The movies love Christmas. Ultimately, that’s because we love Christmas. We all know about the magic and splendour of Christmas as a child, but what we less often recognise is that there is a different but equally potent magic: a magic that takes hold of us at Christmas, as adults. Whatever our feelings about the ideological and cultural roots of the festival, we feel that at this closing moment of the year, we become more conscious of the bonds that connect us all. We more readily feel an all-enveloping sense of love and goodwill for those around us; we realise again how much we have to be thankful for, and we find ourselves suffused with peace, ready to welcome others into a hearts. But if by some tragic fluke of your circumstances, you’re not feeling it – if, this Christmas, you’re not experiencing the magic of the holiday, or even if you never have done – I’m pleased to tell you there is a remedy. Watch any of the following movies. If you’re extra-specially in need of cheer, count them down in this order. You will be invested with the spirit of the season.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas
“Boys and girls of every age, wouldn’t you like to see something strange?” Yes, oh Mr Tim Burton. Yes we would. Jack Skellington, King of Hallowe’en Town, finds his way by accident into a different holiday dimension, Christmas Town. But being a born-and-bred spook, he doesn’t quite grasp the concept of merriment and goodwill. The result is an intoxicating mixture of comedy and frights, packed with the oddbeat creations that have come to characterise this director’s work. And in the end, it becomes a lovely affirmation of the Christmas spirit – with some appropriately ghoulish twists.
4. The Apartment
Somehow we don’t usually tend to think of The Apartment as a Christmas film. Yet it’s set at Christmastime, and it is a film that celebrates love and human connection – even while it turns a scalding light on several rather less wholesome aspects of human experience. Jack Lemmon plays a timid office worker who starts letting company executives use his flat for their sexual affairs, in exchange for promotions. But this is a romantic comedy, so of course our antihero soon finds he has fallen in love himself – and a brilliantly scripted tangle of complications ensues. As the film reaches its climax it becomes a truly wonderful ode to love, courage, and open-heartedness, and if that’s not Christmas-spirited, I don’t know what is.
3. The Muppet Christmas Carol
Dickens’ Christmas Carol is Christmas, and Christmas is the Christmas Carol. Besides the fact that an overwhelming proportion of British traditions and attitudes that revolve around Christmas can ultimately be traced to Dickens, there’s the simple fact that Scrooge’s redemption story encapsulates the specialness of Christmas note-perfectly. In this delightful rendition, Michael Caine’s Scrooge becomes the straight man to a vast array of charming muppets, who supply all of the wit and cheer that any fan knows to expect from them. It’s tongue-in-cheek, but manages to go sincere when it needs to, and the result is a genuinely moving and uplifting adventure. Oh, and the songs are wonderful.
2. It’s a Wonderful Life
Films don’t get any more heartwarming than this. Like A Christmas Carol, this is a tale of redemption; but this time it’s redemption not from a life lived badly, but from the feeling of hopelessness that can overtake us even in the midst of a life lived deeply well. On Christmas Eve, George Bailey (James Stewart) is on the verge of suicide, when an angel intervenes to show him what the world would have been like if he had never lived. Few other films have ever so stirringly and so movingly demonstrated the importance and the value of simple virtues – integrity, friendship, and willingness to help others. No other Christmas film is so guaranteed to make you feel happier – with the single possible exception of …
1. Love Actually
Were you expecting anything else? This symphony of joy, this glorious hymn to human love, is a film that simply becomes more rich, more funny, more sad, and more inspiring with every viewing. Love Actually’s greatest virtue is its sheer spot-on humanity: every single scene offers us human moments that ring perfectly true, and hit us right in the heart. And all those moments across all nine intertwined love stories are drawn together into a crescendo of celebration – of life, of Christmas, and of love. This is the jewel in the crown of British romantic comedies. Sit down with some loved ones and watch it again this Christmas. What is Christmas about, if it’s not, actually, about love?
Photo/ Andy Zeigert