Enjoying the lingering Christmas feeling? Here’s what to watch

Everyone’s got a favourite Christmas movie, and they might just get a mention here. But resident film critic TEODOR RELJIC is also after some deep cuts that will leave the Xmas Sceptics sated over the season of good cheer…

Bah, humbug! Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa
Bah, humbug! Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa

The One to Crown them All

Discovering that Charles Dickens all but ‘invented’ Christmas celebration as we know it may come as a surprise to many, but deep down we’ve all known it, really. A recent – a fairly middling though adequately heartwarming – biopic pretty much lays it out in its very title, as The Man Who Invented Christmas casts Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens as a younger version of the titan of Victorian literature, just as he’s about to pen the work that would help assure an already-secure position in the Western canon but also revive flagging financial prospects at the time of publication.

Even Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, while not directly inspired by the source material in question, still expresses a similarly redemptive aspect of the holiday, where fellow-feeling trumps over the black dogs of egotism and introspection.

I am, of course, referring to Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, whose many adaptations continue to enjoy production, rotation and healthy audience numbers, and whose most recent take is the Jim Carrey starring 3D animated take, with a highly interesting-sounding BBC mini-series version coming up courtesy of writer-director extraordinaire Stephen Knight (Peaky Blinders, Taboo), starring Guy Pierce and Andy Serkis, the latter being a voice-over/motion capture artist famous for his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings series… a role that positioned him at the forefront of what is essentially digital puppetry. But the old-school puppets do still put on a good show, as is evident in that evergreen classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol.

The franchises

Among other things, Christmas is a time to snuggle up and get cosy – where indulgence means not the cynical and morally bankrupt activities of binge-drinking but the warm embrace of loved ones stuffed to the brim with mince pies and sipping mulled wine. In other words, the perfect mood to sit back and escape into a snug fantasy world for the millionth time in a row, by which point you’re no longer concerned with the plot mechanics because you know them by heart, so you can let the nostalgia of it all wash over you. Whatever your fluffy poison here – The Lord of the Rings? Harry Potter? Jane Austen adaptations (because ‘prestige’ period dramas are basically fantasy)? – now’s the time to go wild.

The Netflix Revolution

Assuming that the world’s most popular streaming service would not cash in on the hunger for audio-visual good cheer that’s part and parcel of the season. Well, so far it’s offered us the rather risible schmaltz-fest A Christmas Prince saga (2017-19), which despite its cringe-worthy script, setting/s and acting managed to score not one, but two sequels, with the latest (A Christmas Prince: The Royal Baby) making its way to the Netflix rolodex just this month. It’s not all terrible, though: Klaus is a genuinely affecting and beautifully animated tale that gives a much needed bump up to Netflix’s Christmas offerings.

It’s Tim Burton time

Yep, the maestro of the twee-gothic gets his own sub-category here. Though not directed by him (that honour goes to Henry Selick) the Burton-produced The Nightmare Before Christmas injects Burton’s vintage B-movie, Hollywood haunted house vibe to a kid-friendly but darkly romantic fairytale that pits the literal representation of Halloween on a collision course with Christmas.

Surely a gateway drug to more refined gothic splendour for many an impressionable kid, and Burton’s earlier output certainly fits the bill there, with both Edward Scissorhands and Batman Returns juxtaposing the season’s cheerful cosmetics with dark, but really no less cosmetic, stylings.

The Dark Horses

One step above, or below, the Tim Burton films on the risque darkness scale are the true Christmas dark horses, for those of us who are partial to the overall atmospherics of the time but have no truck with its unquestioned sentimentality.

Gremlins would be a good way to ease into it, and in fact the story of a cutesy supernatural critters who go berserk when they’re fed after midnight straddles a dangerously fine line between family-friendly entertainment and grisly-guilty joy.

The more recent – and one of many – Krampus (2015) taps into a similar vein of dark comedy in employing the German folkloric ‘anti-Santa’, and the cynical definitely shouldn’t miss out on Bad Santa, starring Billy Bob Thornton as a hard-drinking shopping mall Santa who however does get to enjoy something of a redemption arc at the end.

No such final uplift for the bona fide horror favourite Black Christmas, whose original 1974 version actually predates John Carpenter’s Halloween, thus making it the prototype of the slasher genre. Its remake – directed by Sophia Takal and featuring an all-female cast led by Imogen Poots – can currently be enjoyed in local cinemas – an adrenaline-pumping, gory palate cleanser to get the blood pressure back up after all those artery-clogging family dinners.

Die Hard

Yes. Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Let’s kill this debate right now and close the gap between us talking about, and us fully enjoying this glorious seasonal repast of exhilarating, funny and just downright fun survival machismo, which cemented Bruce Willis as a bona fide action hero and the dearly departed Alan Rickman as an eminently hissable villain figure. But it’s the lines you’ll remember, like “Ho, Ho, Ho – now I’ve got a shotgun!” and other stuff that may be a tad indecorous given the season.

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