Classics to comedies: plan your Christmas movie viewing
What to pick and when to watch them – without the squabbles
'Home Alone': this light-hearted family classic is perfect for the early days of December
Spare a thought for the poor souls who fly headlong into the festive season without anything resembling a plan. These are the damned masses who end up penned like cattle into mile-long queues for last-minute gifts on Christmas Eve, or elbowing their way to get at the last two rotisserie chickens at the hot food counter to sew together and serve as a substitute in case the still-frozen turkey they bought at 5pm fails to thaw out in time for Christmas dinner, despite being sat in the bathtub under a hairdryer on full blast dangling from the shower rail.
If you’d rather enjoy your Christmas in a more orderly, relaxed and smug manner, then a bit of forward thinking is essential, right down to the order in which you watch your favourite Christmas movies. These should be spread evenly throughout the month of December and not all left to the last minute.
To get the most out of the month of December, you need a regimented plan of attack, so you don’t get to the week before Christmas and realise you can’t watch Home Alone 2 because it’s on TV while you’re out trying to get a 9ft douglas fir into the back of a Kia Sorrento.
Here’s our plan for your perfect Christmas film viewing.
First days of December
Jump-start your holiday humour by opening with a tried and trusted classic, something you’ve waited all year to watch, something that you don’t mind seeing again later in the month when you fall across it after arriving home cold and miserable from a torturous shopping experience that Amnesty International would file a petition over.
To reawaken the giddy childish glee of Christmas, go for a light-hearted family classic such as Home Alone, with all it’s wonderful lessons about how concussions aren’t that big a deal when you really, really want to visit serious bodily harm upon a small boy. Or there is the entirely charming Elf, if only for the soaring shot of Santa’s sleigh taking to the air as dozens of spellbound New Yorkers look on.
This is the only movie scene of Santa in flight that comes close to what my imagination could conjure as a child, a far cry from the unconvincing bluescreen effort in the glorified McDonald’s commercial that is Santa Claus: The Movie, a film that somehow manages to contain more crying children per minute than any other story ever told.
As December rolls on, you can continue with the heavy-duty classics in any order. These are movies you can watch as you put up the tree, do an online shop because you’re damned if you’re heading to the shopping centre again, or browse the glossy food-porn catalogues from your local supermarkets.
This is where you get your Die Hard fix, your Christmas Vacation, your Bad Santa, your It’s A Wonderful Life: all equally festive, but all entertaining in very different ways. They are perfect to suit whatever mood you’re in at this stage in your Christmas cycle.
If you’ve got kids, now’s the time to start their viewing arc as well, with a futile attempt to get them to enjoy wonderfully old-fashioned tales like A Christmas Story or Miracle on 34th Street. You should also quickly accept that they will probably prefer to watch a soulless post-2000 CGI hellscape, such as the shark-eyes of a computer-generated Tom Hanks in The Polar Express.
This is it. The battle ground. The point in the Christmas movie cycle where a compromise must be reached. By now you’ve watched the movies that everyone agrees on, so it’s time to get into some serious negotiations. You may not want to watch Love, Actually, but someone in the house certainly does. Someone might make the blasphemous statement that Lethal Weapon isn’t a Christmas movie, and they’ll have to be set to rights with a swift viewing just to show that when it comes to Christmas, you’re never too old for this sh*t.
Gremlins, The Holiday, The Nightmare Before Christmas: no household agrees entirely on these movies, so it’s best to get them watched when there’s still enough time left to patch up any furious arguments before the big day itself, so that you’re not eating Christmas dinner while stewing over the bitter words of a loved one who claimed Ernest Saves Christmas is a disgrace to the franchise.
While you’re enjoying these five days of filmic fury, it might be no harm to throw a few new movies into the mix, just to see if there’s any new holiday gems waiting to become part of your Christmas tradition. Romantic comedy Just Friends, for example. Or monster mash Krampus. Noir detective story Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Technically, Iron Man 3 is a Christmas movie. If you’re looking for a time to experiment, this is it.
This is it: the trash, the garbage, the reindeer poop. This is probably one of the busiest weeks for most people before Christmas, with the highest concentration of high-stress shopping days, late-night Christmas parties, and the gnawing stress of waiting to see if there’s going to be a Christmas bonus from work that will help pay for all these Boots gift sets that you just bought for your apparently smelly friends.
What you want right here is stuff that you won’t miss if you don’t get to watch it. You gotta watch Die Hard, but if you miss Die Hard 2 are you really going to be that heartbroken? Are you really going to sit through Jingle All The Way, or is it something that you can have on in the background while you’re tracking your delivery from eBay? A little Santa Clause goes a long way, so feel free to watch the great first hour before it runs off the rails in the last act.
Bad Santa 2 is terrible – throw it on the pile. At this stage, you’re probably sick of the sight of Christmas, so a nice hate-watch of Fred Claus might cheer you up. Nothing says Christmas like slagging Vince Vaughan and his stupid slothface.
But in the midst of all the cynicism and sequels, it’s important to focus on one point up there. This is peak party season, so that means it’s also peak hangover season. There’ll be at least one day in this timeframe when you’re destroyed, and you just want something nice to ease the horror. Watch Muppets Christmas Carol, drink tea, inhale a selection box, and cry when Beaker gives Scrooge his scarf.
The day is just around the corner, which means there isn’t much time for you to isolate yourself and joylessly binge-watch whatever movies you missed. This is the time for final presents to be wrapped, family and friends to visit, and last-minute gifts to run out and buy because buying them three weeks ago was just too simple.
There are lights in town to walk under, long-awaiting reunions at airports to enjoy, and Soviet-era supermarket queues to stand in.
But along this time, maybe even on Christmas Eve, allow yourself a viewing of a movie that you’ve been saving all season. It may not be “the best”, but it’s your favourite. By the light of just the tree, cuddle up with whoever you hold dear, throw it on, and sigh in relief as it plays before you.
For me, that movie is Scrooged. I could tell you that I love the Christmas Carol story of redemption that Bill Murray goes through, that it’s the perfect palate cleanser to wash away any stresses and worries before a magical Christmas day, but in truth there’s a bit where Bill gets hit in the face with a toaster and that really just cracks my friggin’ yule log every time I see it.