ACMI staff picks: our favourite Christmas movies
To help you wade through the tide of seasonally themed movies, we have the only list of curated Christmas content you need this year. Think of it as our present to you - you're welcome.
It's a Wonderful Life
Katrina Sedgwick, Director and CEO
Jimmy Stewart chews up the scenery as George Bailey in this Frank Capra 1946 classic – beautifully scripted, directed, a superb cast (Donna Reed is amazing as Mary Bailey), sentimental and splendid – the perfect way to end a long Christmas with a tear in the eye, and love for the world. I first watched this film in London when I was a lodger, and my landlord Harvey bought a copy of the film for every one of his family and close friends that year for Christmas.
Arieh Offman, Public Programs producer
John McTierenan’s 1988 action blockbuster is by far my favourite Christmas movie (see below). The holiday vibe is established from the very first beats of Run DMC’s classic Christmas in Hollis. The film features iconic performances from Bruce Willis and the late Alan Rickman in arguably his greatest role, memorable one-liners that had us all saying ‘Yippee Ki-Yay’ for years, and awe-inspiring action set-pieces (firehoses anyone?). I first saw this film when I was about 12 years old, and I can honestly say I have never looked at air ducts the same way since.
30 years on, it’s time for you to revisit Nakatomi Plaza. Happy birthday Die Hard.
La bûche de Noël (A Christmas Panic)
James Nolen, film curator
Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar from Belgium have a rather twisted sense of humour… all the better to tell one of the most original Christmas stories to hit our (big) screen last year – La bûche de Noël aka A Christmas Panic. Fans of the original A Town Called Panic would be familiar with our two leads – Cowboy and Indian – and the havoc they inevitably wreak, wherever they go! As it is set in Belgium, the action centres around the plum pudding equivalent of the French-speaking regions – the bûche de Noël or Christmas log cake. Father Christmas is about to strike Cowboy and Indian off the present list if they don’t bring home the cake for Christmas, so the stakes understandably are high!
Sleepless in Seattle
Andy Serong, developer
I'd love to know what Nora Ephron's pitch for Sleepless in Seattle was: "A grieving father and son are lonely in their new home at Christmas, so the son calls in to a radio talk show. Oh, and it's a romantic comedy." But it works. At once a light-hearted and easy rom-com, but with enough emotion to make it feel grounded. I'm not sure a single father architect could afford to live in a post-Amazon Lake Union boathouse nowadays (the real boathouse sold for over $2 million in 2014), but the film captures the quiet, laid-back warmth of that city, a small family doing their best to build their lives, and the witty writing is backed up by a sharp supporting cast. A regular staple of Sunday night television back in the 90s, as well as on regular rotation at The Astor Theatre, this is one of my favourite movies from childhood.
Tarnay Sass, communications coordinator
Christmas movies from the 80’s have just the right amount of cheese. And what could be more 80’s than a power-hungry TV exec who must be brought to his spiritual salvation by a band of cheeky - and slightly inappropriate - Christmas ghosts. Bill Murray is endearingly and absurdly mean as Frank Cross, a modern Ebenezer Scrooge, who cares more for his station’s ratings than spending Christmas day with his unfailingly kind brother. An Xmas movie in 2018 would never allow such a ludicrously long rant to camera – true Bill Murray style – and a heartfelt, full cast, singalong to Al Green’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”. Top 80’s moments: when the characters fully point out a nip slip from one of the backup dancers, and music legend Miles Davis’ super low key cameo.
Matt Millikan, digital and social media manager
Being a kid sucks, especially when you’re the youngest of five siblings, you’re nine obnoxious cousins are hogging all the Pepsi, and it’s Christmas. It’s enough to make you wish they’d all just disappear.
But what if you get what you want? That’s exactly what happens to Kevin McCallister, whose family forget him on their trip to Paris. But does Kevin complain? No, he mans-up – shopping, shaving and watching adult movies over endless bowls of ice cream. It’s a pre-teen dream. Except the furnace growls at him, his neighbour's a serial killer and two burglars obsessed with his house are coming to rob him. Scared, alone and unable to take back his childish wish, Kevin hides at church where he finally confronts his neighbour Old Man Marley. But instead of shovelling Kevin to death, like his brother teased he would, Old Man Marley helps Kevin realise the importance of family and overcoming your fears.
The house invasion that follows contains some of the most iconic scenes in cinema. The slapstick rivals Chaplin, the score perfectly mixes festive cheer and childhood fear, and the themes of redemption, family, courage and not judging others are important for any little jerk to learn round Christmas time.
The Year Without a Santa Claus
Angela Petrow, Touring Exhibitions assistant registrar
My favourite Christmas movie is The Year Without a Santa Claus. In the 1974 stop-motion animated (musical) television movie, Santa Claus considers skipping his Christmas Eve run one year, so Mrs. Claus and his Elves set out to change his mind. Mickey Rooney voices Santa and the featured song ”Blue Christmas” was recorded by Elvis Presley on his 1957 LP Elvis' Christmas Album. It’s a delightfully charming and most excellent Christmas movie classic.
Terry Pratchett’s The Hogfather
Fiona Mowat, Exhibitions assistant registrar
I love stories that remind us how modern festivities often have their roots in pagan rituals and explanations of how the world works.
In Terry Pratchett's Discworld the equivalent of Christmas is the mid-winter celebration of Hogswatch, when the Hogfather rides his sleigh pulled by four wild boars and brings presents and pork products to good children. But in earlier times, the Hogfather was a death-and-renewal winter god. In the 2006 television movie adaptation of The Hogfather, our hero is the anthropomorphic personification of Death, and he knows that as well as bringing presents, the Hogfather is the being who makes the sun rise. Death steps into the Hogfather's boots, complete with false beard, red fur-lined cloak, a cushion tied around his waist, and a big sack of toys in a boar-drawn-sleigh.
The Junky's Christmas
Arieh Offman, Public Programs producer
An underappreciated short film I love to revisit is the confronting and beautiful claymation A Junky’s Christmas. Based on a short story by William S. Buroughs, the story has had quite a few interpretations, including a classic spoken word piece with guitar work by Kurt Cobain. In this version, however, the amazing soundtrack is penned by the inimitable Disposable Heroes of HipHoprisy, and narrated by Burroughs himself.
The protagonist is Danny the Car Wiper, an addict recently released from a short stay in prison. Withdrawing from opiates, we follow his attempts to try and score a fix and a room for the night. You might ask why this is something that should be watched at Christmas – without spoiling it, let me assure you the climax is touching, heart-warming and also completely obscene in a way that only Burroughs is capable of. An absolute cult classic.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Ewan Macleod, Public Programs producer
The Christ-like image of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) entangled in Xmas lights and being electrocuted was featured on the cover of the VHS tape for the film National Lampoon's Xmas Vacation, and the image will forever remind me of the joys of Xmas. The rented VHS tape itself was as much a familiar and beloved object as the film itself, typically lying around our house all December, overdue by weeks.
The physical object of the VHS tape anticipated the slapstick comedy in the film. I do wonder sometimes, if a film object, something you can hold or frisbee at a quarrelsome sibling, offers something more than a Netflix icon for the same film?
Back to Chevy Chase - Goofball genius? Struggling alcoholic? Mean-spirited? Anxious? All these things? I wonder what Cornelius Crane ‘Chevy’ Chase is up to this Xmas.