Nothing says festive warmth like The Muppets, Home Alone and some psychological horror

Emer McLysaght: Netflix knows all too well that I am a divil for a Christmas comfort film

Rizzo and Gonzo inthe 1992 classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol. Photograph: Disney/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

Rizzo and Gonzo inthe 1992 classic, The Muppet Christmas Carol. Photograph: Disney/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

 

Nothing knows you better than your algorithms – the formulas used by Netflix and Instagram and Amazon to predict and recommend what you might be interested in based on your previous activity – and Netflix knows all too well that I am an absolute divil for a Christmas comfort film.

I had planned on holding off on watching any festive movies until this weekend; the weekend that any of us still holding out have collectively agreed is the one when we finally give up on avoiding the inevitable and drag the decorations out of the attic or from under the bed, right?

My Netflix algorithm knows me better than that though and knows that I already gave in back in early November when it started coyly suggesting that I revisit the dire and irresistible 2017 instant classic A Christmas Prince. This was after weeks of pre-Halloween premieres of movies with titles along the lines of “A Gallop in the Snow” and “Christmas Can’t Possibly Be Saved” and my resolve had been well and truly worn down.

If someone says they just can’t feel that festive glow until they’ve seen Hans Gruber fall in terror from the top of Nakatomi Plaza, then who are you to police their comfort?

Besides, facing into a second “meaningful Christmas” means that there was hardly a Liveline number dialed when Brown Thomas started selling tree decorations back in August or when lights and wreaths started going up in earnest in mid-October. You must take your comforts where you can get them and if the algorithms learned anything this year it’s that a lot of people started snuggling into their festive security blankets at 12.01am on November 1st.

Family Christmas movies are comforting because they’re familiar, nostalgic and have plots that hurtle towards Christmas being saved or a protagonist being rescued or both. Festive romances meanwhile only have one possible ending: a kiss under the mistletoe just as the big lad ho-ho-hos across the rooftops distributing Nintendo Switches and Beanie Boos.

The “bad boys” of the genre like Die Hard, Bad Santa and Trading Places all follow similar trajectories – and before anyone quibbles that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas film let me point to the facts: It features John McClane desperately trying to get his family back together in time for Christmas only to be thwarted by some Scrooge-like gun toting, thieving terrorists.

His wife’s name is Holly, and the end credits are sound tracked by Let it Snow, for the love of God. Okay, so Die Hard was first released in July 1988 but that’s Hollywood’s fault, not the Baby Jesus’s. If someone says they just can’t feel that festive glow until they’ve seen Hans Gruber fall in terror from the top of Nakatomi Plaza, then who are you to police their comfort?

A couple of years ago while wrapping presents on Christmas Eve I invited a new and unusual contender into my arsenal of comfort watches. It was 2019’s unsettling Midsommar

In fact, one of the new Netflix offering’s this year is a romantic comedy which sees the two leads fighting over whether Love Actually or Die Hard is the best Christmas film. It’s called Love Hard (groan) and is just funny and charming enough to ensure that I will watch it twice again before the big day and then at least once every single year for the rest of my life. Ditto The Holiday, the chronically terrible aforementioned Love Actually and 1992’s The Den Christmas Crisis about the disappearance of Ray D’Arcy’s bottle of Scent of Man aftershave. It’s Ireland’s answer to It’s a Wonderful Life.

My ultimate Christmas trio though are National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppets Christmas Carol, and The Family Stone. The first two are self-explanatory: Clark Griswold freezing in the attic watching old home movies while worrying about delivering the best holiday possible for his family, and Michael Caine learning about the true meaning of Christmas with some ice-skating penguins and a talking rat. The Family Stone – Sarah Jessica Parker is the outsider fiancé to the adored eldest son who tries to ingratiate herself with a hostile, insular and extremely relatable family – is my piece de resistance though, because it has an edge of tragedy and a bite of realness and remains cruelly underrated.

A couple of years ago while wrapping presents on Christmas Eve I invited a new and unusual contender into my arsenal of comfort watches. It was 2019’s unsettling Midsommar, which is neither a Christmas film nor a safe and familiar tale but for some reason I have returned to its horror multiple times since and allowed it to wash over me like a second mince pie with a third hot whiskey.

I do the same with Spotlight, about the Boston Globe’s uncovering of the paedophile priest scandal, and with The Martian, which sees Matt Damon stranded on the red planet with nothing but self-fertilised spuds to keep him going. These films may not have carols and twinkling lights and happy-ever-afters to rely on, but there is something about incredible film making or beautiful colour palettes or competent and methodical protagonists that has a similar effect.

This weekend’s tree decorating then might begin with a blast of the Muppets, take in a rewatch of Love Hard and finish with Mark Ruffalo frantically working to expose systemic child abuse in the Catholic Church. God bless us, everyone. 

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