By Liz Cooley

With Christmas only days away, I flipped through the Radio Times to see which of my favourite Christmas movies were on this year and found myself in a heated debate over which deserved top of the list.

My tastes are admittedly quite traditional. My seasonal favourites tend to depict the perfect Christmas scene amidst plenty of singing and dancing. 

This is in stark contrast to the cries for the action of Die Hard and the creepy creatures of Gremlins that the men of the household put forward.

 It’s not that I have anything against puppets; you’ll find Kermit and friends among my top ten, but I can’t find anything funny or endearing about those particular razor toothed monsters. 

Helen Cowley, Head of Editorial & Digital Content at LOVEFiLM said: “Christmas movies are as plentiful as snowflakes at the North Pole. From the old classics like White Christmas to the less conventional Elf and the delightful surprises of something like The Nightmare Before Christmas, there’s really something for everyone. 

“While the storylines vary wildly, one thing’s for sure: Christmas films make us feel good and get us in the festive spirit. They bring the family together at a busy time of year and the holiday simply wouldn’t be the same without them!” 

So what is it that makes a good festive film?

 Ideally, it will contain a beloved Christmas character such as in Miracle on 34th Street or Aardman’s new offering, Arthur Christmas

It also helps if it contains a little snow, so you can enjoy the magic and beauty of blankets of white from the warmth of your living room, complete with slippers and hot chocolate. 

It has to have a great soundtrack. Many of the best Christmas films contain our seasonal favourites, and have us humming those familiar tunes for the rest of the day. 

But all of this is just the wrapping. Once you strip away all the paper and tinsel, it’s the message behind the story that counts. 

Often the events of the film will see characters questioning their faith and having to overcome various obstacles to find the perfect Christmas.

 In some cases the hopelessness is more profound than others, but it is always met with an overwhelming sense of restored faith as man’s kindness and generosity shows through.

 On that note, here are my top ten to get you in the festive mood. 

White Christmas 

Personally, I think nothing beats this 50s classic. I have watched it every Christmas since I was six, when I first fell in love with Vermont and the heart-warming tones of Bing Crosby. Directed by Michael Curtiz, also known for Casablanca, it depicts song-and-dance duo (Crosby and Danny Kaye) as they team up with sister-act (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen) to bring Christmas to the empty inn of their former commanding general. 

Miracle on 34th Street

 Whether you prefer the original 1947 black and white film or the full Technicolor of 1994, the person of Kris Kringle will fill you with the same hope of Christmas you had as a child. I grew up with Richard Attenborough as the beloved man in red and was as enamoured with him as six-year-old Susan (Mara Wilson) comes to be. While Susan doesn’t believe in Santa at the start of the film, her faith is restored as this kind and generous man fights against the commercialised shopping store persona and the state of New York to give her something to truly believe in. 

Meet Me in St. Louis

 Starring Judy Garland as Esther Smith, this seasonal musical boasts a beautiful soundtrack which will endure for generations. When a family with four daughters who love their home town are faced with a move to New York, none of them take to the idea too well. Esther, who is in love with the boy next door, tries to comfort her youngest sister, Tootie (Margaret O’Brien), but Tootie’s outburst finally shows their father that St Louis will always be home. 

The Muppet Christmas Carol 

Described by a friend of mine as “Dickens with cherries on top”, this classic tale is brought to life by a colourful cast, narrated by Gonzo as Dickens’ himself with Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge. Visited by the Muppet ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, Scrooge is persuaded to change his ways, with a song and a dance along the way. 

It’s a Wonderful Life 

This bittersweet story is a household favourite, with its ability to make you laugh and cry. George Bailey (James Stewart) is a kind-hearted man who leaves his dreams of travel behind to run the family business. One Christmas Eve, when the Bailey Building and Loan is in terrible trouble, the scrooge like character of Henry Potter (Lionel Barrymore) refuses to help and George finds himself thinking his family and friends would be better off without him. He is saved by an unlikely angel who shows him what life would have been like if he hadn’t been born. 

Nightmare before Christmas 

This Tim Burton creation has, unsurprisingly, a less traditional, darker take on the Christmas film, using plasticine to give life to its characters. Jack Skellington, voiced by Danny Elfman, is the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town. He grows tired with the same routine of Halloween every year and when he stumbles across Christmas Town he tries to recreate the merriment at home. However the residents of Halloween Town don’t quite grasp the magic and Jack usurps the role of Santa Claus to terrifying effect. 

Love Actually 

Richard Curtis brings us the best of British in this feel-good film about the nature of love. Staring names such as Hugh Grant, Liam Neeson and Colin Firth, it shows Christmas from the different but interlocking perspectives of numerous Londoners as they navigate the holiday season. From a struggling marriage to lost and found loves, we are shown a little of what Christmas brings to each character while focusing on the central message that love is actually at the heart of it all. 

The Snowman 

Adapted from a book by Raymond Briggs, this simple story of a boy and his snowman and the adventures they have together is brought to life in wordless animation. Beautifully drawn and accompanied by the soprano of Walking in the Air, it has become a true part of our Christmas culture and shown every year. 

Home Alone 

This slapstick comedy is fun for all the family and appeals to the child within. When 8-year-old Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is forgotten by his family who have gone to Paris for Christmas, he is far from upset at being left home alone. Kevin enjoys his new found freedom, eating pizza, jumping on his parents’ bed and making a mess of their beautiful home. That is until he finds that burglars, Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), are planning to rob his house on Christmas Eve. Rather than calling for help, Kevin manages to outsmart them with decoys and booby traps bringing them not only to justice but a fair amount of  pain!                                                                                                                               

Die Hard 

I do like a bit of action in its place and the Die Hard franchise certainly does the job. New York City Detective, John McClane (Bruce Willis) has arrived inLos Angelesjust in time to spend Christmas with his estranged wife Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). But when a terrorist group, led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman), takes the guests of a company Christmas party hostage, it’s up to John McClane to save the day and win back the girl.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.