What makes for a modern classic? Something that speaks to our current era, surely (though movies featuring face masks and hand sanitiser have yet to become a noticeable trend in the hurricane zeitgeist of 2020), while also retaining an air of timelessness. What has landed in theatres in the last few years that you can imagine watching with your children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? That’s a modern classic.
Naturally, a modern Christmas classic has a few more specific motifs. Snow, garlands and tinsel, and gallons of Christmas spirit palpable enough to be mainlined. Christmas classics don’t have a shelf life, but they do come in generational waves. From the golden oldies like Miracle on 34th Street, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and It’s a Wonderful Life to ‘90s renaissance flicks like Home Alone, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and The Santa Clause to more raucous modern fare like Elf, Love Actually, and Bad Santa, there’s something for everyone’s inner child to enjoy on screen at Yuletide.
There are plenty of online lists rounding up modern classic holiday films that list movies from the last twenty years. That’s all well and good, but we here at Vogue Singapore believe that there’s been an underrated batch of Christmas movies released in the last five years that are already holiday classics in their own right. So whether you’ve been naughty or nice this year, grab your laptop and settle back with a plate of cookies and a dram of something warming. Vogue is ringing the bells, and these holiday movies are all getting their wings.
1 / 8
Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey (2020)
If a dynamic grandfather-granddaughter duo named Jeronicus and Journey Jangle doesn’t shout ‘classic in the making,’ you may be beyond help in the holiday cheer department. There’s just enough heart and spiritual wisdom in this flick to pack a punch and cement it as a yearly tradition in households all over the world. Its fresh perspective, with a nearly all-Black cast and a maximalist fantasy retrofuturism, nearly bursts off the screen in its earnestness. This is countered by a wonderfully grouchy performance by Oscar winner Forrest Whitaker, who grounds the movie’s ‘two-hour sugar high’ tone and aesthetic. Utterly joyous dance sequences and a delightful star turn by newcomer Madalen Mills as Journey render this one fun for the whole family.
2 / 8
Happiest Season (2020)
Yes, Kristen Stewart’s character should have ended up with Aubrey Plaza’s, but Happiest Season still gives Christmas with loved ones a good name. A movie about gay love, helmed by a lesbian director, Clea DuVall, and crewed by a lot of folks from the LGBTQ community, Happiest Season is the first-ever queer holiday rom-com backed by a major studio. And if you’re wondering, Hulu’s gamble paid off in a big way. The film broke the platform’s streaming records after premiering over this past Thanksgiving, quickly becoming its most-watched original film. More than that, though, Happiest Season is a testament to growth and forgiveness, with a helping handful of cheese to get us all through a tough year.
3 / 8
A unique take on the Santa Claus origin myth, Klaus is a remarkable feat of storytelling and a visual marvel of hand-drawn animation. Featuring a spoiled brat of a postman protagonist traveling to a remote, feud-torn northern island to set up a postal station, the movie wastes no time in finding its feet immediately. When postman Jesper meets reclusive woodsman Klaus, however, the film really begins to soar. It dishes out genuine laughs and moments of quiet reverence in equal measure. Like a beautifully wrapped gift with something even more precious inside, this flick details intricately how one simple act of kindness can bring hope to a frozen, faraway land, and spark a legend for the ages.
4 / 8
The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
Kurt Russell’s always been at his best when performing in the snow. Think of The Thing, The Hateful Eight, and now, The Christmas Chronicles. It’s like the man was born to play Santa Claus, which he makes a grizzled but lovable legend in the vein of Whitaker’s Jingle Jangle toymaker. With the movie’s sequel out last month, it’s time to return to the beloved original (and its Goldie Hawn cameo), itself only two years old. A busy little movie that kicks up its heels in revelry of the season, The Christmas Chronicles is silly to its core—and that is exactly what’s so wonderful about it. ‘A quest to catch Santa’ is a trope that’s been done before, but rarely with as much glee and feeling.
5 / 8
The Man Who Invented Christmas (2017)
Another origin story, this movie looks to the author of A Christmas Carol for the lead character in its magical journey. Following Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens and a wonderfully entertaining Christopher Plummer as his Ebenezer Scrooge, the film sees Dickens struggling to conceptualise his next move after a string of literary failures. In dire straits, Dickens overcomes writer’s block by drawing from his own life, putting pen to paper to manifest Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Jacob Marley, and possibly the greatest novel about Christmas ever written. A heart-melter that finds some of its best scenes in Stevens arguing loudly with his fictive creations, this one is sure to clear away any cobwebs in the soul.
6 / 8
A Christmas Prince (2017)
Need a Christmas movie be ‘good’ to be a modern classic? In our age of irony, pastiche, and satire, we’d argue not. Perhaps A Christmas Prince leans to the lighter side of plot, character, and stakes, but—bah humbug!—it’s fun. A journalist going undercover as a tutor to get the scoop on a royal family, and ends up instead falling for the crown prince? Sign us up. Maybe it’s straight out of a Hallmark or Lifetime slush pile, but its ardent following has guaranteed it not one, but two sequels. (A few weeks after its initial release, Netflix tweeted out that 53 of its subscribers had watched the film every day for 18 days straight.) It’s just too genuinely enjoyable to leave off the list; the castle and the closet are to die for, and it’s schmaltzy in just the right way.
7 / 8
The Night Before (2015)
This one is big, loud, and dumb—a Christmas film that dances around its dudebro edge without ever giving over to genuine meanspiritedness. If it were an Avenger, it would be Thor. If it were a dog, it would be a golden retriever. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth Rogen, and Anthony Mackie stare down the barrel of adulthood in that trademark ‘Seth Rogen movie’ way (and yes, there is a box of drugs), mucking about and making memories that will carry them through the holiday season. Making it through this December is a little easier with the support of your best buds, and this movie is the perfect reminder of that fact. An excellent, surprisingly heavyweight cast (hello, Michael Shannon) and juvenile humour that actually lands combine to make The Night Before the crudest, sweetest kid on the block.
8 / 8
Surprised this one made the list? Granted, it’s not a ‘Christmas’ Christmas movie, and it’s miles apart from Happiest Season, but it’s set against a particularly perilous Christmas season in the 1950s, and the number of holiday-patterned scarves alone should allow it induction into the modern classics’ Hall of Fame. Director Todd Haynes takes a tale of queer forbidden love and offsets it with twinkling lights that practically reflect in Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett’s eyes. Understated and desperately fragile, Carol is a triumph of dramatic filmmaking, and a tonic to anyone who’s overdosed on high-energy holiday hijinks. Stolen glances, thrown snowballs, and Mara in a Santa hat—what more could you want this Christmas season?