January this year, my best friend was pottering around my apartment, readying for work. “So what’s on for today?” he asked me. I rolled my eyes. “What is it that you think I do all day?” I asked. He gestured to my computer. “Watch Christmas films.”
Fair call. This year I’ve watched close to 700.
Reflective of my masochism, sure, but I’ve spent the year writing a book about the portrayal of Christmas in films (to be published in mid 2017).
And as I watched terrible after terrible celluloid travesty about workaholic single moms who have lost the spirit of Christmas - but, thankfully, found it in penis-form before the credits roll - I made my own little list of gems.
I’m not presenting a ranking, I’m not delivering you the titles in any particular order, rather, I simply gift you 75 depictions of Christmas that I enjoyed. That I recommend.
I should flag that the debate on what constitutes a “Christmas film” interests me less than watching Santa Buddies (2009) again. I’m near-finished writing a book on how Christmas is portrayed in cinema rather than, specifically one on “Christmas films” (a nebulous “genre” if ever I heard one). Which means, yes, I watched and wrote about Die Hard (1998).
Whereas a recent re-watching of High Fidelity (2000) sadly didn’t stand up to that second looksee, I’ve seen About a Boy quite a few times, and again recently as part of my research. It stands up. Independently wealthy, layabout bachelor, Will (Hugh Grant), is befriended by preteen Marcus (Nicholas Hoult). Sweet and funny, with a great soundtrack if you go for broody British tracks. A favourite with a couple of lovely Christmas scenes.
Sheridan Whiteside (Monty Woolley) is the venomous titular character who has a Christmstime doorstep slip and fall, and who is thus compelled to spend the season with the Stanleys. Sheridan is a hilariously wretched houseguest, hurling out a barrage of catty lines like “Shut your nasty little face” and “my headache is gone with the wind.” Bette Davis and Billie Burke - best known as Glinda the good witch - also make appearances.
Few films stand up to a second viewing - least of all Christmas films - but I loved this one when I first saw it at the cinema and once again when watching it for scholarly purposes. I do think it needed a better editor, but it’s nicely weird tale of a doctor (Tom Cruise) who deals very poorly - if happily perversely - with his wife’s revelation of a sexual fantasy. Beautifully shot with a New York Christmas providing an exquisite (if well-worn) backdrop.
A live action presentation of Dylan Thomas’s poem of the same title. Beautiful prose read by Denholm Elliot, who plays grandpa Geraint, nostalgically reflecting on the Christmases of his childhood.
I can’t offer you a trailer, but the full version is (currently) available on YouTube.
With so many offerings from the Christmas film factories, this one is a surprisingly good one. Anna (Katrina Law), a struggling artist who has Christmas spirit in spades. She becomes a personal shopper and teaches her only client, Marc (Aaron O'Connell) - a curmudgeonly workaholic advertising executive - the true meaning of Christmas. Love - and cliché - abound.
With so many Christmas films giving former soap stars employment, it’s a rarity to see one utilising stars at the top of their game. Workaholic Amanda (Cameron Diaz) and unlucky-in-love Iris (Kate Winslet) swap houses for Christmas. Romance ensues. The Holiday stands up as a decent romance - even outside of my Christmas recommendations - and Iris a lovely fleshed-out example of that great line from The National’s Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks: “All the very best of us string ourselves up for love”.
Eli Wallach is a gem as Arthur and Jack Black who I have a love (School of Rock) and hate (Shallow Hal) relationship with is quite great in this. (Incidentally, the same storyline plays out in the substantially less good Finding Christmas (2013), just in case you find yourself a sucker for holiday house-swap hijinks).
In 2016 it’s all taken a bit for granted that Christmas can conjure mixed feelings of melancholy and ambivalence about all the commercialism. Some 50 years ago however, Charlie Brown was dwelling on these very same issues. Lovely, and perfectly enjoyable even if you had no prior relationship with these characters - I certainly didn’t. And only 25 minutes long it’s perfect if you’re more comfortable with smaller doses of spirit.
No trailer but you can watch it in full on YouTube.
The idea of a “last Christmas” is done quite a bit in film so The Family Stone isn’t breaking any new ground. But it’s got some lovely – if at times over-the-top – performances, with the Stone children all back home for Christmas with Mom (Diane Keaton, overacting - and charming - as usual) and Dad (Craig T. Nelson).
