It’s got a reputation for being a sickly sweet, romantic Christmas treat, but is it the film you think you know? People’s love/hatred for Love Actually has lead to it being analysed at a far deeper level than its producers might have expected. It’s worth revisiting, and not just for Colin Frissell, or when Jamie – aka Colin Firth – meets Aurelia’s Portuguese family, or for that devastating Emma Thompson crying-in-the-bedroom scene. Is it really a syrupy film about love conquering all? Or a misogynistic, incoherent mess about stalkers and “fat” girls finding love against the odds? Your call.
Playing at the Barefoot Cinema in Portsea on December 30.
It needs no introduction: it’s arguably the greatest Christmas film of all time (though I’d put it a close second behind a film called Home Alone 2: Lost in New York). This is a charming story about abandonment, home invasion and two grown men getting trounced by a child. It’s violent, funny and touching – the Christmas triple threat.
Playing at the Rooftop Cinema on December 22.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Spend Christmas Eve with this holiday perennial about redemption. It’s a Christmas film, so naturally it opens with a suicidal cry for help from James Stewart, answered by a guardian angel who offers to show him what the world would be like if he’d never been born. Spoiler: it ends well. It’s beguiling and twee and moral, and tear-jerkingly charming.
Playing at The Astor on December 24.
This movie shouldn’t work. It features Will Ferrell in unflattering green tights, a bunch of dwarf jokes, and awkward romantic chemistry between the two leads. Still, Ferrell is perfect as the wonderstruck, childlike Buddy with a constant stream of memorable one-liners.
CLASSICS (BUT NOT THE CHRISTMAS KIND)
My Neighbour Totoro
A remarkable, bittersweet 90 minutes of inspired weirdness: soot spirits, flying forest creatures and a giant, hollow, 12-legged cat that works as a bus. It’s not just for kids. Frankly, you’d have to be a monster to not be charmed by it. As part of its Anime Heroines season, ACMI is screening both the original Japanese-dub and the American-dub versions.
Playing at ACMI from December 12–23
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Since Disney splashed out and bought the whole franchise, a new Star Wars film is becoming a Christmas tradition. This one is a detour from the main storyline. It’s directed by Gareth Edwards, the man behind 2010’s Spielberg-esque sci-fi film Monsters, and features a great ensemble cast, including Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn. Come on, 2016, you’ve been a shocker. We deserve a good Star Wars film.
Playing everywhere from December 15.
Jim Jarmusch: Rock ’n’ Roll season
This hidden gem of a season features Jim Jarmusch’s most rock’n’roll films. It’s a chance to see some of the director’s best work. Such as Johnny Depp’s career-best performance in the Neil Young-scored Dead Man. And Tom Waits in the prison comedy Down By Law, and Mystery Train (also featuring Joe Strummer, Screaming’ Jay Hawkins and the ghost of Elvis). Documentary Gimme Danger, fresh from an acclaimed run at MIFF, is a portrait of The Stooges. Wash it all down with Coffee and Cigarettes, an all-star anthology of unlikely meetings between actors and musicians.
The season runs at ACMI from December 27 to January 15.
Stand By Me
Here’s a dose of post-Christmas, visiting-relatives-friendly nostalgia. In 1950s rural America, four pals embark on a character-building hike to see a corpse they’ve heard is out by the train tracks. Rob Reiner’s coming-of-age drama was an instant classic when it was released in 1986, and an entrenched part of the ’80s film nostalgia landscape. It’s still influential 30 years later, as the success of Stranger Things proves.
Playing at Rooftop Cinema on December 28.
Prince Double Bill: Purple Rain / Under the Cherry Moon
Prince wasn’t just a songwriter and performer – he was an icon to rival Bowie in his vision and outrageousness. Here are two cinematic reminders of his greatness. Purple Rain is the big draw. The story is simple enough: Prince plays The Kid, a hotheaded young musician trying to make it in the business. But the concert footage is why you’re seeing this film. The soundtrack is one of the great albums of all time. Backing it up is Under the Cherry Moon, a less successful film but again, the soundtrack is reason enough to pay a visit.
Playing at The Astor on December 29.