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An Indisputable List of the Best Christmas Films Ever

9 December 21 words: LeftLion Screen Team

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good fight... over which festive film is the best of all time...

Ashley Carter (Editor) - Goodfellas (1990)

You might tell me this isn’t a Christmas film, and I might tell you to shut up. In the post-Lufthansa Heist celebration scene, the mood is positively drenched with festive joy. Let’s look at the music: We’ve got Frosty the Snowman by The Ronnettes and Christmas (Baby Please Come) by Darlene Love. And the costumes? Henry Hill is the very picture of yuletide drip, wearing the shit out of a delicious red velvet jacket.

Sure, Jimmy spends the majority of the scene lambasting Frankie Carbone and Johnny "Roast Beef" for their outlandish spending of the stolen money, which is sure to draw the attention of the police, but the Christmas vibes are still there. Especially when we cut to Henry who, ignoring Jimmy’s advice, proudly shouts, “Karen? I got the biggest tree they had!” It’s going to be a good Christmas.

George White (Screen Co-Editor) - Die Hard (1988)

Yes, it is a Christmas film. And you know what? It’s the best damn Christmas film. I will die (hard) on this hill. Over thirty years after Die Hard’s release, it’s easy to forget that Bruce Willis was once an incredibly talented actor, brimming with charm and charisma – a fact no more obvious than in this film, one of the greatest action flicks of all time. Willis is phenomenal as the reluctant, cynical hero who is forced to step up and save the day. 

It is credit to Alan Rickman, then, that Willis is still not even the best thing about the movie. In Rickman, Die Hard boasts one of the single most iconic villains of all time – a delight to watch every festive period. With genuinely hilarious humour, properly enjoyable action sequences and likeable, unique characters, this is Christmas filmmaking – no – action filmmaking –– no –– filmmaking at its finest. 

Jamie Morris (Screen Co-Editor) - The Polar Express (2004)

While one of the more divisive Christmas classics due to its uncanny photorealistic art style, Robert Zemeckis’s The Polar Express is much more rousing and contemplative than it’s often given credit for. The protagonist – simply referred to as “Hero Boy” in the credits – finds his belief in Santa Claus beginning to wane, and embarks on a journey that blurs the lines between dreams and reality. The overall plot is simplistic, with much of its execution catered towards the IMAX 3D treatment it received upon its initial release, but the film has a surprising level of profundity that allows it to grow with its audience year after year.

There’s a quiet sadness to Zemeckis’ direction that yearns for a long-lost sense of childhood wonder and – coupled with Alan Silvestri’s beautiful score – makes an exemplary effort to rekindle the viewer’s Christmas spirit. Rather than ending with concrete proof of Santa’s existence, the film concludes on a bittersweet note, offering a more mature message on the power of faith and the meanings we attribute to festive symbols. To quote Tom Hanks’ hot-tempered conductor: “Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can't see.”

Chris King - It's a Wonderful Life (1946) 

The king of Christmas. The cinephile’s choice. And, yes, perhaps the “you’re ashamed to admit Love Actually’s good and you want to come off as cultured” choice. It’s a Wonderful Life is, well, wonderful. It might not be your modern, laugh-a-minute Christmas blockbuster, but what we do get is a true introspection on what makes life worth living, asking the question, “If you never existed, would you be missed?”

In a world now filled with mental health awareness, it’s perhaps surprising that one of the best depictions of male mental health is in a film from 1946. Here, the highs and lows of an average man’s life are laid to bare and we get to see some of the most heart-warming and heart-breaking scenes in cinematic history. It might not always be rosy and warm, but It’s a Wonderful Life is a must-watch for any Christmastime.

Emma Walsh - Elf (2003)

“Why is Elf one of the best Christmas films?” you ask. Well… Put simply, Elf is a film with a festive spirit that's contagious. It follows Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell), the epitome of Christmas spirit, as he travels to New York City to find his biological father. As he experiences the holiday in a whole new way, it'll make you appreciate the little things that make Christmas what it is.

