Growing up, Christmas wasn’t just about the presents and the trees to me-it was a time when all my favourite movies seemed to be shown on TV across the holidays. Back then, you could guarantee that traditional fare such as The Sound of Music and The Great Escape plus a Bond on Christmas afternoon would be a prime feature, but, nowadays, these films tend to be trapped on satellite pay channels. (Murder on the Orient Express used to be a fixture, too – this year, you can see David Suchet’s star-studded version on ITV1 on Christmas Day.)
But what can you watch this year to get you in the mood for Christmas? Here are some of the best movies of the season.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
BBC2 12.40pm December 21
Tim Burton’s animated fable of an alternative Christmas will appeal to teenagers who don’t like to admit to the magic of the season.
Miracle on 34th Street
Channel 4 2.20pm December 23 (original)
ITV1 12.55pm December 24 (remake)
Either version of this classic will have you believing again in Father Christmas. The original is the better rendition, with an adorable Natalie Wood fighting for Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle. The remake starts Richard Attenborough as the equally twinkly store Santa.
Scrooge – A Christmas Carol
Five, 4pm, December 24
There have been many versions of Dickens’s quintessential tale of redemption (several are on this list), but this is generally considered to be the best. Alastair Sim stars as Scrooge.
The Polar Express
ITV, 1.10pm December 25
Little ones will love this animated story directed by Robert Zemekis and starring the voice of Tom Hanks.
Channel 4, 1pm, December 25
For people like me who want their Christmas story a little twisted, this modernising of the Dickens tale is very funny with Bill Murray as a miserly TV executive and will leave you wiping away a tear at the end.
SKY MOVIES CHRISTMAS CHANNEL
9.15am December 18
Bing sings THAT song, Danny Kaye provides the comedy and Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen the sex appeal (their song Sisters is a standout). And if the end doesn’t get you, you have a heart of stone.
The Muppet Christmas Carol
6.30pm, December 18/10.25am, December 21
All-singing, all-dancing and Michael Caine as Scrooge. Fun for all the family.
It’s A Wonderful Life
9.30pm, December 18/4.15pm, December 25
Ironically, the film that only became acclaimed as a classic because of its frequent appearances on American cable TV is now only available on pay satellite. Still, it is the best Christmas film of all. You know you haven’t seen it in a while, so sit down, pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy…
OTHER SATELLITE/CABLE/FREEVIEW CHANNELS
ITV2, 8.30pm, December 20
Yes, this is a Christmas film (although a dark one – Phoebe Cates’s father died stuck in the chimney pretending to be Santa). Good, anarchic fun as one by one the Mogwai turn into rampaging Gremlins.
Universal, 2pm, December 24/9am, December 25
Albert Finney is magnificent in this 1970 musical version of the story with songs by Dr Doolittle’s Leslie Bricusse. Look out for Dame Edith Evans as the ghost of Christmas Past and Kenneth More as the Ghost of Christmas Present.
And if these aren’t enough for you, Five is showing a range of TV movies for the holidays – one highlight is Call Me Claus at 5.30pm on December 18, starring Nigel Hawthorne. Santa has been forced into retirement and must convince an executive at TV shopping channel (Whoopi Goldberg) to take his place. Lovely.