FRENCH AND Saunders are devoting much of their BBC1 Christmas special to a spoof of Titantic. That should be seen as a backhanded compliment, a tribute to the way in which the film has pervaded our culture. You soon forget about all the fuss over the cost of the film and find yourself swept along by the sheer majestic sweep of the story. Beyond the breathtaking effects - you'll believe men can fly as the ship topples into the sea - the film scores as a tender love story, convincingly fleshed out by the world's biggest heart-throb, Leonardo DiCaprio, and our very own Kate Winslet.
Another of our finest exports to America, Lee Evans, stars opposite Nathan Lane in Mousehunt. In Gore Verbinski's surprisingly dark comedy, they play the Smuntz Brothers who engage in a dazzling battle of wits with a super-intelligent mouse who has taken up residence in a valuable mansion they have been bequeathed. The film offers both stars the chance to exhibit their penchant for cartoon-like physical comedy.
More British talent is evident in The Full Monty, now our most successful feature film of all time. The movie's charm lies in the warmth of the six former steel-workers who find gainful employment as male strippers. Robert Carlyle, Mark Addy, Tom Wilkinson et al seem to inhabit their parts with such complete relish. Quite what Prince Charles's recent attempts to re-create the famous "dancing dole queue" scene in Sheffield will have done for the film's cred, I don't know.
More conventional Christmas-time viewing is provided by Tomorrow Never Dies, the latest James Bond escapade. As he proved in his first outing as 007 in Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan possesses all the qualities to make him a vintage Bond - although perhaps still not quite in the Sean Connery class. Brosnan has dash, charm, a sense of humour, and perhaps most important of all, the ability to look drop-dead gorgeous in a DJ. All in all, quite a change from the terminally wooden Timothy Dalton.
James Bond is the main inspiration for Austin Powers - International Man of Mystery. Jay Roach's film springs from the splendid premise that Powers, a womanising 1960s secret agent, played with panache by Mike Myers from Wayne's World, is frozen and reawakened in the politically correct 1990s. The comedy starts slowly, but warms up with the appearance of fellow spy Elizabeth Hurley, who shows a surprisingly acceptable comic touch.
My Best Friend's Wedding serves up more comedy. PJ Hogan's deftly-handled film stars Julia Roberts in the role that has been credited with resurrecting her flagging career. She plays a restaurant critic who tries to stymie the wedding of her best friend and ex-lover Dermot Mulroney to the delightful Cameron Diaz. Hoping to make Mulroney jealous, she calls on her gay friend (Rupert Everett, in another career-reviving performance) to pose as her boyfriend.
More serious action is furnished by LA Confidential, the most satisfying of several recent attempts to pay homage to film noir. In Curtis Hanson's admirably complex plot, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce play warring cops obliged to join forces when confronted with sinister police corruption. Kim Basinger, as a high-class call-girl, and Kevin Spacey, as a world- weary officer, offer top-notch support.
COMEDY VIDEOS have become the new mobile phones - the perfect catch-all when you're completely stuck for a present. They sell particularly well at Christmas because, fed up with talking to each other, families like nothing better than slumping on the sofa in front of something funny and not too intellectually demanding. Steve Coogan's The Man Who Thinks He's It is a recording of his phenomenally successful stage-show, which has just finished a long run touring the country. He plays naff Mancunians Paul and Pauline Calf, terrible stand-up Duncan Thickett, and slimy Lothario singer Tony Ferrino. The highlight of the show, however, is failed chat- show host Alan Partridge. Here the comic blends into the role so smoothly that you can no longer see where Coogan ends and the character begins.
Eddie Izzard is another comedian at the top of his game. In his Dressed to Kill video, you fight in vain as he inexorably draws you into a uniquely bizarre world resistant to conventional logic. In Izzard's universe, the Grim Reaper argues heatedly with a corpse over whether he can wear his pyjamas to the kingdom of the dead, and pieces of bread in the toaster conspire deliberately to burn themselves by whispering to each other "stay down, lads". Izzard's act is not a straight up and down "autobahn" observational routine, but a weird and wonderful ramble through the winding highways and byways of his mind.
The Very Very Best of Father Ted is another comedy which defies the normal rules. Set in a fantastical parish-house on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, it centres on the always bizarre behaviour of three more or less deranged priests - Father Ted (the late Dermot Morgan) Father Dougal (Ardal O'Hanlon) and Father Jack (Frank Kelly).
MUSIC VIDEOS to get the toes tapping this Christmas include Michael Flatley's Feet of Flames, those two Andrew Lloyd Webber mega-musicals, Evita and Cats, and a compilation of Cameron Mackintsoh's greatest hits in Hey, Mr Producer! But after his very smooth performance on BBC1's Parkinson last Saturday night, the seasonal bestseller could well turn out to be George Michael's Greatest Hits.
THE BOOM market in sport is the "blooper video." The cheeky chappie jockey Frankie Dettori presents equine cock-ups in Horsing Around, while They Think It's All Over frontman, Nick Hancock, offers us footy foul-ups in Football Doctor. Jeremy Clarkson, meanwhile, introduces more Porsche- being-dropped-on-caravan-type hi-jinks with The Most Outrageous Video Ever. Having seen his BBC2 chat show, I'd recommend that Clarkson stick to cars for now.
THE SIMPSONS are always a good bet as a gift for children because they may well appeal to their parents, too. The classic episodes - The Last Temptation of Homer, Crime and Punishment and Sex, Lies and Videotape are all available. If pure children's escapism is more your Santa's sack, then any of the animated delights of The Little Mermaid, Anastasia or The Lady and the Tramp might suit. Barney's Great Adventures has its followers among the very young, but, be warned, many parents (myself included) would happily strangle the saccharine purple dinosaur.Reuse content