We’ve talked before about the Best Christmas Movies but now we want to focus in a little more closely. Who are the best characters in all these seasonal films? and are they the most famous? What personalities stand out when the Christmas presents are down? Here, for our money, are the contenders…
Buddy the Elf
Film: Elf (2003)
Played by: Will Ferrell
Typical line: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”
What to give him for Christmas: Anything tooth-rotting!
Distinguishing features: Propensity to wear tights, pointy hat; uncanny ability with Christmas decorations; big smile; high levels of dental insurance (we hope)
In terms of enthusiasm, there’s no gainsaying Buddy The Elf’s Christmas spirit; in terms of energy, he makes John Motson look like John Major. He makes Santa Claus look like Scrooge. If baby Jesus had an entertainer at his birthday party, it would be Buddy the Elf folding little balloon shepherds and painting everyone’s faces like archangels. But he’s also a fascinating individual: reared by elves and ol’ Saint Nick himself, he has a unique outlook on life that emphasises all that is best in the world, and in these cynical times that’s to be treasured. His sense of style (heavy on the green-and-red), unique approach to nutrition (heavy on the sugar) and even phone technique (“Hi I’m Buddy, what’s your favourite colour?”) make him an icon for the times – or at least for this time of year.
Film: Love Actually (2003)
Played by: Bill Nighy
Distinguishing features: Fondness for leather trousers and snakeskin; hair in need of a good trim; rock styling; occasional public nudity; air of dissolution.
Typical line: “Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don't buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free!”
What to give him for Christmas: Anything as long as it’s snakeskin.
Everyone loves a character who learns the true meaning of Christmas – witness the enduring popularity of one Ebeneezer Scrooge. Billy Mack isn’t that bad to start off with, since there’s no particular sign of outright villainy on his part, merely a sense of ennui with the music industry and a penchant for saying outrageous things on air. Still, it’s nice to see him realise that Christmas is about more than playing your appalling Christmas song naked on prime-time TV. It’s also about declaring your (platonic) love for your scruffy manager. Groupies come and go, but friends, after all, are forever.
Film: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Played by: (voice) Chris Sarandon & Danny Elfman (singing)
Distinguishing features: Extremely elongated limbs; giant skull head; penchant for pinstripes and Goth accessories; often to be seen with a ghost dog, and we don’t mean the Way of the Samurai type.
Typical line: “You know, I think this Christmas thing is not as tricky as it seems! But why should they have all the fun? It should belong to anyone! Not anyone, in fact, but me!”
What to give him for Christmas: Some really long, really skinny pyjamas with little bats on.
Let’s face it: Jack Skellington was born to celebrate Halloween rather than Christmas. That face was surely never meant to eat mince pies or sing carols. And yet here we are, in a world where he’s one of the most popular Christmas characters out there. As the Halloween Town denizen who discovers the magic of Christmas, you can’t fault his delight in the season nor his determination to share it with his neighbours. Admittedly, you can fault his decision to kidnap Santa, and his failure to rein in said neighbours when they proceed to unleash hell under a million Christmas trees, but if it’s the thought that counts he’s OK by us.
Film: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Played by: The Great Gonzo (Dave Goelz)
Distinguishing features: 19th century attire, including top hat; large blue nose; uncertain ethnic origin. Indeed, uncertain planetary origin.
Typical line: “I told you, storytellers are omniscient; I know everything!”
What to give him for Christmas: A cannon. Let’s face it, he’s more naturally suited to being fired from cannons.
When you are trying to cast Charles Dickens, titan of English literature and enthusiastic writer of Christmas-set stories, you naturally need an actor with gravitas, with a bold personality and with immense personal appeal to communicate Dickens’ genius and huge personality. Who else, then, than The Great Gonzo, a performer so committed that he regularly fires himself out of cannons with only the most minimal of safety equipment and who engages in groundbreaking live work like eating a rubber tyre to the tune of Flight Of The Bumblebee? What’s that? Simon Callow? Don’t be silly: he’s not even blue. In any case, Gonzo’s performance in The Muppet Christmas Carol is his most restrained and literate ever, just proving that he was the right muppet for the job, and his comic double-act with Rizzo the Rat a constant delight.
Film: It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)
Played by: Henry Travers (left)
Distinguishing features: Genial manner; old-fashioned clothes; occasional appearance as small star or twinkle of light.
Typical line: “Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?”
