We get it – you must be out of your mind celebrating Christmas when finals are just around the corner. However, if you sacrifice perhaps just 2 hours of your sleep, you may be able to entertain yourself by watching a Christmas film that’s actually worth your time and doesn’t froth on the conventional American family/romance plotline. And this time, we’re also bringing you something fresh from the scene because we know you’ve been watching the same old Christmas movies (or barely even skimming through the thought of it) and think you’ve had enough of it. From films shot on iPhones to twisted Santa Claus tales – have at it the staff picks for your busy Christmas!
Carol (2015) dir. Todd Haynes
Source: The Atlantic
Therese (Rooney Mara), an aspiring photographer who works in a departmental store is happy to celebrate New Years with divorcee Carol (Cate Blanchett). What they didn’t expect was a blooming romance. Set in 1950s New York, Carol (2015) explores loneliness but in the angle of two characters, Therese and Carol, who are in love with each other. Unfortunately, it’s a forbidden love for them. Carol (2015) is lauded by critics for both actresses’ evocative acting – bagging multiple Golden Globe Award, Academy Award, and BAFTA award nominations. Director Haynes captures 1950s with delicacy and emotional intensity in his cinematography, allowing wordless scenes to emerge to life through powerful close-ups and restrained, thoughtful shots. The movie takes place around the month of Christmas and the spirit of the scenes are captured through the red and green palettes. As the film progresses towards the ending, suspense lingers in the air – do we get a good or bad ending? One of the most memorable film moments of 2015 for me was the moment when Therese reads a letter from Carol. That was when I knew tears were wetting my cheeks. For this season’s hopeless romantics – here’s my gift to you.
Tangerine (2015) dir. Sean Baker
Two things make multi-award winning indie film Tangerine (2015) an interesting watch. One, that the entire film was shot using iPhone 5S’s (interesting for all you aspiring filmmakers!). And second, transgender characters are played by actual trans people (we brought up this issue of trans characters played by cisgendered actors in our review on The Danish Girl!). The premise starts with the release of Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) from prison on Christmas Eve only to discover from her friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor) that Chester, her boyfriend and pimp cheated on her. The rest of the film chronicles the journey of Rella and Alexandra as they attempt to find Chester and his new lover but at the same time also allows the audience to view the discrimination trans people face. While most films and mainstream media give trans characters a common development/arc that shows how victimized are they – Sean Baker captures them in a world where they too are complex characters who aren’t narrowed to a certain stereotype or given a cliched backstory. If you’re looking to watch something different for Christmas, Tangerine (2015) could add zest to your special day.
Arthur Christmas (2011) dir. Sarah Smith
Source: The Athena Cinema
Maybe Christmas should be celebrated with a lighter, funnier, more animated note. We wouldn’t argue with you about that. But do we still want to watch Frozen and risk hearing ‘Let it Go’ for the billionth time? While Carol and Tangerine are for more personal viewing, Arthur Christmas (2011) is a family watch. It is Christmas night and Arthur Claus (voiced by James McAvoy) realizes that his father’s high-tech ship (it is the 21st century, after all) failed to deliver one girl’s Christmas present. Arthur is a clumsy, uncapable person who attempts to rescue this girl’s night alongside a team of characters who are as ’problematic’ as him: his grandfather, a young Christmas Elf, and eight untrained reindeers. Undoubtedly, there are struggles along the way that hinder Arthur’s earnest progress. These struggles illuminate the hidden ego in family members that come in the way of human relationships. It’s easy to predict the outcome of the movie but watching Arthur grow throughout the course of it has been a humbling watch for me. This is for Christmas family nights and ice-cream – and for the love of God, stop singing ‘Let it Go’.
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010) dir. Jalmari Helander
Must all Christmas movies be about family and love? Helander directs to differ. Rare Exports is a rare award-winning horror movie in which the premise of the movie is set in Finland during Christmas Eve. In this movie, everything you believe about Santa Claus is fake, reindeers are death and oh, the elves are trying to kill you. It’s funny, it’s gruesome, and it’s an actual nightmare before Christmas. Watch it if assignments aren’t a nightmare enough.
Bonus: In Bruges (2008)
Source: One Perfect Shot
It would be a tremendous miss to not include McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008) in this list. A black crime comedy feature, In Bruges follows the story of Roy (Colin Farrell) a hitman who screws up and goes away to hide under his boss’s instruction. Ken (Brendan Gleeson) accompanies him and they find themselves in, well, Bruges, a city in Belgium. Ray hates Bruges but Ken loves it. Amid the pre-Christmas celebration, they encounter people and even love but their peace is shattered once they discover that their boss has sent hitmen to finish them off. McDonagh recreates a Tarantino vibe in In Bruges and alongside his theatre training, comes tight dialogue that creates compelling characters and narrative. Roger Ebert gave it a 4/5 so I don’t know why you’re not watching this any sooner!
If you have any other recent Christmas specials to recommend our readers of IGNITE, do leave them in the comments below! Oh and before we forget, merry Christmas from the rest of the team!
Written by Kristine Lee