In a break from the normal routine, Mat Corne brings you a day-by-day guide to some of the best movies showing on UK free-to-air TV over the Christmas period – festive films not included!
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
BBC1, Monday 21st December, 13:45
The festive season kicks off with an archetypal Christmas Day blockbuster. Having already established himself with the Star Wars movies, Harrison Ford consolidated his A-list position with his portrayal of swashbuckling archaeologist Indiana Jones, on a quest to recover an ancient and powerful religious artefact from the hands of the Nazis. From the thrilling opening sequence to the terrifying finale, Steven Spielberg’s film mixes spectacular action, witty dialogue and a hint of romance into a thoroughly enjoyable cocktail. Sit back, drink in and enjoy!
First Blood (1982)
ITV4, Tuesday 22nd December, 23:05
When Sylvester Stallone’s PTSD-suffering Vietnam veteran is unfairly treated by some overzealous small-town cops, he reacts in the only way he knows how, and what follows is a thrilling cat and mouse chase through the wilderness, featuring some spectacular action sequences and inventive use of the environment. The message about treating war veterans more sympathetically gets a little lost amongst the violence and Rambo’s ramblings towards the end, but that doesn’t stop it being a great film that was only damaged by the lacklustre sequels that followed.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
ITV2, Wednesday 23rd December, 23:05
Following roles primarily in drama and comedy films, Matt Damon reinvented himself as an intelligent and ruthless action hero in this, the first part of the series based on Robert Ludlum’s spy novels. Left for dead and with severe amnesia, Bourne must recover his lost memories while evading agents from the mysterious Treadstone operation, who now want him dead. Convincing acting performances and gritty, realistic action sequences helped The Bourne Identity rejuvenate the espionage thriller genre, and gave us a new hero to follow during the temporary absence of Agent 007. Speaking of whom…
Casino Royale (2006)
ITV2, Thursday 24th December, 21:00
What would Christmas be without a James Bond film? There are quite a few to choose from over the festive period, but Daniel Craig’s first outing as Bond gets the nod. Almost certainly influenced by Bourne, Craig’s portrayal of Bond is more realistic than his predecessors. The cars and gadgets are still present, but the story takes place in a far more plausible world, and you genuinely feel that Bond is a fallible character for the first time. With a tense storyline based on the very first 007 novel, an enigmatic villain portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen, and one of the most emotional endings of any Bond film, Casino Royale is a worthy reboot of the legendary series.
School of Rock (2003)
Film4, Friday 25th December, 18:50
Jack Black can be something of an acquired taste, but he’s at his goofy best as a failed rock star turned substitute teacher in this good-natured comedy. With a supporting cast formed mainly of children, this movie could easily have been a disaster, but there are some great performances from the young actors as Black’s character brings out their hidden creative talents with his unorthodox teaching methods. A couple of unexpected comedic twists and a great musical finale at the Battle of the Bands will certainly leave you smiling, and there’s also a message for pushy parents to take heed of in a film that is much better than you might have thought.
Jurassic Park (1993)
ITV, Saturday 26th December, 13:20
Another Spielberg-helmed blockbuster, based on the Michael Crichton story about a theme park populated with genetically-recreated dinosaurs. The story is enjoyable enough and the actors do an admirable job, 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 20 years on and amazingly 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.
Spies Like Us (1985)
5Star, Sunday 27th December, 00:00 (Saturday night)
Somewhat different to the other Spy films on this list, this silly movie teams up Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase as a pair of bumbling wannabe-spies that inadvertently find themselves in the middle of a plot to start World War III. Like most John Landis films, there are some great comedy moments and some that don’t work so well, but both leads were at the top of their game in the mid-80’s and carry the movie through some of the weaker scenes. Watch out for cameos from a host of Hollywood moviemakers throughout the film!
Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)
Film4, Monday 28th December, 18:55
This reboot of the classic Sci-Fi franchise takes place in modern times, as James Franco inadvertently brings about the development of hyper-intelligent primates (and unleashes a human-destroying virus) in his attempts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. A film that most people probably didn’t expect much of turns out to be a clever and intense thriller, with Andy Serkis doing his usual superb motion capture performance as lead ape Caesar. The sequence on the Golden Gate Bridge brings proceedings to an action-packed conclusion, but it’s the often touching story that builds to the climax that sets this apart from the normal big budget studio offerings.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Film4, Tuesday 29th December, 01:15
I’m actually more a fan of the first film, but there’s no denying that James Cameron’s follow-up is an awesome spectacle. At the time of release it was the most expensive film ever made, but grossed more than five times what it cost at the box office. Arnie returns as a cyborg sent back from the post-apocalyptic future, but this time he’s the good guy pitched against the sinister shapeshifting T-1000, portrayed in menacing fashion by Robert Patrick, assisted by some then-revolutionary CGI effects. With a story that moves from one action sequence to another at breakneck speed, intermingled with some more touching moments from the human characters, T2 is rightly recognised as one of the best sequels of all time.
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Film4, Wednesday 30th December, 23:10
Tim Burton directs Johnny Depp for the third (but far from final) time in this supernatural thriller based on the Washington Irving short story. The Oscar awarded for best production design is fully deserved, as the visual style, clothing and scenery all fit the gothic mood of the film. Plot-wise it’s relatively straightforward horror movie stuff, but with tongue planted firmly in cheek. An ensemble of top notch supporting actors gives gravitas to the proceedings, not least the devilishly tempting Christina Ricci as Depp’s love interest. In my opinion this is one of Burton’s most accessible films, and most enjoyable because of it.
BBC1, Thursday 31st December, 14:50
An animated adventure that sees an old man finally set out to fulfil his dream of visiting a distant land by the most unusual of methods – a floating house suspended by thousands of balloons. Along for the ride is a young stowaway, and the two meet some unlikely friends along the way. This is all great fun but would be fairly by-the-numbers were it not for the opening ten minutes, which documents the harrowing back story of the man and his wife. Only those with the hardest of hearts will fail to be reduced to tears, and it showed that Pixar was reaching new levels of emotional involvement with their audience, to go along with the company’s technical achievements.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Dave, Friday 1st January, 22:00
Usher in the new year with Quentin Tarantino’s finest work, a 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 two decades later. Undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made, Pulp Fiction was critically lauded and more importantly was recently voted the most popular film in my office at work!