Ten Days of Christmas – ten days, ten diverse festive movies.
LOVE ACTUALLY (2003)
WORDS: SAB ASTLEY
Since 2003, the tide has gradually turned for Love Actually. That is not to say people don’t fight its corner, but others disregard it as being a bit naff or weird. Yet despite several now problematic themes, Love Actually remains a classic festive offering due to an ensemble including Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Bill Nighy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Andrew Lincoln, Laura Linney, Kris Marshall and Rowan Atkinson. Here, the genuinely heart-warming stories aren’t necessarily the romantic ones, from Daniel and his son Sam managing to get through their first Christmas without Sam’s mum to the long-time friendship between manager Joe and rock-n-roller Billy Mack, Love Actually’s joys are to be found in its sub-plots
Each story is linked, and if you’re thinking, “Wow, that sounds difficult”, you’d be right. Director Richard Curtis described the editing process as a “catastrophe” and “the only nightmare scenario that I’ve been caught in“. After all, when the editing of your film resembles a three-dimensional game of chess, you are sure of a challenging ride. Nonetheless, Curtis deftly pulls it off, and, in turn, it seems like everything went off without a hitch. The resulting picture is undoubtedly a love letter to London, taking in iconic locations from Canary Wharf and Hyde Park to the Tate Modern and Selfridges. But it also speaks directly to the Britpop era that was in decline by the early millennium, and in many ways, Love Actually feels like a love letter and goodbye to this era.
CHRISTMAS WITH THE COOPERS (2015)
Receiving negative reviews on its release, Christmas with the Coopers (Love the Coopers) suffered from a highly misleading pre-release ad campaign that painted the movie as a lightweight festive comedy. However, in reality, Christmas with the Coopers is a tender, humorous family drama exploring themes of connection, belonging and love. In a year when COVID-19 has stripped us of hugs, intimate conversations, time with family and physical contact, Christmas with the Coopers offers hope for a better tomorrow. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. All Christmas with the Coopers needs to offer is joy, charm and festive cheer, and it does just that from the opening scenes to the last. I don’t know what critics watched back in 2015, but with this film, they got it wrong.
ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)
By the late 1960s, Connery’s love of Bond had turned sour, as had his relationship with the production team. As Connery announced his departure, Bond would face its most significant challenge to date in recasting the spy for a new generation. But were audiences ready to move on from Connery? George Lazenby may have been a surprise casting choice, but he made Bond his own in one of the best Bond films of all time. However, Lazenby suffered a backlash in 1969, and his movie was unfairly criticised for years after its release. Thankfully, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has since earned its rightful place as one of the best 007 movies; from its style to its action sequences and sublime score, this is Bond at his best.
TEN DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
JOYEUX NOEL (2005)
Joyeux Noel received positive reviews on its release in 2005 but has since ended up forgotten in the festive mists of time. But Joyeux Noel is an outstanding Christmas movie – its real-life story of humanity in the face of destruction is compelling, emotional and brave. On Christmas Eve of 1914, in the trenches of Europe, a group of German, British and French soldiers laid down their weapons for a brief moment of solidarity in the face of hate and conflict. The result was an act of humanity, reconciliation and hope that was sadly only to last for one day. Joyeux Noel never shies away from the brutal reality of war while demonstrating that peace is always possible when we listen, talk and build bridges of understanding across nationalistic divides.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS (1991)
A Christmas kid’s movie about family separation and divorce doesn’t exactly sound like the most festive offering. But the year was 1991, and divorce was increasing at a rapid rate both here in the UK and across the pond, so what was the harm in exploring Christmas stuck between two warring parents? Many critics felt the subject matter of Robert Lieberman’s Christmas movie was depressing for kids, while others argued the yuppie affluence on display was nauseating. On both levels, the critics were right, but All I Want for Christmas also carries a warmth and charm that makes it incredibly festive and sweet despite its major flaws. Plus, if you look through the sickly sweet Americana, All I Want for Christmas harbours a much deeper discussion on parental separation and a teenage realisation that not all wishes can come true. Or can they?
