by Amber Rawlings
Love Actually, The Holiday, Home Alone… What do all these Christmas capers that we come back to year upon year have in common? Aside from being, admittedly, pretty entertaining, by today’s standards they’re heteronormative, unashamedly white-washed and, overall, just not that good. If a film has Jack Black as a love interest or a scene where Keira Knightley suddenly realises she’s “quite pretty”, it’s getting a pass from me. You can do better with your Christmas watchlist: Presenting MSM's alternative Christmas films.
1. In Bruges
What’s more Christmassy than the fairytale-like medieval buildings of Bruges covered in a sprinkling of snow? What about that snow being smushed with blood and ketamine by two Irish assassins as they await their next job? In Bruges, the feature-film debut of Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), is an incredibly funny, incredibly dark film with at least one shot of a christmas tree that therefore makes it suitable for this list. Find a Christmassy little “alcove” (one for the fans, there), pop on In Bruges and wait for the scene with the ugly dog.
Before Sean Baker’s wildly emotional The Florida Project came Tangerine. The film follows a transgender sex worker who discovers her boyfriend - and pimp - has been cheating on her. As well as its seminal portrayal of transgender characters, the film is a major achievement in filmmaking; though you can’t tell, the whole thing is skillfully filmed with an iPhone. And how is it Christmassy? This arresting yet incredibly comedic exploration of non-binary identities is all set on Christmas eve.
3. House of Gucci
Now that getting a Joni Mitchell CD from your boyfriend is actually a desirable present (extra points if he got you a retro portable CD player from Urban Outfitters too), House of Gucci has knocked Love Actually off the top spot for the best “bad” Christmas present exchange scene. While House of Gucci isn’t technically a Christmas film, the extended sequence set at a ski resort, including fraught gift giving and covetable 80s après ski-wear, is all I need for this film to take a place in this list. Head to your local cinema to see Jared Leto’s offensively bad and potentially ironic Italian accent on the big screen.
Yeah, it’s pretty silly. But in today’s climate, where apparently everyone is a massive bastard, Krampus is a nice departure from your run-of-the-mill, rather lovely, Father Christmas character. Based on actual Alpine folklore, Krampus follows a Christmas where a child accidentally summons the festive demon that scares children who misbehave. Sounds more realistic, doesn’t it? As well as being fun to watch, it’s a nice little allegory for how painstakingly awful it can be having your extended family flock to your house like wasps during the Christmas period. With Toni Collette at the helm it’s also kind of like a Christmassy Hereditary. And who wouldn’t want that?
5. All Through the House
If endlessly scrolling through Tiktok has shortened your attention span to one that will give a pet hamster a run for their money, give this animated seven minute short a try. Directed by Elliot Dear, the guy behind the iconic The Bear and the Hare Christmas advert for John Lewis, All Through the House is a slightly darker take on the Christmas genre that you won’t find pre-watershed or accompanied by a Lily Allen cover song. Without giving too much away, All Through the House shows a young girl and her little brother’s chance encounter with Saint Nick - only he’s not what they expect. This comically brilliant short can be found in series two of Love, Death and Robots on Netflix.
6. Eyes Wide Shut
If there was ever a time to overlook Stanley Kubrick’s tyrannical, borderline abusive directing technique, it’s Christmas isn’t it? While secret society sex parties, orgies and infidelity aren’t that festive, Eyes Wide Shut is set at Christmas time, meaning there’s lots of pine trees, wreaths and twinkly fairy-lights in the background of shots that you can focus on if scary cult-like organisations aren’t you’re thing. If you’re sex party inclined and love Christmas, well then you’ve hit the jackpot withthis film - you’re welcome.
Any relevance to Christmas? No. Lots of snow? Yah, you betcha. For those of us living in a climate where snow is a once-in-a-while treat, there’s nothing more Christmassy than a blanket of white appearing outside. And that, as well as the fact this film is, dare I say it, objectively brilliant, is the reason why Fargo appears here. It’s a black comedy based around a fake kidnapping in Missouri with a particular focus on a wood-chipper that might make you rethink your three-bird roast.
8. The Tower
Amazingly enough, there was actually foreign cinema before Parasite. I know, mad. Kim Ji-hoon’s The Tower is Korea’s answer to that Christmas classic Die Hard, only you don’t have to watch a sweaty, hairy Bruce Willis in a vest for over two hours. The Tower takes place at a lavish Christmas party for the VIP residents of a luxury apartment building; the festivities are in full swing when a fire breaks out, causing, to put it simply, absolute mayhem. Again, it’s a bit silly but it’s a good bit of escapism from the realities of sitting slack-jawed in front of the tv with The Big Fat Quiz of the Year on.
9. Catch Me If You Can
Like House of Gucci, Steven Spiehlberg’s Catch Me If You Can goes on my list of films that aren’t explicitly Chrismassy, but have at least one slightly festive scene that means they could (and should) be considered a Christmas classic. Based on the real-life story of Frank Abagnale, a prolific con-artist that was active in the 60s and 70s, Catch Me If You Can uses the festive period as a recurring motif throughout the film, with Frank even being captured by the FBI on Christmas Day. Watch for a larger-than-life tale that’s grounded with a performance by a young (and thus incredibly hot) Leonardo Dicaprio. What more could you want?