The twelve (alternate) films of Christmas

Ian Hoey 16 December, 2010 1

The other day I was asked if I’d be spending my Christmas Eve differently this year. The reason for the question, I assume, was that the Christmas Eves of the last few years have found me standing at the front of Screen One in Edinburgh’s Cameo Cinema.

This was where, before screenings of It’s A Wonderful Life, I would wish the audience all the best for Christmas and the New Year on behalf of the Cameo and its staff.

It's a Wonderful Life

It’s a Wonderful Life

Of course, I don’t work at the Cameo anymore but I intend to be there to watch It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve all the same. Christmas is a time of tradition, friends and hopefully doing things you enjoy. So seeing It’s A Wonderful Life in my favourite cinema with people I like is the ideal thing to do.

Many cinemas have chosen to run this Frank Capra classic since its modern re-release in 1997 and the recent availability of digital copies means that the screenings are now widespread at this time of year, but I’ll always associate it with the Cameo.

Amusingly enough, I’ll also be popping down to the Filmhouse the day before to catch another one of my all time festive favourites. The film in question is The Bishop’s Wife. Not to be confused with the abysmal “remake” starring Whitney Houston, I believe this is a shamefully overlooked classic.

What can be better than Cary Grant as a roguish angel? It even has Karolyn Grimes as the Bishop’s daughter and Bobbie Anderson in a bit part during a snowball fight – It’s A Wonderful Life fans will know them as Zuzu and the young George Bailey.

But the festive period isn’t a time to purely indulge in the out-and-out Christmas films. There are plenty of wintry movies whose viewing is greatly enhanced by watching them when the snow is thick, the ice is deadly and transport and services have ground to a halt.

Why not turn on the fairy lights, grab a hot drink, leave a whisky out for Santa and settle down to watch one or more of these twelve alternate films of Christmas.

1. Fargo (1996)

The stunning opening shot as a truck tows a car on a trailer through a snowstorm is merely a foretaste of perhaps the Coen brothers’ greatest film. The North Dakota landscape is caked in the white stuff throughout as Jerry Lundegaard puts any financial worries you may have into perspective.

2. Misery (1990)

‘This Christmas There Will Be Misery’ ran one of the taglines and that can be true if you’re feeling trapped by the weather or are in an awkward social situation.

3. Citizen Kane (1941)

When there’s a lot of snow around, even the adults like to get a sled out. It’s not always easy to find one though.

4. Where Eagles Dare (1968)

What better way to spend the time than a bit of skiing in the Austrian Alps with an exciting cable car ride included? This thrilling men-on-a-mission movie also has the distinction of being Clint Eastwood’s career high for the number of people he kills on screen.

5. Gremlins (1984)

A timely reminder that it’s rarely a good idea to give live creatures as Christmas presents. Plus a warning on the dangers of playing Santa Claus in a real chimney.

6. A Simple Plan (1998)

Certainly not the film to watch if you’re feeling a little down, here is proof positive that honesty is the best policy. Director Sam Raimi sought advice from the Coen brothers on shooting scenes in heavy snow thanks to the stunning cinematography they achieved with Fargo.

7. The Shining (1980)

Most of us would enjoy a hotel stay at this time of year so why not spend some time in possibly the most famous hotel of them all? No need to worry about being snowed in for months when you’ve got Jack Torrance to keep you amused.

8. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

A Bond movie at Christmas is a necessity for many and in this one the villain lives atop a Swiss mountain. Not only that but it features the winter sports of downhill skiing, ice skating, curling, bobsleigh and stock car racing on ice. An avalanche of action, as the trailer would declare.

9. Die Hard (1988)

Another Christmas Eve party is spoiled by unwelcome guests who show their hosts little courtesy. That is, until the good guy gets a machine gun, Ho, Ho, Ho.

10. Tales From The Crypt (1972)

Actually, it’s only the first segment in this Amicus horror omnibus but what a segment it is! In the story All Through The House, Joan Collins murders her husband on Christmas Eve and then has the misfortune of a Santa suit wearing homicidal maniac turning up outside her home. We can all empathise with the last minute Christmas panic as Joan rushes around, to a radio soundtrack of Christmas Carols, organising the house to make her husband’s death look like an accident so she can phone the police before the psycho Santa breaks in.

11. Trading Places (1983)

Dan Aykroyd gets fish stuck in his beard as he staggers around in the guise of the grubbiest, most dejected Santa in town.

12. The Thing (1982)

As the temperature drops it’s worth remembering the tagline from this John Carpenter tour de force stating ˜Man Is The Warmest Place To Hide’. Viewing this may make you reconsider going to watch huskies racing on a New Year’s Day.