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The Best Christmas Movie Ever

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Mark Kermode | 15:55 UK time, Friday, 13 November 2009

As a 3D Jim Carrey bursts out of screens (like some seasonal version of John Hurt's personal alien) in Robert Zemeckis's Disney version of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, I'm reminded that it is time to court your opinions on the best Christmas movies of all time, as well as letting you know mine. With added Peter Andre...

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Comments

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  • Comment number 1.

    Xmas schmovies ~ Baaahhh Humbug to 'em all.

  • Comment number 2.

    My all time favourite is fairly predictable but nonetheless excellent - It's a Wonderful Life. Seen it countless times including once at the Sheffield Showroom a couple of years ago - the only time I've been at the cinema and everyone's clapped at the end of the film.

  • Comment number 3.

    I'm glad to see i'm not the only person who likes the 'Ernest' movies...well done Dr. K

    Best xmas film - Die Hard
    Worst xmas film - The golden compass (if that counts)

  • Comment number 4.

    Best Christmas Film, I couldn't narrow it down to just one so I did a top 3-
    1. Muppet Christmas Carol- For my money the best version of Dickens' tale and proof that everything is better with muppets
    2. Lethal Weapon- Because nothing says Christmas like a be-mulleted Mel Gibson killing that Chinese bloke who electrocuted him.
    3. Gremlins- A cautionary tale that you should really think your Christmas presents through and not just buy the first cute thing you see. Also the scene where Phoebe Cates talks about why she doesn't like Christmas is one of the funniest of all time.
    Worst Christmas movie, again hard to narrow it down to just one so my bottom three-
    1. White Christmas- My dad watches this every year, the title song is cringemaking enough on its own but the film is dire
    2. Jingle All The Way- Not the worst Arnie movie, but definitely close.
    3. Batman Returns- Tim Burton's second visit to Gotham is dire, I know lots of people will now attack me for that statement. The success of the first film (which is actually good) meant that noone reined in Burton's overblown art-studenty style and manages to make an utterly sexless film despite Michelle Pfeiffer spending most of the film in a catsuit. Just as camp and overblown as the Schumacher Bat-films but you get the impression that this one was taking itself seriously.

  • Comment number 5.

    I just saw Inside (aka L'Interieur), starring Beatrice Dalle, which is an incredibly grim horror taking place at Christmas. But the film that has rapidly become a Christmas institution in my house is Bad Santa, the perfect inoculation against syrupy seasonal schmaltz.

  • Comment number 6.

    Lethal Weapon and Die Hard are the essential Christmas movies because they spend the least time possible hammering on about Christmas cheer, good will to all men, family meals, presents under the tree and instead focus on what's important; Blowing shit up.

    I also consider Lady Snowblood: Blizzard from the Netherworld a bit of a Christmas movie because it's got, like, snow and stuff...and swords.

  • Comment number 7.

    My favourite is by far The Muppet Christmas Carol.

  • Comment number 8.

    To me, the greatest Christmas story made movie is, oddly enough, A Christmas Story. The movie spans generations. I'm a child of the 90s and can still relate to the problems and circumstances of the main character. The story also has a sense of continuity. You really get the sense that even though the movie ends, the story keeps going onward.

    Lastly, the movie is told from an adults retrospection, but how he saw the events as a child. That's probably the best part for me. Let's face it, Christmas stories by and for adults is selfish. The greatest part of Christmas is how a child hopes and dreams about the day, and how hhe or she lights up when the big day comes.

    I watched the movie with my parents every year, and now watch it every year with my children.

  • Comment number 9.

    It may not be a Christmas Film but The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy came out during the festive period and were great acheivements to the cinema indestry.The worst christmas film would have to be Christmas With The Kranks due to its unfunny christmas comedy and just downright lame acting from Tim"Reach For The Stars"Allen and Jamie Lee "Stalked and Slashed by Mr Myers himself"Curtis.The film is dreadful.

    I don`t know about Christmas Films but to me something that succeeds every year are The Doctor Who Christmas Specials which are just wonderful to watch and you get that festive feel every time The TARDIS appears in a snowy lane on Christmas Morning.Voyage Of The Damned is my favourite.If Mark Kermode hates Doctor Who then Mark needs to watch his TV more.

    Why does Mark not watch TV? Is it because of rubbish like X Factor & Strictly.

    Anyway Best Xmas Film - Lord Of The Rings:Return Of The King
    Worst Xmas Film - Christmas With The Kranks.

  • Comment number 10.

    Seconding Spoko305's comment about A Christmas Story.

    I'm not convinced that it's the best, but it's definitely up there. And its been noticeably absent from previous radio discussions on the subject by Dr. K.

  • Comment number 11.

    Just to put my academic hat on a moment... the most traditional thing you can do at Christmas is scare yourself with ghost and monster stories on Christmas Eve. That's why Dickens wrote about ghosts, and that's why all Christmas films should be tales of horror.

    Brazil is set at Christmas isn't it? I vote for that one.

  • Comment number 12.

    It's going to have to be Brazil, which is technically set during Christmas time - there was a decorated tree in the room when Buttle was falsely arrested

  • Comment number 13.

    Muppets Christmas Carol best christmas film ever

    Though with Jim Carrey's christmas carol, im just think not again! Not another version of the Dickens Tale. Hasn't it been told enough times already.

  • Comment number 14.

    Die Hard for sure.

  • Comment number 15.

    Eyes Wide Shut too.

  • Comment number 16.

    The worst Christmas movie ever made surely has to be Lucasfilm's 1978 "Star Wars Holiday Special". The mixture of musical numbers, terrible comedy sketches and an animated sequence drawn by artists who clearly had taken too much LSD all add up to a film so bad even George Lucas has said he would like to hunt down and destroy every copy.

