2021 is a record year in Christmas film releases, we wade through the wrapping paper to find the gifts to enjoy!
It has been estimated that more than 200 festive films are scheduled for release this year, mostly on streaming platforms and the Hallmark channel. This is twice as many as 2016 and four times more than the slate in 2011.
Here is a brief overview of some of the big hitters and outright stinkers being released this year and a small selection of some lesser known offerings that may have passed you by....
There is little doubt that this Studio Canal Netflix production is the behemoth of the Christmas pack this year. A pair of comfy slippers in the presence of Dame Maggie Smith and Jim Broadbent lead the line in this origin story of Father Christmas. A young boy called Nikolas, accompanied by his loyal mouse and a reindeer (naturally) sets out on a quest to find his father in the fabled village of elves. The charming tale is based on a book by Matt Haig, who is more well known for self help books for people with depression.
The film has drawn a mixed reception, with people falling into two distinct camps, describing it as a heart warming family tale and those that feel it lacks imagination. It has no music, no Rudolph and some even argue it is not Santa origin tale but an ersatz offering instead. The visuals are stunning, unquestionably, but if young children have the patience to see through the over long scenes then this could be on hand to be a family favourite.
An L.A girl is unlucky in love.......urgh.....struggling to feign interest in this one, but there is a quirky kick to this romantic comedy as she falls for an East Coast guy online...oh, losing interest once more...and attempts to surprise him for Christmas only to discover she has been catfished. The title is a result of the favourite Christmas films of the leading characters, Love Actually and Die Hard and is a dangerous move as it serves to remind the audience of a pair of much loved classics but nevertheless this film makes a good go of it.
A Christmas cookie cutter movie which fails to break new ground with an interesting premise. The ending is utterly predictable but that is the Christmas film mould.
Last Train To Christmas
Sliding Doors with a mullet : Michael Sheen is always worth a watch and on this occasion he dons a Peter Stringfellow mullet as he frets and flusters his way through a Christmas Wonderful Groundhog Sliding Doors Day Life Carol.....on a train.
He plays a Nottingham nightclub owner on his way home to Christmas in 1985 when he discovers the different carriages of his train transport him to various eras of his life, past and future. It is a tour de force of period costume and Sheen throws his best efforts at the time travelling juggling of fate.
Everything about this production on paper gets the gravy flowing. An impressive ensemble cast including Kelsey Grammer, John Cleese, Caroline Quentin, Kris Marshall and Elizabeth Hurley in a comedy about four sisters gathering for Christmas when their father abruptly returns home and a series of events unfold to expose a long buried family secret.
Another offering from Netflix but it is beyond the cast to lift the weak script above anything other than a single viewing. It may garner a cult following and with all the concerns aside it does still have some laugh out loud moments. It feels more like a TV movie and is a very camp affair. If you can make it all the way to the end (and it does feel a long time) the ending is cute and in keeping with a festive offering.
A Castle for Christmas
Brook Shields stars as a bestselling author who escapes a scandal by heading to Scotland, where she falls in love with a castle and then finds herself locking horns with the owner when she tries to buy it.
This will undoubtedly annoy purists. The usual Hollywood failure to understand basic geography is glaring but it is a biscuit tin vision of Scotland with a familiar romantic story playing in the foreground. This has no depth and it seems all Scottish actors were booked for work that week so the accent work is low grade throughout the film. This still has an endearing duvet on the sofa Hallmark schmaltz about it but will be another example of concern about the lack of quality control in the Netflix office. And questions remain over Brook Shields appearance in the film. Did she really think she could pull off the Kate Middleton look?
Not a Jingle all the way reboot but clearly a 1980s nostalgia fuelled Christmas diversion as an 11 year old boy and his friends set off on a quest to get their hands on a Nintendo gaming console. Meanwhile his sister craves a Cabbage Patch Doll. Will the youngsters learn the true meaning of Christmas in order to teach the young boy's own daughter as his adult self played by Doogie Howser, I mean, Neale Patrick Harris, tries to teach her life lessons over her desire for a mobile phone?
This will be better fodder for forty something parents than their kids and it will leave said parents with nostalgia for the days of wanting and not getting. Occasional great lines such as Neal Harris lamenting the fact he never got a snow day as a child lamenting that “It could be 20 below with a Soviet attack on the way, and we’d still have school.”
The classic Christmas hymn title has been fodder for yuletide horror schlock for as long as cinema has been churning out seasonal titles. Kiera Knightly leads the cast in this film revolving around a Christmas gathering of former school friends and their families on a country estate. The film gradually reveals an imminent environmental catastrophe and that this will be their last night of life.
From the same stable as Kick Ass, it should not be too surprising to learn that this is a dark comedy, perhaps bleak comedy is more accurate. It is slow and foreboding and probably destined to be a bellringer for those who cannot abide the Hallmark Christmas
Home Sweet Home Alone
A woeful remake of what is widely considered a classic. It is only listed here to remind you to steer well clear of it and watch the original instead. This is a stinker that will need to be repeatedly flushed. Spurn it as you would spurn a rabid dog!
