My holiday gift to you, my friends and readers, is my list of the best genre movies and TV episodes to watch during the winter holiday season. I made up the original list a couple of years ago for an entertainment site that didn’t end up using it. Since then, it’s been snoozing in a digital drawer until fellow writer and medievalist K. A. Laity reminded me of its existence, with her iconoclastic holiday movie list on BitchBuzz.
Forthwith, the Twelve Genre Movies* of Christmas:
(*yes, some of them are TV episodes. Saying so doesn’t scan with the song title. So snowball me!)
Winter Solstice, Dec 22. Pre-Christian Europe celebrated Yule to call back the sun. Sunshine recreates that ancient fear of the dark and the cold, as astronauts try to rekindle the dying sun. It offers smart science fiction, the prospect of unending winter (which is about how winter feels on December 21), and the blaze of the sun at close proximity.
Christmas Eve. On this busiest of days, take a half hour to recharge your Christmas spirit with the Grinch. Not the overblown, overtrimmed Jim Carrey feature, but Tex Avery’s faithful animated version of Dr. Seuss’s classic, How the Grinch Stole Christmas. In no time at all, Avery’s genius comic timing and Boris Karloff’s delicious drawl will have you snapping your fingers at Christmas deadlines, to the tune of “You’re a Mean One, Mr Grinch!”
Correction, 12-31-12: Richard Campbell correctly points out an error and a misleading statement. The director is Chuck Jones, not Tex Avery. The wrong name popped up from my mental database of cartoon geniuses, and I apologize for not fact checking myself. I did not mean to suggest that Boris Karloff narrates and sings, but my phrasing is ambiguous. He does not sing.
Christmas Day. A medieval fable tells that all the animals can talk at midnight on Christmas morning. The talking animals never looked better or more heroic than in Andrew Adamson’s gorgeous feature remake of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Narnia also offers the loveliest White Christmas ever, and a visit with the real Father Christmas.
Boxing Day. The British and Canadians celebrate December 26 by giving gifts to their hairdressers, garbage men, and other service people. For your Boxing Day gift, take your pick of two Blue Boxes: David Tennant’s debut as the 10th Doctor in Doctor Who: The Christmas Invasion (killer robot Santas, killer spinning Christmas trees and a honking big alien ship – what’s not Christmasy here?); or the newest, shiniest Tardis adventure, Matt Smith’s 11th Doctor in Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol, which airs Christmas Day on both sides of the Big Pond.
Addendum, December 18, 2014: Of course, there’s a new Doctor Who Christmas Special every year. Pick any one you like, they’re all enjoyable. I’m especially looking forward to Peter Capaldi’s first Christmas this year.
Christmas Week. Rest up from Christmas exhaustion with these stocking stuffers:
The Golden Compass. Steampunk cities as bright as Christmas baubles, rosy children and little furry animals, and the snowy vistas of the Arctic give this adaptation of the Philip Pullman novel its holiday gleam. And what holiday season is complete without an armored warrior polar bear?
Hogfather. This British TV miniseries captures to perfection the silliness, satire and profound mythology of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld tale, in which Death plays Santa to save Christmas – er, Hogswatch. This one has my favorite Pratchett scene ever: the bogus Hogfather filling in for a department store Santa!
Children of Men. When you’re hungry for a substantial meal again, sit down to this heartrending story of a miraculous birth in a world without hope. Don’t watch for the brilliant, in-your-face camera work nor for the awards-worthy cast, but because Children hits closer to the real meaning of Christmas than anything else on this list.
New Year’s Eve. Count down to midnight with a young Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth, as she races the clock to rescue a baby stolen by goblins. David Bowie, the sexiest Goblin King ever, presides over a baby-tossing party, an endearing cast of Jim Henson critters, and a creepily glorious masked ball.
New Year’s Day. If you’re still hung over, take in a Tim Burton double feature: The Nightmare Before Christmas and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Nightmare’s fantastical gothic animation and Charlie’s demented, candy-colored wonderland may convince you you’re still drunk and feeling no pain!
January 3. Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s back to work we go. Not with Seven Dwarfs, but with Gremlins. What better way to vent your feelings about returning to the cold workaday world, than to watch a perfect storm of little monsters rip a town to shreds on the holidays?
Epiphany/Three Kings Day, Jan 6. The three kings and the Holy Family fled the bloodthirsty King Herod and the massacre of all the babies in Bethlehem. In Willow, a murderous monarch pursues another royal babe. Too bad Warwick Davis’s Willow and Val Kilmer’s Madmartigan weren’t around to deal with Herod’s soldiers!
A really relaxing holiday season would be one in which I actually had time to watch all of these!
What’s your favorite non-traditional holiday viewing?
Update, December 10, 2011: Nice to see so many visitors to this list in the past few days. If you’ve seen any film or TV since last year that deserves to be added to the list, please recommend it!
Update, December 16, 2014: I want to add another marvelous, magical title to this list: Martin Scorsese’s lovely period piece Hugo, about a Parisian orphan who lives in a train station, and the mystery of the mechanical man left to him by his father. Scorsese wanted to make a film his young children could watch. Being Scorsese, he makes a film for all of us, hitting both the heartachy and the heartwarming notes perfectly, without the tiniest hint of treacle. The 1930s setting is gorgeous, the cast includes Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Moretz, Sacha Baron-Cohen, Emily Mortimer, and Christopher Lee.