    Although, the Star Wars Holiday Special may not actually qualify as it was originally broadcast on TV, not in the cinema. In which case the worst film would have to be Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a 1960's B-movie in which the Martians, kidnap Santa and take him back to Mars to bring happiness to the children of Mars.

  • Comment number 17.

    Best Christmas move ever - Brazil.

    ... On a slightly different topic, what is the deal with the BBC's new 'iD' registry I just had to sign up to in order to continue posting here? It says, you can no longer post anything "considered likely to disrupt, provoke, attack or offend others" - sounds like any number of Mark's reviews, doesn't it?

  • Comment number 18.

    Black Christmas (the original) always puts me in the holiday mood.

    Gremlins is another good one. Nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a gremlin in the microwave.

  • Comment number 19.

    I'm with all those who said "Brazil".
    Sample line just before Mr Buttle is dragged away kicking and screaming by Ministry of interrogation Stormtroopers
    "BOY BUTTLE
    but Santa can't come if we don't have a chimney
    MRS BUTTLE
    You'll see!"
    [the ministry of information stormtroopers cut a circular hole in the ceiling with a sawblade and lay seige to the Buttle's lounge]
    Also like the child asking Santa for "My own Credit Card".
    Also Jeunet and Caro's "City of Lost Children" starts with a pretty messed up Santa inspired nightmare sequence.

  • Comment number 20.

    Gremlins has to come at the top for me. The happy little balls of fun, bringing joy and Christmas cheer to everyone.

    LA Confidential bring seasonal cheer and shotguns to everyone

    Personally I think the next Batman film should involve Batman taking out Santa. who is obviously rather dodgy charactor, who enjoys sneaking down chimneys, leaving presents for the little children of Gotham. Also Santa would have a lot of henchmen elves for Batman to batter.

  • Comment number 21.

    I'd forgotten about Brazil - that's definitely the top of the non-stereotpyical Christmas list.

  • Comment number 22.

    One of my favourite Christmas films that has yet to be mentioned is also one of my favourite Halloween films, namely "The Nightmare Before Christmas".

    Aaron95 mentions the awful "Star Wars Holiday Special" which is so bad that it makes "The Phantom Menace" look great although it wasn't a terrible Christmas special it was a terrible Thanks Giving special... I think one should give thanks if you have not seen it.

  • Comment number 23.

    'bad santa' is pretty good and has some funny lines far too rude for this blog

    how about a thread on films you have'nt seen but everyone else has?

    mine? 'it's a wonderful life'

  • Comment number 24.

    Well everyone's gonna say 'It's A Wonderful life' For good reason. However it's worthing statimg that the film is not as Christmassy as everyone presumes, only the last quarter of the film is set during Christmas time.

    For a more unconventional pick I'd go for 'Gremlins' as well too. I personally think Gremlins 2 is one of the greatest satires of the corporate world ever filmed, but that's another topic.

  • Comment number 25.

    CHRISTMAS SLAY

    "He knows if you've been bad or good.
    And he's got an axe."

    Killer tagline - ooh, sorry!

    Thanks Mark. Just the crunchy mint encased, chewy caramel antidote I need to all this transparent cheer.

  • Comment number 26.

    Is a Christmas film defined by its seasonal setting? Strangely enough, I've always been fond of watching 'The Shining' on Christmas Eve. If you haven't seen it already, I would highly recommend watching the short film 'Treevenge'. Trust me, you'll never look at Christmas trees the same way ever again.

    Merry bloody Christmas.

  • Comment number 27.

    21 comments so far and no mention of the genuine Christmas film which is clearly one of the greatest films of all time, as equally uplifting and inspiring as it is heartbreaking THE SNOWMAN.

    ELF starring Will Farrel I really enjoyed.

    Of the bad...
    I did see Arnie's JINGLE ALL THE WAY, which was atrocious.

    I did not see (did anyone?) SURVIVING CHRISTMAS starring Ben Afflack, which got dire reviews, and 'I was told' got an early autumn release in the states as the studio wanted shut of it; duno if thats true, anybody know?

  • Comment number 28.

    I'm sorry but Jingle All The Way is a must for me at christmas time.. I'll get my coat..

  • Comment number 29.

    Being a complete Christmas nerd, I'd find it hard to ever dislike a festive film, and yes, that includes even JINGLE ALL THE WAY. Haven't seen CHRISTMAS WITH THE CRANKS though, and I suspect that could be one that even I would recoil in horror (and not in a good way) at.

    The best? So so tough to choose one. SCROOGED is my favourite telling of by far and away the best ever Christmas story, so I suppose it would have to be that, though ELF and BAD SANTA feature high up on that list too. And what about HOME ALONE? Has no one mentioned this yet?!

  • Comment number 30.

    Definitely Die Hard and Brazil.

    Basically anything that isn't about reminding me all about the "true meaning of Christmas" and filling my life with cheer and joy. Blech.

    Oh, but I have to confess a guilty secret - Home Alone is actually pretty good, purely for the scenes of outrageous pain and torment inflicted upon Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern.

  • Comment number 31.

    My favourite christmas film, indeed my favourite film full stop is the 1970 musical "Scrooge" starring Albert Finney. It is probably considered to be a poor relation to "Oliver" but I think Leslie Bricusse's score is really haunting and emotionally touching when needed. The main reason I favour it is probably the performance of Finney in the title role. The journey fron cantankerous misanthrope to the final redemption scene is fabulous. Check this out for a tatster
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DglfUfNKOAk&feature=PlayList&p=2786BC3FB2E78D81&index=6

  • Comment number 32.

    A Christmas Story for me. Warm, witty and with a nice mean streak.
    or
    Die Hard.

  • Comment number 33.

    I for one have a really soft spot in my heart for the first two "Home Alone" movies. The reason being that "Home Alone" is probably the first movie I ever saw in a cinema. At least the first one I can clearly remember seeing in one. Nowadays, watching a young Macaulay Culkin sadistically torture Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern whilst humming various Christmas songs (or eating pizza) never fails to make me chuckle...