What to give him for Christmas: Wings. It’s all he ever talks about
You know what’s not Christmassy? Trying to top yourself on Christmas Eve and leave your family to face disgrace and poverty. So George Bailey isn’t sufficiently Christmassy for this list, giving way to the optimistic and rather sweet Clarence, an angel-in-training who figures out the perfect way to get our George back on the straight and narrow, at some risk to his own afterlife. First Clarence throws himself off a bridge, forcing the suicidal George to put aside his own plans and leap to the stranger’s aid, and then he gives George a glimpse of a world where he’d never existed and puts his problems in perspective. Job done. No wonder bells are soon ringing and Clarence is soon winging about. We assume.
Film: Home Alone (1990)
Played by: Joe Pesci
Distinguishing features: Prominent gold tooth; slightly ratlike expression; propensity to rob homes left empty over Christmas.
Typical line: “I think we're getting scammed by a kindergartener.”
What to give him for Christmas: A good lawyer
Let’s get this out of the way: Macauley Culkin’s Kevin McAllister is NOT a Christmassy character. No one who was truly full of the festive spirit would ever drop a heated iron on another person’s head. Joe Pesci’s Harry, however, has a better case. After all, he greets the advent of the Christmas season with considerable enthusiasm, visiting houses around the neighbourhood and smiling benevolently at the children he meets. Sure, he then burgles the lot – but for all we know he has an ailing granny and sixteen adorable children to support (each with puppies!) until an obnoxious, spoiled and violent little rich kid puts him in the slammer. It’s probably in the deleted scenes.
Film: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
Played by: Onni Tommila
Distinguishing features: Permanently wary expression; suspicion of anything landing on the roof; reluctance to sleep during Advent season; small stuffed toy he carries at all times.
Typical line: “Santa’s been buried!”
What to give him for Christmas: A safe room that Santa absolutely cannot reach.
You all know how kids are supposed to behave in Christmas movies, right? They are there to get excited about presents, visit Father Christmas and possibly fight off determined burglars. But not here! Pietari is absolutely petrified of Santa Claus – and with good reason. He has read the old literature on the subject and knows that the so-called “Saint” Nick is more concerned with punishing the naughty than rewarding the nice. He holds vigil every night in December, and tries very hard to toe the line or at least get his father to punish his infractions. After all, better a bit of parental punishment than abduction by this terrifying spirit of Christmas. Pietari may not be as cutesy as other Christmas movie kids, but he’s plucky, resourceful and a heck of a role model.
Film: A Christmas Carol (1951)
Played by: Alastair Sim
Distinguishing features: Miserly tendency; bad rating from employee feedback (anonymised); good rating from employee feedback (on the record); attractive to ghosts of Christmases.
Typical line: “It's all humbug, I tell you, humbug!”
What to give him for Christmas: Before, money. Post ghosts, an Oxfam Unwrapped goat.
There are many great movie Scrooges, from Bill Murray’s Frank Cross in Scrooged to Scrooge McDuck to Michael Caine in The Muppet Christmas Carol. But for a faithful adaptation of Dickens’ story and a faithful take involving no animals or yuppies, it has to be Alastair Sim’s 1951 performance. In a properly Dickensian London, Sim screws his face into a grimace and sneers at all comers in an orgy of misanthropy; it’s all the more a shock, then, to see him break – hesitantly at first and then beamingly – into a smile. Nice work, Ghosts! And a big high five to Sim – otherwise best remembered by many in these benighted times as the Headmistress of St Trinian’s. So it’s nice to be able to praise him for something not involving drag.
Santa (or at least Narnia's one)
Film: The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe (2005)
Played by: James Cosmo
Distinguishing features: Large white beard; rides a sleigh pulled by reindeer; heralds the arrival of Aslan; brings dinner.
Typical line: “Winter is almost over.”
What to give him for Christmas: Victory over the White Witch.
It’s such a scam: every time we used to ask Santa to bring us dangerous weapons, he’s just fob us off with plastic swords or Nerf guns that only fired foam darts. Not so the Narnia version of Father Christmas: this dude turns up with a delivery of serious carnage for the lucky Pevensie kids. Swords, bows, arrows, knives: it’s all here, and it’s all made of honest-to-blog edged metal. This benevolent figure even throws in a warm meal and some Narnia-appropriate clothing, while finding time to explain to the kids what’s going on with the whole fall-of-the-Witch thing and give them a moment to get over the trauma they’d experienced so far in the land through the wardrobe. He may not be onscreen long, but he’s probably our favourite Santa.
