JUMPCUT All The Way: Die Hard (1988)

Directed by: John McTiernan
Cast: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson

Written by Fernando Andrade

What makes a good Christmas movie? Well, I find good Christmas movies always seem to generate this magical aura of emotions, memorable moments, and love of some sort. Now, if Die Hard does not encapsulate all those things then well, I’m not sure what a Christmas movie is frankly.

Released on July 15th, 1988, for the last 30 years of its existence people continue to bring up the question, “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” It is one of the most divisive movies of all time for that specific reason (not so much in a critical filmmaking way). I doubt when director John McTiernan and star Bruce Willis signed up for this film, they thought one of the biggest takeaways would be whether it’s a Christmas movie.

Die Hard sees our hero John McClane (Bruce Willis), an NYPD detective, fly out to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve (yes that’s right Christmas Eve!) on a mission to reconcile with his wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). How adorable right? A man wanting to make amends with his wife. In the first few minutes, we learn that McClane hates to fly, showing us how much this truly means to him making the trip all the from New York to win back his wife’s heart. Now that on its own would make a pretty decent Christmas story, but it’s not over there. The Christmas party (wow a Christmas party, no way) which they are at is attacked by a terrorist group led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), and it is up to McClane to defeat them as they stand in the way of his ultimate goal.

Sure, Die Hard is no sweet and innocent Christmas movie like Elf or The Polar Express, but who says Christmas movies have to be? Not only is the setting of the movie Christmas Eve, but the dialogue – which granted at times is also very ’80s in design – has many references to Christmas. Die Hard produces an incredible amount of emotions, as we are constantly on the edge of our seat rooting on McClane. Die Hard also contains some of the most memorable lines and moments in movie history. From the classic “Yippie-Ki-Yay, Motherfucker!” to “Welcome to the party, pal!”, John jumping from the top of the Nakatomi building, and the intense air vent scene, many believe Die Hard to be the gold standard when it comes to action movies, and rightfully so.

I feel that is one of the biggest reasons why there is a push back to consider it a Christmas movie. It’s bloody, it’s littered with profanity, and offensive to some extent – things which aren’t synonymous with Christmas. No one said it was a Christmas movie for the whole family to enjoy, but it still contains those key ingredients of a good Christmas movie – just for adults.

Besides always coming up in conversations around the holidays, Die Hard did a lot of other things in the world of film as well. Mentioned previously, many consider Die Hard the gold standard when it comes to action movies. This means a lot of action movies have, in some way, been influenced by Die Hard since its release. It also spawned, at the time, a new star in Bruce Willis. Before being John McClane, Willis had only appeared in two other films, Blind Date in 1987 and Sunset which was released the same year as Die Hard. Following the success of the movie, Willis would go on to star in films like Pulp Fiction, Twelve Monkeys, and The Sixth Sense. Now his career has been on a downward trajectory (minus Looper), but at the time, his career was one of the best. We also gained one of the best villain roles of all time thanks to the late great Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber. Die Hard was nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Sound, Best Editing, Best Sound Effects Editing, and Best Visual Effects. It grossed $140.7 million in it’s worldwide run in 1988 but has probably made a lot more since then with many theatres making it a tradition to screen the film around the holidays. It also led to four sequels and a rumoured prequel set to be released in the near future, but we don’t really talk about those.

Will the conversation of, is Die Hard a Christmas movie ever stop? My bet is probably not, but if it were up to Fox Studios, that answer would be a big fat yes, thanks to a new trailer recently released pretty much confirming the answer. A marketing stunt you say? More than likely, but still I’ll take any kind of affirmation at this point. Then again, film is subjective and there will always be a naysayer out there. The never-ending discussion has cemented itself with Die Hard’s legacy. Whether you choose to think Die Hard is a Christmas movie or not (it is), watch it if you never have. You will experience one of the best overall action films ever made, and more than likely find yourself exclaiming Yippie-Ki-Yay as you open your Christmas presents.

JUMPCUT All The Way: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

Directed by: Brian Henson
Starring: Michael Caine, Dave Goelz, Steve Whitmire

Written by Lucy Buglass

For many people, the Christmas period is filled with annual traditions. Finding a special film that you make time to watch each and every year is a wonderful thing, and for me, it’s The Muppet Christmas Carol. It takes a Charles Dickens classic and turns it into a wonderful festive affair that’s fun for all the family whilst still sticking to the important messages of the novel.

