every time. If I’m not feeling the Christmas spirit beforehand, I certainly am by the time it’s over.
Plus, “It Feels Like Christmas” is one of the best and most catchy movie songs ever.
A Muppet Christmas Carol was the first big-screen appearance of the Muppets after the passing of Jim Henson, and they really did him proud.
Bridget Jones’ Diary
I’ve seen it so many times that at this point, watching this film is like putting on a comfy pair of old slippers, and I never tire of it. I love Bridget (Renee Zellweger) and her sweary, clumsy, shambolic ways.
We cheer Bridget on as she tries and mostly fails to get her shit together and stumbles from one disaster to another, whether she’s getting her heart broken by the charming but narcissistic Daniel Cleaver or embarrassing herself on national television.
Hugh Grant is great fun in his departure from foppish type as the dastardly Cleaver and Colin Firth is excellent as the uptight but gentlemanly Mark Darcy (naff reindeer jumper and all).
I love watching this on Christmas night when I’m stuffed with food and good cheer (or just secretly glad the day is nearly done – it depends on the Christmas), or at any time of year when I need a comforting pick-me-up.
We won’t talk about the sequel.
Love Actually is ridiculous and sentimental but I love it, and quite frankly my Christmas isn’t quite complete without it.
The cast features some of my favourite actors and Bill Nighy is particularly delightful as fading pop star Billy Mack (“Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!”).
And whatever you think of the rest of it, surely it’s worth watching for that gut-wrenching Emma Thompson scene alone. She is a goddess.
Plus, there’s an abundance of knitwear (so many turtlenecks!) on display and I’m strongly in favour of that. Have I mentioned I really like knitwear? That’s not weird, right?
It’s a Wonderful Life
Frank Capra’s classic is really the Christmas film to watch, and for good reason.
I watch this every Christmas Eve, and no Christmas is complete without a visit to Bedford Falls to watch the beautiful, heartbreaking and ultimately life-affirming story of George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart).
It’s a bleak tale, as we witness George Bailey’s descent into despair. His big dreams of travel and adventure are thwarted once he takes charge of the ailing family business and starts a family of his own.
When George’s problems overwhelm him and the company faces ruin, he is pushed to the brink of suicide, but is saved by his guardian angel, Clarence, who shows him how much worse off the world would be without George’s existence.
I don’t mind the schmaltz and love the film’s celebration of the value of every life, no matter how small or unassuming it may be. The film is hopeful and its message simple but universal: “No man is truly alone who has friends”.
I think from now on I will be opting for a Christmas Eve Jimmy Stewart double feature, and it doesn’t get much better than that.
What are your festive favourites?