Christmas is fast approaching, and with the festive season comes the inevitable slew of Holiday films. But while most are familiar with the old classics - Die Hard, Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life – some more recent winter gems have likely slipped under the radar. Accordingly, we present you with a selection of the 8 best Christmas films from the last 20 years:
8. Carol (2015)
The story of a romance between an older woman navigating a divorce (Cate Blanchett) and a young photographer (Rooney Mara) proved a major hit upon its release, garnering six Oscar nominations. Carol is far from the merriest watch, but with immaculate cinematography, intelligent themes and two fine lead performances, it is sure to be revisited by many over the years.
7. Tokyo Godfathers (2003)
This quirky but heartfelt anime from the late Satoshi Kon (Paprika, Perfect Blue) is a neo-folktale that sees three dysfunctional homeless friends scramble around Tokyo after discovering an abandoned baby in the snow. The typically madcap Japanese humour provides some unexpected laughs, and the animation itself is a thing of beauty.
6. Happy Christmas (2014)
One of Joe Swanberg’s popularly-classified ‘mumblecore’ films, Happy Christmas is low-stakes and low-budget but high on good cheer. Anna Kendrick brings effortless charm to a reckless 20-something who moves in with her brother’s family for the Christmas season. The dialogue is entirely improvised, the plot slight but involving, and the festive setting lends the film a sense of warmth that similar efforts often fail to muster.
5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Lethal Weapon writer Shane Black’s directorial debut is something special: a comic neo-noir set against the backdrop of a Christmas-lit Hollywood. Ardently faithful to its genre heritage but funny and surprising throughout, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang stars Robert Downey Jr. as a down-on-his-luck actor who teams up with Val Kilmer’s “Gay Perry”, a no-nonsense private eye, to unravel a labyrinthine conspiracy of murder and scandal.
4. A Christmas Tale (2008)
A Christmas Tale (French title Un conte de Noël) is a long, messy tale of grave illness and complicated family relationships. By turns funny, warm, and deeply melancholic, Arnaud Desplechin’s film is dense with ideas, and boasts a terrific ensemble cast.
3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
The last film of filmmaking visionary Stanley Kubrick was the dark erotic thriller Eyes Wide Shut. Tom Cruise finds rare form as an illustrious doctor drawn into the web of a sinister underground sex cult, but it is Kubrick’s direction that takes centre stage. A triumph of atmosphere, Eyes Wide Shut’s Christmas backdrop provides a beautiful, immersive sense of place, turning the season’s traditional good cheer squarely on its head.
2. L.A. Confidential (1997)
Although only the first section of L.A. Confidential takes place during the holiday season, it would be remiss for this list not to include Curtis Hanson’s 1997 masterpiece. The ambitious, expertly crafted noir features first-rate performances from Guy Pearce, Kevin Spacey and Russell Crowe (with an enviable supporting cast that includes the incomparable Danny DeVito). With enough meat to withstand many repeat viewings, L.A. Confidential is about as entertaining as cinema gets.
1. Bad Santa (2003)
Miles better than it had any right to be, Bad Santa is the stone-cold Christmas classic of the last few decades. Billy Bob Thornton stars as the profane, alcoholic shopping-mall St. Nick who annually burgles his employers. The supporting cast is excellent, from Tony Cox as his dwarf accomplice (posing, of course, as one of Santa’s elves) to the late Bernie Mac as an orange-peeling, laxative-drinking store detective. Literally every scene of this film is a delight, and the eventual shift to Holiday sentimentalism is managed as deftly as could possibly be imagined. This is shock humour as high art, a film that will leave you gasping with laughter before plucking gently at your heartstrings.
Images: Columbia Pictures; Warner Bros.; Bac Films; Magnolia Pictures; Sony Pictures; StudioCanal; RKO