Ghost of Christmas Present
Film: Scrooged (1986)
Played by: Carol Kane
Distinguishing features: Wings; sparkly, curly blonde hair; high-pitched voice; ruthless efficiency as a Christmas ghost and violent tendencies.
Typical line: “You know I like the rough stuff, don't you, Frank?”
What to give her for Christmas: Snowflakes and moonbeams and whiskers on kittens, rainbows, forget-me-nots, misty meadows and sun-dappled pools
She’s adorable looking, in her pretty dress and shiny wings and big hair, an effect only enhanced by her little-girl voice and habit of cooing over things. But what really makes us love this Ghost of Christmas Present is her dark side, her violent side. The side that leads her to hit innocent misers over the head with household appliances, the side that gives her a right-hook like an express train. It’s the combination of sweetness and spice that makes her one of our favourite characters ever. And also, effective! Frank is pretty much putty in her hands even before the big, scary Ghost Of Christmas Future turns up.
Film: The Shop Around The Corner (1940)
Played by: James Stewart (left)
Distinguishing features: Natty dress sense; heck of a letter writer; upstanding employee; tendency to get into trouble by doing the right thing.
Typical line: “There might be a lot we don't know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.”
What to get him for Christmas: Writing pad, ink and envelopes. Absolutely not a musical cigarette box.
We’re including this one because a lot of it takes place over Christmas, and because it’s Jimmy Stewart’s other great holiday movie. Kralik is the noble heart of the Matuschek & Company store, a man who’s in love with his pen pal – who turns out to be a co-worker he has a running feud with. His attempts to overcome the antipathy between them and get a romance back on track are understated, touching and entirely in keeping with the Christmas spirit – and, as directed by the great Ernst Lubitsch, witty and wise too. Don’t be put off by the fact that the remake turned out to be You’ve Got Mail; this original is still the best.
Film: Nativity (2009)
Played by: Marc Wootton
Distinguishing features: Puppyish enthusiasm for everything; sticky-up hair; loudness.
Typical line: “You’re through to the next round.”
What to get him for Christmas: The X-Factor winner’s single.
As teacher’s assistants go, Mr Poppy is closer in mental outlook to his tiny charges than his colleagues. But when he begins to work with colleague Paul Maddens (Martin Freeman) on the annual primary school nativity play, his boundless enthusiasm carries his sometimes despairing boss through the experience. Admittedly, he has a tendency towards excitability that would make a puppy go for a lie-down, but his innocent joy in the Christmas season and, er, penchant for quoting The X-Factor are a continual delight. And hey, he certainly motivates the kids, who seem instinctively to recognise him as one of their own and flock to his knee.
Film: Miracle On 34th Street (1947)
Played by: Natalie Wood
Distinguishing features: Adorability; precociousness; penchant for party dresses and extreme Christmas gift demands.
Typical line: “If you're really Santa Claus, you can get it for me. And if you can't, you're only a nice man with a white beard like mother says.”
What to get her for Christmas: A house, a father and a baby brother. Sheesh. Demanding kid.
Before she tangled with James Dean as a teenager in Rebel Without A Cause, Natalie Wood was adorable moppet Susan Walker in this Christmas classic. Raised a sceptic by a broken-hearted mother, she doesn’t have any truck with fairytales, nursery rhymes or Santa Claus – at least until she meets Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn) and comes to believe his claims to be the real Father Christmas. Just as good guy lawyer Fred Gailey (John Payne) is working on winning over her mother (Maureen O’Hara), Kris convinces Susan to give this whole Christmas thing a chance by the expedient of a) being just like Santa Claus and b) giving in to her outrageous Christmas gift demands. Seriously, this kid may be winsome, but she haggles like the Ferengi Grand Nagus himself. Honourable mention to the remake’s Mara Wilson, who was just a teensy bit too precocious to beat Wood.
The Ghost of Christmas Present
Film: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Played by: Jerry Nelson
Distinguishing features: Enormous size; big red beard; tendency to wear robes and a crown made of holly; rapid aging process.
Typical line: “Know me better, man!”
What to get him for Christmas: A big hug.
