In what is now an annual tradition, Mat takes a break from the normal routine to bring you a day-by-day guide to some of the best movies showing on UK free-to-air TV over the Christmas period, with just the bare minimum of festive films.
The African Queen (1951)
Channel 5, Saturday 21st, 10:45
Kick off the Christmas period with John Huston’s classic that takes place at the dawn of the First World War, as the sister of a British missionary in an African village is stranded when her brother dies following a German invasion. Joining up with the captain of a creaking old steam boat, the two embark on a perilous journey down a seemingly impenetrable river to try and sabotage an enemy battleship. It may be almost 70 years old but The African Queen has lost none of its appeal, with humour and action in equal measure and fantastic performances from Humphrey Bogart and especially Katharine Hepburn, whose role as a feisty and resourceful female character would have been particularly notable back then.
The Fugitive (1993)
ITV4, Sunday 22nd, 23:15
This adaptation of the 60s TV series tells the story of Dr Richard Kimble, who is framed for the murder of his wife but escapes on his way to prison and sets out to clear his name. Harrison Ford is the leading man but the real star of the show is Tommy Lee Jones in an Oscar-winning performance as the tenacious U.S. Marshal on the trail of the escapee. The film is a near-perfect cocktail of heart-pounding action sequences, smart dialogue between the two stars, and the suspenseful unravelling of the conspiracy that led to Kimble’s arrest. In an era when the traditional action movie was starting to get tired, The Fugitive was a breath of fresh air and proved that heroes didn’t have to be muscle-bound killing machines in order to impress us.
The Thing (1982)
Horror, Monday 23rd, 21:00
The most snow-bound and yet least festive film on our list sees the crew of an isolated Antarctic research station get more than they bargained for when they take in an escaped sled dog that has been overtaken by a particularly unpleasant alien being. Soon the residents of the station are being killed off and imitated by the creature and it’s down to helicopter pilot Kurt Russell to work out which of his colleagues are still human. It will always be best remembered for Rob Bottin’s stomach-churning special effects, but beyond that John Carpenter’s film is a clever, claustrophobic thriller that still has you wondering who is human or not even after repeated viewings.
ITV, Tuesday 24th, 17:15
A human child is accidentally brought to the North Pole and grows up amongst Santa’s elves. When he’s fully grown and realises he’s somewhat different to the rest of his family, he sets out on adventure to find his long-lost father, a grumpy book publisher in dire need of some Christmas cheer. It’s a story that could’ve become one of a thousand terrible Christmas movies, but thanks to a decent budget and the comic talents of Will Ferrell, it has become one of the most beloved festive films of recent times. Ferrell can be intensely annoying, but his performance here blends his trademark hyperactive enthusiasm with a childlike innocence that works perfectly in the context of the film, making Elf a heart-warming tale that’s up there with the very best Christmas Classics.
Back to the Future (1985)
Channel 4, Wednesday 25th, 14:35
A film that should need no explanation! Once you’ve finished your Christmas lunch, tune in to watch Marty McFly’s exploits through time in one of the greatest films ever made – a perfect blend of Sci-Fi, adventure, comedy and 80’s coolness, with a superb story and fantastic performances from everyone involved. Not to mention the magnificent soundtrack, spectacular visual effects and thrilling action sequences. In case you hadn’t worked it out, it’s a timeless classic – pun intended!
Wreck-It Ralph (2012)
BBC1, Thursday 26th, 10:25
Disney finally created a CG-animated film to rival Pixar’s work with this story of a video game baddie that just wants to do something good for a change. When Ralph leaves his own game and interjects himself in others however, he starts to do more harm than good and jeopardise the future of the arcade games that form his world. This was always going to appeal to gaming fans in particular and the world in which Ralph exists, along with many recognised characters from real games, is cleverly and wonderfully realised. The third act of the story is a little schmaltzy, and typically Disney, but overall the film is fantastic fun for young and old, gamer or not.
The Blues Brothers (1980)
ITV4, Friday 27th, 22:05
Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi teamed up with director John Landis for the big screen debut of their Saturday Night Live characters, Jake and Elwood Blues. The brothers reunite their band to play one big gig, trying to raise the money to save the orphanage where they grew up, but attract all the wrong kind of attention as they follow their ‘mission from God.’ While the plot is pretty thin, the film succeeds anyway with a mix of anarchic comedy, musical performances from legendary Soul musicians and some of the most ludicrous and destructive car chases ever committed to film.
Inside Out (2015)
BBC1, Saturday 28th, 15:00
It wouldn’t be Christmas without at least one Pixar film, and while there are many to choose from over the festive period, the pick of the bunch is one of their best. When 11 year old Riley is taken from her happy Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotional state is affected by her new environment and the challenges it brings them. The twist is that in this film, her emotions are literal characters inside her head, working together using a control panel which determines how their person behaves in real life. While there are moments that are too blatantly trying to tug on the heart-strings, this is Pixar’s most intelligent and thought-provoking movie to date, packed with creativity and humour, and arguably a better film for adults than it is for kids.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
BBC1, Sunday 29th, 13:50
The man with the hat is back in his third adventure, this time on the trail of a religious artefact that could provide immortality, and it’s no surprise that the Nazis are also seeking it. There’s no denying that the film is thematically similar to Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the addition of Sean Connery as Indy’s father adds a new dynamic to the adventure, with much of the film’s humour stemming from their relationship. There’s also plenty of action, including a thrilling showdown between Indy and a tank in the Arabian desert. Over the years this has become my favourite film in the franchise and seemed to be a fitting end to the Indy saga, until the 2008 release of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull sullied it somewhat.
There’s Something About Mary (1998)
5Star, Monday 30th, 21:00
Ben Stiller stars in the role that typecast him as the hapless loser in romantic comedies for the next decade. He plays Ted, a directionless 29 year old that looks to reconnect with Mary (Cameron Diaz), the babe that got away after their disastrous high school Prom date. When he does find her, he discovers that he has a number of rivals for her affection, including the sleazy Private Investigator he sent to track her down. The Farrelly Brothers set the bar for gross-out comedy in this film, with the opening Prom night sequence and infamous ‘hair gel’ scene being the standouts. It may have spawned a sub-genre that has long since become tiresome, but this remains one of the best films of its kind.
Jurassic Park (1993)
ITV2, Tuesday 31st, 18:25
One of many Steven Spielberg-helmed blockbusters, this one is based on Michael Crichton’s story about a theme park populated with genetically-recreated dinosaurs that run amok after an unexpected power cut. Actors such as Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum do an admirable job in their respective roles, but the real stars of the movie are the park’s residents. From the initial childlike wonder of seeing Brontosauruses and Triceratops, to the terror of the T-Rex attack, to the suspense of the Velociraptor hunt, the special effects are incredibly convincing. More than 25 years on they still compare favourably with modern CGI effects, which is the best praise you can give to the ground-breaking work done by Phil Tippett and ILM.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Dave, Wednesday 1st, 21:40
What better way to start the New Year than with Quentin Tarantino’s tale of gangsters, hitmen, boxers and small-time criminals in 90s Los Angeles? Building on the foundations laid down by Reservoir Dogs, the film is characterised by witty dialogue, pop culture references and occasionally shocking violence. The cast is amazing, mixing big names with rising stars and catapulting has-beens and never-wasses into the spotlight, while the director’s ingenious non-linear storytelling and interweaving of subplots inspired countless imitations in the following years and still influences filmmaking to this day. Pulp Fiction was critically lauded and if you haven’t watched it recently then it’s time to re-acquaint yourself with the coolest of movie masterpieces.