Festive Classics Round-Up 2020

8 Women (2002)

François Ozon directs Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Huppert and Fanny Ardent in this musical murder mystery where a family of femme fatales find themselves snowed in with a dead body on Christmas Day.

A class act. The song and dance interludes are not particularly memorable but the costumes and tantrums are. Pretty much each and every beauty, whatever their vintage, goes through a sexual transformation, as if the life-size Cluedo set is a cocoon for French cinema’s hardiest butterflies.

8

Serendipity (2001)

Peter Chelsom directs John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Piven in this Christmas set romcom where a pair of starcrossed lovers meet cute and decide to let fate decide if they will ever meet cute again.

Pretty but very contrived. Cusack and Beckinsale suffer an endless series of near misses but you are not ever entirely convinced as to why they part company in the first place? OK… We wouldn’t have a movie otherwise…but… But! Cusack is a little too cool for all this while Kate, Piven and Molly Shannon treat it like the Hollywood big break it was. They sparkle just as much as a gorgeously decorated festive Manhattan.

6

Home Alone (1990)

Chris Columbus directs Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern in this family comedy where a precocious 8 year old has to protect his home from burglars when he misses the plane to Paris.

An iconic staple, still one of the most profitable sleeper hits ever. I remember it staying in cinema screens well past the winter, long into the spring. The acting is broad with Culkin proving a natural alongside pitch perfect work from his highly stung adult co-stars. The slapstick violence is wish fulfilment for little kids of all ages. Beyond the inventive concussions and blow torches, the film suffers from a mean streak. The rich McCallister family is awful in general and unwarrantedly nasty to our baby faced protagonist. You’d be quite happy if he were left to his own devices for far longer than a few days of popcorn and pizza. Or if he just left a few of his lethal booby traps up to deal with his cunty kin when they bolt through the door just in time for the credits. John Williams out Danny Elfmans Danny Elfman with his jaunty yet sinister wintery score.

6

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)

Jeremiah S. Chechik directs Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo and Juliette Lewis in this comedy where the Griswold family’s December goes to utter shit.

I have a massive affection for the Griswolds (Sparky, Rusty, heterosexuality confirming at an early age Beverly D’Angelo, the daughter) due to Vacation & European Vacation. They were family favourites in our house in the Eighties. Despite making money in the States, this went straight to video over here. NLCV isn’t quite as chaotic or expansive as it predecessors but has enough slapstick and Chase’s trademark mugging to pass muster. It actually is the Christmas setting that papers over the gaping flaws, lack of raunch and weaker bits. With its animated credit sequence and overly decorated house, the movie feels like a Christmas classic even if the joke in the cracker is a little tired and gravy stained.

5

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Henry Selick directs Danny Elfman, Chris Sarandon and Catherine O’Hara in this stop motion animation classic where Jack Skellington decides he wants to branch out into running a new holiday.

One of the greatest animations ever, this thrills and seduces norms and kooks alike. The relentlessly upbeat score dashes through the snow and the slime. Every scene is filled with delightful grotesques. Its breathless jam packed brevity means we never linger too long and outstay our welcome. Tim Burton’s iconic designs are still one of the most darkest yet profitable corners of the Disney Store but director Henry Selick did the graft. Some shots are so complex and cinematic you marvel at the Herculean effort put in to manipulating every element in the shot one painstaking frame at a time. Jack Skellington is a hero for all of us who want to be a little different, not just accept the hand we’ve been dealt. But I personally love the bug filled sack of swing Oogie Boogie. Ends on one of the sweetest moments in cinema history.

10

White Christmas (1954)

Michael Curtiz directs Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney in this musical romantic comedy where two pairs of music acts fall for each other over their Christmas break from performing.

Not quite as magical as Holiday Inn but more winningly focussed on Christmas. The technicolor VistaVision dance numbers are often mind boggling thanks to Vera-Ellen’s poise and skill, Edith Head’s vibrant costuming. Crosby and Kaye are a little creaky to modern eyes but the gals absorb all the focus with their effervescent star turns. The title number bookends the film… the first blast taking place in a bleak bombed out WWII holding point, the final bombastic revisit during a spectacular stage show where all the romantic misunderstandings are neatly straightened out to leave you with a mile wide smile and glow in your heart.

8

The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)

Bharat Nalluri directs Dan Stevens, Morfydd Clark and Jonathan Pryce in this biographical fantasy where Charles Dickens, in desperate need of a hit, self publishes A Christmas Carol while being pursued by his imagined creations and his own past.

A nice solid bit of London Victoriana, a period as visually synonymous with Christmas as Post-War Small Town America. I’ve read a big biography on Dickens in the distant past and this rings pretty true with the man as presented there despite being a broad comic book fanfic account of his mid-career slump. The expansive cast is noticeably better than the material and there are few surprises. It hits it marks with enthusiasm and confidence even if very little else is achieved.

6

Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

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