Be prepared to keep the tissue box clutched to your bosom.
A magazine writer’s lies are exposed when the perfect provincial life she writes about - and claims as autobiographically - has to be hastily materialised when she is asked by her boss to host a war hero for Christmas. A Christmas screwball comedy with a nicely subversive ending. The film was also my introduction to Barbara Stanwyck who I’ve developed a fondness for.
With Porthcawl, Wales as the backdrop, this is lovely indie film about two people licking their respective wounds after break-ups and taking a sweetly meandering time over Christmas to find their way to each other. Complete with a great indie-pop-folk soundtrack.
If you like your Christmas films dark - as in completely bloody savage - then this one’s for you.
Low production values and “indie” in all the ways good and bad. Highly disturbing but memorable. Do it only if you liked films like Todd Solondz’s Happiness (1998) (a personal favourite). This one is most definitely not your hearts-filled-with-joy family get-togther.
Almost exactly the same plot as 12 Gifts of Christmas - where a personal shopper teaches a widowed workaholic the meaning of Christmas - but another nicely performed holiday romcom, nonetheless.
No trailer, but you can (kind of) watch it on YouTube (assuming you don’t mind the oversized frame-of-nonsense).
Bob Hope plays Damon, a con-artist who pulls a variety of scams including a handful contrived especially for the season. A highly amusing precursor to more modern seasonal subversions like Bad Santa. The Christmas classic “Silver Bells” made its first appearance here. (Although, admittedly, Gloomy (William Frawley) - one of Damon’s team of bell-ringing, faux-charity Santas - singing put some dough in the kitty is more my style).
Up there on my most-tears-shed list of Christmas films. In this case, I sobbed almost the entirety of this 1 hour and 37 minute weepy. Christmas in Conway centres on a hospice nurse (Mandy Moore) looking after a too-young woman in the last stages of cancer (Mary-Louise Parker). Andy Garcia is the anguished husband, intent on giving his wife one last perfect gift. Lovely, if gruelling.
15. Millions (2004)
Danny Boyle’s superb film about two boys who lose their mum but find a sack full of cash. Beautifully shot, heartfelt and - like all good Christmas films - unquestionably necessitates keeping the tissues nice and close. (The excellent James Nesbitt plays Dad).
Workaholic Grinch restauranteur, Kathleen (Catherine Mary Stewart), is snowed in with her boyfriend’s daughter and a mysterious drifter. The three spend Christmas together as a makeshift family in this lovely, subtle movie that makes many nods to the classic holiday film themes of ghosts and forgiveness.
Fred MacMurray is frequently horrible in films, deploying excessive use of the word “baby” to ill-effect: I draw your attention to Double Indemnity (1944) and Miracle of the Bells (1948) (although the later has a lovely Christmas Eve scene in a small town restaurant). Either MacMurray is more palatable here, or it’s just a better story. Barbara Stanwyck meanwhile, is outstanding with a barrage of quality zingers. She’s the thief and he’s the district attorney who’s keeping an eye on her over Christmas. A version of this – with Mark Ruffalo – was made in 1997 under the name On the 2nd Day of Christmas.
At the time of publication, you can watch the full film at Dailymotion.
While writing my book, I compiled a list of adaptations of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Have no doubt, there’s a veritable deluge. This one is a particularly ridiculous version, created by Xerox as a United Nations propaganda piece: each ghost tries to convince protagonist Dan (Sterling Hayden) of the virtues of the U.N.
Sure, you could always watch Tori Spelling in A Carol Christmas (2003), or the bush-tastic pornographic romp of The Passions of Carol (1975), but Carol for Another Christmas is just so amusingly bad. (And will remind you of all those preachy kids at high school who liked the U.N. just a tad too much).
No trailer, but you can watch the whole gem online.
Grieving parents Zooey (Toni Collette) and Alex (Ioan Gruffudd) are having trouble conceiving. And then little Eli (Maurice Cole) turns up on their doorstep to, um… help them achieve their goals. Reminiscent of the non-Christmassy (but still highly enjoyable) The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012). Richard E. Grant puts in a typically lovely performance as the mysterious Mr. Potts.