The Muppet version of The Ghost Of Christmas Present is, in many ways, Santa without the red-and-white furry trimmings. Exhibits A through C: his infectiously jolly personality, barrel-sized belly and stupendous big beard. Admittedly, his is a stupendous big red beard at first, but it does eventually turn white by the end of the day. The man is Santa, ladies and gentlemen, but unlike most incarnations of St. Nick, The Ghost Of Muppet Christmas Present can also change size at will, and has been known on occasion to disappear into a glittery cloud of Christmas lights. So in the end, Santa, you’ve got nothing on this guy. Could you make Michael Caine’s Scrooge start singing spontaneously? You’re damn right you couldn’t. But that's just one of his many abilities.
Film: A Christmas Story (1983)
Played by: Peter Billingsley
Distinguishing features: Blond mop of hair; glasses; tendency to daydream; deep and earnest desire to own an official Red Ryder air rifle.
Typical line: “No! No! I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle!”
What to give him for Christmas: An Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle. Weren’t you listening?
Here’s a tribute to human hope and endurance in the face of overwhelming opposition that rivals The Shawshank Redemption. Set in the 1940s, young dreamer Ralphie is set on one thing: getting an official Red Ryder, carbine action, two-hundred shot range model air rifle! for Christmas. Nothing else matters to him, and he day-dreams increasingly elaborate scenarios that will get him his prize. Sure, everyone tells him that “you’ll shoot your eye out” – Ralphie keeps believing, just as he waits breathlessly for the arrival of his Orphan Annie decoder ring in the conviction that he will soon understand the important and top-secret radio messages that accompany her radio show. Small, blond, bespecled and adorably devious when necessary, Ralphie is childhood nostalgia all wrapped up in a little bunny suit.
Film: Die Hard (1988)
Played by: Bruce Willis
Distinguishing features: Shaved head; vest; bare feet; the expression of a man having a very bad day.
Sample quote: "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs..."
What we’d get him for Christmas: He already has a machine gun – ho-ho-ho. So we’d buy him a nice pair of comfy shoes.
Whether it’s an overcooked turkey, or a family illness, most of us have suffered through a Christmas gone bad. You can learn a lot about yourself by your reaction to adversity. Some of us retreat into a virtual coma of chocolates and crap telly. Some of us smash plates and storm off to our rooms. And some of us man the hell up and deal with the situation, by any means necessary. Which is what Bruce Willis’ John McClane does in John McTiernan’s action classic, Die Hard. When Eurotrash terrorists gatecrash the Christmas party he’s flown three thousand miles to attend, jeopardising his chances of a sexy sleepover with his estranged wife, McClane doesn’t retreat into the night, or sit sobbing through repeats of The Two Ronnies. Instead, unfettered by a lack of footwear, barefoot Bruce takes on the terrorists, picking them off one-by-one with a combination of bullets and salty one-liners that would turn Santa’s beard white (if it weren’t already), before dispatching the chief bad guy with the aid of seasonal sellotape. How’s that for Christmas cheer?
Film: Die Hard (1988)
Played by: Alan Rickman
Distinguishing features: Neatly trimmed beard; the brain of a criminal mastermind; considerable capacity with languages and accents; hand-tailored suits from the same place Arafat gets his.
Sample quote: “It’s Christmas, Theo, it is a time for miracles.”
What we’d get him for Christmas: A landing mat, so he can walk away from that fall.
No man with a beard has brought us more pleasure at Christmas time than Hans Gruber. Not Santa, or even Noel Edmonds. All Alan Rickman’s uber-baddie wants is a Happy Christmas, and $640 million of bearer bonds will go a long way to making that dream a reality. If only there wasn’t a poison pill of a cop running around the Nakatomi Plaza, like some hideous anti-Santa, determined to put ashes and a lump of coal at the bottom of Hans’ stocking. Scientists have discovered that 38.3% of the joy of watching Die Hard comes from Rickman’s deliciously devilish turn as Gruber, the sneering, snide, knowing panto villain who gets most of the best lines, and whom we’re all secretly hoping gets away with it, or at least lives to fight another day. And while convention dictates that Hans’ Christmas Eve comes a cropper on some concrete, McTiernan recognises our bond with Gruber and gives him a small moment of happiness when he finally cracks the safe and is bathed in a beatific glow while Beethoven swells on the soundtrack.
Film: Santa Claus: The Movie (1985)
Played by: John Lithgow
Distinguishing features: Perpetual sneer; tendency to wear braces, really nice overcoats and double-breasted suits; looks a bit like that guy out of Third Rock From The Sun
Sample quote: “A sequel. That's it. We'll bring it out on March 25, and we'll call it... Christmas 2!”
What we’d get him for Christmas: New braces. In puce.
