As we move from the waiting season of Advent to the arrival of Christmas, Veritas Journal is pleased to present “The Twelve Movies of Christmas.” These are a variety of film recommendations, directly or indirectly related to Christmas. The films range from traditional favorites to others which you may never have considered watching during this season; but they all have in common a robust celebration of incarnational life.
Clicking the link will take you to a streaming version. If the movie is free to view, that is noted.
1. Amahl and the Night Visitors (1951) Free to View
Written by Gian Carlo Menotti, this television opera in one reimagines the story of Christ’s birth from a child’s perspective. A young boy named Amahl faces a potential life as a beggar in first-century Bethlehem, as he is disabled. Soon his fortunes change dramatically as he and his mother are visited by three stunning foreign kings passing through: Kaspar, Melchior and Balthasar. After some heart-wrenching drama, Amahl is allowed to accompany them to meet the Christ Child.
2. Joyeux Noël (2005)
In the trenches of the western front of WWI, something miraculous happened in December of 1914. Tentatively, haltingly, an unsanctioned truce developed over the course of a few days between the German soldiers and the French and American allies. This remarkable historical event is captured beautifully in the 2005 film “Joyeux Noel” (“Merry Christmas” in French). The longing for human connection, even with our enemies, could not be more in keeping with the spirit of the original Christmas.
(This film was more recently adapted into an opera commissioned and performed by the Minnesota opera, entitled “Silent Night.” You can preview it here.)
3. Red Boots for Christmas (1995) Free to View
This animated short from 1995 is an adaptation of Dr. Paul Chrystoph’s German children’s story Die Roten Stiefel (The Red Boots). Hans is a Scrooge-like figure who refuses to enter into the spirit of Christmas. But unlike Scrooge, it only takes a quick visit from an angel to change his outlook. With a newfound joy in the holidays, he decides to make a special pair of boots with his newfound joy in the holiday. Watch to find out what becomes of his gift!
4. Scrooge (1951)
There are countless versions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Only two months after the novella’s original publication in 1843, there were already eight staged productions in London happening simultaneously! When it comes to film versions, the 1951 Scrooge is probably the best place to begin. Alastair Sim as Scrooge presents us with the darkest of dark circumstances before we are witness to his conversion, made all the sweeter. It is, inarguably, one of the best-produced versions of this story in film form.
5. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Speaking of innumerable adaptations of Scrooge’s story, we would be remiss to forget this hilarious classic one from the early 90s. Complete with Gonzo as the narrating Dickens, Michael Caine as a fantastic Scrooge, and Bob Cratchit is, of course, the humble Kermit. This Muppets’ version is surprisingly faithful to the spirit of the book.
6. Rocky (1976)
Rocky, a Christmas movie? You bet. It’s a story about people not unlike Mary and Joseph, people who are not on top and for whom winning is not an option. Maybe it never was, not in boxing, or family life, or the holidays. But the characters are all looking to salvage something of human dignity. Without flinching from the ugly realities of poverty or commercialization, Rocky doesn’t ultimately allow them to triumph. In the wake of the many sequels that followed, it is easy to forget that Rocky won the Oscar for best picture that year.
7. Miracle on 34th Street (1947) Free to View
The tone of the film is set early on by Susan, a skeptical young girl who has not been brought up on fairy tales and certainly doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Her mother, Doris (played by the magnificent Maureen O’Hara) thinks that children should be taught realistic things. After her daughter meets Kris Kringle at Macy’s, mother and daughter are both forced to reconsider what they believe about miracles, magic and the man in the red suit.
8. While You Were Sleeping (1995)
While You Were Sleeping is a light romantic comedy featuring Sandra Bullock as Lucy, a Chicago Transit Authority toll booth operator stuck in what she feels is something of a dead-end set of life circumstances. Her life is upended, however, when she saves a man from being killed by a train and is mistaken for his fiancée. When he wakes from a coma and can’t remember otherwise, the case of mistaken identity plays itself out. The film includes one of the all time great family meal scenes and a great cast of supporting characters.
9. Meet me in St. Louis (1944)
Meet Me In St Louis introduced the world to Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The scene in which this song appears captures the sometimes melancholy nature of the season in a situation that portrays heartbreak for the young and old alike. Garland singing it captures the everyday hurt of being alive and belonging to family and all of the tension and messiness that the act of loving people puts us through. It captures the “already but not yet” of the Advent season.
10. Babette’s Feast (1987)
When the wisemen set out from the East, they brought with them gold, frankincense and myrrh — extravagant gifts fit for a king. One can only imagine what it was like to bestow them on infant Jesus in his humble circumstances. One of the all time great “food films,” Babette’s Feast tells a similar tale of the place of beauty in simple surroundings and among simple people. A mysterious and exotic stranger exiled among a strict set of Lutherans in Jutland, Babette becomes a conduit of extravagant grace.
11. I Confess (1953)
This Alfred Hitchcock film follows the story of Father Logan, a priest in Quebec City, who gets wrapped up in a dark, ethically complex web when a murder takes place in his parish. Being a confidant by profession, he endures a Christ-like agony when trying to be committed to truth. We have a front-row seat beside him as he is tempted to run away, yet always returns to the hard choice. Hitchcock’s direction is brilliant in driving this psychological reality home. Much like Mary, Joseph and the others who laid down their lives to bring Christ into the world, Father Logan lays aside his own desires for the sake of truth, even to great hurt to himself.
12. Of Gods and Men (2010)
Rounding out our list is a French film whose story actually spans the entire church calendar. It is deeply meaningful from Advent all the way through Lent and Easter. Based closely on historical events in the 1990s, Of Gods and Men centers around a small order of Cistercian monks serving the local population in the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Algeria. After having lived peaceably and in direct community with their Muslim neighbors for many years, they are faced with a wave of Islamist terrorism. One Christmas night itself, they are visited by a particularly notorious group. Somehow they are spared, but the brothers must then decide (both collectively and individually) whether to stay at their monastery or return to France.