Scratch Cinema has come together to write about the Christmas themed films and television episodes that bring us joy during the festive period. Spanning across multiple decades and genres, Scratch Cinema has come up with a collection that has something for everyone, whether you’re a Christmas fanatic or not.
THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH (1999)
DIR. MICHAEL APTED
WORDS BY LEE MILLINGTON
It’s a Christmas tradition in the UK to have Bond films on the telly, so for many that’ll be enough to be able to regard films from the franchise as seasonal classics. However, amidst them all, The World Is Not Enough stands out as an ideal watch. It’s an incredible, undoubtedly absurd spectacle, with numerous set pieces that range from a chase down the Thames to a fight on a nuclear submarine. However, what really adds flavour to the cocktail is the propulsive narrative: there are melodramatic romances, a sinister villain in Robert Carlisle, and a through line of humour to heighten the joy and variety of proceedings. Some people might rather the more serious-minded antics of Daniel Craig or even Pierce Brosnan‘s more respectable GoldenEye (1995), yet the sense of boundless fun running through this makes it perfect to watch in a time oft-used for indulgence.
SEINFELD S9 E10 ‘THE STRIKE’ (1997)
DIR. ANDY ACKERMAN
WORDS BY NICOLE SANACORE
Classic ‘90s sitcom Seinfeld is responsible for countless additions to popular lexicon like “No soup for you,” “Yada yada yada,” or my friends’ and my personal favorite, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Still, this influence truly comes to a head around the holidays, when the show came up with its own winter holiday that’s celebrated by Seinfeld fans and people just looking for a non-religious winter celebration—Festivus.
In the episode “The Strike,” George’s father Frank decides to bring back Festivus, which he tells Kramer he invented in protest and frustration of the pressures and commercialization of Christmas. While there are a number of bizarre rituals involved in Festivus, like the Festivus Pole and the Feats of Strength, arguably the most referenced is the Airing of Grievances, where each person goes around the room and tells everyone else how they’ve disappointed them in the past year, or as Frank Constanza shouts, “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re gonna hear about it!”
Highlights of the episode include George creating a fake charity called “The Human Fund” to get out of giving his coworkers holiday gifts because he’s that cheap and subsequently having to subject his boss to his family’s Festivus celebrations, Elaine trying to track down a guy she snubbed at a Hanukkah party because she accidentally gave him her sandwich rewards card, and Kramer’s 12-year strike against the bagel place he worked at finally ending only for him to go on strike again when his boss won’t give him the day off for Festivus.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)
DIR. FRANK CAPRA
WORDS BY JAKOB SANCHEZ
The winter holiday season is a time of reflection. The year is almost over, and this is the time to think about everything that happened, from the great to the horrible.
I rarely have any true holiday traditions when it comes to viewings; I just tend to watch whatever feels right at the time. However, there is one film that I always watch around the time of late December, and that would be Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe too obvious of a choice, yes, because of its reputation as one of the greatest American pictures ever made, but it has always brought me comfort, happiness, sadness, and the holiday spirit I need each year. It stands out due to Jimmy Stewart’s layered performance (showing he can play both charming small-town man and tragic hero), the endless amount of great characters and the beautifully developed romance of George and Mary, and its theme of the importance of making sure everyone in a town can afford a place to live.
It’s a Wonderful Life is the greatest film to watch during the holidays because it’s a film about celebration after a time of despair. The worst moments one has lived through are over, and there certainly will be further moments of crisis and depression in your own life, but for right here, right now, you made it through the year, through all of the turmoil and pain. Your friends and family, no matter how many are in your life, will be there to help you. And because the past few years have just been nothing more than a nightmare, the themes of friends helping you during a time of emergency only hits harder and only feels sweeter, especially as we get close to a new year.
THE UMBRELLAS OF CHERBOURG (1964)
DIR. JACQUES DEMY
WORDS BY EMMA WARD
There are two kinds of festive movie watching options this Christmas, at least the way I see it. Either settle in for a marathon of all your cheesiest, cheeriest, tinsel-filled favorites (Elf (2003), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), etc.) or else embrace the unconventional nature of this year’s holiday season, acknowledge its inherent melancholy, and retain a little hope for the new beginnings of next year. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is perhaps the perfect film for such an approach. Jacques Demy’s 1964 musical tells the story of two young lovers, Geneviève (Catherine Denueve) and Guy (Nino Castelnuovo). When Guy is drafted, the two are separated and Geneviève decides to move on with her life.
While not a Christmas movie per se, the film’s snowy Christmas Eve ending provides a bittersweet alternative to more sentimental holiday fare. Several years after their romance, Geneviève and Guy are both married to other people and have children of their own when they meet again by accident in the snow-filled parking lot of Guy’s gas station. Their brief interaction is tinged with regret but also subtle (and seasonally appropriate) peace and gratitude—they seem to accept the paths that led them to first come together and then break apart. Ultimately, the ending is ambiguous, which means you can project your holiday woes or hopes onto it as you like. But Umbrellas’ last shot, which sees Guy playing with his wife and daughter while the camera dollies back, the music swells, and the snow falls, creates the same wistful mix of sadness and joy many of us feel as the year draws to a close, perhaps this Christmas more than ever.
