With only two more days until Christmas Eve, it's time to think about Christmas movies and how you can count down the long hours until Christmas Eve (in Austria we open our presents on the night of the 24th).
There are hundreds and thousands of Christmas movies, but, sadly, good ones are a rather rare gem. Of course I have been watching Christmas movies ever since December started and list the best ones as well as other ones here for you to explore and, hopefully, watch.
First, I list the ones I deem to be best. They follow no hierarchical order and the short synopsis should give you an idea if it's a movie for you.
Secondly, I will give you a list of some other Christmas movies I watched this season, which aren't probably high movie level, but entertaining to watch nevertheless.
Finally, I have a short list of movies which aren't really Christmas movies, but still fit very well into the seasonal spirit.
I hope you enjoy the list and, of course, the movies. Happy watching!
The Best Christmas Movies
Love Actually is my favourite Christmas movie of all times. It not only ranges the creme de la creme of English actors, but it also tells the most wonderful Christmas stories. Entangling ten separate story lines, the movie talks about love, loneliness, grief and happiness as well as sadness, including all sorts of people from the Prime Minister to how a little boy falls in love with a girl shortly after his mother dies.
It's Christmas in London and everyone has different ways to celebrate the festive season. For famous singer Billy Mack it mainly means re-branding one of his hits and changing "Love" into "Christmas", for Sarah it means confessing her love to her long-time-crush Karl and for the Prime Minister it could mean a new love he finds in his assistant Natalie. Full of authentic and lovable characters, this movie sweeps you into the Christmas mood and won't ever let you go.
With Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Bill Neighy and Alan Rickman
The Holiday is about two women who need a getaway over Christmas, so they swap houses. Surrey-based Iris moves to Amanda's huge Hollywood house while Amanda retreats to Iris's cosy cottage where she meets Iris's brother, Graham, with whom she quickly falls in love.
Iris, in the meantime, enjoys her time in L.A., meeting old Arthur and helping him to walk again with any help, as well as Miles, a music composer, who turns out to be more than a friend.
A wonderful Christmas love story with a star cast including Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law and Jack Black.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
This classic Christmas story is a must-watch for Christmas. The story follows the Grinch - a hideous and mean creature who hates Christmas and sets out to destroy the feast at Whoville where the Whos reside. During the story, he realises that Christmas is not that bad and might even end up getting his own biggest wish fulfilled.
A Jim Carrey show through and through which induces laughter and emotion like-wise.
It’s a Wonderful Life
It's a Wonderful Life is probably the classic Christmas movie apart from A Christmas Carol. It is about George Bailey who considers committing suicide on Christmas Eve. To prevent him from doing the deed, Angel Clarence is sent to show him what life would have been if George had never been born.
A miraculous and wonderful Christmas story and definitely belongs to the old classics.
Miracle of 34rd Street (1994)
I have only seen the 1994 version with Mara Wilson and Richard Attenborough in the lead role and absolutely love it (even though Mara Wilson is a totally creepy child). The story is about Kris Kringle who works as the Santa Claus for Cole's Department Story and bears an eerie resemblance to the real Santa Claus.
Cole's event director Dorey is a single mother to daughter Susan who is painstakingly grown-up and doesn't believe in Santa Claus. Kris's mission is not only to convince Susan that he is the real Santa Claus, but the whole nation which even ends in court.
Some scenes are unbearably painful as Kris has to defeat himself at court, but it is a wonderful Christmas story and one of my favourites.
The Santa Clause
This is the ultimate Christmas movie for me. It is entertaining, funny but also has a deeper and more complex edge to it. Tim Allen stars as Scott Calvin, a cynical businessman who, upon Christmas Eve with his son Charlie, becomes the new Santa Claus due to the Santa Clause. At first he struggles with it but soon grows with the role.
This animatic movie based on a short story by Dan Henderson is the cute story of the little calf Annabelle aspiring to become one of Santa's reindeer one day. She finds her best friend in Billy, the mute grandson of the farmer where she lives. Once a year, at Christmas, the farm animals can speak for one day and Billy hears Annabelle talk, but promises never to tell anyone. I won't tell you what Annabelle wishes for in the end, but this movie warms your heart and soul likewise.
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens's classic is, of course, a must for the festive season. I, personally, prefer the 1997 animated version of Jim Carrey's but I assume I don't have to give a synopsis of this one, as it more popular than any other story, I reckon.
