In CREW CUTS, the Rough Cut staff are given a simple question about their deepest feelings on film, life, and beyond. This month, just because it’s Christmas (and at Christmas you tell the truth), we picked our favourite holiday-centric films, from romantic classics to experimental and genre jingles you may not have heard of.
What movies do you watch over the holiday season?
Nothing quite gets me in the festive mood more than Christmas movies. It’s classic escapism at its best: the white snow, the singing chorus of kids at the mall, the huge turkey in the middle of the dinner table. Sometimes, even a flurry of warm romance wraps all of these together like a beautiful red bow-tie, and so utterly satisfying when it’s a happy ending too — like finally pulling at one of the ribbon ends. So for anyone who knows me well, it’s no surprise that the one I automatically reach for every year is Nancy Meyer’s The Holiday (2005), with the sweeping chords of Hans Zimmer’s miraculous score (still, one of his best!) transporting you straight to cosy cottage fireplaces.
There’s so many reasons that this film remains so damn feel-good and timeless — the charm of its premise of two women, who house-swap between LA and Surrey, and end up falling in love in their new surroundings — doesn’t seem to wear off. Maybe it’s because everyone’s so good-looking in this movie (Jude Law’s cheekbones could cut you), but maybe it’s also because of the sheer GUMPTION of it all, watching Kate Winslet’s Iris blossom from the victim of unrequited love, to forming a chummy bond with her lowkey famous writer neighbour, or Cameron Diaz’s Amanda navigating her way through squeezy English country roads, and being spun around by Graham in a beautiful garden — him at the dinner table with his hot chocolate moustache, as ‘Napkinhead’ (if you know, you know).
My favourite surprise director discovery of this year must surely be Mitchell Leisen, and while Midnight (1939) might be the one to receive most of the rom-com praise, it’s the perfect Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray pairing in Remember the Night (1940) that has me giggly and giddy from head to toe: where a district attorney falls in love with the woman he’s prosecuting, after — in a strange turn of events — she spends Christmas with his family (don’t tell me this isn’t the best set-up for a rom-com ever?!). I might also do a rewatch of Ernst Lubitsch’s superb Shop Around the Corner (1940), perhaps also Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) — to re-live the elated joy of the ‘Trolley Song’. Maybe even Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar (2002) (again, if you know, you know).
Now that I’m lucky enough to be finally having a cold (though, not white) Christmas, with some real festive energy and lovely vibes and people, I feel like I’m not just living vicariously through the screen anymore — but as always, the movies are the most wonderful elixir to conjure up the magic of it.
The Apartment (1960) dir. Billy Wilder
The best Billy Wilder film is also a great holiday film — uniquely, it’s not so much a Christmas film as it is a “the week between Christmas and New Year’s” film, with a story that spans that strange and liminal period of time. Jack Lemmon is a delight with his stuffy nose and tennis-racquet pasta sieving, and doesn’t short-haired flower-pinned witty sadgirl Shirley MacLaine just break your heart? There’s a great cast of supporting actors, too, like Hope Holiday as Margie, the girl Lemmon meets at a bar. Her refrain of boredom might as well be the slogan of the Rona Holiday Season: “‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the night, not a creature was stirrin’. Nothin’. No action! DULLSville.”
Christmas U.S.A (1949) dir. Gregory Markopoulos
A truly beautiful experimental short film, one charged with queer and religious and Greek imagery (three things that make me light up). It’s incredibly tender and entrancing, and its essentially overt queerness is breathtaking for its time. Michael Koresky in Film Comment wrote of the film: “It feels almost unbearably private, a movie that, despite its meticulous construction, is like a secret that has spontaneously appeared on screen”. This is one for you to watch alone. It will get you in your feelings, but in a good way — its ultimate emotive effect is quite wondrous and liberatory. It’s a film about love. (I recommend watching the version with Larry Marotta’s music playing over it — you can find it here.)
As my T-shirt purchased from Typo declares, I am a member of the Christmas Movie Fan Club. I love Christmas, so I usually spend all of December watching Christmas movies. Each year I cycle through all the same favourites from when I was growing up (Love, Actually, Elf, The Grinch, The Santa Clause’s 1-3, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, etc…the last one, in particular, my family would watch every Christmas night). However, lately I have been growing a bit bored/fatigued with the usual suspects. Maybe I’ve just watched one too many movies featuring Tim Allen in a sweater.
Some films, though, I will always love, such as The Holiday. This film is the cosy jumper, and warm hug, I need to fight the chill from sitting under my aircon (which fluctuates between too cold and not cold enough). It has everything you could ever want: Jack Black can be a romantic lead, pulling titles off the shelves at the video store geeking out on film scores! Jude Law can be open about his emotions, and I will cry alongside him! Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz being two women finding themselves and falling in love! We love to see it! But most of all, I love Winslet’s neighbour, Arthur, who was a Hollywood screenwriter, and his example of a Meet-Cute:
“It’s how two characters meet in a movie. Say a man and a woman both need something to sleep in, and they both go to the same men’s pajama department. And the man says to the salesman, ‘I just need bottoms.’ The woman says, ‘I just need a top.’ They look at each other, and that’s the meet-cute.”
I think about that all the damn time. It is so simple, with a touch of Old Hollywood glamour, and has me completely charmed, every time.
Another line from a Christmas film I think about often is from Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, when George Bailey is courting the young woman from his childhood who would become his wife:
“You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. I’ll give you the moon.”