I’m not a massive fan of musicals in general but it’s impossible to hate such a wholesome and fun film, with musical numbers that will make you want to sing along. It embodies so many great things about Christmas, whilst telling such an iconic story in a unique way. Who would have thought that Gonzo the Great playing Charles Dickens would actually work? Somehow, it does, with Brian Henson directing his father’s beloved puppets in a beautiful and entertaining way. It’s the kind of film that exists to make people happy and carry on the legacy of Dickens’ famous story, and that is a wonderful thing.

Michael Caine is a fantastic Scrooge, embodying a cynical, grumpy old money-lender who can’t stand the celebrations. He turns down dinner invitations and even intends to work on Christmas day, seeing it as just another day to him. Scrooge’s character has been adapted into many different forms, but there’s something about Caine’s version that I adore. Seeing him alongside all the Muppets is such fun, and I never tire of it. I also love the way his emotional journey is portrayed throughout, as he meets the different ghosts and is shown flashbacks and visions of his own life. His emotional range is excellent in this film, showing all the different sides of Scrooge’s personality.

Overall, the film is incredibly vibrant and full of life. Much of this is helped by the presence of various Muppets characters making an appearance, and trying to spread some festive cheer along the way. However, I did love the eeriness of the scene featuring The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as this is the real turning point for Scrooge when he realises how awful he’s been. I liked that they didn’t try to sugarcoat it, yet kept it family friendly at the same time. It’s a difficult thing to pull off, but somehow, it really works. Scrooge is supposed to feel unsettled by the vision of his own grave, and I feel that this really resonates with the audience even in a fun, silly adaptation like this one.

I really hope that The Muppet Christmas Carol continues to delight audiences throughout the years, because for me, it’s timeless. It’s good, clean fun with an important message about being kind and understanding what the Christmas spirit is all about. I firmly believe that this film could charm all the real life Scrooges out there, and just maybe make them love Christmas after all! This is a must-see Christmas film that you can enjoy with pretty much anyone, so you should definitely consider watching it this season.

JUMPCUT All The Way: The Holiday (2006)

Directed by: Nancy Meyers
Starring: Kate Winslet, Jack Black, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Eli Wallach

Written by Fiona Underhill

The Holiday starts with a montage and a monologue which encapsulates everything good about this film – it is scored to Hans Zimmer’s beautiful music (maybe Zimmer’s best score? Yes, I’m glad you agree) and has Kate Winslet’s Iris espousing on love and life in voice-over over images of our central four characters. So; in London, there is Iris and her brother Graham, played by Jude Law (the best character called Graham to ever exist?) and in LA, there is Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and Miles (Jack Black). We also meet our villain Jasper (the delectable Rufus Sewell) in the first few minutes – he works at the same newspaper as Iris, they have had an “on-again/off-again” thing for some time (she is still very much in love with him), then tragedy strikes – his engagement to another woman is announced to the whole office and Iris’ beautiful face has to take in this news and try to hold it together. I’m getting emotional just thinking about it.

I’m willing to fight anyone who does not think that Winslet’s performance as Iris is in the top ten, if not the top five performances of her career. This opening section is extremely reminiscent of Bridget Jones’ Diary (with its newspaper setting, a woman in her 30s being in love with her male colleague) but for me, it is way better and Winslet’s performance is one of the main reasons for this.

We cut to Los Angeles, where of course, Diaz’s Amanda is also unlucky in love – she throws her cheating boyfriend (played by Ed Burns – remember him?) out of the house. Amanda owns a company that makes movie trailers and this means that there is an amazing scene early on where she is working on a trailer starring James Franco and Lindsay Lohan with her two colleagues played by John Krasinski and Kathryn Hahn. Things get surprisingly dark for a rom-com as Iris inhales gas from her oven – “low point” – and it is at this moment that salvation comes from a bing on her laptop. Amanda makes the decision that she needs to get away for Christmas, so she starts searching for vacation properties and comes across a cosy cottage in Surrey, owned by – you guessed it – Iris. The two unhappy women decide to do a house-swap for two weeks and away we go.

