Toronto’s Favourite Christmas Movies

December 22, 2015

by Thom Ernst

christmas carol 2

Spending Christmas Eve watching A Christmas Carol (1951) is a yearly tradition in my family, because it’s one of those timeless classics that is somehow haunting and joyous at the same time. Recently, however, another holiday movie has found its way into our home: Joyeux Noel.  It’s based on the true story of a Christmas Truce that happened in 1914 between French, Scottish and German troops. It’s a moment of history that beautifully illustrates just how universal the season is, and the power of the holidays to bring peace, if for just one night, to sworn enemies in the midst of a battlefield.

Holiday films spark that intangible feeling we call the Christmas Spirit. Some films serve as fond memories of our own childhood Christmases, and some (Black Christmas, or Die Hard) are the perfect holiday antidote for those who like a little humbug reality check. And it seems like the Toronto film industry prefers a healthy mix of both: here’s a selection of Yuletide favourites from the city’s movie professionals.


Patrick McKennan, actor 


A Christmas Carol (Scrooge, 1951) 

“My holiday film fave is the black and white version of Scrooge starring Alastair Sim. It’s terrifying, it’s magical, and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?”


Piers Handling, director & CEO, TIFF


It’s A Wonderful Life (1946) & Elf (2003)

“It’s A Wonderful Life with a runner-up nod to ElfOne stirs the soul  (and Jimmy Stewart is one of my favourite Hollywood actors from its classic period) while the other tickles the funny bone.”


Julian Richings, actor


Battle of Algiers (1966) 

“On Boxing Day in 1970, I was a bored teenager looking for a movie, but not interested in any of the mainstream choices.  I went to a local repertory theatre and saw Battle of Algiers by Gillo Pontecorvo released 4 years earlier in 1966. I’d read film magazines and had heard of it but knew very little about it. Well, it changed the way I looked at film as an art-form. It was made in a mock newsreel style and was intimate and ‘real’ but had a huge historical sweep and metaphorical scale.  It was uplifting and devastating at the same time. Its theme wasn’t Christmas, but it was universal and unforgettable – I remember that feeling every year at this time.”


Patricia Rozema, director


Elf (2003)

“Comic genius, which you pretty much have to be in those yellow tights.”


Kelly Michael Stewart, festival director, Blood in the Snow Canadian Film Festival


The Bells of St Mary’s (1945) 

“Except for a brief nativity scene, the film doesn’t take place much at Christmas – but the entire film is full of festive spirit and warmth. A sequel to Going My Way, Ingrid Bergman’s performance steals the screen from Bing Crosby in this one with her charm and luminous beauty. Best watched as a double bill with It’s A Wonderful Life.


Katie Boland, actor

love actually

Love Actually (2003)

“Though it’s a flawed movie, nothing makes me feel more Christmas-y than sitting down and watching Love Actually. I like how it shamelessly compresses eight love stories and then even more shamelessly sets it at Christmas. It just gets me. I have watched it every single year since it came out and I still get teary when Hugh Grant talks about airports.”


Richard Crouse, film critic

christmas black

Black Christmas (1974) & National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1983)

“Many years ago, on the first Christmas the PMC — my Preferred Movie Companion  — and I spent together, I threw the Black Christmas DVD into the player and by the time the sorority sisters started dropping like a greased-up Santa down a chimney chute, I thought I may have brought about a stop to the relationship before it had a chance to really get going. I love the slaying slasher story. The PMC, not so much. I quickly rebounded with National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which made the yuletide bright once again. Thanks, Chevy Chase, for saving Christmas and my relationship!”


Valerie Buhagiar, actor/director


How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966 animated short)

“I love the voices, the story, the music, the magic a village can create. I wish I was a Yahoo, too.”


Ingrid Veninger, actor/director


A Christmas Carol (1951)

“On Christmas Eve, the VHS comes out. And every year we watch this Dickens classic. Sometimes there’s a battle for the Muppet version with Michael Caine, but usually Alastair Sim wins.”


Janice Luke, VP, Universal Films Canada


Love Actually (2003)

“My favorite movie to watch during the holiday season is Love Actually. It was a fun film to work on, different scenarios that all connect at the end, it has love, heartbreak, humour, great cast… and I got assigned to Colin Firth at the premiere!”


Brian D. Johnson, filmmaker and TFCA president

magic christmas

One Magic Christmas (1985)

“I always recommend One Magic Christmas, an almost forgotten film by the late Canadian director Philip Borsos. Some critics, including the late Roger Ebert, have criticized it for being just too damn sad for a Yuletide movie. And yes, there is a horrific tragedy that shatters a family midway through. This is a holiday fable wrapped in grim realism. But eventually Borsos grinds the story’s lump of coal into a diamond with a Capra-esque reversal of fortune; a hard-earned Christmas miracle. Among other things, the movie is memorable for Mary Steenburgen’s fine performance as a decidedly un-festive mother, Jan Rubes as an old-school Santa running a baroquely detailed workshop, and the vision of Harry Dean Stanton as slightly creepy Archangel Gideon playing a harmonica in a tree. This is a family movie that reinvents the old cliches. Sure, it may be too grim for young children, and even some young parents, but since when was Christmas the happiest time of the year?”