Alex Kane: My top ten classic Christmas films
Alex Kane reveals the movies he settles down to watch every year over the festive season
There are only four rules for what defines a Christmas classic: can you watch it year after year; as you get older, does most of the pleasure derive from watching the joy and wonder on the faces of your children and grandchildren as they watch it for the first time; is it a film the entire family looks forward to watching together; does it make you feel better?
My top ten list is built on those rules. But there's another key essential: all of them confirm that our individual lives and actions make a difference.
Each of us is important. Every life matters. As Clarence, the angel in It's A Wonderful Life, notes: "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
Given how well-known and loved it is, it's worth remembering that the film failed at the box office and had very mixed reviews. But once the television rights became available it established itself as the undisputed good-feel Christmas film.
A simple story, simply told of a man who never does escape his roots; yet in the end realises that those roots are the roots of true happiness. And no matter how often I see it I still cry at George Bailey's plea: "Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence. Get me back. Get me back. I don't care what happens to me. Only get me back to my wife and kids. Help me, Clarence, please. Please! I want to live again. I want to live again. I want to live again... Please, God, let me live again" (Even writing it makes me well up).
One of the most popular of the modern Christmas classics it takes a number of the common themes (redemption, love, kindness, innocence, goodness, reconciliation and prioritising what really matters in life) of Christmas and weaves them into a good natured, often very funny whole.
Will Ferrell's usual over-the-top style is perfect for his role as a human elf. If you don't shed a tear - even a hidden one - during the 'Santa Claus Is Coming To Town' scene, I'd be very surprised.
It's a genuinely oddball, knockabout version of A Christmas Carol, but worth seeing for the three ghosts and Bill Murray's reaction to them.
Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
I first saw this on Thanksgiving Day in 2005, wrapped up in a bed with Kerri and Megan in a hotel in New York, just after we'd watched the parade featured in the film. It's an intelligent, subtle film, making a very strong case for being able to believe in Santa Claus even in the absence of solid proof. Faith is enough.
The joyously eccentric Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge. That's all you need to know.
The Polar Express (2004)
A nice one for children at that sceptical, unbelieving age: wanting to believe in magic but surrounded by evidence that all magic is contrived. The Polar Express takes a few of them to the North Pole on Christmas Eve to meet Santa Claus and have the magic lost by scepticism restored by faith. The bell scene at the end is a lovely reminder of Zuzu in It's A Wonderful Life: "Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings."
Arthur Christmas (2011) -
The plot is simple: Santa's son, Arthur, realises a little girl's present has been left behind and he decides to get it to her, with the help of his slightly-bonkers grandfather, eight untrained reindeer and a rebellious elf.
What makes it interesting is the bigger plot about the Claus dynasty and who is really the worthy successor to the present Santa: which of his sons possesses the real amount of genuine Christmas spirit?
The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942)
Not a Christmas story as such, but since it's set at Christmas and is a terrific comedy it makes my list.
Great performance from Monty Woolley as radio personality Sheridan Whiteside, an acerbic so and so who slips on steps and has to spend Christmas with the family on whose steps he has slipped. There isn't a wasted line or joke. It just works and has a heart of pure smaltz.
One Magic Christmas (1985)
This has slipped through a lot of nets, which is a pity, because it is genuinely heart-warming. Like so many it's about a refurbishing of childhood faith against a background of hardship in the modern world. Great work from Harry Dean Stanton as the angel.
White Christmas (1954)
It's a thin plot with one great song (which was originally sung by Bing Crosby 13 years earlier), but when that song is White Christmas you probably don't need to ask for much more.