Diaz is perhaps the one weak-link of the central four for me, but she does demonstrate some physical comedienne prowess whilst slipping and sliding her way down an icy and snowy country lane to Iris’ cottage. She almost immediately begins to regret her decision until there is a knock on the door in the dead of night. It is drunk Graham (it’s only really hitting me now, after multiple re-watches, how funny that name is) and understandably, there is an immediate spark. It is the next morning, however, that Jude Law truly gets to shine in the role because he PUTS ON GLASSES.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Iris is enjoying Amanda’s palatial home and the sunshine and quickly meets film composer Miles, who visits and tells her about the Santa Anas (I learned everything I know about these crazy winds from The Holiday and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend). Miles has an actress girlfriend played by Shannyn Sossamon (remember her?), showing that Jack Black clearly has game in this movie. She also meets her neighbour Arthur (Eli Wallach), who it turns out was a screenwriter during the golden age of Hollywood. One of my favourite things about this film is that it is a love letter to old Hollywood. This film features a pre-Oscar Kate Winslet seeing an Oscar and gasping and I DO NOT KNOW WHAT ELSE YOU WANT FROM A MOVIE. Arthur gives Iris a watch-list of old movies, filled with women with “gumption” and she realises that she should be “the leading lady of her own life” – sniff. Iris even throws a Hanukkah party for Arthur and his friends (this film has all your holiday bases covered).

Back in England, Amanda comes to the realization that we’ve all had about Jude Law – that he is a DADDY. It starts to come to the end of their time together and weepy Graham tells Amanda he loves her. Jasper visits Iris in LA because of course he does. Jasper is one of the most realistically awful men to ever grace a cinema screen – we have all known a Jasper. In LA, the culmination comes with a fancy event at the Writer’s Guild of America, celebrating Arthur’s career. The ending of this movie is one of the happiest endings of all time and I’m positively glowing just thinking about it.

The Holiday is one of the best Christmas movies of all time, with a quality cast on their A-game. Winslet will have you sobbing into your egg-nog and Law will have you melting into your crackling open fire. It is eminently re-watchable, even when it’s not Christmas – it warms my cockles all year round. If you’ve never seen it, now is the time to question all of your life choices and get it into your eyeballs as fast as a one-horse open sleigh. If you’ve seen, now is the time to incorporate it into your annual Christmas-viewing traditions – just try not to get the wrapping paper soggy with tears.

JUMPCUT All The Way: Love Actually (2003)

Directed by: Richard Curtis
Starring: Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Keira Knightley, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth

Written by Cameron Frew

Films are a mixture of wine and perishable meats; some grow better with time, others do not age well at all. Love Actually is one such picture that has somehow fallen into both categories for the public: some praise its knowing cheese and saccharine, uplifting qualities; others (often quite furiously) criticize its mishaps and moral ambiguity, particularly among one or two of the umpteen sub-plots in this festive jamboree of laughs, sadness and joy.

Perhaps the most quintessentially British outing in the Christmas watchlist each year, the first sequence is a capture of reunions, hugs and happiness at London Heathrow airport. Then eases in Hugh Grant’s monologue, rekindling even the slightest ashes of lovesick hopelessness. He speaks, rather gently, of how love is “actually, all around”, the fact that any phone call that came from the Twin Towers on that fateful day wasn’t filled with messages with hate, but with, well, love.

Richard Curtis had long-established himself as a writer of spirited, kind-hearted comedy long before here. Four Weddings & A Funeral, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’ Diary – he wrote them all. But this was his first foray into directing, and that debutant nature flairs up occasionally with the odd overlong placeholder shot of a decorated cityscape or the River Thames. But this is generally impressive for someone on such hefty screenplay duties as well as captaining the ship.

A brisk run through of the plot then, shall we? It’s essentially similar to Crash, but a romantic comedy. We follow eight couples that are loosely connected in their own ways in the lead up to Christmas Day. New loves are found and old loves are fractured along the way, but the most important thing to remember is that all you need is — okay I’ll stop now.

There’s Bill Nighy, a faded rock star releasing a trashy Christmas single with his manager (Gregor Fisher). The former is amusingly brash and uncouth and wonderfully played by Nighy, who clearly had the time of his life with the role.