  • Comment number 34.

    One Name: Bob Clark. He gave us the two best Christmas films of all time. The funny, schmaltz-free(but still full of cheer) 'A Christmas Story'. He also gave us its polar-opposite - the equally brilliant 'Black Christmas'.

  • Comment number 35.

    The best christmas film of all time is Home Alone. i also liked Dudley Moore as an Elf in Santa Claus The Movie.

  • Comment number 36.

    Brazil
    It's a Wonderful Life
    Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
    Die Hard
    Bad Santa
    Gremlins
    The Godfather
    Millions
    Less Than Zero
    The Nightmare Before Christmas

  • Comment number 37.

    The Grinch is the worst Christmas film I've seen, and ties nicely with another bad Jim Carey film with a seasonal slant. I spent most of The Grinch just wondering what he was meant to be - a cat? I really think that particular Seuss book passed us by in the UK.

    May not be my favourite, but I haven't seen Scrooged in a while, and wish it was on more. The film stars Bill Murray and Miles Davis. Nuff said.

  • Comment number 38.

    The Apartment, is a film i watch every xmas. It takes place over the xmas holidays and has a very christmassy message. Its the perfect xmas movie.

  • Comment number 39.

    Die Hard.

    'Nuff said.

  • Comment number 40.

    I always watch the traditional favourites at Christmas - 'The Snowman', 'Home Alone', 'Gremlins', 'The Muppets' Christmas Carol' (absolutely adore the last one). When I was younger my parents always used to take me and my brother to the cinema on Christmas Eve in the hope that it would tire us out and we wouldn't get up at 5am. They show 'It's a Wonderful Life' at the Tyneside Cinema in Newcastle on the few days running up to Christmas and that is a fantastic couple of hours spent.

    Also, my friend and I were having a debate the other day over whether 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' is best seen at Hallowe'en or Christmas. I would always go for Hallowe'en, but he's adamant that he enjoys it more at Christmas. What do you guys think?

  • Comment number 41.

    Die Hard, no compromises

  • Comment number 42.

    Every Christmas I watch the same three films
    The Ref
    The Muppet Christmas Carol
    White Christmas

    If I have fallen out with my sister I add Die Hard

    I avoid remakes of the classics such as Miracle on 42nd Street and I am absolutely dreading A Christmas Carol in 3D and may actually make my daughter and her Godmother go without me. That is saying a lot for a woman who has seen singing chiuauas in the cinema for love of her child.

  • Comment number 43.

    My favorite bad christmas movie is probably Santa with Muscles starring the acting tour de force that is Hulk Hogan. The plot sees the Hulkster play a mean spirited meathead obsessed with money (not much of a stretch to play that role) who gets amnesia whilst wearing a santa suit and wakes up convinced he is jolly old Saint Nick. Hilarity ensues!

    Also honorable mention to Christmas themed slasher Silent Night, DEADLY NIGHT. Which features a fairy lights lynching and a reindeer antler impaling. Merry Christmas one and all.

  • Comment number 44.

    Well Doctor you already mentioned Scrooged, possibly the best modern interpretation of a Christmas Carol there is - Bill Murray & Bobcat Goldthwait on screen at once makes me a happy man! Loads of people mentioned it already but Gremlins cannot be faulted.

    This blog does bring up the age old argument of waht makes a Christmas film ie. does a film merely set at Christmas count, or must it be a piece of work that is full of the "Christmas Spirit"? For me the first is true, thereby making Gremlins fully qualified as best Christmas film ever.

  • Comment number 45.

    Probably a completely useless post for anyone that isn't Dutch and younger than 30, but the ultimate Christmas movie for me (and possibly a whole generation in my country) is the only full length animation film Holland has ever produced - 'Als je begrijpt wat ik bedoel'. Having only 2 TV channels until I was about 10 years old, every christmas this movie was shown, and it's amazing. There is apparantly an English version of this called "The Dragon that Wasn't, or Was He?" and it's an amazing heartbreaking tale of a gentleman bear finding a dinosaur and taking care of it until it's too big to control. IMDB has some info on it here: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0188404/ - so far for this melancholic nonsense. Die Hard & Gremlins get my international vote!

  • Comment number 46.

    Sorry, spelt "what" wrong.

  • Comment number 47.

    Not very xmasy films, but because I always seemed to happen upon 'The man who shot liberty valance' and 'Quo Vadis', they've now become essential Yuletide viewing for me.

  • Comment number 48.

    Before I begin my seemingly neverending xmas films, most of which eager and punctual users have listed before me, can I just say I tend to watch Babe at xmas as well. I think the main reason for this was cause I taped it aged 11 at xmas as it premiered on BBC1 for the first time. Very lovely family film.

    Best xmas films (with brief summaries of why I like/love them):

    Home Alone - childhood fave of mine. It's like the younger days of the Saw mastermind Jigsaw, to think of it. 'Let the games begin' indeed. Hysterically funny when I was 6 and still funny as an adult.

    Muppet Christmas Carol - I did grow up with this as well, as we were shown it at primary school. Really good songs(e.g. One More Sleep 'Til Xmas), a great Scrooge from Caine and it's very funny and has a big heart at it's centre. It ain't xmas till that's on telly.

    The Snowman - OK, technically an animated short, but great all the same. It's in my mind the total personifcation of the childhood fantasy of Christmas. Magical in every way and feeds your inner child to the brim. All that and with NO dialogue!

    The First Snow of Winter - I have to mention this, even if it's an animated short again. It's so funny (watch the riverdance scene!) and sweet. Too good to be seen by only kids alone.

    The Bear - again, an animated short. Also from a Raymond Briggs book like The Snowman. The score is amazing, and it pulls of the same trick The Snowman did too - utterly magical.