I have an undiagnosed mental problem where I will cry pretty much every time I hear Bob Dylan. So the crying began early on in Love the Coopers even if the film isn’t particularly sad or even notably sentimental. Familiar territory here, with the convergence of the extended family for Christmas. Alan Arkin is in it and I pretty much want him in all my Christmas films. Ed Helms alas, is an uncomfortable addition to the mix and the completely ridiculous resolution of one couple’s marriage problems is, alas, genre-typical. Those issues aside, I liked it, with solid performances from Marisa Tomei, Olivia Wilde and John Goodman.
The bishop, Henry (David Niven), is struggling to save St. Timothy’s church. While busy charming dowagers, he’s been neglecting his wife, Julia (Loretta Young). Enter angel Dudley (Cary Grant). And this is where it gets a little… peculiar. Dudley has been sent – from heaven, apparently – to strike up a friendship with Julia to make Henry jealous. An odd, Bold and the Beautiful-like premise but a film with nice performances (even if Cary Grant has evangelical-crazy-eyes throughout).
A quirky but lovely holiday romcom.
23. Kisses (2008)
A dark, disturbing and gob-smackingly well-acted Irish film about two children from dysfunctional backgrounds who decide to run away at Christmas. Even outside of this list of seasonal offerings, this is a superb film.
A Brady Bunch-ish story of two families bound by marriage, trying to settle on how to celebrate Christmas in light of their allegiances to their respective traditions. Quality performances from Dixie Carter from Designing Women as grandma and John Ratzenberger from Cheers.
As I type, you can watch it on YouTube.
25. Desk Set (1957)
Whip smart Bunny (Katharine Hepburn) heads a research office that perceives itself under threat from the installation of a supercomputer. A very funny, even feminist film, albeit one that doesn’t dwell on the season in the ways typical of Christmas offerings. But holiday is in there, hence why it’s here.
A subtly odd film about nuns and their intimate relationships with foliage. Enjoyable and sweetly sentimental with a human-romance subplot. Directed by Sally Field.
No trailer, but you can watch the whole thing online. (At least for the moment).
Two strangers meet in a New England hotel: both in Amherst to visit family members in hospital. In the bubble of the holiday the duo find intimacy. A kind of Christmastime Brief Encounter (1945).
A workaholic, Grinch-ish television producer hits her head on a snowglobe and wakes up living inside the ornament. Sure, it’s ridiculous but it’s a Christmas film. Very sweet performances from Alicia Witt and Donald Faison.
Even outside of Christmas films, Love Actually is one of my favourites. It’s corny and twee and requires the best part of a tissue box. Qualities I appreciated in a Christmas film.
Quite a few Christmas films do the scruffy-vagabond-changes-the-lif-of-a-brat storyline. Christmas on Division Street provides a particularly well-executed example, starring Hume Cronyn as the homeless Cleveland, befriended by Trevor (Fred Savage). Tissues are necessary.
(For a bad version of this storyline, please do subject yourself to the achingly preachy Wish For Christmas (2016). An abomination).
The “one special night”, spent by two strangers in a vacant cabin, actually transpires at Thanksgiving, but Christmas later plays a pivotal role.
The full version is currently on YouTube.
Continuing the theme of love in older life comes Sarah Polley’s moving film about Alzheimer’s. The role of Christmas is subtle but poignant, and Gordon Pinsent is notably stellar as the husband, Grant.
33. Babycakes (1989)
It’s Christmas and Grace (Ricki Lake) – mortician cosmetologist - takes some time off from the holidays to pursue a train driver she’s been eyeing at the subway. Sweet and subversive.
34. In Bruges (2008)
Two hitmen are hiding over the Christmas period in the “fairtyale fucking town” of Bruges.
Overflowing with severely inappropriate comedy. With Brendan Gleeson (who, if you develop a soft spot for, you should seek out the excellent The Guard (2011)) and Colin Farrell who usually comes across as a bit of a dickhead, but is great in this.
A ridiculously flattering biopic of the “artist” Thomas Kinkade. Art student, Kinkade (Jared Padalecki) goes home to save Christmas. Worth watching as a sweet Christmas story, but particularly entertaining after reading about Kinkade’s public urination. In this film, butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.
Truth be told, I really don’t care for Santa-themed Christmas films. This one however, is less about Santa (played by that guy from the truly awful Sideways) and more about his bitter brother Fred.