Then we have Colin Firth as a man forced out of his relationship by his adulterous girlfriend and brother (try not to cringe when you hear “hurry up big boy”), taking peaceful refuge abroad when he meets the woman who will change everything (Lúcia Moniz). For all the grander tales of affection, Firth’s is much slighter – not as easy to invest in, but by its sweeping zenith, you’ll fall head over heels.

There’s a handful of smaller, fleeting sub-plots which lack depth but pack in some great jollity. Martin Freeman and Joanna Page star as A-list stand-ins for movies; in this case, they’re in a sex scene. But nattering sparks fly and every moment they share has a cheeky, modest glee. Kris Marshall, after failing to woo the female population of the UK, decides to go to America, where he believes he will be a hit with the ladies. This is one particular instance where Curtis really invites you to be in on the joke, allowing the sort of fantasy many would probably dream of to unfold without any boundaries – and it’s hilarious.

Still in cutesy territory, there’s Liam Neeson as a recent widower, left to raise his stepson (Thomas Sangster), who so happens to have fallen for a classmate at school. She’s the cool girl, who “has no idea who he is”. In terms of bravura exuberance, this is the most effective relationship of the movie, again reaching a stunning finale that’ll have you cheering at the screen and wiping away the tears.

If you’re a Love Actually novice, get used to the idea of crying. This is not a saga free from heartbreak. We’ll start with Laura Linney’s story; she’s in love with a colleague, with whom she shares the odd flirty glance but remains to shy to do anything about it. After a push from her boss, Alan Rickman, wheels start turning. But there’s one problem; she has to always be available on the phone for her brother with special needs. Thankfully, this isn’t played for comedy at all; in fact, it’s potently bittersweet, hitting home a really selfless message where others opt for grand, romantic gestures.

The gestures are sometimes pointed in the wrong direction. The queen of queens, Emma Thompson, is Rickman’s wife. While she is self-effacing and affectionate, he is rather distant. Could be because he’s more interested in the office secretary (Heike Makatsch), who flouts decorum with her demands of “something she wants” and spreading of her legs. Rarely does infidelity evoke such rage; when Thompson realizes her husband’s dirty deeds, she shares a poignant moment with herself to the sound of Joni Mitchell (also, beautifully framed by Michael Coulter). As those tears stream, your fists tighten; it’s one of the most beautifully performed bits of acting you’ll see in an otherwise fluffy piece.

Whereas that’s a story of outright immoral actions, Andrew Lincoln’s is a bit more dubious. His best friend, Chiwetel Ejiofor marries Keira Knightley. But Lincoln is repeatedly cold to her, almost aggressively rude, like she sours his taste buds just from the mere soundbite of her voice. But the old maxim is wee boys pull girls’ hair because they like them. When this internal conflict comes to a close in arguably the film’s most iconic scene, your enjoyment is based on how well you can strip away your ethical thoughts on the matter.

But of all the aspirational fairytales, it’s Hugh Grant’s. He stars as the newly instated Prime Minister, who has an immediate fondness for one of Downing Street’s household staff, Martine McCutcheon (who has an expertly exclaimed dose of swearing: “Where the fuck’s my fucking coat?”). There’s a real charm in their growing liaison, with all their interruptions you constantly route for them. This includes the disruptive, devious President of the United States (Billy Bob Thornton), who functions as an overblown but very effective caricature of the sort of smugness in politics that seems to come with birth across the pond.

But the way they all flow together is nothing short of inspired. You can’t argue that it was a phenomenon, and is readily established as a modern classic in the December genre. For what could have been a self-congratulatory exercise in bringing together a who’s who of rising and veteran stars, Love Actually is remarkably uncorrupted (despite the problematic nature of a few plot points). It’s a thoroughly British affair; endearing, involving, witty. But it’s also an ode to outlandish acts and tolerating hardship, to the necessary evil of tough love and the reparatory nature of a softer touch. Let Craig Armstrong’s uplifting, poppy, crescendo-filled score move and enthral you, and accept that no matter how many times you watch Love Actually, your blood will always boil because of Alan Rickman.

JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Directed by: Tim Burton
Cast: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Anthony Michael Hall

Written by Bianca Garner

Like Burton’s Batman Returns; on the first watch Edward Scissorhands doesn’t jump out as a Christmas film. However; Edward Scissorhands is the perfect Christmas film because it promotes the strength and power of love and family, two things which are essential to Christmas. When asked about the where the concept of Edward Scissorhands came from, Burton explained it came from a drawing he drew as a teenager which reflected his feelings of isolation and being unable to communicate to people around him in suburban Burbank. The drawing was of a thin, serious-looking man with long, sharp blades instead of fingers. Burton stated that he was often alone and had trouble retaining friendships. “I get the feeling people just got this urge to want to leave me alone for some reason, I don’t know exactly why.”

The film begins in a fairytale-like fashion; with an elderly woman telling her granddaughter the story of a young man named Edward who has scissor blades for hands and the reason why it snows every Christmas. As the creation of an old Inventor, Edward (Johnny Depp) is an artificially created human who is almost completed. The Inventor (Vincent Price) homeschools Edward, but suffers a heart attack and dies before he could attach hands to Edward. Some years later, Peg Boggs (Dianne Wiest), a local Avon door-to-door saleswoman, visits the decrepit Gothic mansion where Edward lives. She finds Edward alone and offers to take him to her home after discovering he is virtually harmless. Peg introduces Edward to her family: her husband Bill, their young son Kevin, and their teenage daughter Kim (Winona Ryder). Edward must try and adapt to life in the suburbs, becoming a dog groomer and a hairdresser for the ladies of the neighbourhood, and a great show and tell for Kevin. Slowly Edward and Kim grow closer, but there’s one problem to deal with, in the form of Kim’s hot-headed boyfriend (Anthony Michael Hall).

The element of Christmas takes a while to appear in the film, and it isn’t until the last act that Edward Scissorhands makes this shift into a Christmas film. However, this isn’t a time of celebration. Edward has become hated by the neighbourhood after being set up for a burglary that he didn’t commit.  Christmas is presented to us as this fake commercial act, where neighbours turn on neighbours and where it seems that bullies get away with their crimes. Burton is making a bold statement here. Instead of Christmas bringing this suburban community together, it has pulled them apart. The neighbourhood has become this place of competition and rivalry, where households seek to outdo each other in terms of who can ‘celebrate’ Christmas the most. As an outsider, Edward is unaware of how to participate in this rivalry and the act of Christmas, and we sympathise with him especially because he has become the scapegoat of all the issues to do with the community.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are moments where the happiness and warmth of Christmas shine through and reinforces what Christmas is really about. The scene where Kim goes out into the backyard to find Edward making an angel ice sculpture, which creates a beautiful sprinkling of snow, helps to show us how the world can be transformed by a little bit of magic. Snow is presented as this simple beauty which has the power to make the world stop and reflect. In this brief moment, all of Kim’s and Edward’s anxieties melt away, and they no longer care regarding other people’s judgements. It is a powerful and iconic scene, which is made more effective by Danny Elfman’s score. This is what Christmas is all about, loving each other and taking part in the small, simple moments.

The power of Edward Scissorhands is how it manages to perfectly capture that loneliness, isolation, and family awkwardness that emerges around Christmas season. To anyone who finds it hard to socialise with distant family members, Edward feels like a kindred spirit. Ultimately, Edward is banished back to the top of the hill, but he manages to escape a life of materialism and fake respect. Many would consider this a somewhat sad ending, but all Christmas films have a touch of sadness to them. Christmas isn’t all tinsel, turkey dinners and presents. It can be a time of isolation and heartache for many. Edward Scissorhands helps us realise that life goes on and that an outsider can still bring happiness in their own way, shown how Edward brings snow to the neighbourhood.

Often Christmas films feel overwhelming, and a film like Edward Scissorhands can offer an alternative. It is a family film which has a strong moral message at its core, which we can all reflect on. Edward Scissorhands reassures us that it’s okay to be different and that everyone is entitled to love. With its moving storyline, stunning and quirky mise-en-scene and beautiful score, Edward Scissorhands is an overlooked classic holiday film which is definitely worth seeking out this Christmas.

JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Friday After Next (2002)

Directed by: Marcus Raboy
Cast: Ice Cube, Mike Epps, John Witherspoon, Terry Crews, Anna Maria Horsford

Written by Thom Marsh

I was going to write a huge diatribe about how this film deals with some serious socio-political issues as well as how some of the films’ more offensive jokes would be viewed in a “woke” society and move onto how much I dislike this holiday season (10 years in retail is enough to crush anyone’s festive cheer). Hence my choice of a rather unconventional Christmas film. However, as I sat down I found myself unable to contain my laughter however inappropriate the humour might be.

