Season of good film? Our experts reveal their festive favourites

From It's a Wonderful Life to Miracle on 34th Street, there are certain films it just wouldn't be Christmas without. But when we asked a team of experts about their festive favourites and pet hates there were some surprising answers...
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The Independent Culture

Anthony Quinn, film critic

Best

Meet Me in St Louis (1944)

I have never been able to watch Judy Garland sing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in Meet Me in St Louis without my eyes filling up. The whole tenor of Vincente Minelli's musical is deeply, almost painfully nostalgic, as a family's prospective move from their beloved home town becomes a kind of farewell to our own best memories of Christmas. "Through the years we all will be together/ If the fates allow".... And if that kind of sentiment fills you with disgust then I recommend the superb Bad Santa (2003) with Billy Bob Thornton and the genius child actor Brett Kelly.

Worst

The Santa Clause (1994)

In the absence of a Robin Williams Christmas movie there's always Tim Allen's The Santa Clause to make you gag on your turkey. It's one of those sickly paeans to the "spirit of Christmas" that you know some Hollywood exec has cobbled together by committee. As the regular-guy-turned-Father-Christmas, Allen is so loudly and relentlessly unamusing and his elfish workforce so tiresomely twee that I'd sooner tear off my own head than sit through it again.

Amanda Berry, chief executive of Bafta

Best

Miracle on 34th Street (1994)

I've chosen Miracle on 34th Street because Richard Attenborough played Kriss Kringle so brilliantly. I also like Scrooge (1951) Alastair Sim is magnificent and White Christmas (1954). Great performances from Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye and Rosemary Clooney.

Worst

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)

I never quite got the Muppets.

Geoffrey MacNab, film writer

Best

Fanny and Alexander (1982)

This is not a Christmas film per se, but it features one magical and justly celebrated Christmas scene the Christmas feast of the Ekdahl family, their friends and servants. The kids misbehave. The elderly relatives get drunk and flirt with the younger women. Everyone holds hands and forms a long line, dancing through the house. Uncle Carl takes the kids off to watch his "fireworks" display an exhibition of very noisy farting. The Christmas sequence captures the full range of Yuletide emotions the joy, the boredom, the lust, self-indulgence and all the petty squabbling.

Worst

It's A Wonderful Life (1946)

When it was first released, Frank Capra's film made minimal impact. It was subsequently rediscovered when it began to be shown on TV. I am as partial to Clarence the Angel as any other film critic and can still be moved by James Stewart's warbling everyman routine. The problem the film suffers, now, though, is its awful over-familiarity. It is reshown on TV and re-released in cinemas with such frequency that even its greatest devotees must be just a little sick of it.

Ian Freer, Empire magazine

Best

Gremlins (1984)

While it seems almost sacrilegious not to pick It's A Wonderful Life, I'm going to plump for Gremlins, Joe Dante's wonderfully subversive take on the family holiday movie. Gremlins has its Christmas cake and eats it, taking a picture-book view of a perfect American Christmas (a loving family, a snowy small town) then completely ruining it by introducing mischievous little critters who strangle dogs with fairy lights and run amok with snow plows yet still find time to enjoy a screening of Snow White. A perfect satire of Capra-esque values.

Worst

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

A film so terrible it makes Plan 9 From Outer Space look like Citizen Kane, this mixes those obvious bedfellows (Christmas and outer space) into badness beyond imagination. The premise redefines risible: with their children obsessed with Santa Claus from terrestrial TV, the Martians lead an expedition to Earth to kidnap Santa to spread festive cheer. Ending on the ghastly holiday anthem "Hooray For Santy Claus", this isn't so bad it's good, it's just irritating Yuletide bilge.

Robert Hanks, film critic

Best

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Not usually thought of as a Christmas film, since most of the plot seems to happen in high summer. But Christmas is where it ends, with Robert Mitchum's psychopathic preacher being led away by police through streets lined with seasonal decorations the hangman who tips his hat is standing in front of a holly wreath. The final scene takes place on Christmas Day: the children, now living in security with peculiar surrogate grandmother Lilian Gish, learn the joy of giving and receiving gifts, and Gish meditates on the indomitable power of innocence in the face of evil: what message can be more appropriate to the spirit of Christmas than that?

