Eight Christmas films that aren’t Love Actually

In the midst of a film degree, I found myself heroically saving New Zealand from COVID by quarantining for two weeks in a hotel in December 2020. On the whole, being confined to a four star hotel for fourteen days is not so bad, but it certainly gets really boring. So, I set myself a mission: watch Christmas movies that I’d never seen (or, in some cases, heard of) every night. 

Banishing my other idea for this week’s SCAB, a fascinating description of the SCA’s toaster, here’s some highlights from that exploration that might inspire your Christmas viewing. Because, and I’m going to come out and say it, we as a society can do better than Love Actually. Really, we can.

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964)

Starting off strong with what is objectively a really terrible movie about Martian children who watch too much Earth TV, which leads to them somehow needing Santa Claus in their lives. Highlights include creative names such as Bomar (Boy Martian) and Girmar (Girl Martian), kidnapping, and many fake Santas. The plotline is vague. The makeup is bad. There is a cardboard robot. You will have a fantastic time. 

All that Heaven Allows (1955)

Listen, December 1st never feels like Christmas, does it? Start the month by dipping your toes into Christmassy waters with this perfectly formed melodrama from Douglas Sirk. Watch out for windows, first kisses, and that bittersweet, oddly colourised final shot.

Tangerine (2015)

#ShotOniPhone and not only that, shot on an iPhone 5S. This one takes place on Christmas Eve which is basically Christmas in my book. We follow trans sex worker Sin-Dee Rella through Hollywood that evening, meeting everything from donuts to crystal meth. Be ready for it to charm you then gut punch you.

3 Godfathers (1948)

A Christmas film from every genre? Is it possible? With John Ford in the director’s chair and John Wayne doing his cowboy thing, this feels comfortingly Western despite just being a story about three dudes doing their best to look after a baby. Honestly I think this movie is super cute, even though there are some lowkey grisly moments.

Robin and the Seven Hoods (1964) 

Any festive hangover in the Whitehead family is liable to prompt musical torture in the form of Bing Crosby’s iconic ‘Mr Booze’ number. This movie combines all the good things: Bing, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Sammy Davis Jr. Good for top-notch dancing, and whip-smart lines. If you like that sort of thing, you’ll also enjoy genre stalwart Edward G. Robinson, who appears uncredited in the film.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

There’s tough competition for the James Bond Christmas film title in 1996’s The World is Not Enough, given there’s a character literally called Christmas in it. Fortunately, there are better movies in the franchise. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is chock-full of Christmas goings-on, including a big old Christmas party held by a certain Ernst Blofeld. 

The Thin Man (1934)

Do you ever just get the urge to lie on the couch and shoot at your Christmas ornaments? Same, bestie. I was determined to get range into this list, so this one’s a pre-Code detective film based on a Dashiell Hammett novel (as all the best ones in this genre are).  Unwrap it, and you’ll find all kinds of good things inside, like James Wong Howe’s cinematography, and wonderful Myrna Loy. 

White Christmas (1954)

Not niche or unusual at all, but this flick is one of my all time favourites. It owes a lot to Holiday Inn, made over a decade before, but it wins out because the music’s better, the costumes are spectacular, and White Christmas doesn’t have an incredibly racist number in the middle. Come for the title tune but stay for underrated bangers like ‘Snow’, and allllll the fancy dance moves. They really, really don’t make ‘em like they used to. 


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