    Father Christmas - Santa, a cranky old man who says 'blooming' a lot? Yes please.

    Bad Santa - foul mouthed, funny and just an unexpected joy.

    Gremlins - subversively funny and scared me silly as a kid. The scene where they get drunk is comic gold.

    National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Griswald comic capers and catastophes. It does have a quite risque fantasy sequence in there... just a classic. Best scenes are the turkey and scene with the the cat. I'll say no more.

    Black Xmas - original one, not remake. I like the fact that it ends in an quite unpredictable way and left me paranoid to stay in a room alone after watching it. Creepier slasher than Halloween.

    Prancer - actually, an often overlooked sweet-natured film. Not brilliant but it has a special place in my heart.

    Worst xmas films:

    The Snow Queen(95) - don't care if this is solely aimed at kids. They don't deserve films as poor as this! Animated doesn't mean it should get off lightly.

    Santa Claus(85) - just inept.

    Jack Frost - that snowman is just CREEPY! And lines like 'snow dad is better than no dad'. Er, no. I prefer 'no dad' thanks rather than this freaky snowman who's supposed to be lovable... I'd rather hug the Ghost of Xmas Future!

    The Santa Clause 2 - needless cash-in cynical sequel. I liked the first(which I'm sure Mark will be outraged by), but the sequel is just superflous in every way.

    And some have mentioned in lists Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Santa With Muscles, Silent Night, Deadly Night endless sequels ...oh and Jingle All the Way - the latter is my guilty pleasure, though! PUT DA COOKIE DOWN! :D

  • Comment number 49.

    Easy, this:

    Best: The Small One

    Worst: Jingle All The Way.

    I hate Christmas, but any excuse to watch The Small One again. I just don't care to know people who don't cry at it.

  • Comment number 50.

    "Also, my friend and I were having a debate the other day over whether 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' is best seen at Hallowe'en or Christmas. I would always go for Hallowe'en, but he's adamant that he enjoys it more at Christmas. What do you guys think?"

    I saw it over xmas(and it's shown on telly over xmas too) but I think it's more a xmas film ... or both, to just appease both sides and appease the argument.

    I think the film's very good - great songs, stop-mo, characters and a fairly original plot.

  • Comment number 51.

    Black Christmas is easily the best xmas flick.

    The goody goody message of togethering is completely torn appart by a serial killer. Am I the only person who empathises with him?

  • Comment number 52.

    @ chrisEBpage: Batman Returns is the best of the original four Batman films. It's more organised and focussed than Batman, and it has the conviction to go with dark, edgy characters rather than retreating into camp claptrap as Joel Schumacher did. Granted it's flawed - too many villains for one thing - but I still really like it.

    Anyway, getting back on topic...

    Best Christmas films:
    1. The Muppet Christmas Carol - best version, best songs, ideal length, family-friendly, and Michael Caine is the best Scrooge - I'll watch it just to hear him shout "UNEMPLOYED!" in a tight close-up (which this year will be strangely appropriate)
    2. Die Hard - best of the franchise, great fun and love Alan Rickman's performance
    3. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - for some reason I end up watching this. Sean Connery's last great performance, the best of the original trilogy, fantastic fun, probably Spielberg's best film

    Worst Christmas films:
    1. National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation - Chevy Chase was the Seth Rogen of the 1970s and 1980s: never funny, always creepy, makes films that are stupid and ruins the careers of good directors (Deal of the Century, anyone?).
    2. Home Alone 2 - Chris Columbus.
    3. Miracle on 34th Street - the Les Mayfield version. MARK, HOW CAN YOU HATE 'EARTHSONG' AND YET LOVE THIS STEAMING TURD OF A FILM?!

  • Comment number 53.

    Festive Greetings Dr K,

    Well, actually, I'm as annoyed at the early beginning of Xmas as you are. Christmas advertising should begin on the 1st December, surely that's the whole point of Advent.

    As for your question, I'll have to add my voice to those saying "It's a Wonderful Life". It's one of my favourite films of all time and is practically perfect in every way. It isn't just a great Christmas film, it's a great film on any criteria, boasting a career best turn from the incomparable Jimmy Stewart, a brilliantly dark streak and, despite the presence of an angel, a brilliant humanist statement on how we bring meaning to our own lives by the way we affect the lives of the people we care about.

    I love Dickens, but to my mind there are only two films worth watching based on his ghost story classic: "Scrooge" with Alistair Sim, which has a brilliant Gothic aesthetic and, quite rightly, recognises the film as a ghost story first and a Christmas film second; and of course The Muppet's take on it, which is faithful, funny and brilliantly inventive.

    Other than that it's the usual suspects: two Burtons ("Batman Returns" deliciously unmerry Christmas in Gotham and "The Nightmare Before Christmas"- yes I know he didn't direct it, but he wrote, designed and produced it), "Die Hard", "Gremlins", "Elf" (all I want for Christmas is Zooey Deschanel) and "National Lampoon's Christmas vacation".

    My least favourite Christmas film is probably "The Santa Clause" (and it's various sequels). "Jingle All the Way" is awful, but edges into guilty pleasure territory for me.

  • Comment number 54.

    You can't go wrong with Muppets Christmas Carol and Home Alone with an honorable mention for Elf.

    Can't think of any really bad christmas movies as I don't tend to watch them.

  • Comment number 55.

    I hope you'll indulge me with the following pre-prepared statement (which I originally wrote a couple of years ago) but it says everything I'd otherwise want to say:

    It's December 1995, I'm at university the first time around and I live very close to the one cinema I would say that I ever really loved, The Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. In The Bleak Midwinter turned up pretty much unheralded but I'd read about it in Empire Magazine who gave it a sparkling review and having loved everything else Kenneth Branagh had directed (yes, even Dead Again) and being someway into a lifelong appreciation of Shakespeare I knew had to go and see it..

