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Genre Defining: Christmas

ChristmasTree.jpgCall them holidays, Christmas, Xmas, whatever, the season is upon us and that means a run of seasonally inclined films. From Santa to sleigh bells, and loving one another, the Christmas films are here.

So I thought before we enter the big Christmas feature we'd explore the films that really do define the genre of Christmas films, the films that make you think of and feel like Christmas.

Now we have to be aware that Christmas films mean anything to do with Christmas, and that Christmas means very different things to different people. For me it is a totally non-religious holiday that is about sharing with friends and family, eating, drinking, and generally having fun.

So in that vein, here are the films which I feel really define the genre of Christmas films. You may agree or disagree, either way let's hear what films from this time of year you would mark as the genre defining.

It's a Wonderful Life
This is the classic film for this time of year, although I think it should really be a much more watched and followed film throughout the rest of the year too.

It's a beautiful and very moving film that has a hard streak of reality through it that really does bring the story and the characters to life.

It tells the story of a thoroughly good man at the very end of his tether, imagining that everything is lost about him and that there's really nothing left for him to do other than end it all .

Yet something holds him back, an angel called Clarence, who takes him on a journey of his life to find out what brought him here, and what just might keep him from dying.

A Miracle on 34th Street
This film just oozes Christmas and the Christmas spirit, and yes I am talking about the original film here. This film is coated with the Christmas spirit, like a tree covered with decorations and lights, if this doesn't get you in the spirit then you'd better break out some extra strong egg nog.

Macy's Department Store is in need of a Santa quickly, the previous one was discovered drunk and fired, so the nearest old man is thrown in quickly to cover. Strange thing is he's really good at it, and more than that, he's called Kris Kringle and claims to be the real Santa Claus.

Doris Walker, the woman who hired him, is concerned about his real motives, and trouble with the store psychologist ends him up institutionalised and disillusioned. However despite Doris and her daughter being the biggest sceptics, they get a young lawyer friend to represent Kringle in court, and try and prove that he could just be Santa after all.

White Christmas
Just the title is enough, but then add in the musical featuring Bing Crosby and the superb Danny Kaye, and that song, and you're in Christmas heaven.

"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones we used to know,..."

Bob and Phil team up as a song and dance double act after their stint in the war. They follow a similar female double act to a lodge to perform a Christmas show and discover that their old commander is running the place. Romance and hilarity follows, and of course music and snow.

A Muppet Christmas Carol
There has to be a Scrooge type story in here somewhere, and this is the best there is. It combines comedy, the coolness of the Muppets, and the typical tale of Scrooge. What more could you want, a nice Christmas message and crazy muppets too, including Kermit, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, Fozzie Bear, and the whole crowd.

If you don't know the story of Scrooge, well it's a simple one. He's a mean spirited, horrible man who cares about making money and little about anyone else. On Christmas Eve he finds himself visited by three ghosts, the ghost of Christmas Past, the ghost of Christmas Present and the ghost of Christmas Future, revealing to him just how bad a person he has become, and will become. With that he awakes on Christmas day and becomes a better person.

I always mention this one when I talk about Christmas films, it's the most fun I've ever had watching a film with great Christmas messages. Again the message is simply one of caring for each other and giving out a little happiness, or rather, putting a little love in your heart.

The story is basically that of Scrooge once again, but it's been modernised. Scrooge is a high flying television network executive, hungry to pull off the Christmas special of the network's history and become the President of the network.

However he's a mean and horrible person, eager to do anything to get his way, and when things start falling apart with the live broadcast, the ghosts arrive to dish out their own wake up call.

Bill Murray plays the Scrooge in this tale and you'll recognise a host of stars along the way, the effects are great, the story is superb, and the comedy excellent. By the end you've got a warm glow inside and you'll be dying to sing along with the closing credits.

The Wizard of Oz
I have to say I hate this film now, I've seen it so many times I can't count them, however it has to be listed here as a genre defining film for Christmas movies.

Although there's nothing particularly Christmas-ee about it, there is that nice wholesome family film feeling that comes from watching this, if you can bear to see it again. You see the popularity and the family aspect are also it's failing, because it's on just about every Christmas.

I don't think I've had a Christmas where I haven't seen it on one of the main television channels throughout the week. So I think I've probably seen it more times than any other film…and that's not through choice. However I can't deny it defines the Christmas movie.

Close contenders
I am starting to push the boundaries a little here as the following three films are really associated with the Christmas film season but aren't really genre defining, but they really are close. Interestingly they could be considered defining other genres than Christmas films, but they still make my list…almost.

Definitely not your typical Christmas film, but it has some warm moments and takes place at Christmas, so what's not to like?

Billy gets the present of a strange creature one Christmas from his father who is away travelling a lot, it's called a Mogwai, a strange and lovable creature. However it comes with three rules, don't feed it after midnight, don't expose it to bright light, and above all, don't get it wet.

You know what happens, everything, and pretty soon the town is overrun with Gremlins, creatures the exact opposite of the Mogwai and willing to destroy everything they can. Billy and his girlfriend, the sexy Phoebe Cates, have to save the day.

There are bags of humour in this and plenty of great moments of poking fun at Hollywood.

Die Hard
Another not really Christmas film other than it takes place at that time of year. Bruce Willis starts the franchise as John McClane, returning to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and children but falling straight into the middle of a terrorist takeover of the tower owned by her company.

Mayhem ensues and we close with Winter Wonderland…Come on, it's close to a Christmas film!

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
This is another film that takes place at Christmas, as two unlikely character race together towards Thanksgiving. Except Steve Martin's character doesn't want to be bothered with John Candy's, he'd rather just get home in peace and quiet, his brotherly love has gone out the window.

Then there's the added problem that whatever type of transport they choose it always seems to fail, and Thanksgiving with the family is growing closer and closer.

There is an element of Christmas spirit in here, and you do feel it at the end of the film, a feeling that is common in many of these Christmas films, of caring for others, of acceptance and of support for each other.

So those are the genre defining films I'd chose for the genre of Christmas films, what about your contenders for the defining films of Christmas?



Home Alone should be in your second list!

I'll second Scrooged, but I think you missed one of the truly great Christmas movies...Pinky and the Brain Christmas. A genetically engineered mouse using Christmas to try to take over the world. It's a classic. :)

Scrooged, Bad Santa, Black Christmas, The Ref, Gremlins, Christmas Vacation, Die Hard, Trapped in Paradise, Funny Farm...all good 'anti-Christmas' Christmas movies...

Of course, best Christmas dinner scene on film is from the recent Aussie western "THE PROPOSITION" - When Ray Winstone and Emily Watson sit down to say grace. oi!

I struggle a little bit with xmas movies as they tend to be focused heavily on the country they are made in so you get traditions and what not that don't fit.

However most do have a good feel to them and after a day of xmas shopping its nice to sit back and switch off the brain(a bit like a bad action movie) and relax.

My favourites tend to be cartoon based, rodney the reindeer etc

Another not really Christmas film other than it takes place at that time of year

The same distinction applies to Lethal Weapon.

I second Bad Santa, hilarious movie.

I thought The Family Stone did a good spin of the romantic comedy aspect of the film, and the importance of family, so using the holiday season as the backdrop, and also to make a subplot more dramatic truly made it a more poignant rom-com holiday film IMO.

Another rom-com, The Holiday, which dealt on grieving over a lost love and finding it again unexpectedly also used the holiday season and with good reason. It's so true that people who are just out of relationships find that spending the holidays without their significant other very difficult although the rebound thing can happen which was again featured in the film, I personally would not advice it. :)


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