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Box clever at Christmas!

Stuck for a terrestrial telly movie recommendation this Christmas? Fear not, Dan Carrier has the lowdown on some of the best

24 December, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Dunkirk, Christopher Nolan’s war epic, will be on BBC One on Boxing Day

WITH much of 2020 spent near a TV, and streaming services fundamentally changing how we watch films, the days of terrestrial channels battling to secure stand-out movies to win the December ratings war seem a distant memory of Christmases past. Now, set piece schedule moments are made of extended soap opera episodes and the big-hitting light entertainment shows. But tucked between Bake Offs, Dance Offs, Masked Singers and meltdowns in Corrie and Albert Square, there are festive treats to catch…

Meet Me In St Louis
Christmas Eve
BBC Two, 1.25pm
OK – so Judy Garland and Christmas means Oz, right? Not here. This 1944 film, an all-singing, all-dancing American love story, is an MGM wartime cheer-us-up classic. While the biggest hit from a soundtrack of many is Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, the real ear worm is the title song, Meet Me In St Louis Louis.

Jason and the Argonauts
Christmas Eve
Channel 5, 5.25pm
This exceptional 1963 Greek myth-based adventure yarn is rightly celebrated for the brilliance of stop-motion special effects guru Ray Harryhausen. Todd Armstrong is Jason, sailing to the island of Colchis to attempt to capture the Golden Fleece, and the cast also includes Honor Blackman and Nancy Kovack. But its Harryhausen’s creatures that steal the show.

Christmas Day
BBC One, 3.10pm

Coco combines wonderful humour with stunning contemporary art: the creators of this Mexico-set Pixar adventure have made a piece of animation whose originality, artistic sense and production values take CGI film-making to another level. Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is the little hero who desperately wants to make people swoon with his Mariachi skills. But his family have banned music in their home after his great-great-grandfather upped sticks to chase his dream of performing. Miguel finds himself magically transported to the Realm of the Dead where he sets about solving a family mystery – and learning some tasty licks. Director Lee Unktich gave us Toy Story and Finding Nemo. In Coco, he cranks up the fun to 11.

Spider-man: Homecoming
Christmas Day/Boxing Day
BBC Two, 12.10am

Like Batman, we have Spidey tales thrown regularly in our direction, and when this offering came out in 2017, it felt perhaps superfluous to have yet another. But Tom Holland as the boy bitten by a radioactive spider is wonderful. Full of humour, angst, and action, in a crowded market of Marvel Universe films, this is the best individual yarn.

Boxing Day
BBC One, 9.05pm
Christopher Nolan’s war epic feels like one of those Second World War films made when the conflict was fresh in the memory. He creates a huge landscape for individual tales to be told during the disaster of the British Army’s retreat to Dunkirk, and subsequent evacuation. Jumping from place to place and moment to moment, no expense is spared to recreate the horror and drama of those fateful days in 1940.

Despicable Me
December 27
ITV, 2.35pm

There hasn’t been a better villain created since Batman’s 1960s heyday: Gru (voiced by Steve Carrell) is the nasty piece of work whose daily dose of mischief is curtailed when he accidentally adopts three orphans. Cracking visual jokes (look out for the bank scene near the start) are married to clever asides for the adult viewers too.

Silence of the Lambs
December 27
ITV, 10.40pm

Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins do battle as the FBI agent and banged-up cannibalistic serial killer who Agent Starling hopes will help her catch another murderer. With super performances and a horrible plot, it’s the lodestone of what a psychological thriller should be.

December 28
Channel Four, 11pm
Danny Boyle’s era-defining tale of Edinburgh junkies kickstarted the careers of Ewan McGregor, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle and Kelly MacDonald. Boyle has a calling card running through his movies, which often feature a fortune and a tangled web of people trying to get their hands on it – Shallow Grave, Millions, Slum Dog Millionaire and Trance. That drives the story here, but it’s less memorable that the antics of the leads. The camera tricks may today feel obvious, but when Boyle made the film in 1996 it felt groundbreaking. It has a soundtrack that will make 90s kids feel nostalgic – though no one needs reminding the track Born Slippy, by Underworld, is a piece of music about as attractive as a heroin habit.

Happy Feet
December 29
ITV, 11.05am
It seems bizarre a film director who tells a story of a tap-dancing penguin could also be behind the Mad Max franchise – but George Miller is a storyteller par excellence, whether he be turning his lens towards violent dystopian Aussies or an Antarctica -set musical about a penguin who can’t sing but can certainly shake his thing. With a cast that includes Robin Williams, Miriam Margolyes, Hugh Jackman and Elijah Wood, Happy Feet has oodles of charm – not unlike another of Miller’s smash-hit children’s films, Babe.

Wonder Woman
December 29
ITV, 7.30pm

A debut adventure for Gal Gadot’s Amazonian, this superhero yarn encompasses some back story, no doubt with sequels in mind. An adventure set in World War One, the warrior has a mission involving weapons of mass destruction, ancient Greek gods getting in a twist, and a love interest. The Amazonian appeared briefly in the 2016 flop Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice – but despite this WW incarnation debuting in a poorly received film, Gadot earned this standalone adventure, and has a lot fun doing it.


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