I have a conflicted relationship with Vince Vaughn (do yourself a favour, for example, and don’t see Four Christmases), but his character here - a ne'er-do-well living in the shadow of his sibling - is quite funny. The involvement of Kathy Bates, Rachel Weisz (who, incidentally, stars in two of my 2016 favourites) and Kevin Spacey - not to mention a particularly funny cameo from Frank Stallone - make Fred Claus much better than I expected.
Based on the Truman Capote story, this very simple story centres around the destitute, simple Sook (Geraldine Page) and her young cousin Buddy (Donnie Melvin). The unlikely BFFs make Christmas cakes for “people who struck our fancy”.
A bare bones kind of production that will leave you in a flood of tears. An exceptionally subtle and beautiful film.
Sam (Cliff De Young) is a struggling musician raising his adopted daughter solo. At a loose end for Christmas, he returns to Texas to see his folks for the first time since he left for Canada to dodge the draft. With A lovely 60s and 70s non-festive soundtrack and a very young Barbara Hershey.
(Apparently connected to a 70s television series, but I came in a Sunshine virgin and loved it anyway).
Winnie from The Wonder Years, Luke from The Gilmore Girls and Lorraine from Back to the Future star in this story of a courtship lasting across twenty Christmases. With a dash of Great Expectations for good – and melancholic – measure. A lovely, romantic Christmas film.
An extremely weird British film – no surprises since it stars the fabulous Eddie Izzard (if you haven’t seen The Riches, do so now) – about several Christmases, and families, being destroyed by the most innocuous of gestures.
The ending is very both sweet, completely unsettling and ultimately serving some very mixed messages. Redemption and ghosts and the standard Christmas fare. Really excellent stuff.
Early in, Mrs. Claus (Mira Sorvino) laments the souring of her relationship with the big fella: “You know, there was a time that he couldn’t stay away from my dumplings. And now he barely touches them.”
Loaded with innuendo – a favourite involving Mrs. Claus asking a room full of single men to “get out your candy canes” - this is a story about Santa and Mrs. Claus trying to rekindle the ol’ flame. (If you’d prefer a less smuttier version, consider Angela Lansbury in Mrs. Santa Claus (1996) which presents a similar story).
Watchable online if you can put up with the frame.
The title character (Rosalind Russell) is an eccentric, Left-leaning, often-frivilous socialite who takes in her orphaned nephew and, happily, rubs off on him.
Not as Christmassy as some of the entries on this list, but during lean times, Mame does take a job at the Macy’s department store over Christmas.
A colourful, entertaining albeit sometimes racist romp.
43. Nativity! (2009)
After watching a zillion irritating kids in too many hundred Christmas films, this one is an excellent British festive School of Rock (2003). It’s genuinely laugh out loud funny with lots of happy tears. Worth watching for Mr. Poppy (Marc Wootton) alone.
On the surface it’s about small town Texas, Billy Ray Cyrus and a very watered-down look at race relations in 1960s Canaan. And yet, there’s an ageing dog and an ageing grandpa, and some very sweet gift exchanges. Surprisingly enjoyable.
(Followed by Christmas Comes Home to Canaan (2011) if you want to catch up with the family again).
The estranged family patriarch, Adam (Ed Asner), is dying and wants to get the family back together for one last Christmas. It’s a New England family story and while there’s some uncomfortably dated bits (notably the black maid), it’s an enjoyable film about recriminations and reconcilation.
Christmas doesn’t actually get mentioned for over an hour, but it’s nonetheless a film that’s shaped our expectations of what the season is like on screen. A relatively enjoyable, highly sentimental film that borrows heavily from A Christmas Carol and gifts much to the decades of festive films since.
Watch anywhere given that it’s out of copyright, but here’s a YouTube version.
Worth watching almost exclusively because Robert Mitchum as Steve - protagonist Connie’s (Janet Leigh) poverty-stricken, heart-of-gold suitor - is simply swoon-worthy. The 35-year marriage of Connie’s parents is also very sweet and sincere.
A lovely New York Christmas film. Remade in 1996.
This much-maligned sermon from Kirk Cameron - which doesn’t even get a score of 2/10 on the Internet Movie Database - makes my list purely for it being an entertaining-for-all-the-wrong-reasons example of scary Hillsong-esque, horror-show fundamentalism.
Kirk’s attempt to tie every single aspect of Christmas – Santa and trees and wrapped gifts – to the bible is fascinating in just how fabulously it flies in the face of non-bible-thumpin’ history. And it’s actually quite watchable, albeit perhaps through slightly parted fingers.
