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Christmas Countdown #2: Alternative Festive Films

Friday 23 December 2016

Tired of watching the same few Christmas movies every year? Fed up with all that cheesiness, over sentimentality, and contrived messages? Even if you love them, you’ve probably seen ‘Home Alone’ about fifty times, and can you bear sitting through ‘Love Actually’ yet again? Well, relax, because this year we’ve come up with some alternative festive films for you to devour this Christmas. These are not Christmas movies, but ones that certainly capture the spirit of the season, from heart-warming charm to a wintery setting, from romance to real magic. So put your feet up, grab the mince pies, and stick one of these alternative Christmas classics on the telly (beside a roaring fire is advised but optional).

‘Metropolitan’

Whit Stillman’s feature debut follows a group of young, highly educated upper class New Yorkers at home for the Christmas holidays during their first year of college. The film is full of debutantes, love triangles, youthful spats, romantic intrigue, and a lot of chatting about literature, relationships, and their monied class. This indie comedy is full of warm wit and charm, an introduction to Stillman’s smart humour and insightful voice, and a non-sentimental look at the festive season.

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‘Tangerine’

About as far away from the usual festive fare as you can get, ‘Tangerine’ is a subversive film, both in terms of style and story. The comedy-drama was masterly filmed on an iPhone 5S, capturing the nightlife on Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, following best friends and transgender prostitutes Sin-Dee (Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) as they roam the city, searching for Sin-Dee’s boyfriend and pimp. This is an important film; a refreshing portrayal of transgender women, who are actually portrayed by trans people – a landmark in improving on-screen representation. If you like your films arty, unusual, and subversive, this is definitely the festive film for you. As they say in the film, “Merry Christmas, bitch.”

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The ‘Harry Potter’ series

The ‘Harry Potter’ films are, as you obviously know – unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty years – utterly magical, and therefore make perfect Christmas viewing. Ideally you should have a marathon of all eight movies, but considering the festive period gets a little busy, we’ll let you off if you can only fit in a few. The early films are especially suited for this time of year, before Harry’s world gets darker and darker, and the three main stars still have that shiny-eyed innocence as they get up to various hijinks at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Many of the films have lovely Christmas sequences too, featuring a stunning great hall with elaborate feasts lining the tables, knitted jumpers from Ron’s mum, and who can forget that heart-warming scene from ‘The Philosopher’s Stone,’ when Harry runs down to the common room on Christmas day to see Ron? The two wish each other a happy Christmas and open presents. What cuties.

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‘Carol’

Based on the novel ‘The Price of Salt’ by Patricia Highsmith, and one of the most critically acclaimed films from last year, this is a stunning, sumptuous romantic drama. Set in 1950s New York, the story follows an aspiring photographer and department store employee (Rooney Mara) as she develops a relationship with an older woman (Cate Blanchett). The film begins Christmas time, with New York as magical as ever, but free from even a whiff of cheesiness. The characters and their relationship are explored beautifully, with tenderness, complexity, and compelling drama, especially with the issue that at the time homosexual relationships were illegal in the country. Both Mara and Blanchett give powerful performances, as this is a completely captivating, gorgeous film.

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‘Pride and Prejudice’

This doesn’t even feature Christmas at all, but there’s something about period dramas and the holidays that go hand in hand. Maybe it’s that escapism to a simple, more innocent time, and the conventions and quirks of the age, or maybe it’s the romance that adaptations of Jane Austen novels in particular are full of. Although the BBC television series is truer to the novel, and perhaps a better adaptation overall, Joe Wright’s film is still a gorgeous version of the classic love story. It’s a heart-warming tale of overcoming both pride and prejudice, falling in love, and learning about yourself along the way. As ever with Austen’s stories, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is full of satirical humour, mocking the class conventions of the age, which prevents it from becoming a slushy romance. Perfect cosy and comforting Christmas viewing.