It’s Time to Finally Settle the Argument… What Films to Watch this Christmas

The ‘cost of living crisis’ is probably going to make this festive season… less festive, less social and… altogether less fun. 

Keeping warm will be a top priority, whilst we can’t help with the cost of heating, we can help with top advice from film experts. So hunker down under your duvet to binge-watch some top heart-warming seasonal films.

Two top lecturers at the world famous MetFilm School (London, Leeds and Berlin) give us their top tips for films to watch this Christmas.

Dr Alice Guilluy lists her 9 top romantic comedies (romcoms) and Justin Trefgarne, gives us two lists – his 10 all-time favourites, and… top 10 British Christmas films.

Not all these films are set at Christmas, but most take place over various end-of-year holidays and/or feature copious amounts of snow, food, comedy… and romance.   

“For me a Christmas movie is something more than a story that directly addresses the more obvious trappings of the holiday season.” Says Justin

“I guess all of our ideas of appropriate Christmas viewing are shaped by our formative years, but for me the core criteria are, perhaps, the looser ideas of winter weather – preferably thick snow; spectacle and length – this is the time for big stories; family – in any configuration; and adventure – by which I mean trying something old, even obscure.” 

Here’s Justin Trefgarne top 10 all-time favourites:

          1.    IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE 

Obvious, I know, but it is simply one of the best films Hollywood has ever produced. And that’s perhaps because it’s also incredibly complex and rich in themes, indelibly shaped by director Frank Capra’s harrowing experiences in WW2. It’s a family film wrapped around a suicide narrative that looks at the individual in society, and the society in the individual with honesty, courage and pure heart. It’s amazing to think this was a flop when released. If you ever needed reminding of why cinema is the most powerful popular art form ever, this is the film for you.

          2.    YOU’VE GOT MAIL 

Technically a remake but still a film that is overflowing with wit, romance and charm. This was one of the high water marks of the second great wave of Romantic Comedies that featured one of Hollywood’s all-time great pairings, Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks, guided with sheer brilliance by the inimitable writer-director Nora Ephron. And, like all great movies, there’s some big stuff going on under the surface, about loss and greed and all kinds of things that are as relevant today as then. And also worth watching for the hilariously ‘hi-tech’ dial-up internet they both use.

          3.    LA CONFIDENTIAL 

Not so much a Christmas movie as a movie that stretches across Christmas. One of Hollywood’s finest (and much imitated) neo-noirs, with astonishing source material converted into movie gold through pitch-perfect direction and acting from youthful Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe. And there are few more iconic images in movies than the poster-worthy shot featuring a resurgent Kim Basinger hitting a career high as the mysterious, melancholy Lynn Bracken. 


Robin Williams and a magical cast of relative unknowns light up the screen in this wonderful story of one teacher’s determination to rescue the souls of his students from the deadzone of conformity they are all being groomed for. The Australian director Peter Weir was at the height of his powers as he steers the ship with absolute confidence, secure in the knowledge that his lead actor was a one-in-a-million superstar.  

          5.    DOCTOR ZHIVAGO

Saddle up for this one. In the days before green screen, David Lean was the unrivalled director of vast, epic cinematic event movies. But what people sometimes miss is the spectacle was never at the expense of intimate, intricate character stories. Through the mechanism of a love-triangle, Lean and his writer Robert Bolt (Tarantino’s favourite scribe) tell the story of the Russian Revolution as it impacted on all these complex, conflicted characters’ lives. An unforgettable experience.

          6.    CAPTAIN FANTASTIC

Almost an anti-Christmas movie, most notably in the hilarious scene where Viggo Mortensen’s ideologue father insists his six children celebrate “Noam Chomsky day” instead of Christmas. No other film feels quite as relevant for our times as this one, as it tells the story of a family who live in the wild, a million miles away from ‘materialistic’ culture, being forced to re-enter mainstream American society after the death of the kids’ mother. When they learn of her family’s plans to give her a traditional burial, they set out to retrieve her body and give her the Buddhist rite she wanted. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking film about idealism, grief and reconciliation and features one of the all-time best ensembles of child actors. 

