The Christmas Watchlist

By Alan Mattli

Aaah, Christmas… the perfect time to snuggle up and do nothing at all, preferably while watching something holiday-related on TV. But as there are so many titles to choose from, let me narrow it down to a manageable, bite-sized list of twelve recommendations for you.

Joker 1: Father Ted: “A Christmassy Ted”

Although this is labeled as a holiday special, it’s less of a jolly Yuletide story and more of an absurdist crime noir. After Father Ted wins the “Golden Cleric Award” for leading a group of fellow priests out of Ireland’s largest lingerie section (don’t ask), he, Dougal, Jack and Mrs. Doyle are visited by a shady priest, who’s after Ted’s cherished award.

Joker 2: The Star Wars Holiday Special

I have not seen this movie. Barely anyone has. It’s the only item in George Lucas’ filmography he’s ashamed of. It centers around a Wookie holiday called “Life Day” and consists largely of insufferably boring filler and an annoying Wookie family making noises. Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, James Earl Jones, Beatrice Arthur and Art Carney guest-star. It also marks the first appearance of Boba Fett. If you want to know more about it, I’d recommend the Nostalgia Critic’s review.

12. The Big Bang Theory: “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis”

It doesn’t always have to be a movie, does it? If you happen to like The Big Bang Theory, then you probably already saw “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis”. If you haven’t, let me fill you in: It’s Christmastime in Pasadena, except at Leonard’s and Sheldon’s place because they “don’t celebrate the ancient pagan festival of Saturnalia” (Thank you, Dr. Cooper). However, this doesn’t stop Penny from getting the guys presents, which causes Sheldon to go Christmas shopping – oh dear. Meanwhile, Penny starts dating a colleague of Leonard’s. This is a great episode because it marks a big step in Sheldon’s character development. I won’t spoil anything for you but if you know and love the series as I do, you’ll never forget this episode, and be it just for that last scene…

11. A Christmas Carol (1984)

There are countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’ famous story, good and bad. Clive Donner’s 1984 TV version is nothing special per se; it follows the original plot without changing anything. But the aspect that elevates it above other movie adaptations is its lead actor: George C. Scott is the best Ebenezer Scrooge you’ve ever seen in a film. Not only is he the guy you imagined when you read Dickens’ story for the first time, he delivers a fantastic performance, which is subtle, nuanced and intense.

10. The Nightmare Before Christmas

How can you go wrong with Tim Burton and Henry Selick? Their 1993 horror(ish) fairytale about a village populated by crazy Hallowe’en monsters who suddenly turn to Christmas has become a beloved classic practically everyone can enjoy. This film has it all: great songs, gorgeous stop-motion-animation, creative characters and sets, and a flair for the morbid and the macabre.

9. Father Christmas

This 26-minute feature is based on one of Raymond Briggs’ picture books. It’s about Santa Claus going off on a long post-Christmas vacation but can’t quite figure out where exactly he wants to travel to. If you’re a friend of British humour (who isn’t?), you’ll love Father Christmas. It’s an endearing little Christmas special that can be enjoyed by both children and adults, and that puts you in the right festive mood. Well then, “Happy blooming Christmas!”, as its protagonist would say.

8. Die Hard

Yes, Die Hard. A movie about an NYPD cop flying to Los Angeles to meet his wife but gets caught up in a criminal’s plan to hijack a skyscraper to steal a lot of money. You might ask now whether there’s any relation to Christmas. I’m glad you asked. Well, it takes place on Christmas Eve and it ends with Frank Sinatra’s “Let It Snow! Let It Sbow! Let It Snow!”. Isn’t that enough? Die Hard is the ideal movie to watch when all the Yuletide happiness is getting too cheesy for you and you suddenly feel the urge to see Bruce Willis shooting bad guys and blowing up tall buildings. And let’s not forget that John McTiernan’s flick is one of the best action movies of all time.

7. Gremlins

Much like Die Hard, Gremlins isn’t one of those holiday movies you can comfortably watch with people expecting a nice, uplifting, “Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men” story. Joe Dante’s film is a somewhat ugly but unapologetically hilarious horror comedy about a bunch of crazy, chaos-loving furry animals terrorising an all-American suburb on Christmas Eve. There’s trees, gift giving, snow, lights, and little monsters lurking in the shadows trying to kill you. If The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t morbid enough for you, you should definitely give Gremlins a try.

6. The Muppet Christmas Carol

This is undoubtedly the best movie starring the Muppets. With Gonzo and Rizzo the Rat narrating, the little felt puppets reenact Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol with their own brand of slapstick, loveable chaos, and hilariously staged musical numbers. The part of Ebenezer Scrooge is played by the great Michael Caine, who is almost as good as George C. Scott in Clive Donner’s adaptation.

5. Scrooged

This is probably the most cynical version of A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray plays a cold, arrogant TV producer whose big idea for Christmas Eve is to stage Dickens’ story as a modern musical – live. Dickensian plot ensues. Scrooged is a prime example of how to properly modernise a classic. It’s a funny, clever and beautifully snarky comedy which perfectly contrasts the prevalent holiday sweetness.

4. The Snowman

If there’s a children’s Christmas classic, it has to be the movie adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman, despite the book not specifically being about Christmas. A boy befriends his snowman, who takes him on an unbelievable nightly journey and is gone – molten – the next morning. The story is infamously sad and many a tear was cried because of it. Nevertheless, The Snowman brilliantly captures the magic of winter and Christmas as seen through the eyes of a child.

3. Loriot 6

Loriot’s Christmas episode is another TV classic, in which we witness all-German family Hoppenstedt’s holiday stress; Mrs. Hoppenstedt has to deal with her yodeling education, several drunk door-to-door salesmen as well as the usual housekeeping chores. Her husband, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with decorating the Christmas tree – no tinsel, just apples –, arguing with a family friend about who ate what part of a shared dessert, and buildig a model nuclear power plant. And last but not least, there’s Grandpa trying to buy a present without remembering his grandchild’s sex. It’s not hard to see why this episode is often called”legendary”; “Loriot 6” is one of the pinnacles of subtle German satire.

2. A Charlie Brown Christmas

What is Christmas about? This is a key question that is posed throughout the Peanuts’ holiday special before Linus finally answers it in his iconic little speech. But that’s only one of many, many scenes in A Charlie Brown Christmas that have gained cult status. The animation is simple, the voices are fitting, the soundtrack is beautiful, and the whole special fills you with that special Christmassy feeling. It’s a funny, philosophical, and melancholic classic which, for me at least, has become a Yuletide evergreen.

1. It’s a Wonderful Life

What else? Frank Capra’s most famous film – and this is the man who also directed Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can’t Take It with You and It Happened One Night – is the figurehead of the Christmas movie genre. Depressed George Bailey (the great James Stewart) wonders how his hometown would look if he’d never been born, so the angel Clarence shows him this alternate reality, which turns out to be rather grim. So George turns away from the bridge’s edge, hurries home to celebrate Christmas and sees that all his friends are already waiting for him. It’s a Wonderful Life is nothing if not a beautiful, humanistic, and, yes, Capracorny tale of “Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men”. Fun fact: the movie was denounced as being “communist propaganda” by the FBI because of its rich and greedy antagonist. So if you’re watching only one movie this weekend, it should be It’s a Wonderful Life – it will easily get you in the Christmas Spirit.

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