If you have a TV chances are good that sometime during this Holiday season you will be watching a Christmas movie. Many families make it a yearly tradition to watch the likes of It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Miracle On 34th Street, and so on. These are the Christmas movies everybody knows.
However, there are many quality Christmas movies that many people have never seen, movies that are valuable for their stories, characters, aesthetics, etc. The following list introduces a few.
A few of these films have been remade into more popular recent movies and others have simply been overshadowed by the lasting influence of films like the ones listed above. A few of them are too recent to have garnered “classic” status yet. But each of them is worth checking out this Christmas season.
Hopefully you will find a gem on this list, a film worth building a new Holiday tradition around.
Enjoy! And be sure to share your favorite Christmas films with us, whether they’re classics you’ve grown to love or newbies everyone should see asap. Happy holiday viewing!
1. Joyeux Noel (2005): Directed by Christian Carion.
This little known French film tells the inspiring true story of three groups of entrenched World War I soldiers (French, Germans and Scots) who, without the authority of their superiors, put down their weapons on Christmas Eve, 1914 in order to peacefully celebrate the holiday. Together, these enemy soldiers play robust games of soccer, enjoy beautiful music from a kind and generous opera singer and partake in Christmas mass. Even in the midst of so bloody a conflict as the “Great War,” the joyousness of the Christmas season and its spiritual implications permeate the European night sky as, for a time, it is quiet, free of gunfire and explosions. Few Christmas films capture more poignantly compassion, camaraderie, and kindness, as well as the stirring power of art. Joyeux Noel is a must see this December!
[UPDATE: Please note, parents, that there is scene in Joyeaux Noel that you will perhaps not want your children to view. Please be discerning accordingly. It may be best to preview the movie before your allow your kids to see it. That said, when teaching them discernment, this can be a very valuable film.]
Millions, an energetic film for the whole family that avoids family film clichés, is about a young English boy named Damian who suddenly, and certainly surprisingly, comes into possession of a great deal of money. As in, the money falls from the sky in a duffle bag. Now, Damian is a kid of such kindness and generosity that he wants to give away most of the money to the poor—to the people who really need it, and since it’s Christmas season he knows there are a great many people who will spend the holiday lonely and hungry. However, his slightly older brother Anthony is bitter about a 40 percent tax that would be levied against such surprise fortunes and thinks they ought to secretly spend the money selfishly (their differences are certainly influenced by the fairly recent death of their mother and the sadness of their mourning father). The problem is that, in a hilarious twist, the British pound will soon be replaced by the Euro and their money will be useless. They must act quickly! Whilst he is trying to decide what to do with the money, Damian is visited by a number of Christian Saints (probably a send up of the typical Santa Claus tale) such as St. Peter, St. Anne, Ugandan martyrs and, naturally, St. Nicholas. Through their visits and advice Damian is inspired as to how to spend his money and when the film ends with a Christmas pageant at Damian’s school we are reminded of the words of Christ: “unless you become like little children…”
3. Shop Around the Corner (1940): Directed by Ernst Lubitsch
The influence for the mega-popular 1998 hit You’ve Got Mail (minus the pop consumerism rampant in that film), Shop Around the Corner stars a young James Stewart (pre-George Bailey) as Alfred Kralik, a clerk in a Budapest leather goods store who is in love with a woman he has never met, except through snail mail. He doesn’t even know her name. But we do. Her name is Klara Novak and she has just been hired to work in the shop alongside Kralik, much to his ironic chagrin. In fact, he hates her and she doesn’t much like him either. Well, except that she does – and so does he. Sort of. In their letters they love each other, but in person they hate each other. This is a story that is pure Hollywood in its conventions but, in the famed director Lubitsch’s hands, Shop becomes a poetic exploration of identity, appearances and love— all wrapped up in yuletide bow. Many critics have even claimed this film is better than Stewart’s other famous Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life.
4. Holiday Inn (1941): Directed by Mark Sandrich
Many families watch White Christmas each year, but why not watch the movie that first introduced Irving Berlin’s classic Christmas song “White Christmas?” That movie, Holiday Inn, stars Fred Astaire in one of his seminal performances, and the always charming Bing Crosby as Ted and Jim, long time vaudeville dance partners. However, when Ted decides to run off with Jim’s girl, Jim decides to settle down in an old Connecticut farmhouse. After a while, he decides to open his house to guests as a sort of bed and breakfast, but only on major holidays. For a while, the hotel business and Jim get along, until his old friend Ted shows up with eyes for another of the innkeeper’s lady friends. Like many Christmas movies, Holiday Inn is probably best known for its numerous song-and-dance numbers, especially Astaire’s legendary Fourth of July tap dance and Berlin’s many now-classic Christmas tunes.
5. A Christmas Carol (1951): Directed by Brian Desmond Hurst
After you have finished reading Charles Dicken’s classic novella starring Mr. Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and several ghosts, check out the 1951 adaptation starring Alastair Sim in what has become perhaps his most beloved role. While it may not be the most glamorous of the many (almost yearly) adaptations of Dicken’s story about the miserly old Scrooge and his journey through past, present, and potential future, the ‘51 version is widely accepted as the best and most true to the spirit of the book. Indeed, unlike many recent renderings of the novella, this version is dark and brooding and, well… Dickension. As some critics have claimed, this version is a ghost story and a first rate one at that. If you’re looking for something for the kids this may not be your version, not the least because it is in black and white, but if you are looking to experience the somber story as Dicken’s intended then Alistair Sim and co. ought to be your choice.
6. Christmas in Connecticut (1945): Directed by Peter Godfrey
Elizabeth Lane, played by Barbara Stanwyck, is a newspaper columnist who offers tips on all things domestic: recipes, child raising, housekeeping, etc. Essentially, she is the Martha Stewart of 1945. Well, except that she doesn’t know a lick about any of those things. She can’t cook, doesn’t live on the farm in Connecticut she claims to live on, and isn’t married, let alone a mother. In fact, she lives in an apartment in New York City, writes for the cash, and receives her cooking tips from her uncle. But during this holiday season, as World War II troops are arriving home, Lane’s editor, played by Sydney Greenstreet, decides to go visit her at her farm for Christmas as a publicity stunt. And he’s brining a veteran with him. In a panic, Lane and some pals cook up a plan to deceive the editor. Lane borrows a friend’s farm in CT, pretends he is her husband, has her uncle cook meals for her, and for a while all goes well. Until, that is, she falls for the dashing war veteran. What ensues is a hilarious and charming melee’ of Christmas mis-direction and romance.
Portions of this blog post were originally published in the CiRCE Papers and at intothehill.com.