Posted inCultures

The 12 Films of Christmas

Illustration by Ben Beechener

These are my carefully curated films to get you into the festive season! This is not a ranking – this is my recommended order of watching! A film a day, leading up to Christmas. Grab a hot chocolate, grab a blanket, and some Christmas pyjamas to numb the struggles of Michaelmas with brilliance after brilliance after brilliance. Merry watching!!

DAY 12: Spencer (2021) dir. Pablo Larrain

At the time of writing this, I watched Spencer last night and…wow. Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana is a revelation, nothing short of a marvel. The voice, the mannerisms, the expressions were impeccable. It’s difficult to put into words how much of a cinematic masterpiece this film is. It is set during the 1991 Christmas season  at the pinnacle of the decade-long marriage between Princess Diana and Prince Charles, and the beginning of Prince Charles’ relationship with Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. “A fable of a true tragedy”, as described in the opening credits, it is told entirely through Princess Diana’s perspective, and it is incredible just how real it all felt to watch. With direction from Pablo Larraín, screenplay by Steven Knight and cinematography from Claire Mathon, every scene is beautiful and pristine, even when showing the many cracks in the composure of the characters on screen. 

Spencer is certainly one of the more serious films on this list, but knowing all that we know now (and all that we do not) makes every moment both heart-wrenching and heart-warming and ultimately dramatic. Whilst every actor in this film was ridiculously brilliant, Jack Nielen (Prince William) and Freddie Spry (Prince Harry) certainly provide the innocence of youth Princess Diana craves with a crushing warmth in their portrayals – the characterisation shines through.

This is for you to watch on day 12 in the leadup, because I can’t promise you that it will leave you feeling Christmassy, but it will leave you amazed and happy to have found a (Christmas) miracle in this fantastic film.

Trigger warnings for eating disorders apply. Spencer is out in cinemas now.

DAY 11: The Holiday (2006) dir. Nancy Meyers

Admittedly, I’ve seen mixed reviews about The Holiday, to the point of which I was cautious to watch it, and only watched it in its entirety for the first time last year. And I am so happy that I did. After a film as suspenseful as Spencer, The Holiday is just what you need to unwind and fantasise about what a small world we all live in and how Christmas is a time so magical that it can bring together the most unlikely pairs. The 2000s nostalgia in this film is strong. Both going through heartbreak, two women Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Iris (Kate Winslet) from different countries swap houses for Christmas and fall in love during their trips. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this film is ground-breaking…it is fairly predictable, but that’s the fun of it. A true comfort Christmas film, watching Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet fall in love is just what you need when it’s December 14th and you’re feeling about as Christmassy as the 14th of January.

The Holiday is available to stream on Netflix.

DAY 10: Die Hard (1988) dir. John McTiernan

Die Hard is what I would call a true action movie. The script is witty and unpredictable, the visualisations are interesting and memorable, performances are at an all round high and mask the rising tension perfectly. Nothing in Die Hard feels like too much. There isn’t a single plot hole, which is rare for an action film twenty years later today. The premise is bizarre but not unimaginable. Policeman John McClane (Bruce Willis boasting the ultimate action hero name) hopes to spend Christmas with his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) in LA, but soon hears of a hostage situation at an office and Bedelia is amongst the hostages. Die Hard is cinematic excellency, there isn’t much else to say that won’t give away the film…but to watch this drama between two fantastical, believe-what-you-see films is the best kind of whiplash. And of course, the Christmas setting isn’t too bad either…I will recommend this every Christmas season without fail.

…Yippee kayak, other buckets!

Die Hard is available to stream with a Disney Plus subscription.

DAY 9: A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965) dir. Bill Melendez

Charlie Brown is probably the most beloved animated character in my household. The series’ simplicity in letting children be children makes the innocence a wonderful (and short) refresher after the intensity of Die Hard. The animation using cels and painted backgrounds is simple but stylistic in its movements, and of course the iconic Snoopy dance featured brings instant joy. The premise of this short film is straightforward: it is nearly Christmas time, and Charlie is unhappy (as usual) about the commercialisation of the holiday as he struggles to find the true meaning of Christmas. It’s short, it’s sweet, and it’s perfect for anyone who is trying to live up to a – perhaps now unrealistic – expectation of what their Christmas will be like this year. 

A Charlie Brown Christmas is available to stream with an Apple TV Subscription.

DAY 8: Little Women (2019) dir. Greta Gerwig

It’s overwhelming how beautifully crafted Little Women is. An authentic coming-of-age romantic comedy is already hard to come by, and pairing that with a Christmas setting and a revival adaptation meant that the statistical chances of Little Women being better than alright were low. But of course, with Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird) directing, this was more than feasible. And with an A-list cast consisting of Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothee Chalamet, Florence Pugh and Meryl Streep, the success of this film became not only expected but deserved. With scenes of the four sisters traipsing in the snow,decorating their christmas tree and, having intimate chats round the fireside, not only will this get you into the Christmas spirit, but it will make you dream more, love harder and appreciate everything as it comes.  