    The Hyde Park was the kind of cinema in which any film could potentially be packed out because the audience tended to go see whatever was on. I took my tall friend Dave with me, even though he wasn't sure if it was his kind of thing - in black and white and about theatre - and we sat at the back of the balcony because there was more legroom.

    I'd like to be able to give you a long flowing description of the experience of seeing it for the first time but I really can't. I remember being enchanted and laughing a lot and feeling very Christmassy afterwards and Dave saying that it wasn't what he was expecting and that he really enjoyed it but other than that I'd say that it just made me more excited about seeing Branagh's Hamlet the following year, this almost being a rehearsal for that.

    It wasn't until the following Christmas, when I was given the video that I really fell for the film. There was certainly the nostalgia factor - I'd left university by then and it reminded me of a good night out at a place that I wouldn't necessarily be able to go back to with someone I hadn't seen in months. But it was also that it somehow managed to distill everything I felt about Shakespeare into an hour and a half and was also brilliantly funny and touching.

    The following year, in 1997, I watched it around Christmas time again while I was wrapping my presents. And again in '98 and since then it's become part of the ritual. When I say that I watch it every Christmas, I really do. Which seems like the definition of a favourite film. Each viewing it means more or less to me than the year before depending on what else is happening in life. Last year I was at university again nd it just fitted into the many hundreds of other films I seemed to be watching. This year I noticed that the main character mentions in his opening monologue that he's thirty-three and I realised that I'd be the same age as him next time I see it.

    Perhaps I should provide some background because I know that this isn't a film many people have heard of (it's not even available on dvd). In The Bleak Midwinter (or A Midwinter's Tale as it's called in the US) features Branagh and Shakespeare stalwart Michael Maloney as Joe an out of work actor who decides to produce Hamlet at Christmas time in a disused church in his sister's home village of Hope.

    With him are a group of actors, some in the offseason from seaside shows, all with their own neuroses and the film charts the rehearsal process and the production. It very much follows the structure and style of the Hollywood backstage films from the heyday of the studio system, except with obvious nods and influences from sources as diverse as Woody Allen, Ealing comedies and silent cinema.

    Branagh says that it isn't autobiographical, but when Joe describes his passion for the play, that he saw it when he was fifteen and it changed his life that's exactly what the director has said about seeing Jacobi at the RSC all those years ago. His motivation for making the epic film version of the play later mirrors one of Joe's needs here - to try and make something which has a reputation for being musty and boring and making it exciting for a new generation, essentially dragging out of slow amateur schoolroom readings.

    Having tried acting and been around a few actors I can absolutely say that the film captures the brilliance and pain of the art, the fact that it can boil down to bringing the deep seated emotional crap that you try to suppress up to the surface in order to entertain others. But what is really clever, is that having suggested from the opening that all of the characters are pretentious and affected and everything everyone expects actors to be - John Session's raving queen and Richard Briers grumpy old man, for example, in a series of carefully chosen two-handers he carefully peels away the surface and reveals them to be perfectly normal people like us, absolutely aware of the mask they're otherwise wearing to get by in the profession.

    I think the film was derided at the time as another opportunity for Ken to give his chums something to do, but I thought it was unfair, particularly since it allows them to reproduce the fragile chemistry that any short term group dynamic has but also because many of them are producing what I think are career best performances. People like John Sessions or Celia Imrie, so often stuck playing grotesques and eccentrics are brilliant here when demonstrating the serious side of their all too camp exteriors. Gerard Horan, latterly typecast as policeman is beautifully touching as Carnforth the man with the drink problem. To be honest the only weak link is Jennifer Saunders with her mad American accent who looks like she's charged in from a Comic Strip skit, but there no doubt she's fulfilling the role of the big producer redolent of the genre.

    The film is composed rather like a something from earlier in that century - most of the action plays out in medium or wide shots in deep focus with the actors moving into the foreground and back again creating the effect of seeing characters on a theatre stage - there are very few close ups and they only appear late in the film as the group is fractured and the infighting and arguments have begun in earnest. There are montage sequences, such as the audition process and the costuming but Branagh uses a series of jump cuts and juxtapositions to move the story forward.

    Branagh employs lighting akin to film noir which fits the mood of the play in production and there are some lovely compositions as the actors walk in and out of silhouette.

    Noir is also implied in the costumes that are finally selected for the production within the film which have a kind of 40s gangster style - and there's a spectacular use of a machine gun which accentuates that idea which I don't want to give away. There's also very little music. The film opens with Noel Coward singing 'Why Must The Show Go On' and ends with a plucked instrumental version of the titular Christmas carol. It's a brave stylistic choice but it gives room for the actor's performances to provide the emotional core and make the one musical moment from inside their story - when Nina (Julia Sawalha) sings Ophelia's lament - all the more heartbreaking.

    It has dated slightly. One of the jokes hinges on Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which to be honest seemed out of the date at the time although the target audience will at least have heard of it - I'm not sure what the equivalent now would be - probably Xbox or Wii. Also, when Nicholas Farrell's Tom is auditioning for Laertes, he goes into a wild digression about how relevant Hamlet it and mentions that it's like Bosnia. That would be Iraq now I suppose. One element that hasn't aged is the crucial plot point of the filming of a giant sci-fi trilogy that could be the new Star Wars, especially since we've actually had a new Star Wars trilogy (coindentally featuring Celia Imrie as a fighter pilot) and since and everything seems to be about pre-planned franchises and series now.

    Some other things I noticed watching it again the other night - the (uncredited) puppet theatre girl in the audition scene is Katy Carmichael who played Twist in the sitcom Spaced. The brilliance of the acronym LCA - Less Crap Acting. Joan Collins as Joe's agent gives probably her best performance since classic Star Trek's City of the Edge of Forever. That Maloney is the best Doctor Who we never had and is completely wasted playing the range of wackos always seems to now in tv dramas - this is the man who stole Juliet Stevenson from Alan Rickman in Truly Madly Deeply after all.

