For all the seasonal cinema screenings of It’s A Wonderful Life and tv stations pulling out all the stops to fill the November & December schedules with yuletide movies, annual Christmas-themed film releases tend to be thin on the ground. 2015 looks very different.
IT’S A WONDERFUL TIME FOR CHRISTMAS MOVIES
Last year, it was Get Santa and Nativity 3. One notable year, the tube was full of billboards showing a rather scary Father Christmas with Naughty and Nice tattooed on his fists but that was for Rise of the Guardians: a film set at Easter! That’s not to say that there weren’t pictures that flew under the radar, such as Happy! Happy! But on the whole, the annual selection was nominal, the releases often family-aimed contrivances. The Christmas movie canon, after all is a collection of titles released over decades.
Except this year, there’s a veritable glut. And what is more, there is a broadness in the themes they cover: as a collection, they take in issues of sexuality and gender, homelessness, the traditional family gathering, and folk legend. And that is without counting films such as The Lady In The Van, and New Year’s Day release, Joy which both incorporate Christmas scenes into their trailers while neither film is essentially about Christmastime.
On current release
Given it happens to be the first feature film produced on an IPad, trans drama, Tangerine makes both a strange and fitting double bill to watch with Steve Jobs starring a hugely impressive Michael Fassbender as the eponymous Apple computer genius. Mind you, what Jobs would have made of Sean Baker’s sun bleached dayglo vision set among Los Angeles’s hustlers on Christmas Eve is anyone’s guess. The trans girls are shrill, and the drama of their lives is spelt out in capital letters. But this is a funny, sad, grim, tortured, tender tale of people hanging on to the underbelly of the American Dream with their garishly fake-nailed fingertips during a fairy light-lit day of reckoning.
A Christmas Star (U)
Billed as the ‘first Northern Ireland Christmas film’, production company, Cinemagic have accumulated a young cast and crew along with industry professionals to encourage trainees into the industry. Pierce Brosnan plays a property developer (boo hiss) and the mellow tones of Liam Neeson provide the narration. All who worked on it clearly gained some valuable experience, and the whole project is well meant. And while I have not yet seen the film (it is out on dvd on November 23rd), I have been warned off seeing it both by film reviews and to my face (yesterday evening after a press screening of Christmas With The Coopers).
Out 27th November
As with The Apartment and The Hunt, the crux of Todd Hayne’s beautifully shot and coloured Carol takes place during Christmastime, but it is not the whole story: which is why, technically, none of them can be classed as Christmas movies. It is in the run up to the festival that Cate Blanchett’s upper middle class wife and mother first sets eyes on Rooney Mara’s shopgirl in the tinselled toy department of a New York store. It feels a magical place where dreams might come true, and the pair effectively bewitch each other, striking up a relationship. Which proves a very dangerous game in America in 1952, especially for Carol who risks losing her young daughter. This is a beautifully rich character study that has had critics salivating but may face difficulty in attracting audiences beyond the arthouse circuit.
Out 1st December
Christmas With The Coopers (12A)
I expected slapstick and schmaltz around the Christmas dinner table with Diane Keaton and John Goodman as the heads of the household. The trailer gives the same poor impression. Ignore the trailer. Christmas With The Coopers focuses more on the journeying than the actual arrival at the family home. It’s a film about memories, regrets, lost love, life’s disappointments and childhood sleights that still burn. And is wistful, funny, sharp, moving, romantic, sceptical, humane, hopeful and silly. There are moments which children will enjoy, but this is essentially a Christmas movie for those who have lived a bit longer. At the time of writing, I ‘ve yet to see all the films listed here, but this might be my favourite of the season. And it’s got a great soundrack too.
Out 4th December
Nothing like some influence from European folklore to darken the – enforced – Christmas mood and jollity of a dysfunctional American family gatheinrg. Krampus is the anti-Santa Claus whose focus is on the naughty kids – and while there are shivers and shocks to be had, it also falls on the right side of horror. The audience shrieks will be laced with laughter. As with the excellent Rare Exports, Black Christmas, and, why, A Christmas Carol itself, a dark twist on the festivities provides part of the season’s winter colour.
Out 11th December
The Night Before (15)
Three friends – Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt embark on their annual Christmas Eve night of debauchery across New York in search of the best party, well aware that this could well be their last. If there are any laughs, they are broad ones. And there is one scene set at Midnight Mass that looks set to deeply offend many Christians. James Franco’s genitals apparently have a cameo role. It’s that sort of Christmas movie…
Peter Mullan plays Hector McAdam, a homeless Scot who every year travels down south to spend Christmas at a London hostel. This year, he has an added journey: he wishes to track down his estranged siblings. This is a small British seasonal film with limited release.
So, it’s quite a year! I will cover each of the films as close to their cinema release date as possible. Look out for my full review of Tangerine shortly.