Christmas is coming, and you know what that means—endless showings of popular festive films like It’s a Wonderful Life, Love Actually, Elf, and, yes, Die Hard.
Ok, those movies have their merits, but I can’t understand how films such as these have emerged in popular opinion as the best ones to watch at the most wonderful time of the year—especially when there are so many more wonderful options.
As a moviemaker, critic, and viewer myself, I’d love you to allow me to be your cinematic Santa and gift you with my own Christmas list of some unfairly overlooked Yuletide movies, which are sure to put both heart and ho-ho-ho in your holiday season:
1. Just Friends
Long before Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds displayed his perfect comic timing in this hilariously twisted romantic comedy. It starts off with him playing a nice overweight guy in high school who is laughed out of town by bullies after they reveal his crush on the prettiest girl in school. Years later, slimmed down and with a cool job as a record executive in Hollywood, he returns to his hometown at Christmas, thinking he will, at last, be able to win the affection of the girl who got away—only to find she thinks he’s become a total jerk and liked him better before. Will he change his attitude that nice guys finish last?
Featuring the music of George Michael and the wit of Emma Thompson, something else this festive dramedy has going for it is the best twist in any movie since The Sixth Sense. Set in twinkly modern London, this is a romance you root for as appealing Emilia Clarke and charming Henry Golding find a special connection that will make you both laugh and cry. Enjoying this magical film has become as much a part of my Christmas routine as the Wham song that provides its title.
Now don’t laugh, but David Hasselhoff gives one of the most sentimental performances in festive film history in this touching TV movie. The Baywatch and Knight Rider star plays a Christmas party planner who loves to make the holiday season wonderful for his clients. But his upbeat and sometimes overbearing attitude masks tragic loneliness, as we later come to learn. Will the Hoff find a happy ending? Anything is possible at Christmas.
A remote and joyless hotel in the Scottish highlands is the annual destination for guests who hate Christmas and want to get away from all the jollity of the season. So when an upbeat young woman gets stranded by a snowstorm and stumbles into a place full of festive spirit, all that “bah humbug” bad attitude is put to the ultimate test. This 2020 film failed with the critics but won my heart—perhaps because it has several actors in it from my favorite show, Doctor Who, and makes up for the recent lack of Doctor Who Christmas specials.
Forget Terminator, Twins, and True Lies—for my money, Arnold Schwarzenegger gives his best screen performance in this comedy packed with great messages about commercialism and parenting. Arnie plays an overworked businessman who tries to buy the love of his often-neglected son by getting him the festive season’s hottest action figure for Christmas. Problem is, he leaves it too late, and when they are all sold out on Christmas Eve, he embarks on a frantic, manic mission to somehow find the elusive toy so as not to let down his boy.
An almost identical plot to Jingle All The Way but very British, and with Stephen Merchant in the Arnold Schwarzenegger role, this is a funny and tender winner. Merchant plays a gangly grinch who sets off on a cross-country Christmas Eve road trip with his overly-friendly neighbor, the equally brilliant Asim Chaudhry, during which they face every obstacle imaginable in their efforts to find a unicorn toy.
A festive treat for Star Wars fans of all ages, this sprawling adventure set around Life Day—the equivalent of Christmas in that galaxy far, far away—manages to unite characters from the whole space saga—well, LEGO versions of them anyway—yes, even Baby Yoda and Jar Jar Binks. Taking its inspiration from the disastrous and little-seen 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, this is fast-paced, funny, and a whole lot more enjoyable than any other recent Star Wars movie.
Whether surfing your couch with loved ones or streaming solo, I hope this list brings you some festive, heartwarming, and cozy screen time. Happy holidays!