A chunk of mincemeat plops onto the face of Graham Norton as crumbs crackle like raindrops onto the surface of the 2018 Christmas edition of the Radio Times. You switch on Channel 5. Some tale about a woman living in Brooklyn who finds out she’s a princess on Christmas Eve. Channel 4, Elf. ITV 2, The 40-year-old Virgin, hoping nobody will notice that they’re playing it for the 300th time. It would be a Christmas miracle to avoid the multitude of classics ready to grace our screens. Whether it’s Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful life or the viewing of Love Actually against your will.
Though, what if you feel like you’ve seen Kevin Mcallister torture human beings enough times? Maybe you don’t feel like it’s a wonderful life. Or maybe you simply want to avoid Richard Curtis altogether. If you want to delicately tease your festive appetite without overwhelming it, then here are seven films which tentatively hide their Christmas identity and some which don’t want to show their festive colours at all.
All that Heaven Allows (1955)
A melodrama of epic proportions directed by the Hollywood romantic Douglas Sirk, following an upper-class widow who falls for her irresistibly named gardener, Rock Hudson, despite backlash from her local community. Shot in marvellous technicolour, the saturated pastel colours of the set create a theatrical mood, not unlike a Christmas panto.
Contrary to a Christmas panto however, All that Heaven Allows reflects a startlingly sexist period of time where a woman’s’ decisions were not perceived to be her responsibility. It undoubtedly remains a charming watch.
Festive Rating: Love Actually
Boogie Nights (1997)
From Rock Hudson to Dirk Diggler. Marky Mark’s gives a career performance in arguably Paul Thomas Anderson’s most complete film to date, focusing on the Californian porn industry in the late 1970s and early ’80s.
It’s certainly one of ‘PTS’s’ most enjoyable pieces, clocking in at two and a half hours, it’s an ode to the water-tight screenplay that it never lulls, helped immeasurably by an ensemble cast who perfectly embodies the carefree era. It also happens to have one, maybe two festive scenes, so happy Christmas!
Festive Rating: XXXmas
The Fifth Element (1997)
Less a Christmas film a more so one which should just be considered a family classic. Unlike Bruce Willis’ Christmas staple, Die Hard, this one can be shared with young and old and has all the fun and colour of the holiday season.
With costumes and prosthetics that would make Dr. Who proud, it’s a cosmic romp through the most bizarre and flamboyant corners of the universe that gets hearts racing and imaginations firing. Consider it a spiritual sequel to one of John McClane’s adventures.
Festive rating: Die Hard in space
Life is Sweet (1990)
Families aren’t like they are in Nintendo Switch adverts, unfortunately. Kids fight, parents squabble and pets relieve themselves on the carpet. Mike Leigh presents life as such in Life is Sweet, his ode to the dysfunctional family. Led by British icons, Alison Steadman and Jim Broadbent, the couple attempt to control the reins of their working-class, suburban family, fractured by their two rebellious daughters.
These attempts go to waste however as we follow the family for a month-or-so, sharing in their joy and misery, as life gets in the way of running a functional family home. Much is out of their control, witnessing workplace incidents, unpredictable pubescent emotions and eccentric friends. One of which is Timothy Spall, who plays a sort of deranged chav. Nothing like a bit of realism at Christmas.
Festive rating: Christmas with the Kranks
Morvern Callar (2002)
Not every day in December’s going to be great. There will be one, maybe 2 bad days over the 25 day period. And that’s OK. Just make sure you don’t watch Morvern Callar on that day, as whilst it is a film set on Christmas morning, it certainly isn’t the Santa Claus-a-sleighing romp audiences may have come to expect from the festive period.
Waking on Christmas day, protagonist Morvern Callar discovers that her boyfriend has committed suicide, leaving his completed novel on the illuminating computer screen, along with a suicide note. She changes the author’s name to her own and hits the road with her best friend. It’s a sombre piece that looks into the complex journey of grief, handled with a delicate touch from director Andrea Arnold, who matches the film with a stellar soundtrack featuring the likes of Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada and The Velvet Underground.
Festive rating: The Grinch.
Like the one you might find at the bottom of your stocking, but also unlike it in so many ways. Tangerine is the kinetic tale of a hooker who flaunts across Hollywood to find the pimp who cheated on her.
Filmed on an iPhone it has all the pace and watchability of a viral video, but with far more content and class, following on the furred coat-hooks of the leading actors as they fight, often physically, to get what they want. Named after its warm colour scheme, the film thrust director Sean Baker into the sunlight, going on to direct last years Oscar-nominated ‘Florida Project’.
Festive rating: Step up 2 the streets
Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
Satoshi Kon brings a Christmas tale from the unfamiliar perspective of a homeless man, a runaway girl and a transvestite woman, as they search for the parents of an abandoned baby at Christmas.
Satoshi puts the more surreal elements of his previous works to one side here, in favour of a more grounded tale that refuses to ignore the individual struggles of the lead characters, in favour of Christmas delight. Fighting the mounting odds against extraordinary circumstance, it feels like a mix of several Christmas classics, retold as a contemporary tale. The abundant narrative conveniences feel more like natural coincidences, building and reinforcing to create a magical Tokyo setting.
Festive rating: It’s a Wonderful Life.