Special mention goes to the truly terrifying Christmas hip-hop dance number.
With the mention of Kirk Cameron, I may as well mention his sister, Candace Cameron Bure too, who actually stars in about a million usually quite decent made-for-TV Christmas films. (Yes, she’s also an holy-roller). In this one, she’s a time-travelling nurse. There’s lots of do-over Christmas films, but not too many time-travel ones, so it’s worth watching for that (although, it’s certainly no Predestination). A nice appearance from Tom Skerritt too.
One of those unicorns: a made-for-TV remake that’s actually much, much better than the original. Amanda (Loretta Young) is an eccentric wealthy – and dying - widow trying to, as the genre dictates, get her estranged family back together for one last Christmas. Sentimental but not mawkish. I felt the original - Christmas Eve (1947) - was actually near impossible to watch, but this one is quite delightful.
A gorgeous romance that starts and ends with Christmas and revolves around the very seasonal themes of magic and chance. And it has John Cusack who’s nearly always eminently watchable.
While I may only want Nick Drake in small doses, his “Northern Sky” is very welcome on that ice rink.
I’ve written before about my penchant for motley crews in books and It Happened on 5th Avenue offers up a cinematic version. This film centres on a squatter occupying a mansion and who, across the course of the narrative, invites ever more guests to assemble a sprawling makeshift family for Christmas. Funny and very sweet.
An odd little film – and Jane Fonda’s fifth acting credit – centring on two young, married couples struggling with issues like attraction and erectile dysfunction on the days leading up to Christmas. A particularly interesting insight into the sexual mores of the 1950s and 60s.
Truth be told, there are far too many films about city-slicker-sans-spirit ladies finding love in a small town where Christmas is taken a little too seriously. This version, with Bonnie Sommerville at the helm, is a very sweet and predictable take on the tale, but lovely nonetheless.
55. Noel (2004)
A flashy film with Susan Sarandon, Robin Williams and Alan Arkin, about loneliness and seasonal depression, with lots of interlinking stories. I’ve seen it a couple of times now and it stands up as a moving, beautifully shot Christmas film.
Rob Lowe becomes a successful novelist and in the process allows his ego to consume him. In this loose riff on A Christmas Carol, Rob needs to find his humility.
For better, for worse, happening upon this film in a hotel room led me to thinking that writing a book about Christmas films might be interesting.
57. Fitzwilly (1967)
Dick Van Dyk is a butler trying to hold together a destitute estate through scams and robberies. Kind of ridiculous, but sweet with some great 60s fashion and a very funny book project.
Barbara Feldon‘s first credited film appearance.
This apparently true story is one of a swag of World War II themed films set at Christmas films (think Stalag 17 (1953), I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1988), A Midnight Clear (1992), and Christmas Truce (2015)).
This one centres on a German woman (Linda Hamilton) and her young son who take in some friend-and-foe soldiers. For one night, grievances are put aside as they group share a makeshift Christmas feast.
No trailer, but you can watch it online.
A surprisingly enjoyable remake of a British film of the same name. Georgia (Queen Latifah) is told she has only weeks to live. Convinced she’s being underliving, she cashes her chips in and flies out, on Christmas Day, to the Czech Republic to takes up residence in a posh hotel.
A good Christmas rom-com pick.
Bawdy British humour and interactions that remind me much more of my only family Christmases than any American offering.
Debra Messing plays the workaholic gringa who has married into the family.
A freak snow storm puts an strained white family in touch with a loved-up black family who teaches them the true meaning of Christmas. A particularly solid performance from Kristy Swanson as the mom who feels like her husband has left her for his job (Swanson appears in other lesse Christmas films including Merry Ex-Mas (2014), A Belle for Christmas (2014) and A Christmas Wish (2011)).
I needed quite the handful of tissues.
An entry for the so-bad-it’s-good category. And, truth my told, high up on my festive favourites list.
After seeing his father - dressed as Santa - nuzzle the thighs of his mother, Harry (Brandon Maggart) goes berserk and comes to think of himself as the real Santa, slaying the naughty folk in this seasonal slasher. I’m not normally a fan of horror, but this one is highly entertaining albeit completely bloody stupid.
At the time of publishing, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube.