    Stylistically different to anything else what Branagh has directed but still with that love of theatre and theatrics it touches me each year and even with the darkness it somehow manages to put me in the Christmas mood. There is a scene within in which people talk about what makes their life worth living and someone mentions Brief Encounter and offers to buy someone a copy for Christmas. Do yourself a favour and hunt a copy of this down in time for next Christmas because if you're a reader of this blog I really think you'll enjoy it.

  • Comment number 56.

    No joke: there is a movie by the name of Santa's Slay, starring WWE wrestler Bill Goldberg as a mass-killing Santa, featuring James Caan and Fran Drescher amongst his victims, and written-directed by David Steiman, a former assistant to Brett Ratner. So, there you go.

  • Comment number 57.

    In my view the best Christmas movie is also the best adaptation of the famous Dickens novel and that is “The Muppet Christmas Carol”, truly great and truly magical. I went to the cinema to see it when I was five in 1992 and EVERY year since then I have watched it during the Christmas season (so, November don’t count). May seem odd but it is my Christmas ritual and I like it, meaning this year’s Yule-tide will be the 17th year I have kept with this great tradition of mine.

    Coming in a very close second is the fantastic “Brazil”...don’t really need to say much about this as everyone has seen it must surely know how great it is...and if not: WHERE ON EARTH HAVE YOU BEEN?

  • Comment number 58.

    Best:

    Planes, Trains and Automobiles: Because it is the greatest film of all time perhaps, John Hughes finest directorial piece and the best thing either John Candy or Steve Martin have ever done.

    It's a Wonderful Life- Not because it's a Christmas movie, but because it's one the best films ever made.

    Santa Claus: The Movie- Because i still have terrifying dreams involving John Lithgow and Candy Canes. Reminds me of good times.

    Lethal Weapon: Because i have apparently modelled my hair on Mr Joshua's.

    National Lampoons Christmas Vacation: John Hughes script, Chevy Chase being funny. Brilliant!

    Worst:

    Love Actually- Kiera Knightly.

    Love Actually- Hugh Grant.

    Love Actually- Martine McCutheon.

    Love Actually- A soundtrack that includes Dido, Maroon 5, Norah Jones, Kelly Clarkson and The Calling...it would sell well in Tescos.

    Love Actually- An abomination to god and to man.



  • Comment number 59.

    Hello and merry stupid christmas and here comes the films that make bride wars sound like lord of the rings. But the only film that has ever been a great christmas film is a muppet christmas carol, it's funny, it's hillarious, they don't ruin the story and the best thing is Michael Caine performance as Scrooge, is it's just that grumpyness of scrooge but also that cheer delight like a child. But just remenber Mark any film that is to do with christmas will always and always be rubbish.

  • Comment number 60.

    Gremlins is the greatest of all Christmas movies. It's Capra/Rockwell under attack from strange little Chinese monsters. Nothing says Christmas quite like a spawn of scary little green monsters.

  • Comment number 61.

    Just remembered one that hasn't featured yet...
    Why has nobody brought up the Coen's "The Hudsucker Proxy"? A couple of stylistic nods to Kapra, starts with Tim Robbins contemplating suicide over New Years Eve and goes back to show you how he got there.
    There's snow, there's redemption in the form of Charles Durning as a former Chairman of Huducker industries who jumps to his death through the window of the 44th floor and re-emerges as a guardian angel in the third act, and rampant capitalism in the marketing of Hula hoops to young consumers. Everything in the movie including the plot is built around circles. Always gets me in the Christmas mood.

  • Comment number 62.

    Dear Mark,

    The version of "Christmas Slay" that I recall is the one where Santa's eventual replacement plays a man defending his family from an alien. He dropped out because of the violence and swearing.

  • Comment number 63.

    Thinking about it, Monty Python's "Life of Brian" is the movie I like to put on when one too many people on thought for the day accuse me of "forgetting the true meaning of Christmas".
    I'm thinking of the prologue when the three wise men pitch up at the wrong stable by accident. After falling backwards off her chair in shock, Brian's mum [Terry Jones in drag] greets them with hostility and accuses them of being drunk until they mention the gifts and then she turns on the charm and invites them all in.
    "Well thanks a lot for the gold and frankincence, but don't worry too much about the Mhyrrh next time, alright?"

  • Comment number 64.

    The Best/Worst Christmas film is Jingle all the Way! It's not a good film, but it's great to see a movie that shows that Christmas shopping is so dangerous that even Arnie finds it hard!

  • Comment number 65.

    My two favourite Billy Wilder Christmas classics are Sunset Boulevard and Stalag 17. Often overlooked but still great.

  • Comment number 66.

    Best Christmas Films:

    Home Alone
    Gremlins
    National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
    It's a Wonderful Life
    Meet Me in St. Louis
    Die Hard
    The Thin Man
    Black Christmas (1974)
    Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
    The Nightmare Before Christmas

    Best/Worst Christmas Films:

    Silent Night, Deadly Night
    Jack Frost (1996 Horror Version)
    Santa's Slay
    Christmas Evil (You'd Better Watch Out!)

    Worst Christmas Films:

    Jingle All The Way
    This Christmas (Starring Chris Brown)
    How The Grinch Stole Christmas
    Four Christmases
    Home Alone 3 & 4

  • Comment number 67.

    Worst Film has to be Home Alone 2:Lost in New York. A film so bad that it could be cursed as it made my christmas tree catch fire halfway through watching it. I do beleive Macauley Culkin is a blood relative of Sadako in Ringu

  • Comment number 68.

