Celebrating Christmas with movies is a tradition that is as old as cinema itself (we assume). Every year our TVs (okay, Netflix) are populated with a plethora of good and heart-warming – or hardly tolerable – Christmas movies, and so we all indulge in the all-too-natural binge marathons. But what do we watch? Familiar films from our own countries, rooted in our own pop-culture. They’re the visual equivalent of a cosy pair of old slippers, but where’s the fun in that? The holiday is celebrated around the world, with a proliferation of seasonal titles that define each country’s own holiday traditions.
So, wherever you’re watching from, we did you a little favour. We picked out the most iconic Christmas movies from around the world, for your annual marathon.
Un Conte de Noël – A Christmas Tale (France, 2008)
While it’s quite recent, Arnaud Desplechin’s French dramedy became an instant cult-hit, both because of Catherine Deneuve’s brilliant performance as the Vuillard clan’s matriarch and for its smart depiction of family dramas. As they gather together for their mother’s sickness on Christmas day, three siblings relive the traumas and ruptures of the past, ultimately showing – in an exquisitely French way – the power of their timeless bonds and the tragicomic dynamics that the holiday season brings out for each family.
Tokyo Godfathers (Japan, 2003)
Satoshi Kon’s anime feature is a classic Christmas redemption tale that transcends time and place. Boosting remarkable animation, it is the unlikely story of three homeless people — an alcoholic, a teenage runaway and an ex drag-queen — who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve in Tokyo. It’s a heartwarming illustration about finding family and love in hopeless situations.
It’s A Wonderful Life (USA, 1946)
Frank Capra’s bittersweet masterpiece is quite possibly the holiday classic to define all holiday classics, especially in the English-speaking world. The intrinsically American story follows down-on-his-luck family-man George Bailey, played by James Stewart, as he realises the profound impact we all have on the lives of those around us. It’s a timeless, semi-heart-wrenching Christmas fable full of love and good feelings.
Fanny and Alexander (Sweden, 1982)
This one’s for the true film-buffs. Director Ingmar Bergman used Christmas as a paradox to explore family dynamics and the world at large through the eyes of Fanny and Alexander, in this epic that spans two decades. The hardship of the protagonists’ family serves as a background for an introspective look and the innocence of childhood. Fun fact: the original version of the movies is 312 minutes long, one of the longest in cinema history.
2046 (Hong Kong, 2004)
2046 is a beautifully complicated and fascinating movie, but it’s definitely not your average feel-good Christmas film. It’s set in 1960s Hong Kong on Christmas Eve, though it is a sci-fi film, so the timeline isn’t linear. While Wong Kar Wai’s story mainly focuses on the womanising protagonist’s turbulent love affairs, it makes many references to Christmas and reconnects to the theme of how loneliness is accentuated during the holiday season.
Love Actually (UK, 2003)
“If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love, actually, is all around.” The opening scene at Heathrow airport alone is heartwarming enough to crown Love Actually as the ultimate Christmas romantic comedy. The nine intertwined stories of the star-studded cast (Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Colin Firth and Alan Rickman in ONE movie) might be a little bit cliché in their examination of love and emotions during the most magical time of the year, but they are never cheesy, as the film is elevated by amazing performances and smart British witty banter.