From snowball fights and breathtaking displays to tree spotting and twinkling lights lining the streets, it's surely enough to make even the biggest Scrooge feel the tiniest bit festive. Yes, Ferrell is massively over-the-top in this role, but that's exactly what it needs. Buddy's obsession with Christmas is the hallmark of the film and you can't help but feel equally excited once it comes to a close. It's fun, it's festive and it's fantastic – the perfect Christmas watch!

Miriam Blakemore-Hoy - Scrooged (1988)

You want a genuine masterpiece of a Christmas film? Then watch Scrooged. It is without doubt the best adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. Admittedly, I don’t think Dickens would have envisaged Marley coming back dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and welding a golf club, and I don’t think he would have known what on earth was going on with that Christmas fairy. Yet the spirit of the story and the meaning behind it has somehow been translated perfectly. 
Bill Murray’s Scrooge is entertaining, and genuinely mean. Alfre Woodard and Nicolas Phillips break everyone’s hearts as a reimagined Cratchett parent and child. But the depiction of what happens to the destitute, to the homeless, unwanted and abandoned over a season of plenty, goodwill and festivities is the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the depictions that Dickens himself wrote about during his nightly walks – and that is why it works so well.

Sue Barsby - The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

Sometimes in the run up to Christmas you lose sight of what’s important about the season. This is certainly the case for The Bishop’s Wife, played in the 1947 original by Loretta Young, who is bustling about her duties but terribly worried about her husband’s (David Niven) quest to build a new church, an enterprise which requires him to suck up to a bunch of rich donors and write very dull sermons.

Who better to answer his prayers than Cary Grant, playing an angel called Dudley? Dudley decorates the Christmas tree, arranges for donors to help the poor instead, writes better sermons and falls in love with the bishop’s wife. Oops. Still, it’s a Christmas movie and therefore bound to work out for the best in the end, and if you need a dose of festive joy, the ice skating scene is lovely.

Jake Leonard - The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

This, the greatest adaptation of Charles Dickens's classic story, balances the humour, horror, schmaltz, and sincerity needed to land its message. The cold-hearted miser Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine - having a whale of a time) is visited by the ghosts of his former business partners Robert and Jacob Marley (Statler and Waldorf) and warned that he has until dawn to change his cruel and selfish ways, or else face an eternity of enchained punishment. Helping him along the way are three other spirits: The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come.

But it's the intervention of our trusty narrators The Great Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat, and the buoyant but beleaguered Cratchit family (Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Peter, Betina, Belinda, and, of course, Tiny Tim) that reminds Scrooge of the fellowship of man and the importance of human kindness. With wonderful songs, joyous characters, and beautiful performances, this is a film truly full of love, hope, and goodwill for all.

Fabrice Gagos - Rare Exports (2010)

“It’s Christmas time, so let’s act like it!” That’s the motto as soon as we got rid of Halloween, innit?. That’s also what Riley, the leader of a British corporation sponsoring a research team drilling in the Finnish province of Lapland, says when he believes he has finally found the burial mound built to imprison the real Santa by the Sámi people. Riley, like a good British entrepreneur, thus encourages his troops to rob the grave. 

Soon after the children begin disappearing and only Pietari, a local boy whose father struggles to make ends meet, seems to know what is happening. Rare Exports is a (hidden) Christmas tale but it is also a satire about capitalism, and a moving story about a father/son relationship with a touch of Spielberg in its direction ─ despite its tiny budget ─ and a pinch (maybe rather a handful) of Joe Dante in its tone. So what’s not to love? It’s Christmas time!

Jeremy Arblaster - The Holiday (2006) 

Nancy Meyers' romantic comedy The Holiday is simple but effective, with Winslet and Diaz swapping houses – and lives – across the Atlantic at Christmastime. Amanda (Cameron Diaz) finds herself in quaint ol’ little England, replete with cobbled streets, snowy cottages and wine, where she falls for Winslet’s handsome book editor brother Graham (Jude Law).

Iris (Kate Winslet) heads in the opposite direction to LA, doing her best Bridget Jones impression amongst the boldness and brashness of America, falling for Hollywood music composer Miles (Jack Black). It’s uncomplicated stuff, but it works.

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