Bad Santa (2003)
You’ll be safe from the usual holiday-movie sniffles with this one; especially recommended for those who don't take well to festive sentimentality. Conman Willie T Stokes (Billy Bob Thornton) takes up a gig as a store Santa with his friend Marcus (Tony Cox) playing elf, and the duo devise a plan to wipe the place clean before Christmas. Their biggest problem? Making sure this potty-mouthed, foul-tempered, alcoholic St Nick keeps his job.
Arthur Christmas (2011)
When Santa’s bumbling son learns that his dad missed out a little girl’s gift in his almost-foolproof method of Christmas Eve deliveries, he decides to take charge of the family business. With his grandfather, a non-conformist elf, a rickety sleigh and untrained reindeer, Arthur sets out on the all-too-familiar journey of an underdog saving Christmas — except this time it’s accompanied by clever animation and witty writing.
Happy Christmas (2014)
Jenny (Anna Kendrick) moves into her brother’s home — shared with his novelist wife and two-year-old son — to survive a messy break-up. After causing sufficient disruption, the party girl decides to salvage her sister-in-law’s mostly dormant creative life, with some help from her best friend Carson (Lena Dunham). No Xmas miracles come visiting this family; Happy Christmas is a true-to-life indie (shot like a home video) about the weariness of adulthood.
When Buddy (Will Ferrell) discovers his dysfunctional life in the North Pole has been a sham (the constantly-failing elf is actually a human from New York City), he gives toy-making a rest and travels to his hometown to look for his biological father (James Caan). Once he starts navigating the perplexing streets of the Big Apple, however, he leaves behind an infectious trail of Christmas spirit — enough to elicit a broad, toothy smile even from the Grinch.
The New Year (2010)
If you like your holiday movies loaded with epiphanies, sample this festival circuit star. A ‘most likely to succeed’ high school student Sunny (Trieste Kelly Dunn) winds up with an insipid small-town reality — working at a bowling alley and caring for an ailing father – which appears even more tragic with the visit of a former rival during the holidays. What follows is bitter, brutal, and occasionally blissful year-end introspection. Dunn’s well-measured, critically-acclaimed performance is another reason to watch.