Worst

Christmas with the Kranks (2004)

On paper, to executives looking to pop a swift profit, this must have looked perfect: novel by John Grisham, Tim Allen in the lead, story about the importance of Christmas spirit... On screen, it was a perfect storm of triviality, cheap jokes, and outright nastiness. The only thing to be said in its favour is that hardly anybody saw it.

Eddie Berg, artistic director, BFI

Best

The Apartment (1960)

Though not strictly a Christmas movie, Billy Wilder's The Apartment is a gloriously bittersweet confection set over the holiday period in a widescreen, monochrome Manhattan. The combination of farce and melancholy is perfectly played throughout the film, and there are irresistible turns from Jack Lemmon as the sweet but lonely CC Baxter and Shirley MacLaine as the elevator girl who finally figures out which way her cookie crumbles.

Worst

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Fifteen years ago in my hometown of Liverpool I went to a B-movie weekend extravaganza specifically to watch Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I'd been reliably informed by several sources that this was the worst film of all time. It isn't. But it's close. In the film Santa eventually "conquers" Mars by teaching everyone to sing Christmas carols and by opening a toy factory. That makes it sound quite interesting. It wasn't. It was intensely boring and a real let-down. A bit like Christmas Day itself felt when you were 14.

Gill Pringle, film writer

Best

It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

More than 60 years after Frank Capra's Christmas masterpiece, It's a Wonderful Life, lesser film-makers are still trying to capture his spirit. Of course they're all too embarrassed to admit they're Capra wannabes because that's so uncool these days. So they disguise their aspirations beneath crass jokes and vulgarity, only in the final scene revealing their true colours with a sappy ending.

Worst

Deck the Halls (2007)

Deck The Halls is a turkey like all the other overcooked Capra pretenders. How dumb are these directors to imagine that two minutes of sentimentality at the film's end somehow will forgive the previous 95 minutes of mean-spirited drivel, masquerading as comedy? Even veterans like Matthew Broderick and Danny DeVito look pained to be a part of this unfunny comedy. But likely they were paid more than George Bailey saw in a lifetime. Ultimately Capra's genius was to level out the Christmas playing field with a message to be shared by all. "No man is a failure who has friends," may be one of the corniest endings in cinematic history, but it still holds true.

James, film writer

Best

Gremlins (1984)

Steven Spielberg executive produced, but there's nothing saccharine about Joe Dante's story of the havoc wreaked by a group of creatures across a picture-postcard American town during the holiday season. The sort of film that makes you think twice about buying an exotic pet for Christmas, Gremlins plays out like an antidote to Disney. As these malevolent green-skinned beasts get real mean feeding them after midnight is a real no-no, remember they tear into the town with all the pent-up anger anyone feels in the run-up to Christmas.

Worst

The Holiday (2006)

As sickly as a gallon of eggnog, this transatlantic romantic comedy is liable to dampen your Christmas cheer straight away. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz are singletons who swap homes and find love (respectively with Jack Black and Jude Law) in a story that has all the emotional depth of a Hallmark card. Particularly galling are the scenes in England, as Diaz goes to stay in a winter-wonderland snow-capped cottage, with Nancy Meyers directing the scenes straight out of the Richard Curtis playbook.

Kaleem Aftab, film writer

Best

Die Hard (1988)

Bruce Willis, in a career defining performance, plays New York cop John McClane. He's journeyed to LA to see his wife and two kids, full of Christmas cheer. His itinerary and hopes for the holiday are a typical stockingful of clichs: wife's work office party, family dinner and relaxing. Like in all classic Christmas tales, the pitfalls soon surface, and a band of Scrooges in the guise of German terrorists arrive to remind us that maybe Yuletide really is just about money. But when McClane alludes to being Santa Claus with the immortal line, "Now I have a machine-gun, Ho Ho Ho," the Christmas movie clichs are turned on their head to create one of the great action flicks.

Worst

Jingle All the Way (1996)

Even worse than Arnold Schwarzenegger's insipid sense of comic timing is that Jingle All the Way actually celebrates the consumerism of Christmas. It's about a dad who will do anything to get his kid the must-have toy of the summer. The message that you can be a crap dad but presents can buy your kids' love completely misses the point.

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