Arthur Christmas is a great animated family movie about Arthur, the son of Santa Claus, who goes on the mission to deliver one present which hasn't made it to the respective child this year and who goes to great lengths to make sure the little girl gets it. One of my new favourites.
Christmas with the Kranks
Based on the short novel Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (yes, you read correctly), this story is about Luther and Nora Krank who, after their daughter decides to go to the Peace Corps and will not spend Christmas at home, decide they will skip Christmas and rather invest the money in a cruise. However, when Blair, the daughter, calls to surprise them at Christmas, the chaos is perfect as the Kranks have to set up a Christmas within hours to pretend to their daughter everything is as always.
With Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis
The Family Stone
This movie is one of my all-time favourites. The story is about uptight Meredith who visits her boyfriend's family for the first time at Christmas. The Stones, however, are a chaotic, open-minded, borderline vulgar bunch of friendly people who quickly decide their Everett cannot be serious about this person which culminates in Meredith calling her sister in to help her out. A classic family drama resulting in absolute chaos on Christmas Day, this movie is both emotional and hilarious.
With Sarah Jessica Parker, Rachel McAdams, Diane Keaton, Claire Danes.
The Nutcracker (Ballet)
I love ballet and around Christmas The Nutcracker is a must for me. The story, I guess, is well-known and seeing it come to life with fantastic dancers is the top of my iceberg.
Royal Ballet London do a fantastic version which is my favourite.
Alright, these are my favourites for the festive season. I hope you like them and come back tomorrow to get the list of other Christmas movies and movies which aren't Christmas movies but great for the season nevertheless.
It might be odd to draw this experience from a Netflix TV drama series, but it has impacted me in many ways and I find it crossing my mind regularly. I am referring to the Netflix drama teenage series 13 Reasons Why, based on the eponymous book by Jay Asher, in which a seventeen year old girl commits suicide and leaves thirteen tapes, explaining the thirteen reasons why she did it. She leaves these tapes to every person who contributed to her committing suicide, involving friends and non-friends likewise.
I started out watching the show as a mere after-work evening pleasure, but it turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking series I have ever watched and it left me to ponder about our ways of communication and how much harm our deeds and words can do.
I was riveted by how the depiction of the slow demise of Hannah Baker, the girl in question, is displayed and how bullying and mental as well as physical abuse can shape a human being.
Of course I was aware of bullying at schools, reports in the newspaper about teenagers killing themselves, as well as other subjects addressed in the series, like rape and public humiliation. I knew that these things were happening occasionally, but I did not think about them deeply until I watched this very show.
What might be of interest, too, is that I attended a Montessori school when I was a child, founded and led by my own parents. Why is this important, you ask? Well, I do not seek to idealise the Montessorian style of schooling, but bullying was completely off-limits at this school, which meant I was not entirely aware of the concept until I transferred to regular high school, aged fifteen. I was lucky enough to never get fervently bullied myself, but my sister, chubby and slightly naïve, was the constant target of people so insecure the only way to feel superior was to belittle others. I only understand now how hard it must have been for her and why, up to this very day, she feels immediately criticised when you address something about her.
But let’s return to Hannah Baker and her thirteen reasons why she killed herself. It all starts rather innocently for the beholder’s eye, but even back when I was watching it, I considered the first blow to be utterly disdainful. So the story is that Hannah Baker goes on a date with the football star of her school, who takes a picture of her sliding down a slide, revealing her underwear in the process. The next day, Hannah finds herself being laughed at by the whole school, for the boy shared the picture with everybody. From this, Hannah’s life spirals down, including incidents like betrayal of a friend, a traumatic car accident which Hannah blames herself for, watching her formerly best friend get raped by a football player, before, ultimately, getting raped by him herself, knocking in the last nail to the proverbial coffin.
As mentioned already, we are aware these things can happen and not everybody who has been subject to bullying or humiliation ends up committing suicide. However, what struck me watching this show was not merely the cruelty displayed by some students, mostly shrugged off as “jokes”, but the notion that this seems to be widely accepted in our society. We know it exists, we probably shake our heads upon hearing about it, but there is little anybody does to prevent it from happening. On the contrary, it is in fact endorsed by adults in acting the same way. Just think of our discourse of politics all around the world, especially closely related to cyber-bullying – a topic which has extended bullying to a completely new level of possibilities to spread malice. Especially during the last political campaigns, as well as in Europe and the United States, it has become evident how low and aggressive the level of communication has become within politics, and it is questionable if children and teenagers can desist from demeaning ways of communication if the leaders of the most powerful nations cannot.