Little Women is currently available to stream on Netflix.

DAY 7: Klaus (2019) dir. Sergio Pablos

Klaus is a BAFTA award winning and Oscar nominated film for its animation and the beauty holds up to that. The plotline itself is beautiful also; Jesper, whose father is training him to become a royal postman, deliberately becomes the Postal Academy’s worst student and gets sent to a small, snowy village named Smeerensburg to work. Its villagers are hostile and grumpy, and there is no hope for parcels or letters to be sent. Whilst here, Jesper meets Klaus, a reclusive woodman who makes toys. It’s certainly difficult to imagine an altered reality of the figure of Santa Claus that we all know and love, and even harder to execute it successfully enough to be believable. The classic 2D animation is gorgeous and authentic and adds onto the aesthetic. It’s a take on the origins of Santa Claus and if you’re looking to feel all the emotions this Christmas before some overall happier viewing, this would be the film to watch.  

Klaus is available to stream on Netflix.

DAY 6: Happiest Season (2020) dir. Clea DuVall

This is a very new Christmas romcom that was released only last year, so understandably very few have heard of it. Whilst it isn’t a beloved family classic, it quickly became a new favourite of mine and I intend to watch it several times over this Christmas until I know every line. I adore Happiest Season. With a star-studded cast (Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Mary Steenburgen, Dan Levy and Mary Holland all in one film? Yes please.), Happiest Season is instantaneously enjoyable. The film centres around girlfriends Abby (Kristen Stewart) and Harper (Mackenzie Davis). As most couples are wont to do, Harper invites Abby to spend Christmas with her family, and Abby accepts happily despite having never met Harper’s family before, as her own plan to propose to Harper can come into fruition this way and she would love nothing more than for them to spend the holidays together. There’s just one catch: Harper’s family only know Abby as her roommate.

Not only was this an instant favourite of mine, but it’s an instant LGBT+ classic being one of the very few mainstream LGBT+ romcoms there are, and the only mainstream sapphic Christmas film available. It was groundbreaking and it pains me that more don’t know of this film’s existence because it ticks all the (gift) boxes for a Christmas romcom, whilst still leaving room not to be too cheesy. Thank god Happiest Season doesn’t try too hard to be ‘woke’. I adored the normalcy surrounding the gay relationship at the centre and was both shocked and warmed by the authenticity of the film and the deeper representation of so many queer people who have ever been afraid to be themselves. I would especially recommend this film to anyone who has struggled or is still struggling with people in their lives understanding them; it can provide fresh perspectives from every angle and at the very least it can help you feel less alone this festive season.

Happiest Season is available to rent on Amazon Prime, Youtube, Apple TV and Google Play.

DAY 5: Noelle (2019) dir. Marc Lawrence

There is very little not to love about Noelle. Another very recent Christmas film, Noelle stars Anna Kendrick, Bill Hader, Billy Eichener and the legendary Shirley MacLaine. It was Disney’s Christmas tentpole, and Disney themselves certainly fumbled the bag by only releasing this to Disney Plus when it first launched in only a few countries, as so many missed out on such a wonderfully sweet and punny Christmassy movie. Noelle is one of those films that, despite every scene containing several Christmas puns, I have been able to watch again and again all year round. It can be sure to cheer me up and make me laugh at its absurdity. The magical realism – the characters of the north pole say things like “Oh My Garland” and “Hold Your Reindeer” – is apt in whisking you away into a winter wonderland. I think the level of detail that this production crew put into creating this world is testament to how much I can enjoy it and how real it all feels. The closest family film that I can think of that transports you far enough into its world to believe in it is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Noelle’s older brother Nick (Bill Hader) is due to become the new Santa, however he gets cold feet (haha- I mean, ho ho ho) and is unable to fulfil his training. When Noelle (Anna Kendrick) urges him to take a break before Christmas, Nick leaves the North Pole and doesn’t return. Of course, Noelle conducts a rescue mission in search of her brother and finds herself along the way…what it lacks in plot it makes up for in heart! Anna Kendrick is amazing as Noelle Kringle, a somewhat spoiled but incredibly kind-hearted princess of the north pole who spreads Christmas cheer and finds joy in doing so. Kendrick’s face is never void of a perfect display of emotion and she doesn’t miss a beat as she carries the film alongside the hilariously dry-humoured Elf Polly played by MacLaine. If Noelle doesn’t get you in the festive spirit, you must be too busy channelling your inner Ebenezer Scrooge.

Noelle is available to stream with a Disney Plus subscription

DAY 4: Love Actually (2003) dir. Richard Curtis

This film is what many would call a Christmas Classic. It felt unlawful not to include it. A multi-stranded film spanning across eight different Brits’ lives as they deal with the emotional turmoil love brings them surrounding Christmastime. It is a traditional romcom, but in all honesty the layers of genre in this film are at first intriguing and then stirring; tragedy, fantasy, comedy, suspense, but at the heart of it is romance. Love Actually has received many criticisms in the past, and on some degree I can see where they’re coming from. It can be confusing to watch for the first time and it isn’t the most polished of films on this list. But it’s undeniable that it can make you feel many emotions and there are so, so many connections that it’s almost a puzzle. It definitely put me in the Christmas spirit and will only continue regaling yours if you follow the watchlist!

