3. The Night of the Hunter (1955)
A jailed priest learns of a fortune from a doomed man. His name is Harry Powell, played by Robert Mitchum in one of cinema’s most chilling performances to date. The Night of the Hunter follows his attempts, in rich black & white, to extract this fortune from the dead man’s children, preying on their mother with his godly wiles.
Here is a movie all about contrasts; the words “love” and “hate” tattooed on Powell’s knuckles, the shadows and light that carry every shot, the constant battle between good and evil. This Charles Laughton adaptation of David Grubb’s equally excellent novel builds up to a Christmassy ending, but with none of the usual shallow sentimentality.
Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce’s refreshingly brilliant childhood performances top off this masterpiece of film, and ensure it is well worth a watch over the holidays.
4. Trading Places (1983)
For something a little more light-hearted (and with considerably more nudity), John Landis’ role-reversal comedy fits the bill.
During a particularly snowy December in New York, investor Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) is forced to trade places with hopeless down-and-out Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) for nothing more than an experiment. Two greedy traders want to see if Valentine would do just as well as Winthorpe if he was taken off the streets, smartened up, and given a job at Wall Street.
Winthorpe finds himself quickly embracing the homeless lifestyle by stumbling around drunkenly dressed as Father Christmas, but when the two get wise to the trick played upon them, the film unfolds with tonnes of heartwarming Christmas spirit, even if Trading Places is not necessarily a family flick.
5. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Speaking of nudity in New York City…
Stanley Kubrick’s directorial swansong is a seasonal adventure all about sex. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman bring their real-life marriage to the screen as a couple constantly tempted by infidelity. Soon enough Dr. Harford (Cruise) finds himself an infiltrator in a mysterious millionaire sex-cult, and so begins Kubrick’s deepest exploration of sex, secrecy, and humanity, events which occur unbeknownst to the rest of the world who are busy celebrating a glossy, glitzy Christmas.
It could be argued that Christmassy themes permeate this spectacle; honesty and connection are what Eyes Wide Shut asks of us, albeit in a most interesting way.