Only a few days ago, I read that a politician, upon losing the election, replied to another politician on Twitter that he would remain a “fat, ugly loser.” It rendered me speechless that grown-up people would talk to each other like that on public social media feeds, and it became clear that the hatred and malicious language used in facilities where teenagers mingle, will not differ from the language adults are allowed to use in the public sphere without facing consequences. Bullying at schools and among young people has been a matter of discussion for a long time, but probably it is high time to include the way adults speak to another, especially when they are supposed to be the leaders and role models of a nation.
It would then, hopefully, also lead to feasible measures to help people being subjected to depreciatory language and humiliating actions and teach people to take active responsibility for words and actions that might lead to someone feeling so desperate that suicide seemingly becomes the only option.
In the show, it is regularly pointed out that committing suicide was Hannah’s choice and that nobody but her is to be blamed for it. One girl states that only the weak ones commit suicide and that everyone has to endure the daily torture of high school life. It were these notions that upset me most because it indicates that being bullied is not only normal, it is accepted and that everyone not being able to deal with it, was just too weak in the end.
However, I am not preaching what to do without including me in the equation, which was a rather difficult process but helped me reflect on my own actions I might have executed without realising what pain I might have caused to another human being. It made me sick to the stomach to realise what I might have done to marginalise other people while being at school because it probably secured score points with the “popular people”. I am disgusted to think what I might have done to other people, not knowing how potentially harming it could have been – and I am not the parade example for bullying, believe me.
It strikes me how oblivious we have grown – or always been – to the impact our words and deeds have on other people, but with grown-ups and people of authority behaving the same way or justifying their incapability of stopping bullying by claiming this is just normal teenage behaviour, how should young people learn that it is completely off-limits to humiliate, marginalise or actively belittle someone?
Still, many teenagers – and people, for that matter – have to suffer from these conditions in everyday life, including of course racism and sexism in the debate. During the show, for instance, Hannah Baker is put on a list ranking the girls from hot to not, her being on the hot list for “the greatest arse”. Now, some might think this is flattering, but Hannah and any woman of common sense would agree, it is not. Your whole personality being reduced to parts of your body is not flattering, it is objectifying and, as Hannah states it, makes her open game for any boy at school. We see scenes where boys circle Hannah, taking pictures of her bum, some of them even grasping it, and I was horrified. Not necessarily by the mere action of it, but by the oblivion of these boys to understand what they were doing and how disdainful their actions were. We know, not everybody who has ever bullied someone – probably being not even aware of it – is a bad person per se, but it is so widely normalised that we cannot even often understand what pain we are causing someone else.
The worst fact to accept watching this show was that, as a viewer, you always know how it will end. Hannah Baker states at the very beginning that she is dead and the whole story of her is told in two time frames, one of the present and the people on the tapes dealing with her death, and one while she is still alive, struggling to find happiness. You watch how these people hurt her and how, slowly, by every act of malice, she stumbles towards her fateful decision. You cry because you want to jump into the TV to change the story, to make an ending where she will survive, find a nice man and have children.
I actually caught myself fantasising about a Hannah Baker at college, where she would most likely study journalism or English literature. I caught myself thinking how she would laugh with friends and be ensconced in the college library. If it had all turned out to be different, Hannah Baker might have got married to a nice guy, worked and also suffered from everyday problems, but she could have been happy. It is painstaking to witness how this girl is treated by others, knowing what the outcome will be, thereby raising the awareness to the bitterness and malice of the words and deeds she has to endure, and you pray there will be a loophole in the plot, something changing the course. But there is not. You can fantasise about how great her life could have been, but the outcome will still be the same. And, of course, I understand she is only a fictional character, but she represents a myriad of people who have suffered from the same and who have made the same fateful decision to end their lives before they even properly started.
Now, does this mean we always have to blame ourselves when someone commits suicide, or that at least part of the blame lies with the executor of the deed? Honestly, is it important? For me, this should not be about who to blame, but more about reflecting on our behaviour and growing out of our own oblivion to realise what we might do to someone by uttering a misplaced phrase or executing a humiliating “joke”. I hope people will start to think in a more engaged way about how we need to communicate with each other and open a discourse in which dialogue can happen in a more direct and less destructive way. Words have power, we all know that, so we have to wield this weapon with great care. When I was finished watching the first season, I prayed more people would watch it to raise awareness of how a little word you say, or an action or a “joke” you do without considering what you might unleash, can actually cause somebody’s life.
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