Inevitably, the holidays will not be usual proceedings this year. Whether it is travel plans, present buying or seasonal tradition that has changed for you, we hope you can find some atypical festive cheer in our compiled collection of non-Christmas Christmas films.
To mark this bizarre holiday period, Flip Screen contributors have joined forces to deliver a collection of recommendations for this unconventional Christmas and holidays. From Phantom Thread to Hustlers, we have compiled a comprehensive list to keep you entertained through this year’s holidays.
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – Gavin Spoors
A truly unconventional choice for sure, but hear me out. For three years, we had a truly epic festive tradition at the start of the millennium. As each day grew darker and colder, there was comfort in going to the cinemas with the family to watch the latest chapter in the adaptation of a much-loved fantasy series. The Lord of the Rings trilogy doesn’t feature anything related to Christmas, bar some snow-covered locations, but the December release date of each film kicked started a trend of watching epic fantasy adventures with the family during the festive season. Although the trilogy touches on war and the evil of power, it ticks the boxes of a Christmas film with it’s thrills, comedy and overall hopeful story. What is better than curling up in the comfort of your own home, hot beverage and loved ones beside you, taking a trip through the magical world of Middle-Earth?
Enduring Love – Lee Millington
This thriller is from some angles about obsession, but it’s more important, philosophical focus – and the one that makes it festive – is its well-rounded search for our spiritual purpose. Daniel Craig plays Joe, an academic involved in a horrific ballooning accident that shakes up his world (partly because of an unwanted connection with a stalker) and makes him question all of his certainties. The journey is a dark one, filled with dread and coupled with a sense of Joe becoming increasingly lost. However, as part and parcel of that, the film questions hope, redemption, and relationships, making for a work that’s real, rich, and able to leave you feeling renewed.
The Wiz – Jacinda Perez
When I think of Christmas movies and how I’ll be spending my Christmas eve, I automatically think of The Wiz (1978.) The mere fact that I’ve watched it every year since I was a baby as a holiday tradition makes it a holiday film to me, but this is not about me, I’m here to convince you. Let’s start with the fact that the film takes place during the holidays (Thanksgiving to be exact.) That holly jolly feel sprinkles through the Manhattan air as Dorothy (Diana Ross) sings you through the intro. Not to mention, Diana Ross’ vocals ring like beautiful Christmas bells. Then, the eruptive dance numbers and sparkly, extravagant outfits give this film such a joyous feel at times – as a Christmas movie should. However, if none of that is enough to convince you that The Wiz is a Christmas movie, then, the message of the film should. Pretty much every Christmas movie says the same thing, “family is everything,” or “it’s not about the gifts,” and whatnot. As Dorothy tries to find her way back to Harlem, she too is reminded of that special feeling only loved ones can give you. Her journey back home is the ultimate Christmas tale.
Moonstruck – Emily Maskell
Moonstruck is the perfect pick for a bizarre holiday season. The rom-com follows Loretta (Cher) a thirty-seven-year-old Italian-American widow falling for her fiancé’s brother (Nicholas Cage). In one scene, under a full moon on the wintry streets of Brooklyn, Nicholas Cage tells Cher that he embodies a wolf. Their argument punctuated by puffs of their breath, foggy against the freezing air plays out as such:
“Why didn’t you wait for the right man again?”
“Because he didn’t come.”
Standoffs between these bold characters are equivalent to political discussions with family around the dinner table while the turkey is being served. Balancing the essence of a romantic-comedy with the eccentric presence of Nicholas Cage, this unconventionally heartwarming film has snowflakes whisking through each scene. Moonstruck’s enchantment comes from its characters, their missed connections and heated family arguments – the perfect Christmas viewing experience.
Paddington – Charlotte Little
Paddington follows a young bear from Peru, who travels to London in search of a new home. Lost and afraid in Paddington station, he meets the Brown family. This little bear will dry your tears, warm your heart, and hold your paw through the tough times. He will teach you the wonder of marmalade making, the value of friendship, and most importantly, “if you’re kind and polite, the world will be right.” The Paddington franchise is the wholesome content we all yearn for in times of uncertainty. It goes without saying that 2020 has left many of us with pain, loss, and a sense of hopelessness. As we embrace the year’s end, it’s a time to reflect, to celebrate the small joys, and to create memories with our loved ones. This Christmas will be a strange one, and a hard one for many, and movies like Paddington are reminders of Christmas magic. Although not your typical Christmas film, it shares the same principles: togetherness, love, and kindness.
Lights – Joel Whitaker
One of the great things about Christmas is, of course, Christmas lights. Sometimes they can be seen as competition, one-ups-manship between neighbours, but for me they’re all about the spectacle, and no film captures their glory quite like Maria Menken’s 1966 film Lights. At just 6 minutes long, the film shows us an array of dazzling Christmas light as we watch them twinkle and shine, with the camera’s movement bringing them new life. Christmas lights are a wonderful thing. On the road, my house backs onto a street where people have put up their extravagant Christmas lights to raise money for a local care home, creating a moving spectacle every evening that really embodies the giving nature of Christmas. There aren’t many things in life quite like going past a house that’s really gone all out, and Maria Menken captures that spirit perfectly.
Phantom Thread – Shania Russell
Phantom Thread (2017) is my favorite Christmastime ghost story. Like a flickering candle, this film has a warmth that rhythmically expands and recedes. With stark white backdrops, snowy montages and chilling dialogue, Phantom Thread is distinctly haunting. Often described as a ghost story dressed in the garments of a love story, the film is complete with longing, shadows and apparitions. Not quite Ebenezer Scrooge (but not too far off either), Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) can not escape the ghost of his mother, while those around him can’t help becoming ghosts in his eyes. With Alma (Vicky Krieps) he meets his match and their dysfunctional romance makes for unconventional Christmas vibes. Despite the golden glow of candlelight sequences, there is a chill that never quite leaves. The film has one holiday sequence to bolster its Christmas status, but this proves to be more than enough — because even when Alma and Reynolds are walking along green pastures on idyllic English countrysides, there is an unmistakable coldness in the air.
Hustlers – Thalia Castro
If you haven’t seen Lorene Scafaria’s 2019 stripper crime caper, then I am here to tell you that Hustlers belongs in your holiday rotation. The heart of this film takes place around a lavish Christmas gathering with our hustlers joyously exchanging expensive gifts, singing yuletide songs, dancing and being merry. It’s an unforgettable spectacle of holiday cheer. This festive scene comes at a pivotal moment in the girls’ scheme. The 2008 financial crisis has left the strip clubs barren, and to supplement that lost revenue Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) and Destiny (Constance Wu) have been running a scam against the same Wall Street crooks that left them in economic shambles. Because the villain of this story is the villain of almost every Christmas film: greed. In Hustlers, Christmas and consumerism go hand in hand. The girls say ‘I love you’ with pearl necklaces and Louboutins, and the magical thing is that you believe it. When Ramona gifts Destiny her very own fur coat you feel the comfort and warmth emblematic of the holiday season. More than just extravagant things, in these women Destiny has found a family. They offer love and light in a cold, dark time. Now tell me, is that not what Christmas is about?
Header image courtesy of Marie Menken’s Lights (1966)