Let’s be honest here. Santa Claus: The Movie - from the Salkinds, the producers who brought us Superman The Movie and The Movie: The Movie - is a sanctimonious, patronising turd wrapped up in Christmas glitter and lashings of fake snow. It has just two redeeming features, neither of which are Dudley Moore’s misjudged turn as ‘cheeky’ elf, Patch, who nearly destroys the meaning of Christmas. The first redeeming feature is David Huddleston, all jolly warmth as the movie’s eponymous star, sadly reduced to supporting player status in his own movie. The second is a man who can redeem almost anything he’s in, the great John Lithgow, who plays evil toymaker B.Z. A preening, venal fool who wants to commercialise Christmas and destroy its magic (too late), Lithgow is a hoot, tucking into his dialogue like it’s a turducken and providing the film’s few genuine sparks. Sure, he’s evil, but he doesn’t really deserve his final fate, floating aimlessly into space, hopped-up on floating puce candy canes. His corpse is, presumably, still out there somewhere, orbiting round the ISS.
Clark Griswold AKA Sparky
Film: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Played by: Chevy Chase
Distinguishing features: Tendency to make large investments before actually receiving his Christmas bonus cheque; near-terminal enthusiasm; a breaking point.
Sample quote: “Merry Christmas! Holy shit, where’s the Tylenol?”
What we’d get him for Christmas: The ability to tell that his children, Rusty and Audrey, are played by different people in each movie (in this case, Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki).
Every dad just wants to get Christmas right. Chevy Chase’s Clark W. Griswold is no different. He just wants to get it so right that he has a brief psychotic episode, not helped by the fact that everything, but everything, in his life goes so spectacularly wrong. From rampaging squirrels to demon dogs to stingy bosses withholding bonuses to super-speedy sleds to finding the perfect tree to scuzzy cousins rocking up uninvited to finding that one bastard lightbulb preventing the lights (25,000 of them admittedly) from working, John Hughes and director Jeremian Chechik heap the indignities on poor Clark from the off, culminating in Chase’s fantastic rant against everything and everyone, during which he seemingly doesn’t take a breath. But Chase, never better, keeps Clark relatable and likeable throughout, equally adept at the slapstick (his pratfalls are world-class), wordplay and droll one-liners. We root for him, we want him to get it right, but most of all, we never, ever, want to go round the Griswolds for Christmas dinner.
Film: National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989)
Played by: Randy Quaid
Distinguishing feature: Cheery disregard for social norms; tendency to overreact; horrendous taste in clothing; slight whiff of redneckery; slight whiff generally.
Sample quote: “Mornin’! Shitter was full!”
What we’d get him for Christmas: Lynx Africa. A lot of Lynx Africa.
Before he fell foul of the Star Whackers and headed for Canada, Randy Quaid was a founding member of the 27%-ers, that club of storied character actors who improve any film by roughly 27% even if they just stand around doing nothing. Which is, largely, what Quaid does in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, but he still manages to give the film a burst of sleazy energy that kicks its ‘plot’ into gear. Turning up with his family roughly halfway through, completely unannounced, Eddie is a dunderheaded, freeloading force of nature, a one-man Jeremy Kyle Show who sends Clark Griswold’s meticulously-planned Christmas further off the rails, pouring a chemical toilet into a gas sewer, kidnapping Clark’s boss, trampling upon Clark’s attempts to convince children that Santa exists, and buying more dog food than anyone in the history of the world. The character was funny in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation, but here his buffoonery is raised to Olympic standard, and Quaid is just perfect in the role. Damn those Star Whackers. Damn them all to hell.
Film: While You Were Sleeping (1995)
Played by: Sandra Bullock
Distinguishing features: Loneliness; good heart; utter loveliness that makes the aforementioned loneliness seem a little unlikely.
Sample quote: “$45 for a Christmas tree and they don't deliver? You order $10 worth of chow mein from Mr. Wong they bring it to your door.”