          7.    TRADING PLACES

There is nothing quite like early-career Eddie Murphy. He was a force of nature and some filmmakers managed to capture this. Parts of this movie may have dated a little, but it’s got one of the most straightforward Christmas messages of all, and once Murphy enters the story, you just can’t take your eyes off him, as it quickly dawns on you that this is what comic genius looks like.

          8.    THE CLOCK

Not the Judy Garland film that most people choose, but the first non-singing dramatic role of her career and still one of the most beautiful films she ever made. A couple meet and decide to marry before he heads off to war – but the impediments to achieving this in twenty-four hours stack up and it looks less and less like it may happen. Achingly romantic, if I tell you one of the best sequences involves our hapless couple going on a milk round (!) you may miss the serious, touching themes of seizing the moment and risk-taking that this lovely story embodies.

          9.    BATMAN RETURNS

In a super-hero-obsessed age, here’s an earlier Batman film that’s also, weirdly, a Christmas movie. This was the purest of the Tim Burton-era comic book adaptations, where he had won full artistic control after the success of his first venture. And what you may fear this lacks by the absence of a vintage Jack Nicholson, it amply makes up for in peak-form Michelle Pfeiffer’s movie-stealing turn as Catwoman. 

          10. THE FAMILY STONE

Ok, I give in. Here is an unadulterated, what-it-says-on-the-tin Christmas movie. And it’s a cracker (sorry). Sarah Jessica Parker brings a truckload of charisma and comic timing to a moving, magical and romantic tale of a family descending on their parents for Christmas. It’s a story that most of us can relate to on some level, and while this doesn’t break the mould it does its one job exceptionally well. 

Justin Trefgarne continuous to give us his movie tips as he recommends the top Christmas films below; Every one of these is a film you could curl up with during the holiday, and again the experts tried to include as much snow/Winter as possible…


Aardman’s CGI masterpiece overflows with heart and soul, as you’d expect from the unrivalled British animation studio.

          2.    THE GOLD RUSH (1925)

Set in 19th Century America but written, directed by and starring London-born Charlie Chaplin. Anyone who’s been taught by me knows my passion for the silent film genius, and this snowbound masterpiece is hilarious, heart breaking and just so damn inventive it never fails to blow my mind.

          3.    TOP HAT (1935)

Fred Astaire was an Anglophile whose greatest film is set in England so maybe this squeak through as a British film. Either way, the exquisite song and dance numbers have never been surpassed; Ginger Rogers supplying equal ballast to Fred’s talents in every single department. I love this film so much I even called one of my sons Fred.

          4.    WITHNAIL AND I (1987)

Not really a Christmas film but quite possibly the funniest British comedy ever, loosely based on writer-director Bruce Robinson’s experiences as a struggling actor in 60s London. Endlessly quotable, it’s also a film touched with a quiet sorrow that finally spills over in the final moments, with Richard E Grant’s Withnail reciting a speech from Hamlet, alone, to some indifferent animals at London Zoo. 

          5.    THE LION IN WINTER (1968)

Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn (winning her third Oscar) and a youthful Anthony Hopkins (in his movie debut) star in this Royal drama set over the Christmas of 1183. Verbal fireworks, family politics and a charisma overload from the leads all combine to transcend any notions of it merely being a ‘period movie’.

          6.    GREAT EXPECTATIONS (1946)

I know this should be A Christmas Carol, but David Lean’s adaptation of this (other) Dickens classic has never been surpassed. The camera work, the performances, the mood are all perfect. It scared the life out of me when I first saw it as a child and has haunted me ever since.

          7.    ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (1969)

When I was growing up, no British Christmas Day was complete without a Bond movie. Although it would be tempting to offer up a tribute to the one and only Sean Connery, this is one of 007’s most satisfying outings in terms of story and character. A spectacularly snowy addition to the series, it features the closest we’ll ever get to Bond having a soul while Louis Armstrong sings one of the series’ most gorgeous theme songs.

          8.    KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (1949)

It’s the MetFilm School, so no need to really explain why this is here. It’s one of the best of all the Ealing Comedies and easily the darkest, with Alec Guiness playing pretty much everyone.

          9.    THE THIRD MAN (1949)

One of the finest movies the British ever made – maybe even the finest. A Graham Greene script, a zinger of a plot set in a partitioned Vienna just after the end of WW2, a hypnotic theme tune, Orson Welles at his most devilishly seductive and the greatest closing shot in the history of film. 

