Life Divided: Christmas Films

Love 'em or hate 'em, you just can't avoid them this time of year

For: Julia Alsop

‘Buddy the Elf, what’s your favourite colour?’

‘keep the change, you filthy animal’

Like it or not, from November onwards you’ll be hearing iconic quotes from cheesy Christmas movies always and everywhere. Embrace it or Crimbo will be miserable for you. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as cynical as any other Oxford Humanities student. RomComs make me cringe, and I’m definitely not a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or Miranda. Yet somehow, if you stick some tinsel and a child’s hopeful wish to Santa in the plot, I become an over-emotional, warm-hearted believer (I’m not even ashamed).

So what makes Christmas films different? There’s the twinkly lights and snowy scenes, the childhood-themed nostalgia (Is that the Polar Express’ bell ringing?), the sentimental soundtracks, and even Donald Trump’s cameo in ‘Home Alone 2: Lost in New York’, which now gets a sad chuckle. But overall it’s the melting of the protagonists’ hard hearts that warms my icy soul into submission.

Just when you’re all Oxmas-ed out, December hits and you begin feeling Scroogey, telling your family that you’ve ‘basically done Christmas anyway’. So you sit wrapped up in your duvet cocoon, clutching a hot chocolate (with the necessary shot of Baileys), and whack on The Grinch. Go ahead, admit you identify with him. How could you not?

Following Michaelmas term, you, like all the Christmas protagonists, will be irritable and simply intolerant of festive spirit. But like the protagonists, you can’t avoid magically realising the importance of family time (except with that one weird cousin), rather than quality time with your reading list. We all do it anyway, but the plots of Christmas movies give you actual permission to prioritise fun over work. Above all, unlike (dumb) RomComs, the morals are always ‘wholesome’ and not just about falling in love with some pretty person who isn’t quite as vain as they initially seem to be (yawn).

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The nostalgia of Christmas films mean that, even if it is objectively an awful film(‘Nativity 2’ I’m looking at you), watching the same ones year after year become a ritualistic and romanticised part of the festive season. I freely admit that I become basic as soon as 1st December comes around, but to watch the romance of Buddy and Jovie unfold or to witness Macaulay Culkin take down the Wet Bandits has to make you feel festive. Oh, and controversial opinion, but this excludes Love Actually. We all know that that film is ridiculous.

Against: Dominic Tomlinson

I’m not trying to sound like a Grinch, but I have to be honest. Christmas movies are pretty terrible.

I love Christmas as much as the next person, and although I’m no expert, I’m a huge fan of Cinema too – this is why the constant loop of ‘festive’ films that litter our screens over the holidays fills me with anything but the holiday spirit. Of course once in while there will be a classic – I’m not against ‘It’s a wonderful life’, ‘Elf’ or ‘Die Hard’ (objectively a Christmas movie) – but Christmas movies are generally appalling.

The worst Christmas films tend to be so bad for all the same reasons. Firstly, they’re so lazily formulaic that a room of typewriting apes are no doubt halfway through the latest caper. In summary, Vince Vaughn and Cameron Diaz will be a hapless married couple, inviting the in-laws for a calm, controlled Christmas day, only for it to all go wrong and hilarity to ensue. Believe it or not, most of these films aren’t written by primates – ‘Christmas with the Kranks’ is even based on a John Grisham story – yet their plots rarely extend beyond the level of intrigue and complexity you’d find in a Christmas cracker joke.

Yes, other genres suffer from predicable and formulaic plots (we’re all thinking of horror films here), but at least they’re nowhere near as sickeningly sentimental as Christmas films. They’re so saccharin they make a Mars bar seem as bitter as a recently divorced lemon spending Christmas day with a ready-meal and a bottle of gin. Happy endings belong in a family film, but there’s no need for the not-so-subtle lesson that any trial can be overcome by the spirit of Christmas, love and family. Haven’t these people heard of tequila?

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Also, thinking about it, most of these films don’t really have anything to do with Christmas. Instead, the plot has had fairy lights and tinsel draped onto it, and some poorly-paid set designer has stuck a fir tree in the background. Oh, and of course it’s snowing. But why would they do this? Well my naive little friend, to make money out of us overly-nostalgic nitwits of course. ‘Love Actually’ could take place at any time of the year, but would it have had a fraction of its box-office success? I think not. The hard truth is that these films are guaranteed a large enough audience from those who are already on a Christmas high.

Of course you can’t avoid watching Christmas films (I challenge you to try). But please choose wisely. Unless you do actually, genuinely love ‘Surviving Christmas’, in which case, who am I to judge… (judging you).