The 4 Best Musical Moments From Christmas Films

I love films. I love music. I love Christmas.

When the three come together, nirvana.

Here are my four favourite instances of three-way wish-fulfilment.

4. Christmas Is All Around Us (from Love Actually, 2003)

I know you're not supposed to like this film; and as for the song itself, well. You're supposed to hate it. Even if you love the film, you're specifically instructed to hate the song by the very man who sings it. But I love it. And that's partly because of the very man who sings it. The immortal Bill Nighy plays Billy Mack as an identikit washed-up 80s has-been who's somehow infused with a slurry David Bowie charm, and the results I find irresistible.

But even though there is much Billy in Love Actually beyond this song, I still can't help but enjoy his version of Love Is All Around Us. But Billy's cover has a sleazy bar-band drawl to it, a sexy Robert Palmer video and those vocals. Plus, it comes right at the start of a film that commences right at the start of the Christmas season.

As Billy finally gets the line right - “Christmas is all around us”, we're shown a montage of Christmas trees across London with the subtitle “5 Weeks Before Christmas”. That, right there, sends shivers up my spine. I now associate this song with the arrival of my favourite time of year.

3. O Holy Night (from Home Alone, 1990)

Kevin McCallister's been left home alone whilst his family's jetted off to Paris for Christmas! At first he does what anybody in his position would do at the age of eight – he eats ice cream and watches the films he's not usually allowed to watch. But then he – wait, you've seen Home Alone. Of course you have. You know what happens. He learns a few lessons about responsibility, acceptance and the importance of family. And then he repeatedly attempts to murder a couple of petty criminals.

Kevin goes to a church on Christmas Eve, where a choir service is taking place. There he sees the terrifying Old Man Marley, previously assumed to have murdered his family. It soon becomes apparent that Marley is just a sad and lonely old man who's fallen out with his son and misses his granddaughter. She's singing in that very choir, and they're singing O Holy Night. I believe it was the first time I ever heard that most spellbinding of songs. It makes for a beautifully touching, quiet and poignant moment before the onset of the hilarious ultraviolence. And doesn't it just look so much better when filmed with a shaky camcorder on an old television screen?

2. What's This? (from The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993)

Jack The Pumpkin king is bored of the same-old Halloween routines, so he goes for a walk. He stumbles across a clearing in the woods, which we're informed is the place where all holidays originate. A circle of trees, each with a symbolic door cut in the front; he falls into Christmas Town.

Up until this point, The Nightmare Before Christmas has been dark, gloomy and monochromatic. But everything in Christmas Town is bright, warming and colourful. It's a trick Tim Burton uses frequently to signify a shift from the normal to the fantastical, but never is it more effective than in The Nightmare Before Christmas – most likely because, in this case, the “normal” is pretty fantastic to begin with.

Jack's childlike wonder at experiencing Christmas for the very first time is utterly enchanting, and his complex feelings are encapsulated perfectly in three exuberant minutes. Jack is overwhelmed. He's confused (“The children are throwing snowballs instead of throwing heads”), but he knows that he likes what he sees. He likes it a lot. It's exactly what he's been looking for. And he wants it for his own.

From here, of course, the film gets better and better, but its central conceit is that you can't bottle or define Christmas. It's a wonderful, wonderful vibrant festival of values, ideas, traditions and ceremony that means vastly different things to everyone. And at no point is that feeling communicated than during Jack's reaction to seeing Christmas for the very first time.

Had you come from a scary land in which life itself revolves around frightening people, just how would you react upon experiencing Christmas for the first time?

It's to Danny Elfman's credit that he manages to explain, in impressive depth, the wave of emotions that would invariably rise in less than three minutes of music. By the end of the song, Jack is so excited that he's almost violently happy.

A hardened cynic who would like to remind themselves of how utterly life-affirmingly brilliant Christmas used to be would do well to take-in this scene once more.

1. Put A Little Love In Your Heart (from Scrooged, 1988)

Is the birth of Christ the Greatest Story Ever Told? Christ, no! I'd argue that Dickens's A Christmas Carol takes that biscuit. It remains one of only three books to ever make me cry, and no matter how many incarnations I see – whether Scrooge is played by Patrick Stewart, Michael Caine, Kelsey Grammar or Scrooge McDuck – the tears of almost unbearable happiness never fail to fight their way from the back of my throat to the corners of my eyes. The idea that it's never to late to start doing good is truly beautiful.

But I doubt that any interpretation of Scrooge packs more of a devastating punch than Bill Murray's turn in Scrooged. As Frank Cross, he is Bill Murray, and he appears to treat the whole thing as a joke. But then comes the denouement – his realisation that it's not to late to change – and his impassioned monologue, clearly delivered straight from the heart, is unbelievably powerful. “It's Christmas Eve!” he cries. “It's... it's the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we... we... we smile a little easier, we... w-w-we... we... we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”

And what follows is an apparently impromptu rendition of Put A Little Love In Your Heart, which sees Bill breaking the fourth-wall to conduct the audience's singalong.

Some might see this moment as manipulative, cheesy, corny. I don't. During those closing credits, it actually feels as though the world could be a better place.


  1. Replies
    1. Oh no, it was The Troggs, wasn't it? Luckily, I have editorial powers and Orwellian politics. No one will ever know of my faux pas, and through admitting my error, I'm still demonstrating tremendous strength of character. Everybody wins!

  2. I stuck the Home Alone video on this evening so I could see that bit, but some plonker in the charity shop had given me the Home Alone 2 tape instead.

    Still got that Darlene Love song though. Nice list yes - would they by definition be the Top Four Xmas films as well?

    1. I suppose they would be, but that list would also have to include The Muppets Christmas Carol.

  3. Well if you're sticking the Muppets in there, you could include One More Sleep Till Christmas perhaps?

    Or the bit at the end when all the street's out singing?