What we’d get her for Christmas: An iPhone, so she can use iCal to get a little more organized in her life. (Subtext: Please send us a free iPhone, Apple…)
Speed made Sandra Bullock a star, but it was While You Were Sleeping that turned her into America’s sweetheart. If you can sit through Jon Turteltaub’s charming confection, and not fall in love with Bullock’s Lucy Moderatz, then you must be that arch-criminal, Satan Claus. Bullock’s Lucy is so charming, ditzy, klutzy, goofy and darned nice that virtually everyone in the movie, from her bullish landlord to a hot dog vendor to the family of the man she saves from an oncoming train on Christmas Day, only to pretend to be his fiancee while he’s in a coma (it’s a long story), plummets head-over-heels for her. As Bill Pullman’s Jack, the brother of said coma guy, and the man who eventually wins her heart, says, “I'd say that she gets under your skin as soon as you meet her. She drives you so nuts you don't know whether to hug her or, or just really arm wrestle her. She would go all the way to Europe just to get a stamp in her passport. I don't know if that amounts to insanity, or just being really, really... likable.” Apart from the Christmas Day elements, there’s not a lot of Xmas-related shenanigans here, but Lucy’s such a ray of sunshine that we thought, what the hell...
Harmony Faith Lane
Film: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Played by: Michelle Monaghan
Distinguishing features: Sharp mind; beautiful face; tendency to wear mini Santa outfits.
Sample quote: “She’s been fucked more times than she's had a hot meal.” (Not very Christmassy, we grant you)
What we’d get her for Christmas: Nothing. She’s perfect as she is. Also, we’re broke.
We’d love to know what Shane Black’s preoccupation with Christmas is (Lethal Weapon also takes place during Jesus’ birthday festival), but we’re not complaining if it throws up characters like Harmony Faith Lane, who spends much of Black’s directorial debut in a rather fetching Mrs. Santa costume. But that’s not why Harmony is on this list - after all, Our Helen would kill us if that were the case. She’s on here ahead of Val Kilmer’s Gay Perry and Robert Downey Jr’s magnificently unreliable narrator Harry Lockhart, because she’s spunky, sexy, feisty, funny and smart enough to save the day when our nominal heroes get themselves in deep doo-doo. Harmony is a fantastic role, a complex women who’s saucy and flirty on the outside, but driven by some pretty major demons on the inside, and one that was attacked brilliantly by Michelle Monaghan, in a star-making turn, and that’s why she’s on this list. OK, the Santa costume thing played a part too. We’re not revealing the percentage.
Willie T. Soke
Film: Bad Santa (2003)
Played by: Billy Bob Thornton
Distinguishing features: Surly disposition; stubble; alcohol dependency; lack of moral restraint; alcohol-induced incontinence on occasion.
Sample quote: “You’re not gonna shit right for a week!”
What we’d get him for Christmas: A stint at the Priory.
If all Santas acted like Billy Bob Thornton’s department store deadbeat in Terry Zwigoff’s blackly comic cracker, Christmas would have been dead in the water a long time ago. An unrepentant petty thief and grade-A alcholic, Willie’s M.O. is simple: find a department store, become its Santa, rip the joint off. And if, along the way, he can have sex with a bartender who’s heavily into the whole Claus thing, get utterly blitzed and engage in unorthodox coitus with a fellow employee that will severely impair her ability to sit correctly, then all the better. But then he meets a kid who believes he’s the real thing, and slowly, Willie starts to change… Slightly. The joy of Thornton’s performance, apart from the sheer unabashed joy in his don’t-give-a-fuck exchanges with the kids sitting on Santa’s knee, is in detecting the slivers of humanity, as Willie comes to terms with the fact that he hates himself. The joy of the film comes in mining this for dark, dark yucks and in never taking the easy way out. Its idea of a happy, redemptive ending still involves a man in a santa suit being shot eight times by cop, after all.
Film: Gremlins (1984)
Played by: (voice) Howie Mandel
Distinguishing features: Brown and white fur; meltingly adorable brown eyes; large pointy ears; lovely singing voice; tendency to reproduce if wet.
Sample quote: “Mogwai”
What we’d get him for Christmas: A wetsuit.
Depending on your viewpoint, Gizmo the Mogwai is either the best Christmas present of all time, or the worst. The best, because the little fella is almost unbearably cute, selfless, lovable and loving. The worst, because he’s a true one of a kind, and comes with a set of rules so stifling (you know what they are by now, surely) that failure to adhere to them will unleash an army of tiny, scaly, mischievous mega-bastards who could monopolise the brilliant website, Animals Being Dicks, for months. But it’s Christmas, so we’re going to focus on the good about Gizmo - his fluffiness, his gentleness, his sweet song, his huge, beguiling eyes, his ability to speak English - and we won’t dwell on the sheer weight of existential dread that the li’l fella must feel, knowing that he’ll never mate, that he can’t even go to the toilet without reproducing, and that he’s certain to die alone. Merry Christmas!