    The Best Christmas film would have to be either It's a Wonderful Life or National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.

    Worst Christmas Film - Santa Claus Conquers the Martians!

    Mark, may I request that you utter the words....'Megan Fox!' one more time?

  • Comment number 69.

    Rabid is my favorite Christmas movie! Not only do the shoppers need to do their shopping but they also have to run a gauntlet of army checkpoints and infected people foaming at the mouth!

    People have already listed the other great ones like brazil, muppet christmas carol, scrooged, home alone, bad santa and the like.

    Also im looking forward to jingle all the way, how can you not like a movie where arnie punches a reindeer in the face.

  • Comment number 70.

    I've just seen the much maligned Silent Night, Deadly Night and I thought it was entertaining - unintentionally hysterical from the wooden acting(the scene where he visits his grandpa) and OTT dated score and actually quite creepy at times.

    One thing's for sure - I'll never see a man dressed up as Santa the same way again! Naughty!

  • Comment number 71.

    As mentioned above, Bad Santa would be my favorite christmas film if only for its quality as an antidote to the Happy Holidays; bloody polar bears drinking Coke; celebrities doing high budget Xmas ads for two bloody months.

    Jingle All The Way is total scutter! I actually can't think of a worse Arnie movie, even Conan the Barbarian now has nostalgic comedy appeal to it.

  • Comment number 72.

    Best: It's A Wonderful Life or Muppet Christmas Carol (Depending on the mood)
    Worst: By a country mile it's The Star Wars Holiday Special. Which makes my list for one of the worst things I have ever seen.

  • Comment number 73.

    No love out there for THE SNOWMAN?
    Is it just me?
    Yes, apparently.

  • Comment number 74.

    Nobody seems to have mentioned The Bishop's Wife with David Niven and Cary Grant. It has to be one of the great Christmas movies, and should definitely be up there with It's a Wonderful Life. Alastair Sim's Scrooge is also hard to beat.

    Not strictly cinema, but the BBC's Ghost Stories for Christmas from the '70s are also fantastic.

  • Comment number 75.

    I had deffinately forgotten about National Lampoons Christmas Vacation and Home Alone. Two movies that are a staple for holidays watching.

  • Comment number 76.

    Bill Forsyth's "Comfort & Joy" for me.
    Far from a traditional Christmas tale, but beautifully told and gorgeously shot - nobody captures late afternoon winter light better than Chris Menges. Perfectly cast too, with Bill Paterson and great turns from Eleanor David, Rikki Fulton, Alex Norton and of course, Clare Grogan. The film's the perfect combination of joy and melancholy.

  • Comment number 77.

    @El Fauno at 26: Ha-ha. I also saw Treevenge recently, at the Horrorfest in Cape Town - South Africa (Africa?)'s only movie festival dedicated to horror movies, a mere week ago, as part of a compilation, and Treevenge was definitely the highlight of 2 hours of short films. (The scene with the baby in particular was a hit among the ones of us who went.) Oddly enough, I would never have thought of The Shining as a Christmas movie, but now I'll absolutely have to watch it this year, possibly in a double feature with Die Hard.

    What I WON'T be watching is this new Jim Carey/Disney monstrosity, in 3D, 2D, cinematronoscope, xray vision, black and white, or any other format. If only for the fact that it's being advertised as "Disney's Christmas Carol." What ever happened to Dickens, I ask you? Bah humbug, indeed.

  • Comment number 78.

    For a favourite Christmas Movie, being a movie set at Christmas, it's gotta be Nick Cave and John Hillcoat's 'The Proposition'. For a worst christmas film it's gotta be Elf, a comedy that interestingly never made me laugh. Not once.

  • Comment number 79.

    The two joint-best Christmas films: The Wizard of Oz and The Great Escape.

  • Comment number 80.

    Here's a couple from outside Europe/US that deserve mentioning:

    - 2046: 3 successive Boxing Days in which a heartbroken Tony Leung rediscovers how to love.

    - Lady Vengeance: A hilarious opening scene in which a band of Santas sing to the recently released titular character and a stunningly beautiful and heartbreaking finale in the snow. And in between plenty of bloody vengeance. If that's not a perfect Christmas movie, I don't know what is!

  • Comment number 81.

    Hmm the more and more you hear about it the more you can see how much 3D thing is becoming a complete fad.

  • Comment number 82.

    My favourite Christmas movies would include the obvious the 2 biggies would probably It's a Wonderful Life Muppets' Christmas Carol (in which if you watch very carefully Beaker swears at Scrooge). The more obscure for me would be 12 Angry Men which I watched over one Christmas and just fell in love with.

    In response to the good doctor's call for movies such as Die Hard which are set at Christmas time rather than being about Christmas, I would like to put forward a little known gangster film called the Godfather.

  • Comment number 83.

    I definetly agree with 'Brazil' and would also like to put forward 'Trading Places' which is set over the xmas/ny period and features Ackroyd, Murphy and Curtis in great form.

    Greed plays a central theme and so befitting for the time of year.

  • Comment number 84.

    Anyone seen 'Christmas with the Kranks' starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Tim Allen? Je-sus Christ. And I don't mean, 'Let's celebrate his birthday'. I mean, 'Let's show those responsible, the meaning of true comedy, by getting a large automatic weapon, and killing as many of them as possible'. It's everything you hate about Hollywood and Christmas and unfunny physical comedy and scripts that actually transcend the concept of emptiness, into becoming the antimatter bomb from Angels and Demons. A true contender for The Floccinaucinihilipilification List.

  • Comment number 85.

    [Long-time follower of the blog, 1st time poster, etc, etc]

    Have to echo all the mentions of Brazil and Home Alone.

    Also, whilst not strictly about Christmas (...wasn't really celebrated in that particular part of the world) a film that I still very much enjoy every around this "festive season" is the Soviet comedy-drama The Irony of Fate by Eldar Ryazanov that centers around New Year's celebration (see? same time period, and snow and fir trees to boo).