So sit back, relax.

Smoke em if you’ve got em!

It’s Friday. It’s Christmas Eve and Craig (Ice Cube) and Day-Day (Mike Epps) are back in Crenshaw where it all began. The film starts with ghetto Santa Claus, “picture ODB in a Santa suit”  breaking into our hero’s apartment and taking everything that wasn’t nailed down including the rent money hidden in the stereo. A genuinely funny slapstick routine with Craig ensues after he walks in to find aforementioned  Santa on the rob, the highlight of which being our hero getting beat down with a Christmas tree.

This provides the launch pad for the hilarity we’ve become accustomed to from the Friday franchise, although the absence of Smokey (Chris Tucker) is felt. The cameos of Joel McKinnon Miller (pre-Brooklyn 99’s Detective Scully) as Officer A. Hole, Terry Crews as the landlady’s “fresh out the pen” son Damon and Katt Williams as Money Mike more than make up for this factor. The latter of the trio provides us with some of the movies most memorable quotes. Money Mike screaming “pimp in distress” as he finds himself trapped under a shop mannequin will never cease to bring a smile to my face.

Like I said though this instalment is incomparable to the first Friday film from 1995. Which even now has me laughing from “it’s Friday, you ain’t got no job and you ain’t got shit to do.” However, it is considerably better than Next Friday (2002) which, as much as I love Ice Cube as a musician and now actor, I still find difficult to watch. I think the loss of Crenshaw as a backdrop to the film’s antics is a huge part of the problem. That and Epps as a replacement for Tucker without the calibre of supporting cast from this instalment just doesn’t work so well.

I’m not going to lie although technically yes this film is set at Christmas and it does teach the important lessons of “togetherness” and “family” that all good Christmas films should contain, I’ve definitely still watched this film in the middle of summer. I’ll never not find it funny to shout “you got knocked the fuck out” at the TV. Its antics make it one of those Christmas movies along with A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) and The Night Before (2015), which makes it very stoner-friendly so would definitely recommend smoking beforehand.

Thom’s Verdict

3

JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Elf (2003)

Directed by: Jon Favreau
Cast: Will Ferrell, Zooey Deschanel, James Caan, Bob Newhart, Peter Dinklage

Written by Sarah Buddery

Arguably the greatest Christmas film ever, and easily the most quotable, Elf is the festive family staple that you’ll wish you could watch more than once a year.

Whilst Will Ferrell’s “man-baby” routine may be a little tiresome in some of his other more adult comedies, in Elf, it is perfectly pitched and suits the innocence and naivete of Buddy the Elf perfectly.

Elf is one of those rare, recent (although it is 15 years old this year!) Christmas films that has shown the test of time and still tops many people’s festive favourites. Everyone knows the story by now, but Elf follows the story of Buddy (Ferrell), a human who finds his way to the North Pole when he is just a baby, and is subsequently raised by Elves, believing himself to be one of them too. When he finds out he is in fact a human, and his biological Father lives in New York City, Buddy embarks on a journey through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops and finally walks through the Lincoln Tunnel in search of his Daddy.

In the magical realm of New York, Buddy finds his family and tries his best to blend in. And this is of course when the hilarity of Elf kicks in. Elf succeeds in being consistently funny and delivering laughs and memorable moments in abundance. It has in fact been a Christmas tradition of mine for a few years now to attend the quote-a-long screenings at the Prince Charles Cinema, and nothing quite spreads the Christmas cheer like a room full of people (mostly adults!) screaming “SANTAAAAAAAAAAAA” at the appropriate moment.

Aside from Ferrell, this film has a host of other great performances, including one from a very young (and blonde!) Zoey Deschanel and James Caan, most well-known for being part of the Corleone family in The Godfather. A very different role in Elf, as you can well imagine, Caan is great as the put-upon Dad, and his onscreen relationship with Ferrell’s Buddy, is particularly wonderful.

