For the fourth successive year, Mat takes a break from the normal routine to bring you his day-by-day guide to some of the best movies showing on UK free-to-air TV over the Christmas period, with just the bare minimum of festive films.
Toy Story 3 (2010)
BBC1, Friday 21st, 15:35
The third instalment of the popular franchise sees the residents of Andy’s bedroom facing an uncertain future, as their 17 year old owner is heading off to college and hasn’t played with them for years. An accidental twist sees most of the gang packed off to a daycare centre that is more sinister than it first appears, and it’s left to Woody to initiate a rescue. Packed with the obligatory action and comedy that suits young and old alike, the film also includes some of the most traumatic and touching scenes in animated movie history, as you realise just how much these characters mean to you. It does play with your emotions a lot, but ultimately this is a fitting end to these toys’ story, at least until Part 4 is released next year.
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)
Channel 4, Saturday 22nd, 12:00
A remake of the Japanese film Hachiko Monogatari and based on a true story, Hachi tells the tale of an Akita puppy abandoned at a small Rhode Island train station. Discovered and adopted by a University Professor (Richard Gere), the dog becomes so loyal that he waits for his new owner outside the train station until he returns home every day. For the benefit of those that don’t know the story the remaining plot details won’t be shared here, but suffice to say that this is an incredible story about the bond between a dog and his master, beautifully delivered and with excellent performances from humans and canine alike. If you’re a dog lover then you’ll probably cry buckets of tears but love this movie regardless.
BBC1, Sunday 23rd, 15:25
Pixar’s animated adventure 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 and enemies along the way, including an army of ‘talking’ dogs. The story is decent and there are plenty of funny and action-packed scenes, but the film 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, along with the company’s superb technical achievements.
ITV, Monday 24th, 21:30
Our only festive movie selection is the story of Billy Peltzer, who receives an unusual pet as an early Christmas present from his father. The cute Mogwai, named Gizmo, has an peculiar set of rules regarding his care, and when these rules are accidentally broken, the residents of Billy’s sleepy town find themselves terrorised by a horde of mischievous green creatures. Writer Chris Columbus’s clever and original concept is carried out to near-perfection by director Joe Dante, with a fantastic blend of comedy and horror, some wonderfully memorable scenes and puppets that have stood the test of time remarkably well. The Christmas setting was probably not essential yet elevates the film to even greater heights, making it an enduring treat of 80s cinema.
The Silence of the Lambs (1991)
ITV4, Tuesday 25th, 23:20
About as un-festive a film as you’re likely to see on Christmas Day, this adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel stars Jodie Foster as an FBI trainee assisting with the hunt for a serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. Her main task is to interview imprisoned psychopath Hannibal Lecter to try and gain insight into the mind of a maniac. Lecter is of course portrayed by Sir Anthony Hopkins in his most famous role, and it is the conversations between these two main characters that set this film apart from most psychological thrillers. It may not be quite as terrifying as the hype suggested when it was released, but this is a tense, disturbing and superbly-acted film with deservedly Oscar-winning performances from the two leads.
ITV4, Wednesday 26th, 22:00
Steven Spielberg pretty much invented the summer event movie with this 1975 thriller, but it has since become a Christmas stalwart. The event in question is of course a man-eating Great White shark terrorising the residents of a summer vacation resort, leading local sheriff Roy Scheider to team up with marine biologist Richard Dreyfuss and wily sea dog Robert Shaw to take on the beast. The shark itself may look a bit cheap these days, but with jump scares aplenty, an action-packed final showdown and John Williams’ masterful score, the film still has the ability to jangle your nerves, which is an amazing achievement after more than forty years.
