The ‘2003’ Christmas Films

You’re always good for at least one new Christmas film every year, but sadly most end up being nothing more than a cash-in the holiday before fading into obscurity, appearing on Channel 5 at 11.55pm on Christmas Eve.

But 18 year ago, three films hit cinemas that have gone onto become yearly rituals for many.

No doubt all of them will be on somewhere this year, but which one is the best? Which one is for you? Let’s find out:

Elf (2003)

It’s hard to remember a time when Will Ferrell wasn’t cluttering up our screens with his zany antics, but Elf marked his first true venture into cinema, making him the next big thing in comedy.

Buddy (Ferrell), a human raised as an elf, sneaks away from the Santa’s grotto in the North Pole and heads to New York to find his biological father (James Caan).

Filled with a sack-full of Christmas cheer, can Buddy connect with his father, a man distinctly lacking in yuletide spirit.

It’s a formula that has been done to death: put a character in a unfamiliar world: Crocodile Dundee, Back To The Future, Beverly Hills Cop, Thor and many, many more.

Although a timeless plot, the fish-out-of-water story has been done better elsewhere and this is a weak film that relies on thing to get you through to the end credits.

Will Ferrell makes this film and you cannot help but be charmed by Buddy’s wide-eyed innocence and endless energy.

He is stupidly naïve to the point where you can’t help but laugh. He works in a lot of gags that will have you laughing.

Be best gags are the simple ones, such as pressing every button in a lift the first time he goes in one. When the film tries to hard and attempts to engage us in the story, it fails. Every moment of gold comes from Ferrell just doing his thing.

Along with a weak story you never invest in, Ferrell’s let down by a cast that’s simply phoning it in: Caan doing his grouch thing, the admittedly underrated Mary Steenburgen giving the same performance she’ll give Ferrell years later in Step-Brothers and Zooey Deschanel giving her usual face-like-a-slapped-arse look.

It’s far from great, but does evoke that sense of Christmas you’d expect and Ferrell is a riot.

If you’re in the mood for a few laughs and just want to switch you brain off for the night, go with Elf.

Love Actually (2003)

Warning to anyone who may be a diabetic, this is as sickly sweet as a film can get.

A plot that‘s really just a series of sub plots; Richard Curtis takes his tried and trusted formula, injects an overload of festive spirit and gives us Love Actually.

We follow the intertwining stories of several characters in the build-up to Christmas: their heartbreak, joy, infidelities, romances, bro-mances and random trips to America to get their leg over.

It’s a cluster bomb with so much going that you never get the chance to have a breather.

This is Love Actually’s strength and weakness. Admittedly, you never lose track of who’s who and how their arc is developing, but it’s hard to truly invest in such a wide range of characters.

Granted, the ensemble cast do a good job of being likeable for the most part, mostly just doing the thing you know them for, but some really need to downplay their roles and make their character less of a caricature.

The always amazing Emma Thompson and Colin Firth are the two standouts here, but Thompson is especially good. One of the few people you genuinely feel for as her marriage begins to unwind.

Despite these criticisms, Love Actually’s unashamed, syrupy tone is hard not to charmed by and its lush Christmas setting and look pushes the over the edge into pure saccharine.

If anything, it’s fun to see the likes of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Freeman and Andrew Lincoln in small roles before America whisked them away.

We all like to think we’re a bit of a romantic at heart, and for those in a lovin’ mood or those not quite in the Christmas spirit yet, this is the way to go.

Bad Santa (2003)

One thing this has going for it? There’s not a Christmas film out there like it… well, except for Bad Santa 2, maybe?

This is not going to be for everyone, especially if downbeat, obscene and dark is not your cup of eggnog.

From puking, drinking, swearing, violence, murder-plots, attempted suicide, hot-tub sex and changing room sex that will affect bowl movements for at least a week, Bad Santa goes all out to give us something different; an adult Christmas flick.

Billy-Bob Thornton nails it as Willie, a down and out safe cracker who likes the odd drink or 47, who poses as a department store Santa at a different mall every Christmas to rip-it-off.

Helped by Santa’s elf, the also excellent Tony Cox, can these two pull off another job as their partnership begins to strain.

The strength is its originality, but similar to Ferrell’s Elf, Thornton makes this film. He is a bit of a one-note character, granted, but it’s a very funny note.

However, unlike Elf, Thornton is supported brilliantly throughout, be it the late Bernie Mac’s world-weary store detective, Lauren Graham’s promiscuous yet adoring Sue and especially Brett Kelly as the wonderfully named Thurman Merman.

Thurman, an overweight, simple and naive kid who lets Willie stay at his house, believing he is the real Santa, is absolutely delightful and you immediate fall in love with him.

This dynamic allows to two to demonstrate the chemistry they have together as bounce off each other to great comedic affect.

It is somewhat a shame to see Bad Santa’s conclusion not go all out and give us an unconventional ending, given how the rest of the film is anything but conventional, but it’s easy to forgive due to your investment at this point; it’s the way you want it to go.

Bad Santa stemmed from an idea by the Coen brothers, and that’s a good way to think of it; what if the Coen brothers did a Christmas film? Well, you’d basically get Bad Santa.

If you want something different that still manages to encapsulate Christmas, this is the one for you. Although make sure the kids are in bed.

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