TEN DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
ONE MAGIC CHRISTMAS (1985)
One part, It’s a Wonderful Life, and one part, A Christmas Carol, Disney’s One Magic Christmas often felt more like a horror than a family feel-good flick, and the critics picked up on this in 1985. The critics were right in many ways; the film’s ad campaign and poster simply didn’t match the material, but it’s that disjointed advertising campaign that makes One Magic Christmas such a fascinating Disney miss-step and a movie that everyone should explore at least once. One Magic Christmas may not break new ground, but it is a fascinatingly dark Disney outing that deserves far more attention.
Christmas movies aren’t always full of tinsel, elves and snow, and Tangerine is a stunning example of a Christmas movie wrapped in life’s realities. Shot entirely on the iPhone 5, Tangerine is bathed in the winter sun and heat of Los Angeles, as it offers us a heartfelt, emotional and humorous Christmas on the margins of society. In the proud tradition of spit and sawdust American Indies, dialogue is often improvised, even when it was initially scripted, and it maintains a loose narrative structure that feels real throughout. Tangerine wears its heart on its sleeve as two transgender sex workers, Alexandra and Sin-Dee, walk the backstreets of L.A. on Christmas Eve in this must-see queer indie gem.
RON MAN 3 (2013)
WORDS: SAB ASTLEY
Many misunderstand the greatness of Iron Man 3 in its interrogation of why it has to be Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit. Similar parallels are found in Tony’s speech to Peter during Spider-Man: Homecoming, as the valuable lesson he learned in Iron Man 3 dovetails with his pep talk. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has often pushed Iron Man to the forefront of discussions of what makes an individual superhuman. However, it’s always been Tony’s dogmatic intelligence and heroic nature that makes him stand out. Just as Obadiah Stane remarks in the original movie, “Tony Stark built this in a cave, with a box of scraps!” Here we have a surprisingly intimate interrogation of Tony Stark, not just as a human but also as a vigilante who shares much in common with DC’s Batman.
The Christmas backdrop brings Tony Stark down to earth as he is stripped of his power. Here, Tony’s intelligence is a shining beacon in the dark malaise of the night, with his trusty helper/agitator, Harley, by his side. There’s an undeniable magic to their scenes together. Iron Man 3 is the only Marvel feature film to date fully incorporating the sentimentality and natural magic encapsulated in Christmas, and only Shane Black could strip away everything about Iron Man and somehow make the best Iron Man film out of a Christmas box full of scraps.
TEN DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
NEW YEARS EVE
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night caused quite a stir on its limited cinema release in 1984 as it tore up the slasher rulebook with a young axe-wielding Father Christmas. For years, the controversy surrounding Charles Edward Sellier Jr’s movie only further helped cement its festive cult status as it proudly earned the badge of a ‘video nasty.’ However, beneath the blood and gore, Silent Night, Deadly Night was hiding a taut, compelling and downright chilling psychological thriller that was as unsettling as it was gory. Far from just your average slasher Silent Night, Deadly Night is a devilishly clever festive chiller that still manages to get under the skin of those watching as they munch their mince pies and drink their wine.
NEW YEARS DAY
THE TUNNEL (2001)
It should be the happiest time of the year as a small Norwegian town prepares for Christmas. However, festivities are put on hold when disaster strikes in a mountain tunnel. Pål Øie’s polished disaster film follows several great Norwegian disaster flicks, from The Quake to The Wave. But how does The Tunnel measure up when compared to its disaster cousins?
The setting is one of the 1,100 tunnels that cross Norway, each long, narrow and dark as they burrow through the mountains in their path. Christmas celebrations are well underway as we meet Stein (Thornjørn Harr), a tough firefighter and tunnel maintenance man who is recently widowed. Stein’s teenage daughter Elise (Ylva Fuglerud) is struggling to come to terms with her dad’s new girlfriend, Ingrid (Lisa Carlehad), but as a tanker crashes at the centre of a tunnel, father and daughter will be brought together in the face of disaster.
The Tunnel carefully sticks to the tried and tested disaster movie narrative, its opening scenes introducing us to various characters heading toward a festive disaster. Here, within the slow march toward the catastrophe, The Tunnel finds its feet, with each character allowed space to define their role in the oncoming terror. When we reach the point of no return, cinematography, pace, and performance step up to the mark, reflecting the horror of the events unfolding. Here, The Tunnel plays with a sense of claustrophobia as smoke and fire billow down its carved walls, engulfing cars, trucks and vans.