There is something about a man loving someone so much, he’ll give them the moon. I am a romantic at heart so the image of ‘George Lassos’ the Moon’ is one I am quite fond of. It is such a poignant scene, too, as George sacrifices everything for the sake and benefit of his family and his town time and again throughout the film — it is in that way he gives the moon. I know it may seem cliche to say I love It’s a Wonderful Life, but I only watched this film of a life deferred, yet full of love, for the first time last year, and I adored it (and Jimmy Stewart ♥️). I watched it while travelling home for the holidays, and am looking to make it a bit of a tradition, planning to watch George lasso the moon on my journey home again this year.
Lastly, a special shout out to The Apartment, which is, in my opinion, a pretty much perfect film. This isn’t one I watch exclusively at Christmas, but it is set over the time period between Christmas and New Years and so it counts as a Christmas movie, and it leaves me soaring every time.
Christmas movies Schristmas movies, you know what I mean? Unlike these dorks, I don’t have a favourite cinematic wintery wonderland that I simply must snuggle up to under the mistletoe on Christmas Eve. Miss me with your “Die Hard is a Christmas movie” fake normie discourse. I’ve never once seen Home Alone, nor do I plan on ever watching that garbage. There’s a reason they called it A Bad Mom’s Christmas. I will not be engaging with your annually pumped out Netflix shite. If you like Love Actually you’re actually dead to me (haven’t seen it). It’s A Wonderful Life? Gremlins did it better (haven’t seen it). More like Crappiest Season – many people are saying this, etc., and I have seen it and it is terrible. Elf can get especially fucked.
Instead of being a rube and taking the question at face value, I decided to scour my Letterboxd diary for December trends. The results may shock you!
Looking over the site’s dark pages, I can see that I’ve recorded my last seven Decembers on the site, 2020 pending future viewings. My Christmas Day viewing pattern goes:
- 2014: The Imitation Game
- 2015: E.T.
- 2016: Videodrome
- 2017: Gremlins
- 2018: Bridesmaids and Monsters, Inc.
- 2019: took a sabbatical
- 2020: I’m not a friggen time traveler!!
Just glancing over the stats, it’s clear my viewing patterns for the month have severely declined:
As for generic trends, there’s a distinct lack of monochrome Hollywood classics. Trust me, I crunched the numbers.
Overall, action (14.5%), drama (13.8%) and comedy (12.6%) – the big three – ultimately come out on top, no surprises there, but 2014 was a big year for thrillers (22.2%), and sci-fi pulls some bangers out every now and then (15.1% in 2015, 12.5% in 2017, and 16.7% in 2019). This is at least partially because of December’s place as the annual Star Wars viewing period from 2015 onwards, with Disney’s latest trilogy (The Force Awakens , The Last Jedi , and The Rise of Skywalker ) blowing up the box office in the final weeks of the year.
Incredibly enough, Star Wars makes up 6.9% of the total December viewing numbers, with 2015 being a record year in which the full prequel (The Phantom Menace , Attack of the Clones , and Revenge of the Sith ) and original trilogies (A New Hope , The Empire Strikes Back , and Return of the Jedi ) were watched, as well as The Force Awakens setting the ‘most watched’ record for having been watched four consecutive times over a five day period (17th-21st). In 2017, The Last Jedi got close, but was only watched twice in a single day (14th, release day – still impressive, especially because me and a friend went and saw it in the morning and didn’t tell the evening group that this would be our second viewing) despite it being a far superior film to The Force Awakens.
The Star Wars December trend probably won’t continue in the future – at least not for me. The Rise of Skywalker was a travesty that retconned the strongest thematic material of The Last Jedi – for my money, the best Star Wars film, sorry haters – and Rogue One was pretty terrible. I didn’t even see Solo, which was released in May anyway, after Disney reportedly rejected Lucasfilm’s suggestion to delay the film to December of 2018 after directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street, 22 Jump Street) were booted off the project. Journeyman director Ron Howard (The Da Vinci Code) was hired to replace them and clearly did pretty bad – it was a box office bomb and Debbie is the only person who even remembers that film coming out.
Ironically, my most watched December film between 2014 and 2020, The Force Awakens, does include a scene in something of a wintery wonderland – the final showdown between Rey and Kylo Ren – but I wouldn’t classify it as a Christmas film. Maybe I’ll have to now… Maybe I just will. 🤗
This Christmas I’ve already made the harebrained commitment to watch the unholy made-for-TV Grinch musical, starring Glee‘s Matthew Morrison, which I’m sure will make my heart shrink three sizes.
So to grow it back to normal, I’ll then watch It’s A Wonderful Life, a movie that is definitely a bit too long and really only becomes a Christmas movie around the 50-minute mark. But come on! It’s Capra, and a feverishly loveable Jimmy Stewart, and the film’s all-American message of altruism and community never fails to warm me. I also love that the Baileys named most of their children like ‘Pete’ and ‘Tommy’ and then they have one child called ‘Zuzu’. Poor Zuzu.
Other faves that deserve a shout-out include Gremlins, both the original and the 2019 remake of Black Christmas, and the best Dickens adaptation, The Muppet Christmas Carol. And who the fuck am I kidding, we’re definitely going to watch Love, Actually and Home Alone in the coming days as well.
To top it all off, the Christian rock band NewSong has forever changed the holidays in my house with their morally bankrupt Christmas song ‘The Christmas Shoes’, and it’s basically a cinematic epic in its own right. This tale of giving, grace, and finding the appropriate footwear in which to meet Jesus will blast 24/7 in the background of my Christmas day, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.