Not quite as good, but if you’re looking for something else of this vein I’d suggest Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984) which is a British offering about another red-clad nutjob. A less madcap Christmas horror is the British The Children (2008) which is actually even a little bit scary.
Apparently I like Alicia Witt in Christmas films. And in this one she is engaged to a man who is, on paper, perfect for her. She then accidentally meets another man and serendipity ensues. A well-acted holiday romance.
If you want more of Christmastime Witt, I have recommended Last Holiday (2006) and A Snow Globe Christmas (2013) previously, but there are also some very decent others available: Christmas at Cartwright’s (2014), I’m Not Ready for Christmas (2015) and Christmas List (2016). (She was also in A Madea Christmas (2013), but I can’t in good conscience suggest you go anywhere near it).
Kids and cancer. Not entirely a pleasant topic for a Christmas film. But the performances – Sam Elliot, John Corbett and Sarah Paulson – are polished and I spent the last half crying even though I knew it wasn’t going end horrifically. Which is didn’t. (If you get into the kids-with-cancer-Christmas-caper, I’d also suggest The Heart of Christmas (2011). That ending isn’t so happy).
Sarah Paulson is a “name” now because of American Horror Story. November Christmas and A Christmas Wedding (2006) are two festive looks at her before she became too famous to bother with the holidays.
I’ve already recommended The Holiday (2006): Trading Christmas offers a similar storyline in the form of an accidentally-romantic house-swap.
A drug-and-sex fuelled Los Angeles Christmas. Reading that Easton Ellis wasn’t a fan of the film makes me like it more somehow. And a great 80s soundtrack to boot. With a very young Robert Downey Jr. and James Spader at the helm.
Another example of a well-worn Christmas narrative done particularly well. 34-year-old Kristin (Shiri Appleby) hasn’t been home to see her family in 17-years. A sip of some magical champagne and a well-timed wish and she gets a chance to go and visit her teenage self. I’m not entirely why I cried so much watching it but it’s lovely and sad and romantic.
A Irish-US production and a modern spin on the Dickens’ tale, this time with workaholic surgeon Ellie receiving visits from her past and future selves.
YouTube isn’t offering me a trailer, or a clip. But you can access one at Vimeo.
There are a lot of Groundhog Day Christmas films where a day is lived over and over again until the protagonist learns the true meaning of Christmas (see for example Christmas Every Day (1996), Eve’s Christmas (2004), 12 Days of Christmas Eve (2004), Christmas Do-Over (2006) and 12 Dates of Christmas (2011)). Pete’s Christmas is pretty much the best of these with solid performances from reliables including Molly Parker and Bruce Dern.
Powder Blue is constantly compared (unfavorably) to the highly over-rated Crash (2004): both share the Christmastime setting and the lots-of-intersecting-stories thing. My response is a) Powder Blue is substantially less heavy-handed than Crash and b) intersecting stories is by no means a Crash innovation: see Noel (2004) and Christmas Eve (2015) as examples.
A heavy Christmas film that’s over-acted in places, but enjoyable nonetheless. Offering an all-star cast of Ray Liotta, Jessica Biel, Forest Whitaker, an under-utilised Lisa Kudrow and a young Eddie Redmayne.
72. The Ref (1994)
Denis Leary is a burgular who finds himself - regrettably - taking a highly dysfunctional married couple hostage over Christmas. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis are funny here, even if the film is a tad mean-spirited in places.
There’s a slew of Christmas films centred on dogs, largely centred on them saving Christmas and bringing together individuals for romance. This one’s a little bit different. An intellectually disabled boy convinces his family to allow him to foster a dog over the Christmas period. Dad’s reluctant as his last dog was inextricably linked to his messy war memories. Nicely sentimental, although be prepared to cry if you’re a dog lover. (A prequel - Christmas With Tucker (2013) - centres on the why of Dad’s reluctance. Not quite as good as A Dog Named Christmas).
This is actually the first time in adulthood that I’ve watched anything with Shirley Temple. I was surprised how appealing I found her, particularly given my general cynicism toward singing and dancing children.
A Christmas tragedy leads Shirley to becoming the pawn in a custody battle. Very sweet with a lovely ending. If you want more Christmastime Shirley, she also appears as a teenager (who is, admittedly, far less appealing) in I’ll Be Seeing You (1944); a decent enough film.