          10. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (2005)

I have a personal connection to this one, as I was story editor for the production which meant I got to work with Emma Thompson on her (uncredited) rewrite and hang out with Donald Sutherland on set. This and many more experiences besides contributed to this being one of the most satisfying professional experiences of my life. And I think it still holds up; the final moments where Lizzie Bennet and Mr Darcy are united as the dawn breaks over the fields is one of the most romantic moments I can think of in any film. Joe Wright had a lot to prove with this one, and he over-delivered.

Below, Dr Alice Guilluy lists her 9 top romantic comedies (romcoms) to get you in the festive spirit…!

  1. The Holiday (dir. Nancy Meyers, 2006)

If this is too cheesy for you, better turn away now, it’s not going to get better. Nancy Meyers’ is one of the reigning contemporary masters of the rom-com, and this is one of my personal favorites: yes, both heroines’ homes are worth millions, but their messiness and awkwardness make them engaging and relatable, and the production design is – as ever with Meyers’ films – flawless.  

2. The Shop Around The Corner (dir. Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)

A true Christmas classic: this delightful epistolary romance between two warring shop-floor workers bears the hallmarks of the famed ‘Lubitsch touch’. Jimmy Stewart has never been swoon-worthier. Do also check out Nora Ephron’s 1998 remake (You’ve Got Mail), which is on my colleague Justin’s Trefgane’s (screenwriter) must-watch list.

3.  Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (dir, Ayan Mukerji, 2013)

One of the best rom-coms of the last decade. This one does not feature Christmas, but does end (happily-ever-after) on New Year’s Eve, and most of the first act is set in the snow-topped Himalayas. Every single musical number is excellent, Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor’s chemistry is spectacular, and (a sign of a truly great rom-com) the best friend characters almost steal the show.  

4. Sissi (dir, Ernst Marischka, 1955)

This one has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays, except it is an absolute Christmas TV classic in mainland Europe (Empress Elizabeth of Austria, whose life it dramatises, was born on December 24). The gowns are to die for, Romy Schneider is exceptional, and the romance is ultra-schmaltzy.

5. Desk Set (dir, Walter Lang, 1957)

Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy’s real-life romance shines through this charming rom-com between a snarky librarian (Hepburn, always magnificent) and the grumpy IT engineer (Spencer Tracey, wonderful gruff) hired to replace her with… a computer. A truly funny 1950s workplace comedy, featuring endearing sidekicks, fantastic zingers and a heart-warming Christmas finale.

6. What’s Cooking? (dir, Gurinder Chadha, 2000)

Set at Thanksgiving, Gurinder Chadha is most famous for her brilliant Bend It Like Beckham (not a Christmas movie, a everyday all the time movie), but this lovely portmanteau Thanksgiving film is very underrated. Come for the family drama, stay for the lovingly-shot food.

7. Die Hard / Making of Die Hard (dir, John McTiernan, 1988)

Whilst technically not a romance (the love story is very much a sub-plot), this is an undeniable Christmas classic (or is it?). And whilst the film itself needs no introduction, the dedicated episode of Netflix’s The Movies That Made Us is well-worth a watch, too.

8. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955)

Here’s a proper 50s weepie for those tired of all the holiday cheer. Shot in glorious Technicolor, this heart-breaking love story between a upper-class widow (Jane Wyman) and her gardener (Rock Hudson) will have you reaching for the tissues in no time. Features possibly the most heart-wrenching gift-giving scene in Hollywood history. And if you need to cry some more, watch Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s New German Cinema remake, Fear Eats The Soul (1974). 

9. Love Actually (dir. Richard Curtis, 2002)

And finally, the most controversial of all. Is it a creepy, bloated mess which tries to make stalking romantic? (spoiler: no, rom-com viewers aren’t idiots), or a star-studded ode to love & London? I stand firmly in the second camp and have seen this once every year since it was released 20 years ago. Sing it with me: “I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toooooes…”

Anabel Cooper

Anabel is a graduate of King’s College London and upon graduating, she set out on a journey to inspire and empower women through her words. Besides working as a digital marketing expert, Anabel is a freelance copywriter.