Fantastic Beasts to Love Actually: best films to watch over Christmas

Adam Driver stars in an action-packed adaptation of Don DeLillo’s great American novel, while Frank Capra’s smart twist on A Christmas Carol offers a lesson in the season’s true spirit

Film picks

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore

In what may turn out to be the final outing for Newt and co, regular Wizarding World director David Yates concentrates more on the battle between Jude Law’s Dumbledore and his arch enemy Grindelwald (Mads Mikkelsen, taking over from Johnny Depp). Their history together – through a blood pact – forces Albus to recruit a team including Eddie Redmayne’s creature wrangler and his auror brother Theseus (Callum Turner) to stop him. It’s a tangled narrative web but inventively staged.
Christmas Day, 12.30pm, 8pm, Sky Cinema Premiere

White Noise

You’ve got to admire Noah Baumbach for taking on a film of Don DeLillo’s great American novel. Thankfully, his trademark mix of arch comedy and existential drama serves the source material well. Adam Driver stars as Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler studies in a middle-America college – which enables satirical swipes at the self-absorption of academia, often involving his colleague Murray (Don Cheadle), a lecturer on Elvis. He’s on his fourth marriage, to Greta Gerwig’s Babette (it’s her second), and they share four children. They’re both obsessed by death, which is brought home to them when an “airborne toxic event” forces them to evacuate. It’s an odd but surprisingly action-packed mix, pondering the insidious power of consumer culture and the vain hope that technology can fix things technological advancement has, in fact, caused.
Friday 30 December, Netflix


The Duke

Jim Broadbent in The Duke.
Jim Broadbent in The Duke. Photograph: Publicity image

Roger Michell’s unexpected death in September left a hole in British cinema that had been filled by his mainstream but rarely comfy dramas. His final fiction feature, The Duke, is in that lineage, with Jim Broadbent as a prickly but largely lovable character taking on the system. It’s a remarkable true story, as 1960s taxi driver Kempton Bunton – whose campaign to exempt pensioners from the TV licence fee is going nowhere – steals a Goya portrait from London’s National Gallery and holds it to ransom to publicise the issue.
Christmas Eve, 1.15pm, 10.55pm, Sky Cinema Premiere


It’s a Wonderful Life

From left: Larry Simms, Jimmy Hawkins, James Stewart, Donna Reed and Karolyn Grimes in It’s a Wonderful Life.
From left: Larry Simms, Jimmy Hawkins, James Stewart, Donna Reed and Karolyn Grimes in It’s a Wonderful Life. Photograph: Everett/Rex Shutterstock

James Stewart, Hollywood’s go-to everyman, offers a lesson in the (hopefully) true spirit of the season in Frank Capra’s smart twist on A Christmas Carol. It’s not much of a jolly start, as Stewart’s disgraced businessman George Bailey stands on a bridge on Christmas Eve, contemplating throwing himself off it. Luckily, Henry Travers’s Clarence, a guardian angel (second class), intervenes, then takes him on a journey through time to show George how much he has actually achieved in his life – and how much worse the world would be without him in it.
Christmas Eve, 1.25pm, Channel 4


La La Land

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land.
Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land. Photograph: Lionsgate/Allstar

It didn’t win the best film Oscar in the end, but Damien Chazelle’s part homage, part rewriting of the classic Hollywood musical is a joyous experience. Aspiring actor Mia (Emma Stone) and aspiring jazz pianist Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) fall for each other in an LA of primary colours and perfect sunsets, and the film is as much in love with the city as the couple. Dreams – attainable and not – temper their affair, with Stone and Gosling’s non-Broadway dancing and singing (music by Justin Hurwitz) giving a naturalistic twist to the gloriously stylised visuals.
Christmas Eve, 1am, BBC One



Mena Massoud and Will Smith as Genie in Aladdin.
Mena Massoud and Will Smith as Genie in Aladdin. Photograph: AP

In Guy Ritchie’s live-action take on the classic Disney animation, Will Smith has the hardest task: taking over from Robin Williams as the Genie. It’s a role the comedian moulded in his own image but Smith does an admirable job, sharply comic if lacking Williams’s scattershot energy. The revisionist casting, with actors of mostly Arabic origin, is also a hit – Mena Massoud as Aladdin and Naomi Scott as Princess Jasmine make a sweet couple. And baddy Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) avoids cartoonish menace, though he still has a pet parrot called Iago.
Christmas Day, 3.10pm, BBC One


Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Photograph: Allstar Picture/Alamy

After being put through the wringer with Netflix’s Blonde, perhaps you’d like some lighter Marilyn Monroe content? This 1953 Howard Hawks musical comedy is fluff of the highest order, starring Monroe and Jane Russell as showgirl friends who find romance and intrigue on an Atlantic liner. It’s worth watching just for Monroe’s rendition of Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend. An even better Monroe performance is to be found in Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot, which follows at 4.40pm.
Christmas Day, 3.10pm, BBC Two


Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Allstar

Macaulay Culkin’s littlest sadist returns to wreak havoc on the lives of two put-upon criminals in Chris Columbus’s if-it-ain’t-broke sequel. A shocking lapse in security at the airport sends Kevin to New York and his family to Florida. The resourceful kid holes up in the Plaza hotel (complete with a cameo from its then owner, Donald Trump) but bumps into Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern’s Wet Bandits. His uncle’s half-built house is the site for a new, but still exhilarating, series of booby traps involving bricks, nail guns and electricity. Cartoonish violence ensues.
Christmas Day, 5.30pm, Channel 4



Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease.
Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta in Grease. Photograph: Paramount Pictures/Getty Images

