Christmas movies. Hate them, love them, ignore them: Fact is they exist. Personally, I don’t know what to do with all the stereotypical “Oh I was a shitty person the whole year, but I’ll suddenly change over night and become a decent human being for once in my life” type of movies. They’re nauseating and phony. I can’t believe people watch them, but who am I to judge? In true Christmas spirit I’d like to however briefly bring up some of my favorite films that have a Christmas setting.
Obviously, since I don’t like the traditional Christmas films, this list might seem a bit odd. So maybe with some of my picks you’ll be like What the fuck? I’ll try to explain though why I picked them and why they remind me of Christmas in their own way or at least are worth watching and discussing in the context of this now uber-materialistic holiday. I might seem a bit cynical towards Christmas, but don’t let it fool you, there’s still a lot about it that fascinates me.
I just wish people would think about the actual, true meaning of Christmas (Christ coming into this world, to save humanity) for a change. Instead I feel that for most people the holiday has become about feeling forced to smile, exchange expensive gifts, meeting annoying relatives and not much else. Well, the truth is that there are a lot of lonely people on Christmas day, suicide rates go up during this time of the year and people pretty much stay the same and don’t magically become “good”.
Enough negativity (and/or realism), though let’s talk movies. In chronological order here are my ten favorite films with a Christmas setting. Let me remind you of the fact that these are personal picks and I’m not trying to say that these are “the best” out there, just the ones I can relate to and enjoy most, so I hope you enjoy these as well.
Merry Christmas, my dear readers!
10. Citizen Kane (1941, Orson Welles)
Speaking of loneliness: Who’s lonelier than Charles Forster Kane? He owned everything a man could possibly own, but he felt unloved and died looking for the one true moment of happiness in his life. It’s a tragic, yet inspiring film about so many things I won’t even try to discuss it here. I picked this classic, considered best movie of all time, because it gives you a lot to think about and it’s linked to Christmas and the winter, with plenty of great scenes throughout.
9. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946, Frank Capra)
This is probably the most conventional Christmas film on my list. Still, it’s about a depressed man who wants to kill himself. Luckily an angel shows him how his life is worth something and how sad the world would be without him. A truly uplifting story, that even someone as cynical as myself can’t resist. This is the perfect Christmas movie in my opinion, but then again what Frank Capra/James Stewart film isn’t perfect?
8. The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)
Another film about a lonesome man on Christmas Day. This is a very bittersweet film, in the best possible way. Not only that, but in my opinion it captures what I personally feel like during this time of the year. Usually there’s a weird melancholic quality to Christmas, the confusion of people storming the stores, the cold weather, the stress. Not that this film focuses on any of that (or even shows it), but somehow you can sense it.
7. Rosemary’s Baby (1968, Roman Polanski)
Okay, so this is definitely a controversial choice, but that was Roman Polanski’s when he made the devil’s child be born on Christmas Eve. I picked this one as the anti-Christmas film. By default it’s the birth of the antichrist. In the Bible the devil imitates God’s miracles, so it makes sense that he would copy the birth of Jesus, when he would bring his incarnation to the world. This film doesn’t feel like Christmas at all, but I think we need that also, to know what Christmas “feels” like.
6. Fanny and Alexander (1982, Ingmar Bergman)
Splendid, epic film by Ingmar Bergman. To me Christmas is also about luxury. I think this one captures it perfectly. The warm cinematography, the expensive looking sets and costumes (especially in the first part) and even the Christmas decorations capture what most people’s idea of the perfect Christmas. I also like that there’s a lot of family drama, because of course, when a lot of people gather to celebrate it’s inevitable for everyone to get along at all times.
5. Gremlins (1984, Joe Dante)
Joe Dante’s film shows the more “commercial” aspect of Christmas. This is how I viewed the holiday as a child: The presents, the lights, the tree, the excitement all of that is perfectly staged here. Unfortunately, the gift comes with a curse here and so Christmas turns into a Halloween of sorts. It’s a great juxtaposition. The “happiest time of the year”, turns into the most horrifying one, but of course it’s the 80s so expect a lot of cheese, too.
4. Lethal Weapon (1987, Richard Donner)
Most people’s go-to holiday action flick is probably Die Hard, but honestly Lethal Weapon feels more “christmas-y” (if there’s such a thing). Is it a coincidence that we’re dealing with another depressed character? I don’t think so. I actually think that a lot people feel sad during holiday season, but most will fake a smile to keep up appearances or not bring everyone else down. One of my favorite buddy-cop films and a good reminder of why I love Mel Gibson.
3. Edward Scissorhands (1990, Tim Burton)
Here’s a bit of Christmas romance for you. This is one of the sweetest, but also saddest Christmas tales I know of. It’s a gothic tale of course, being a Tim Burton film. It never fails to make me cry. It’s just such a heartbreaking story. The 50s suburban look and feel exposes a darker side of Christmas, where all the bad things are swept under the rug and ignored, but they still exist and will come out sooner or later.
2. Eyes Wide Shut (1999, Stanley Kubrick)
It’s weird that Stanley Kubrick picked a Christmas setting for his drama about a secret society performing weird sex rituals. Christmas only serves as a context in this case, and is never really commented on, but it does create a specific atmosphere that makes the film even weirder. It adds a layer of complexity and uneasiness, that is palpable and yet you can’t really describe. Love it.
1. Party Monster (2003, Fenton Bailey & Randy Barbato)
And one last film about depressed characters. It’s Christmas at some point in this film, I guess, but there’s a Christmas feel throughout (even if you don’t feel it immediately). Of course casting Macaulay Culkin, who starred in one of the most famous Christmas franchises ever (the Home Alone movies) and put him in the context of depraved junkies is quite genius.
That’s it for odd Christmas films. What we can learn from this list of films is that outside of the mainstream, Christmas films are about feelings of loneliness, depression and even suicide. Those are all great twists on the more classic Hollywood view of the holiday, but sadly they’re also true for a lot of people. The Christmas setting remains popular, because it’s easy to stage and understand. It’s usually creates a very specific tone, but can be used in the most disparate genres. So regardless of what kind movies you usually watch, there’s probably at least one Christmas movie for everyone out there.
Buon natale a tutti!