    Very touching and very funny (though perhaps, like the wonderful "Goodbye, Lenin", to a lesser degree if one is not from the old Eastern block), I highly recommend it.

  • Comment number 86.

    Worst christmas film its hard too choose because there are soo many but i have to say personally Christmas with the Cranks, i paid $8 to see it at the movies, i dont even know why.

    best could be The Family Stone, such a good family movie, rachel Mcadams is great in it and has a fantastic cast topped with that cherry on top, Diane keaton.

    Not really a christmas film but Catch me if You Can has a great Xmas moment were leo looks through the window into his old house to see his halfsister by the christmas tree, 'nuts roasting by an open fire' song is playing and for me at least perfectly emulates those feelings of nostalgia and bittersweetness we get around christmas.

  • Comment number 87.

    Who cares about the birth of Christ, and all those feel good movies, let's have more films about the destruction of the world!!!!

  • Comment number 88.

    It's not a Christmas film at all, but for me it never feels like Christmas without a screening of Carry On Don't Lose Your Head. Maybe it's because it always used to be included on the BBC's schedule around that time.

    And what about Psycho? According to the opening caption the story starts on December 11th, yet there's no Christmas detail to be seen: not so much as a strand of tinsel.

  • Comment number 89.

    Best it`s a wonderful Life the scene when James Stewart(my fav actor)
    is in the bar, is one of the best acting performances in any movie.All the desperation can be felt in is performance and the thing is the character does`nt feel sorry for himself but decides to comit suicide because he feels it will be better for everyone else it even makes my dad cry.(is Spartacus a christmas story that would be up there)
    Worst Officer and Gentleman ( you did say outside the box)my wife fancies Richard Gere too much!!!

  • Comment number 90.

    Richard Donners "Scrooged" Starring Bill Murray. We watch it every year and are singing our heads off at the end! Love the movie, and consider it a modern classic of Christmas Films.

    Also, yes.. The Snowman.. wouldn't be Christmas without it.

    Die Hard as well.. It's an odd tradition of mine.

    And finally,

    Richard Williams animated version of "A Christmas Carol".. If you can get hold of a copy of this... It's fantastic.

  • Comment number 91.

    Xmas is a time to be happy and as such it would have to be either Scrooged or Christmas Vacation.

  • Comment number 92.

    Watching 'bad santa' once a year on christmas day has become a bit of a tradition for me. A christmas classic surely!

  • Comment number 93.

    (Short and simple)

    Favourite christmas movies:
    Gremlins(yep),scrooged,It's a Wonderful Life and the snowman.

    Worst christmas movie:
    anything with Tim Allen.

  • Comment number 94.

    @ J-ME: Are you including Toy Story 1 and 2 in that list of "anything with Tim Allen"?

  • Comment number 95.

    Good,
    Die Hard 2, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, Wallace & Gromit, Oliver, E.T (although it doesnt seem to be on every Xmas anymore?)

    Bad,
    The Santa Claus...everybody in the movie is as annoying as Tim Allen, which is quite a feat!
    Miracle on 34th Street(new version)...treacle tart in film form.
    Vince Vaughan has made some really bad ones over the past few years..Fred Claus!
    Mighty Ducks (any or all of them)...along with Two and a Half Men it is proof of regression towards the mean or perhaps overshoot?

    Oh and...
    Love Actually...just shocking


  • Comment number 96.

    I've long been a supporter of Die Hard as the greatest Christmas movie of all time, but I'd also like to throw Days of Wine and Roses into the mix.

    Granted, it's not traditionally Christmassy (though I think there might be some snow in it), but I stumbled across it on BBC Two in late December last year, couped up on the sofa with flu, feeling traditionally miserable about the whole yuletide thing - and it captured my mood perfectly.

    As for the worst, I'll suggest The Family Man. Nic Cage and Brett Ratner together for a film that's less enjoyable than having your eyeballs shredded. Twice.

  • Comment number 97.

    I'm not sure if it counts as a full length film, but the snowman is my favourite christmas film. Great animation and a depressing ending to match.

  • Comment number 98.

    There are a lot of dark Christmas films that seem to be up in the Best Christmas Films Ever Made.

    For me, the obvious choice is Brazil because in the future, there are no chimneys, all Christmas decorations are set against grey dystopian landscape and my favourite Santa in a padded cell. For me, that is a good old cynical Christmas Carol.

    I was at the Ely Cathedral Q&A with Michael Palin, and even he says it's a Christmas film the whole family should cuddle around and watch.

    The worst Christmas film for me has to be Fred Claus, which is a demented, rotten lump of coal.


  • Comment number 99.

    *..· ´¨¨)) -:¦:-
    ¸.·´ .·´¨¨))
    ((¸¸.·´ .·´ -:¦:- *The Nightmare Before Christmas* -:¦:-
    -:¦:- ((¸¸.·´*

  • Comment number 100.

    Mark if you read this i have a question i have been meaning to ask you for a long time.

    Round about 2003/2004 you did a documentry for Channel 4 called "The 100 Greatest Scariest Moments" where you talked about some of the entries like The Exorcist of course,Evil Dead and Peeping Tom.

    I love the documentry so much i have recorded it on a video which i keep in my room and watch it a couple times of month because its so well done and a very accurate list (Except Jimmy Carr) i want to know that 1) are you mad that The Exorcist wasn`t number 1? 2) Is there anything you would take out the list 3) Anything you would put in the list and 4) Anything you would move

    If you answer this i would be very very grateful.You are quite possibly Britian`s Best Critic better than that speaky guy in America (Roger Ebert).

    Connor

    P.S. Channel 4 are doing A Greatest Ever 3D Moments category....DUCK IN COVER.

 

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