Part of Elf’s enduring, endearing quality is that it has all the elements of a perfect Christmas movie. It is about as Christmassy as you can get, it’s full of jokes for all the family, and it delivers the perfectly wrapped message of Christmas spirit, believing in Santa, and the importance of family that really helps to cement it as a Christmas classic.

There’s not much more that can be said about Elf that hasn’t been said already. It is the staple of my festive film watching, and I’m sure it is for you too. Ignore anyone who says this is a kids film, it is a film for everyone, whether you grew up loving it or are a recent convert. It isn’t Christmas until you’ve watched Elf, so settle down with a bottle of syrup and get ready to sing loud for all to hear, “Santa Claus is coming to town!”

JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: Batman Returns (1989)

Written by Bianca Garner

People probably don’t realise just how successful Tim Burton’s gothic version of Batman (1989) was, it made a staggering $410 million, (it had a budget of $35 million) so therefore it would be inevitable that a sequel would be made. Despite being classed as a ‘christmas film’ Batman Returns was released in June 1992, regardless of this fact Batman Returns is a Christmas film just as much as Die Hard is. At first, the director had no real interest in returning to helm the sequel. It was only when he was given more creative freedom that he agreed to come back to Gotham. Critics have criticised his first film as too dark, but they were probably not expecting things to get even darker.

The film begins at Christmas (33 years prior to the film’s events) where socialites Tucker and Esther Cobblepot give birth to a deformed baby boy, Oswald. Disgusted by his appearance, they ultimately throw him into the sewer, where he is discovered by a family of penguins at Gotham Zoo. We fast forward to the present where millionaire Max Shreck proposes to build a power plant to supply Gotham City with energy, somehow Schreck is kidnapped and meets Oswald who is now a crime boss, going by the name of Penguin. Schreck and Penguin, both want the same thing, control over Gotham, but which one is more evil and twisted?

At first, the Christmas setting of Batman Returns seems hardly noticeable; we are far too caught up in grimacing at the revolting Penguin (played by the superb Danny De Vito) and watching Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer who oozes sex appeal) seduce Batman. However, the film’s first lines of dialogue is an exchange of ‘Merry Christmas’ and rewatching the film through the lens of Christmas, we realise that it has always been there in one form or another. The mise-en-scene with it’s giant Christmas trees decorated with tinsel and twinkling fairy lights, seem to be lost in dark, bleak and gothic architecture of Burton’s Gotham city. Occasionally we will witness a character reference Christmas, and the season of goodwill, but the idea of Christmas cheer is far from the minds of our main characters, and we can understand why this is the case. Burton’s decision to set the film’s events at Christmas is an interesting one. Of course, there must be Christmas in Gotham, however, Christmas in Gotham is like no other. The concept of Christmas is presented as a hyper-real portrayal, clearly representing the German expressionism films that Burton was influenced by. To Burton, it would seem that Christmas is just as twisted a holiday like Halloween.

Okay, so far Batman Returns just seems to be an odd pick for a Christmas film, why on earth would anyone want to watch something so depressing, right? It is what I refer to as an anti-Christmas film, a perfect antidote to all the sentimental films that get shown this time of the year. Christmas isn’t always a time of happiness and goodwill, bad things can still occur at Christmas, and Burton isn’t afraid to remind us of this fact. Batman Returns is the far better film out of Burton’s Batman flicks. Its main villain is far more loathsome than Jack Nicholson’s The Joker, and I am not talking about De Vito’s Penguin here. Walken’s Max Schreck is the film’s true villain. A man who uses people’s vulnerability and their Christmas spirit, to exploit them and manipulate them in order to get what he truly desires. One could argue that Schreck is the embodiment of everything gone awry with Christmas, a symbol of greed and corruption. Schreck tries to pass himself off as a contemporary ‘Father of Christmas’, with his tousled white hair, his red bow tie and wide smile. He seems very jolly at least on first glance. However, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, who thinks nothing of pushing his secretary, Selina Kyle out of a window.

