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All That Heaven Allows (c) 1955 Universal International Pictures

Alternative Christmas films to watch this year

23 December 2017 Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Are you sick of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’? Bored of ‘The Sound of Music’? Or just not into any period drama at all? Then this is the list for you! Whilst we can’t promise you won’t catch at least a glimpse of ‘Love, Actually’, these alternative Christmas films might make your Christmas slightly more interesting!

Starting off with a controversial opinion, Die Hard is the ultimate alternative Christmas film, for the sheer amount of guns, explosions and swearing.  John McClane is a police officer who, after trying to visit his estranged wife in her place of work, Nakatomi towers, gets involved in a heist: cue guns and blood soaked vests. With a stonking performance from Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, leader of the German terrorist gang, as well as probably unintended comedy from his cast of cronies, Die Hard is certainly an excellent choice for someone who wants to liven up their Christmas holidays.

Though Arnold Schwarzenegger may not be famed for his Oscar-winning performances, the 90s were certainly a productive period for the Austrian beefcake.  1996’s Jingle All the Way is very definitely a Christmas film, but not necessarily on people’s radar. Schwarzenegger plays Howard Langston, a father whose son is desperate for the most popular new toy, Turbo Man. Howard decides to do everything in his power to ensure that his son gets the toy, competing with equally desperate dads – memorably depicted by Sinbad - and getting into all variety of shenanigans. Though at the time the film received negative reviews and was widely condemned for its depiction of a commercialised Christmas, as well as Schwarzenegger’s wooden performance, it has since been shown constantly on television at this time of year, and is always worth a watch.

Of course, though there are the action films and the kids films, there are plenty of amazing works that happen to be set around Christmas. Ingmar Bergman, master of the existential film, turned his attentions to the lives of two young children in his 1982 classic, Fanny and Alexander.  Brought up in a loving home, the children’s lives are transformed by the death of their father, and the remarriage of their mother. Like many of Bergman’s films, this is a study of family, underscored by the pain and loss that comes with the end of childhood and a glimpse into adult emotions. The film was originally envisioned as a mini-series, but was released in cinemas first, coming in at a whopping 188 minutes. A beautiful and poignant film, this seasonal Bergman also asks its viewer to reflect on the passing of time. Another film that thinks about time and loss is Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046. This film is a loose sequel to two of his earlier films, Days of Being Wild (1990) and 2000’s In the Mood for Love. The film follows Chow Mo-wan’s life after the loss of his love, Su Li-zhen, with whom he had a passionate but unconsummated affair. The date of Christmas Eve reoccurs throughout the various strands of the film, centering around one apartment in 1960s Hong Kong. Wong’s film are always stylish and restrained, but this one mixes science fiction and challenging fragmentary narrative with deeply felt human pain.


Image credit: Fanny and Alexander (c) 1982 Svenska Filminstitutet

For many people, Christmas is a chance to watch movies from the 40s and 50s. Though all of Douglas Sirk’s films are worth watching and re-watching, 1955’s All That Heaven Allows is definitely seasonally appropriate, set during Christmas and featuring snow, an array of amazing coats and deer. Cary Scott, a well-to-do widow, falls in love with her landscaper, a younger man.  The two however are forced apart by the judgment of Cary’s friends and children, who make clear their disapproval of the relationship. Starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, the film explores, like many of Sirk’s films, societal restrictions upon women in terms of both their relationships and their self-determination.  Borrowing from Sirk both aesthetically and thematically, Todd Hayne’s 2015 film Carol, explores the even more taboo subject of lesbian love. Cate Blanchett, an older woman, and Rooney Mara, a young photographer and shop worker, meet one day when Blanchett goes to buy her daughter a Christmas gift. The two develop a relationship, unspoken but communicated through looks and glances.  Beautifully acted by the two leads, Carol is a modern day Christmas weepie, and its beautiful set design and cinematography will stay will you long after the film has finished.                       


Image credit: Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett in 'Carol' (c) 2015 The Weinstein Company
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            If you want to complete the set, Hayne’s earlier film Far From Heaven (2002), also influenced by Sirk and again tackling the subject of taboo love, between a black man and a white women in the 1950s, is a beautiful and thoughtful addition to your Christmas watching.   

Let us know your alternative film recommendations in the comments.
 
 
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