Another loss to the entertainment world this year was Olivia Newton- John. Although film wasn’t her natural home, the singer is perfect as the naive, ponytailed Sandy in this boisterous 1978 rock’n’roll musical. In the wake of Saturday Night Fever, John Travolta was the main draw as high-school bad boy Danny. He shows his tender side in the song Sandy, but it’s Newton-John in Hopelessly Devoted to You who nails the romance. The jury’s out on whether Sandy’s transformation into a leather-jacketed, permed smoker is an improvement, but she does get her guy ...
Christmas Day, 6.45pm, Film4


Love Actually

Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in Love Actually.
Hugh Grant and Martine McCutcheon in Love Actually. Photograph: Universal Studios

After Four Weddings and Notting Hill, Richard Curtis decided to expand his romcom remit with this 2003 film, featuring at least eight variations on the theme. Its overlapping stories include the prime minister (Hugh Grant, naturally) and a No 10 staff member (Martine McCutcheon); widower Liam Neeson’s young son and a classmate; and Martin Freeman and Joanna Page as film body doubles. There’s adultery and unrequited love, too, to add tartness to a mostly sweet experience.
Christmas Day, 11pm, ITV1


The Mitchells vs the Machines

The Mitchells vs The Machines.
The Mitchells vs The Machines. Photograph: AP

It’s tough when you’re a budding film-maker in tune with the social media zeitgeist, and your dad can’t even switch on his laptop. And then there’s the digital gadgets that have just taken over the world ... Michael Rianda and Jeff Rowe’s fantastic animated adventure sneaks questions about growing up and parental relationships into a buzzy, witty disaster plot, as teenager Katie (Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson) uses her tech skills to defeat Olivia Colman’s evil smartphone – but ultimately still needs the DIY abilities of her embarrassing father, Rick (Danny McBride), to win the day.
Boxing Day, 3.45pm, ITV1


Mary Poppins

Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins.
Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins. Photograph: Disney/Allstar

Apparently, Mary Poppins author PL Travers loathed the songs, the animation and the softening of the lead character in the 1964 Disney adaptation. She also didn’t want Dick Van Dyke, which is understandable, but on the first three points it’s hard to be disappointed with the finished film. The visual effects may have dated but the hit rate is high on the song count, Julie Andrews is strict enough as the magical nanny, and Dick “Worst Cockney Ever” Van Dyke is terrific when he confines himself to singing and dancing.
Boxing Day, 2.25pm, BBC One



Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas.
Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta in Goodfellas. Photograph: Maximum Film/Alamy

Martin Scorsese’s 1990 crime drama gives The Godfather a run for its money as the greatest mob movie ever. Ray Liotta (one more for the 2023 Oscars In Memoriam segment) has never been better as Henry Hill, a real-life figure drawn into mafia life in Brooklyn and the orbit of two malevolent and occasionally terrifying gangsters: Jimmy the Gent (Robert De Niro) and Tommy (Joe Pesci). The 30 years of their involvement is told in depth and with style – the sustained single shot of Henry and his girl arriving at a club is a doozy – and features a choice soundtrack of period hits.
Boxing Day, 10.15pm, BBC Two



George MacKay in 1917.
George MacKay in 1917. Photograph: Dreamworks/Allstar

A film that grabs you from the off and never lets up, Sam Mendes’s devastating first world war thriller uses a single-camera setup to follow two British soldiers (George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman) through the battlefields of France. They must take a message calling off an attack to the frontline, buttheir route is an obstacle course of danger. Through muddy trenches, dust-choked tunnels and bombed-out fields and towns, we experience every moment of their confusion and terror in a work of pure cinema.
Tuesday 27 December, 9pm, BBC One



Al Pacino in Heat.
Al Pacino in Heat. Photograph: Moviestore Collection/Rex Features

Michael Mann’s honed thriller is a study in contrasts, embodied in Robert De Niro’s thief and Al Pacino’s LA cop. De Niro’s Neil is fastidious and emotionally distant; Pacino’s Vincent is instinctive and passionate. However, they are both obsessive about their work, which makes this film’s cat-and-mouse plot zing, as Neil plans his next job while contending with antagonistic criminal elements and Vincent’s dogged pursuit. The big acting beasts of their age, De Niro and Pacino make the most of their first film on screen together in a tale enamoured of the minutiae of both the heist and its investigation.
Wednesday 28 December, 10.30pm, BBC Two


Desperately Seeking Susan

Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan.
Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Photograph: Orion Pictures

It’s Madge Night on the Beeb, so along with archive performance footage and behind-the-scenes documentary Truth Or Dare comes one of Madonna’s few acting successes. In Susan Siedelman’s 1985 New York comedy thriller, she’s actually not on screen as much as Rosanna Arquette who plays unhappy New Jersey housewife Roberta, intrigued by girl-about-town Susan (Madonna). When she’s mistaken for the errant Susan, Roberta is thrown into a murder caper, while riffing off the singer’s soon-to-be-iconic image.
Thursday, 10.55pm, BBC Two


Raiders of the Lost Ark

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Photograph: Paramount Pictures/Lucasfilm/Allstar

The new year will bring a new Indiana Jones film (The Dial of Destiny!?) but the fact that the teaser trailer features scenes revisiting the best moments from the original (Nazis, large rolling stones, whips), it’s probably better just to watch the 1981 film instead. Harrison Ford gave his Han Solo character a more donnish air, but the swashbuckling heroics are the same, as Indy races the Third Reich for the biblical Ark of the Covenant from Peruvian rainforest to Nepal to Egyptian desert – all controlled with an eye for a comic action set piece by Steven Spielberg.
Friday, 8pm, Channel 4


Simon Wardell

The GuardianTramp

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