Christmas films tend to follow a basic feel-good formula about personal growth or gratitude, our main protagonist is meant to grow as a person. There is no real redemption here, Batman still remains shut off. If we can judge anything about his current track record with women (err, what exactly did happened to Vikki Vale?), then we know that his relationship with Selina will be short-lived (if she ever returns to him that is). Batman Returns helps to reinforce the idea that not everyone is able to share in the warmth and love that the Christmas is supposed to offer. Heroes aren’t like everyone else, they aren’t always allowed to partake in the celebration of Christmas. Crime never sleeps. If anything, Burton’s Batman Returns helps to reinforce the isolation and pain that Bruce Wayne aka Batman, must have to endure every year. We can picture him reminiscing in the Batcave on Christmas day, alone and reflecting on his parent’s brutal death, while Alfred brings him his Christmas dinner.

Batman Returns is as twisted as a Christmas movie can get and that’s why it’s great. The Penguin’s plan revolving around stealing Gotham’s first-born sons like the evil king David from the story of the nativity reminds us just how morbid the actual nativity story is when you deconstruct it. It is also a well written dark comedy that reminds us of a screwball comedy from the 1940s (‘’A kiss under the mistletoe. You know, mistletoe can be deadly if you eat it.’’ ‘’But a kiss can be even deadlier… if you mean it.’’). A film like Batman Returns helps to remind that mayhem and chaos occur 365 days a year and that Christmas in the Burton household must be a blast.

 

JUMPCUT ALL THE WAY: “It’s not the giving, or the getting, it’s the loving”

Written by Jakob Lewis Barnes

Growing up as a child, there was one Christmas tradition I looked forward to and enjoyed the most. It wasn’t the presents – I’ve actually never been all that keen on opening presents – and whilst I do love a Christmas dinner, it wasn’t the food. What I’ve always enjoyed the most is the back-to-back viewing of these two highly entertaining, heartfelt Christmas short films. For me, these little films ARE Christmas.

The first part of this double bill is always Ziggy’s Gift. If you haven’t heard of this little fella before, I don’t blame you. He’s quite an obscure character who originated in newspaper comic strips in the 1960s, before finding relative success as an Emmy award-winning television short in 1982, with this delightful Christmas special.

Ziggy is a loveable mute, who, with the help of his canine companion, looks to spread the love at Christmas by volunteering as a street Santa for charity. Unbeknownst to Ziggy, he’s getting embroiled in a tangle of dishonest Saint Nicks who have been swindling the public and stealing the money for themselves. Along his journey, Ziggy adopts a stray cat, offers a homeless man the clothes off his back, and frees a tribe of doomed turkeys. The most beautiful thing about this character and his Christmas tale however, is his sheer lack of prejudice, his relentless goodwill and selflessness. All he wants to do is make people happy. The message at the heart of this film is clear: the greatest gift you can give at Christmas is love and kindness.

Now, I like to follow up this with Garfield’s Christmas Special. Whilst Ziggy gets me in the mood with his weirdly whimsical ways, Garfield’s role in this double bill is to provide a more classical approach, something more grounded and relatable, whilst remaining fun and festive. As we all know, Garfield isn’t the most enthusiastic of felines, but the melting of his heart on this particular Christmas gathering is truly touching, and I won’t lie, is a guaranteed tear-jerker for me every year. Now you may be thinking “hang on, Garfield makes you cry?” but believe me, there’s one particular scene in this film which makes it humanly impossible to resist welling up.

When Jon drags Garfield to his family home on the farm one Christmas, with the loveably excitable Otie in tow, Garfield wishes for nothing more than to be back in bed rather than being subjected to what he sees as a boring and cringe-worthy family tradition. But he soon forms a strong bond with Jon’s eccentric grandmother and realises there’s more to Christmas than giving and receiving presents – it’s the people behind the presents that really matter.

What you get with this Garfield special is your standard festive family formula – putting up the tree, sitting down for dinner, being too excited and waking up early on the big day, exchanging gifts and being merry. It’s this familiarity and predictability which makes the deeper, emotional kick even more poignant. There’s no denying it makes me sad every time, but it’s a wonderfully warm, happy sad. I’m sure we all have family members who aren’t around anymore, and Christmas is a time when we are likely to feel their absence even more. But the takeaway message from this fat ginger cat is unmistakably clear – make the most of the people you love, celebrate with them, make memories with them, treasure the happy times.

Christmas is fast becoming a time of materialism and consumer craziness, but these little short films take it back to basics and remind us of what is truly important. Indeed, Garfield said it best when he said: “It’s not the giving, or the getting, it’s the loving”.