If you are still unconvinced but feel we have been soft on some of the above Hallmark styled twee offerings. See how long you can sit through this before physically recoiling from the screen and heading for the drinks cabinet to drown the TV in high proof brandy and setting it alight as you rejoice at the ousting of the soulless awfulness.
Unknown previous efforts
Anna and the Apocalypse (2017)
A Scottish Christmas zombie musical. Do you need any further information? A cast of unknowns who give great performances and some fabulous singing and choreography slightly let down by the work of Paul Kaye who fails to "hit the notes needed". Ella Hunt in the titular lead is clearly destined for greater things.
This zany ride starts strong and builds with promise but does seem to rush the story beats a little. It starts to become more of a skeleton as it rolls on, with the muscle stripped from the bones and the musical numbers do not press the story forward but more echo existing moods. This will be perfect to enjoy in the background as you furiously wrap your last offerings with a good bottle of wine. It could well be described as Shaun of the La La Dead!
Christmas Time (2017)
Two estranged brothers try to reconnect at Christmas but one of them suspects that the other is a time traveller. This low budget comedy was shot in 6 days and it times it shows, but the film does have an honest heart. It attempts to be a comedy but does not always find the laughs especially as it tries to handle more serious themes and it not only has quite a jarring twist to finish but also throws a further twist at the end of the credits.
This is not a stunner, but, if you are looking for something different and off the beaten track you could do worse than this independent production.
Mel Gibson as a world weary Santa trying to keep his business afloat, meanwhile a 12 year old boy decides to hire a hit man to take out the father of Christmas after he received a lump of coal in his stocking.
Mad Max Cringle, as some have coined it, is an intriguing project that sometimes fails to land its punches. At times budget restrictions are felt, at other times you are unsure if it is a comedy or a cynical commentary. It feels unpredictable in a predictable genre and this makes it worth a watch alone. If you enjoyed Loopers or Terminator, this is your Christmas film.
Alternative Christmas choices
Ben and Merrick discussed alternative Christmas films in the Dead Air Christmas episode 3.1 Alt Xmas Flicks originally aired on Christmas Eve 2018 as a response to the number of Bulldogz followers who felt Die Hard did not deserve the Christmas Film Word Cup crown in 2017 (Technically the 2018 competition but some people got over excited and could not wait!) Apart from the breakdown of the success and hatred for Love Actually (read more about that phenomenon here)
The ultimate anti Christmas Christmas film that draws upon the European tradition of Krampus. (Learn more here as part of our article on the history and folklore of Saint Nicholas) as a boy in a dysfunctional family disavows Christmas and unleashes the demon. A slasher film emerges from the rubble of what until then seemed a run of the mill Christmas flick and is perfect to enjoy with late night mince pies once the kids are in bed. It actually does manage to still warm the heart too. Worth noting that Toni Collette puts in a cracking turn as well.
Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)
A slasher that spent a mere week in the cinema in the US before being pulled. Another unsurprising use of "Silent Night" Gore and naked breasts aplenty and packs an average kill rate of 1 death per 6.5 minutes of the 90minute runtime. A child who witnesses the brutal murder of his parents by a man in a Santa costume and once of age dresses up as the jolly elf himself and goes on a killing rampage. Daft fun, if you like that kind of thing. Spawned a slew of sequels that provided diminishing returns.
Batman Returns (1992)
An unexpected suggestion for a Christmas film. A dark Batman entry before it went silly and then got the Nolan treatment. Danny DeVito is delicious as The Penguin as is Michelle Pfieffer as Catwoman. Christopher Walken and Michael Keaton complete the stellar front line in this film that portrays the orphans and isolated characters against the backdrop of the family holiday. Dark and corrupt shadows back lit by Christmas trees and fairy lights. It is rightly on our list of alternative xmas flicks, even if it was released over the summer of 1992.
Not so much an alternative xmas flick as it has become considered a Christmas film by audiences in a way that Die Hard has not yet enjoyed. A cute furry creature is gifted to a teenager and the failure to car for it leads to disastrous and terrifying although sometimes humourous results over the Christmas holidays. The soundtrack and the dark Santa story cement the films place in the Christmas canon
The Woman in Black (1989)
A BBC TV film production. A gothic and unnerving claustrophobic ghost horror that is silent and hostile. As the tension gradually ratchets up toward the unrelenting conclusion mince pies will be enthusiastically munched upon.
It makes it to a Christmas list as it is a long held custom in Britain to share ghost stories on Christmas Eve and that was extended to TV programming and it would seem in this case, even commissioning.
Rocky IV (1985)
This raises eyebrows but remember the culminating fight takes place on Christmas Eve. There is the gift of the Robot which causes no end of further arched eyebrows which leads to the fascinating 2021 release of the Director's cut. Stallone released a new cut of the film called Rocky v Drago which culled the robot storyline in favour of previously unseen footage. The re-edit has added 40 minutes to the music video compilation length run time.
In Bruges (2008)
An obviously dark choice for the alternative xmas list, but that is the general idea. The contrast of the horror of the plot against the beauty of Bruges at Christmas time. It is not going to leave you with a Christmas glow, but, what do you expect from an alt xmas list?