The Goonies (1985)
5Star, Thursday 27th, 18:50
The Steven Spielberg connection continues as he wrote the story for this adventure movie that sees a group of kids whose homes are due to be repossessed set out on quest to find the lost treasure of the pirate One-eyed Willie and pay off their parents’ debts. Along the way they’ll face a number of dangerous traps and also have to avoid the pursuit of the Fratellis, a criminal family that want the loot for themselves. Notable for launching the careers of both Sean Astin and Josh Brolin, as well as several iconic scenes and characters, The Goonies is probably not as good as you remember it but it’s still a lot of fun and is an archetypal post-Christmas family film.
Eddie the Eagle (2016)
Channel 4, Friday 28th, 20:00
From a young age, Michael “Eddie” Edwards dreamed of being an Olympian. After trying a variety of sports and failing to qualify for the British Olympic skiing team, his dream seemed to be over, until he came up with the idea of becoming Britain’s first Olympic ski jumper for over 60 years. Taron Egerton stars as Eddie, who achieves his goal with the help of a disgraced former ski jumping champion, played by Hugh Jackman. We all know the story, which is a classic British tale of celebrating underachievement, but this biopic turns it into a funny, heartwarming feelgood movie. Both Egerton and Jackman are excellent and even if the story isn’t entirely true, it is still a hugely entertaining film showing that sometimes it’s good enough just to take part.
Chicken Run (2000)
BBC1, Saturday 29th, 13:15
Aardman Animations first full-length film, Chicken Run took the charm and overt Britishness of the company’s short films and combined them with a thrilling action-adventure story to create what remains the most successful stop-motion animated film of all time. A cast including some of Britain’s finest actors teamed up with Mel Gibson as a group of chickens that plan to escape from their farm before they end up in their owner’s new pie-making machine. Drawing heavily on classic films, most notably The Great Escape but with nods to the likes of Star Wars and The Shawshank Redemption, the film is an enjoyable breath of fresh air in the world of CGI, and an amazing technical achievement.
Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
ITV, Sunday 30th, 20:00
Ten years after the end of the hugely disappointing prequel trilogy, the Star Wars franchise came back with a bang under the stewardship of Disney and director J.J. Abrams. Episode VII takes place 30 years after Return of the Jedi and sees a new group of heroes team up with old favourites like Han Solo and Chewbacca to track down the missing Luke Skywalker, whilst facing the threat of unstable Jedi Kylo Ren and The First Order. Critics would complain that the story is little more than a reboot of A New Hope, but the film features so many fantastic moments, emotional twists and lovable characters new and old that any lack of originality can be forgiven. So whether you’re a jaded 40-something or a youngster taking your first steps into the Star Wars world, just sit back and enjoy this exhilarating return to that amazing galaxy far, far away.
Back to the Future (1985)
Film4, Monday 31st, 23:25
In all honesty you should never need to watch the adventures of Marty McFly and Doc Brown on Freeview TV because everyone should own a copy of this film! If you don’t, then once you’ve finished hanging your head in shame, tune in to watch one of the greatest films of all time, a perfect blend of Sci-Fi, adventure, comedy and 80s coolness, with a superb story and fantastic performances from everyone involved. Not to mention the magnificent soundtrack, spectacular visual effects and thrilling action sequences. In case you hadn’t worked it out, it’s quite good. Almost as good are its two sequels, which follow on the same channel over the next two days, completing what is arguably the greatest trilogy ever made.
E.T. – The Extra Terrestrial (1982)
Channel 5, Tuesday 1st January, 09:15
Grab the tissue box and kick off the new year with Spielberg’s wonderful story of a peaceful interstellar botanist that is accidentally left behind by his spaceship, and welcomed into American suburbia by a boy in need of a friend. Inspired by the director’s experiences following the divorce of his parents, the entire film is strongly focussed on childhood, from the convincing performances of young Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore, to the many shots filmed from a child’s perspective, culminating in the scenes that put a BMX on every boy’s Christmas list. Funny, thrilling, and frequently heart-wrenching, helped in no small part by John Williams’ Oscar-winning score, E.T. is a one-of-a-kind fairy tale that will remind you how great it was to be a child.