DIE HARD (1988)
DIR. JOHN MCTIERNAN
WORDS BY DAN KINSLEY
Over thirty years later, Die Hard remains a landmark achievement in the genre. The oft-imitated—and rarely surpassed—film gave birth to Bruce Willis, Action Star; a nearly endless slew of imitators, and an annual debate about whether it’s really a Christmas film. In this writer’s house, the answer is a resounding yes. The invasion of Nakatomi Plaza takes place on the eponymous holiday, after all, and while gunfights and explosions are less recognizably festive than Dickens’ three ghosts, John McClane saving the day ultimately helps to remind his estranged wife Holly that love is the true meaning of Christmas—or something like that. Yippee-Ki-Yay and Merry Christmas!
BLACK MIRROR S2 E4 ‘WHITE CHRISTMAS’ (2014)
DIR. CARL TIBBETTS
WORDS BY CHARLOTTE LITTLE
Black Mirror‘s anti-Christmas episode is a festive assortment of futuristic terror, tragic tales, and existential crises; all wrapped up nicely with a bow.
White Christmas opens at a remote outpost in the middle of a snowstorm, with Matt (Jon Hamm) and Joe (Rafe Spall) spending Christmas Day dinner together. They narrate stories from their past to bide the time, depicting three mini-stories of technology-infused bleakness throughout the episode, ultimately revealing the reason for their current situation. Thematically, the film explores punishment, artificial intelligence, and cyberstalking. Charlie Brooker‘s seventy-four minutes of dystopian dread is contrasted by the backdrop of crisp white snow and seasonal sentimental, making for the perfect escape from the commercialism of branded Christmasness. If you’re fed up of Elf and want something a little bit grittier, then this is the episode for you. Be warned; this episode is anything but uplifting. There’s no happy ending or a sliver of hope. It’s a wicked and unsettling nightmare-before-Christmas.
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING (1995)
DIR. JON TURTELTAUB
WORDS BY NICHOLAS MCCUTCHEON
Despite having its inherent charm and warmth upon any viewing throughout the year, While You Were Sleeping just has that extra bit of magic during the holiday season. Starring rom com queen Sandra Bullock (who got her first Golden Globe nom for this film!) and 90s heartthrob Bill Pullman, the film follows lonely transit work Lucy Moderatz (Bullock) after she pulls an attractive and comatose commuter named Peter Callaghan (Peter Gallagher) off the railway tracks on Christmas day. However, this isn’t even the worst of Lucy’s problems: not only is she mistaken for Peter’s fiancée, but she ends up falling in love with his brother, Jack (Pullman). Despite having every possibility to go off the rails, While You Were Sleeping maintains its focus effortlessly and manages to mesh a beautiful slow-burn romance with hilarious situational comedy and some wholesome family bonding moments. While I’ve never been a lonely, 20-something, New York transit worker with no family, Sandra Bullock’s performance provides the perfect vessel to make you feel like you’ve been in her shoes for years. It’s quite honestly one of the best rom com performances ever, and her chemistry with Pullman is one of a kind. Seeing Lucy get slowly accepted into the Callaghan clan over the span of a week in Christmastime New York is an absolute dream come true, and the emotional punch that the third act throws never fails to choke me up. While You Were Sleeping, while marketed and promoted as a year-round rom com, is truly the best non-Christmas movie for Christmas lovers all thanks to Bullock’s warmhearted performance.
COMMUNITY S2 E11 ‘ABED’S UNCONTROLLABLE CHRISTMAS’ (2011)
DIR. DUKE JOHNSON
WORDS BY BECA DALIMONTE
Some of the most memorable episodes of television are its holiday specials. Seinfeld had ‘The Strike,’ giving us the fictional holiday of “festivus,” while Friends gave us ‘The One With the Holiday Armadillo,’ featuring Ross’s now instantly recognizable “armadillo” suit. However, few Christmas specials are as inventive as Community’s. The season 2 episode ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ has always felt particularly special both to the show and to the holiday season, dealing with one of its central character’s very real emotions surrounding Christmas in a surreal stop motion format akin to something like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).
In the episode, it’s established that the show’s frequently fourth wall breaking character, Abed Nadir (Danny Pudi), has begun to see the world in stop motion animation, leading him to believe that the upcoming Christmas will be the most important Christmas ever. His friends, concerned for his well-being, eventually agree to go under “Christmas-nosis” (like hypnosis) to a Christmas themed planet where they set out to find the true meaning of the season. Although they are cast off of the planet one by one for not being committed enough to the end goal, they all return in full force for the episode’s finale to support Abed through what is revealed to be the first December 9th that he will not be visited by his mother. The episode is a wholly warm-hearted special that really emphasizes the importance of friendship and found family over neglectful blood ties and, as such, is a wonderfully unique Christmas story that is perfect to revisit (or watch for the first time!) during the holiday season.