Love Actually is available to stream on Netflix.

DAY 3: Home Alone (1990) and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992) dir. Chris Columbus

Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal.

The first clue that this is a good movie is that the screenplay was by none other than John Hughes, writer of other classics such as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Directed also by the legendary Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone), Home Alone and Home Alone: Lost in New York are truly traditional comedies; they’re regaling and slapstick, quick-witted and fun. Definitely the perfect films to watch on December 23rd, just close enough to Christmas that you can imagine being Kevin. 

A true worldwide cultural phenomenon, if you haven’t seen either of these films yet you certainly need to fix that stocking half empty view on life as you know it. The 90s nostalgia is perhaps too early for some of us to truly appreciate, but it’s certainly not lost and the aesthetic only adds to the familiarity and contagious joy that this film brings. Home Alone allows us to live out our childhood dreams of quite literally being left to our own devices, and it’s conclusion (no spoilers) is strangely empowering – what could have been fairly unnerving due to the film’s understandably sketchy premise (how can an entire family forget their child not once but twice…) quickly became one of the most beloved Christmas films of all time and a must-see. Macaulay Culkin is a delight and this is a great watch to get you into the festive spirit in the days leading up to Christmas.

Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York are available to stream with a Disney Plus subscription.

DAY 2: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) dir. Ron Howard

“4:00, wallow in self-pity; 4:30, stare into the abyss; 5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one; 5:30, jazzercize; 6:30, dinner with me—I can’t cancel that again; 7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing… I’m booked. Of course, if I bump the loathing to 9, I could still be done in time to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and slip slowly into madness.”

Is this not the thought process of every university student from one time to another?

If there’s any film to watch on Christmas Eve, it’s this one. Just the sheer ideology of going to bed on Christmas Eve with the thought of Santa dropping by and taking a pie before taking flight and saying goodnight. (do you see what I did there….because this is based on a Dr Seuss book…). If you haven’t seen this film, don’t watch it until the night before you’re able to open your presents, because that way you can truly experience the possibility of the Grinch sneaking in and stealing your presents beforehand. This is a film that I would rate alongside Noelle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in terms of transporting you into the world of fantasy. The costume design is hilarious but immaculate – Rita Ryack was nominated for an Academy Award for her work in the costume department and for good reason. The level of detail! The Whos! The Grinch! Nothing gets me more into the festive mood than this film does. A true family favourite; have fun revisiting (or visiting) Whoville!

How The Grinch Stole Christmas is available to rent on Apple TV and Amazon Prime.

DAY 1: The Muppets Christmas Carol (1992) dir. Brian Henson

The Muppets Christmas Carol is a classic in my householdthe staple to the festive season. Without it, I would not be who I am today. There’s a certain level of joy that comes with watching a traditional story be transformed into something accessible and exciting. It’s insane to me that this was Brian Henson’s feature directorial debut, and it’s insane that something so silly could be so spectacular, but this movie has truly passed the test of time. It is also arguably Michael Caine’s best work (okay, I am joking this time) and it’s heartwarming and fun.

Part of the brilliance behind The Muppets Christmas Carol is its script; the muppets – specifically narrator Gonzo (“Dickens”) – speak adequately and can be perfectly understood without having to slow down, create too much exposition or beat around the bush merely due to the film being made for children. It is truly refreshing to watch a children’s adaptation of a classic be treated with such dignity despite its silly characters, and it makes the film infinitely more enjoyable. Moreover the lyrics (by Paul Williams) are hilarious and repeatable without taking away from the original plot of a christmas carol itself. I mean, “there goes mr humbug” being an allusion for bah humbug? “Old Scrooge he loves his money / ‘Cause he thinks it gives him power / If he became a flavour you can bet he would be sour”…pure genius…

On a serious note, this is a brilliant family Christmas classic, it’s educational and our beloved muppets are always popular in the worst of settings. I couldn’t recommend this enough as it is suitable for all ages, heart-warming, festive, funny and honest. It’s perfect for background noise if you’ve watched it every Christmas religiously like I have, and especially great to watch on Christmas Day for first-timers!

The Muppets Christmas Carol is available to stream with a Disney Plus subscription.

In addition to this cozy, genre-full list of christmas films, there are a couple being released this year that I cannot wait to see. A Christmas Dance Reunion starring Corbin Bleu and Monique Coleman is one that all the High School Musical lovers will enjoy; Two high school dance partners come back together, and it looks sweet and heartful. Also, Boxing Day is a rare Black-British Christmas romcom surrounding a successful British author based in Los Angeles bringing his American fiance home to meet his relatives in the holiday season.

I hope everyone reading can find a few films on this list to add to their annual viewing and celebrate the festive season. Between fantasy, tragedy, action, romance and muppets, there’s something for all of us. Seasons Greetings!!