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The 10 best Christmas films from around the world

@Russellisation

An unfortunate truth at the heart of international cinema is that, unfortunately, despite such a great variety of content, often it is the big-budget Hollywood-made releases that find their way to the top of the pile no matter where you may be in the world. This goes for contemporary blockbusters, genre classics and even iconic Christmas films, with the likes of Home Alone, Elf and It’s A Wonderful Life universal favourites of the annual festive season. 

Of course, every country has their own film industry, no matter how big or small, and each year many of these films rise to the top of the annual box office, even if they’re joined by the likes of Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Matrix Resurrections and the lark. As a result of such industry congestion, many of these national successes fall through the net and are reduced to relative obscurity instead of worldwide acclaim. 

Where the aforementioned western festive favourites such as It’s A Wonderful Life present a set of morals and ideals influenced by American pop culture, the following ten films on our list of the ten best Christmas films from around the world show a variety of styles and attitudes towards ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. 

The 10 best Christmas films from around the world:

10. Bush Christmas (Henri Safran, 1983) – Australia

In the western world, Christmas is considered a time to gather together and cosy round the fire to escape the harsh weather of the December frost, though, for the Southern hemisphere, the problem is quite the opposite.

Christmas in the Australian bush is a scorching affair, with the film Bush Christmas demonstrating this in the form of a much-beloved festive film following a family trying to prevent their farm from foreclosure. To save the farm, the family hope to enter their horse in for a New Year’s race to win back the money, though when their noble steed is stolen, the children go on a daring mission to get it back. Starring Nicole Kidman in her very first film role, Bush Christmas is an utter joy to behold, featuring unbridled family fun. 

9. Vacanze di Natale (Carlo Vanzina, 1983) – Italy

Christmas has never really been a time of deep, emotional retrospective, with often the finest films of the annual genre being those that embody the pure joy of the festive period in all its comedy glory. 

Case in point, the screwball Italian comedy Vacanze di Natale (Christmas holidays) that sees a cast of oddball characters enjoy their holidays on the snow of the skiing resort, Cortina D’Ampezzo. Telling multiple stories in its short runtime, much of the focus of the film is about love, be it between Mario, a poor man from Rome who falls for a young American, Samantha or Billo, a playboy who encounters a long lost love on the slopes. A frenetic and silly film, Vacanze di Natale remains an undoubted Christmas cracker. 

8. Ironiya sudby, ili S legkim parom! (Eldar Ryazanov, 1975) – Russia

Translated into The Irony of Fate, or Enjoy Your Bath!, Eldar Ryazanov’s iconic Russian festive favourite was released as a two-part mini-series in 1975 and is still enjoyed to this day as a national classic. 

With Barbara Brylska and Andrey Myagkov in the two lead roles, the film follows a man and a woman unwillingly thrown together on New Year’s eve when the man accidentally flies to the wrong city and breaks into an apartment he believes to be his. Loosely based on Eldar Ryazanov’s play, Once on New Year’s Eve, the film is a highly enjoyable screwball comedy, tinged with a melancholic sadness that only Russian cinema could create.

7. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Jalmari Helander, 2010) – Finland

Lovers of ancient evils and ritualistic horror, Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a fiendish Finnish tale of Christmas terror telling the story of a group of scientists trying to excavate the supposed burial site of Santa Clause. 

Bringing the body back to the surface, the scientists unleash an unknown evil on the land, whilst a group of hunters try to hunt him down. Preferring to eat children rather than shower them with gifts, Jalmari Helander takes an alternative view on the once cheerful Christmas character. It all culminates in a hugely enjoyable festive feast of off-the-wall gore and dark comedy that this Scandinavian holiday classic perfectly executes. 

6. Placido (Luis García Berlanga, 1961) – Spain

Not many Christmas films can boast that they’ve been nominated for an Oscar, particularly a Best Foreign Language film award, with Luis García Berlanga’s Placido being recognised at the 1962 Academy Awards. 

A well-known Spanish classic, Placido stars Plácido Alonso as Casssen, a homeless man living in a small town who is due to take part in a parade on Christmas eve, the same day he is due to lose his car unless he pays a significant bill. A heartwarming festive comedy, the black comedy also enjoyed success at the 1961 Cannes Film Festival where viewers were spellbound by its bountiful energy and affection for the charity of the holiday season. 

5. A Christmas Tale (Arnaud Desplechin, 2008) – France

Being nominated for an Academy Award is an unusual cinematic feat for any Christmas movie, but being nominated for a Palme d’Or is almost unprecedented, a feat achieved only by Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale.

An impressive ensemble cast including Catherine Deneuve, Anne Consigny and Mathieu Amalric lead the simple Christmas classic that follows the troubled Vuillard family who clashes at yet another festive reunion. A dark comedy that picks apart themes of family, relationships and parenthood, A Christmas Tale is a genuinely hilarious festive French film that perfectly deconstructs the fragility of the family dynamic. 

4. Tangerine (Sean Baker, 2015) – California

From the contemporary master of cinema, Sean Baker, comes his extraordinary breakthrough film, Tangerine, a frenetic Hollywood tale fascinatingly filmed through the mere lens of an iPhone. 

Following the tale of a hooker who stalks the streets of Hollywood in search of the pimp who cheated on her, Baker tags alongside the characters on their furred coat-tails tracking their every move as they march around the neighbourhood on Christmas eve. Fast-paced and erratic, Baker’s film is the perfect tale to typify Hollywood under its iconic sign, without any of the stars or bright lights of industry influence. 

3. Comfort and Joy (Bill Forsyth, 1984) – Scotland

From the iconic Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth, the same mind responsible for the classic Gregory’s Girl and Local Hero, Comfort and Joy is a similarly compelling piece of national cinema. 

A hilarious and highly unusual film, Comfort and Joy stars Bill Paterson as Alan Bird, a man who witnesses an ice cream van being destroyed by a disgruntled competitor only to find himself in a feud between two warring families. An ingenious concept devised by the writer and director, Comfort and Joy delivers consistent laughs along the course of its enthralling plot. The funniest aspect of the film? The fact that anyone would want ice cream in the Scottish winter just a few days before Christmas. 

2. My Uncle Antoine (Claude Jutra, 1971) – Canada

Celebrating its 50 year anniversary, My Uncle Antoine from director Claude Jutra, is an evocative coming of age classic set in the wintry cold of 1940s rural Quebec, known by many as one of the greatest Canadian films of all time. 

An esteemed member of the Criterion Collection, Claude Jutra’s film is told from the point of view of a young boy and follows his family’s life running the town’s general store over one particularly harsh winter. Taking away the cheerful joy that pervades the Christmas film genre so easily, My Uncle Antoine takes a naturalistic and delicate approach to its characters, detailing the psychology of a boy forced to rapidly grow up in a harsh environment. 

1. Tokyo Godfathers (Satoshi Kon, 2003) – Japan

A legend of animation who has created such classics as Perfect Blue, Paprika and Millennium Actress, Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers is a spellbinding anime classic that focuses on the voiceless characters of Tokyo. 

Telling the story of a homeless man, a runaway girl and a transgender woman, as they search for the parents of an abandoned baby at Christmas, Satoshi Kon doesn’t shy away from the tragedy of such characters in his story of festive hope. Putting the more surreal elements of his previous films to one side, Kon creates a contemporary Christmas classic that contains all the magic and moral message of the very best festive favourites.