5 Short Films to Get You in the Christmas Spirit

Let's celebrate the holiday season - and learn in the process!

From living snowmen to astronomical oddities.

The filmmaker in me loves the holiday season. There are few environments more magical than a darkened room lit dimly by the glitter of a Christmas tree and the flicker of a movie playing on your laptop or television!

To help you get into the spirit, we’ve rounded up five holiday-themed short films worth watching. Whether you’re savoring a mug of hot cocoa at home with the whole evening ahead of you or on a quick lunch break at work, you’ll find something here to make you laugh, cry, think, or simply appreciate the good that can accompany the holiday season: the power of imagination, the solace of tradition, and the gift of community.

The Snowman | Channel 4, 1982

I. The Snowman | Dir. Dianne Jackson, 1982

One of our favorites here at Lights Film School is Dianne Jackson’s The Snowman, based on the book by Raymond Briggs, about a young boy who befriends a snowman. They embark on a wild adventure that teaches the boy to embrace the beauty of the moment, in spite – or perhaps because? – of the fact that it eventually must come to an end. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film and went on to win a BAFTA TV Award.

I’ve always loved the breathtaking music of this piece. It’s the perfect companion for the storybook animation that seems to pulse with life, evoking feelings of warmth and cold, home and wilderness, through the strong palette and textures. The animation was done by tracing on celluloid with crayon, pastels, and other coloring tools over hand-drawn frames.

It’s also worth noting that the story is told entirely without dialogue. We’re taken on an incredibly imaginative journey that ends with a profound lesson, yet no words are spoken!

What’s amazing to me personally is that I’ve been watching this short film since I was three or four years old, and I’ve never once found myself bored. Granted, the story unfolds slowly, but the music and visuals are just so compelling that I’m captivated every time. For me, The Snowman embodies that special, ephemeral magic of the holiday season.

II. The Supporting Act | Dir. Elliot Dear, 2017

Want to experience all of the holiday feels in just 3 minutes? Then The Supporting Act is for you! BBC One’s short film will air throughout the holiday season, intended to support the idea of “oneness” that the channel’s been exploring since January. It came together thanks to some incredible talent, including Lead Animators Andy Biddle and Dan Gill (Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa), and Director of Photography Toby Howell (Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox).

The story follows a young girl who’s practicing her dance routine for her school’s Christmas recital. She tries to get the attention of her father, but he’s more interested in his work than her practice – or so it seems!

Who else was blinking back the tears? The Supporting Act is a simple and effective short film, full of warmth and youth, that benefits tremendously from some innovative animation techniques. Specifically, the characters were animated using stop-motion, while the facial expressions were created and mapped onto the puppets using CGI. The end result is an aesthetic that gives you “the human touch and imperfections of stop motion but the emotional richness of CGI.”

III. Come Together | Dir. Wes Anderson, 2016

Speaking of Wes Anderson, we can’t forget about Come Together, an H&M advertisement that embraces the director’s trademark eccentricities!

Recalling his feature The Darjeeling Limited, this short film is set aboard a train. It follows a conductor who must let his passengers know that, due to adverse weather conditions and mechanical difficulties, the train has been delayed and everyone will miss their Christmas celebrations back home. To make up for it, he hosts his own celebration for the passengers in a beautifully intricate solarium-style room at the rear of the coach.

Like other shorts in our selection, Come Together is a part of a marketing campaign, but that function doesn’t derail the experience of watching the film! As with many of Anderson’s films, it stars a diverse cast of characters with few clues as to who they are or why they’re there, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that everyone comes together in the end to share in the joy of the holidays, even if it is in the unlikeliest of places.

IV. Misunderstood | 2013

Since an iPhone features front and center, this short film is more obviously an advertisement than The Supporting Act and Come Together, but I couldn’t get it out of my head while I was brainstorming shorts for this list – nor could I overlook the fact that it won a Creative Arts Emmy in 2014. Apple’s Misunderstood stands on its own, establishing a world with a unique look and feel and focusing on a protagonist with a singular goal.

A family gathers to celebrate the holidays, but a teenager hangs back from the festivities. He spends a lot of time on his phone as the others mingle, laugh, and share in each other’s company. I felt sad for the boy and even annoyed that he seemed to care more for his phone than his family. However, our judgments and expectations are defied by an emotional twist.

It’s not that the boy didn’t care about his family. Quite the opposite! His way of showing his love for everyone was by capturing the moments they shared using his iPhone’s video camera.

Visually, this piece is warm, cozy, and approachable, much like our idealized impressions and memories of holidays with our own families. The documentary-esque style is a perfect reflection of the capabilities of the device, suggesting that with the right eye and ambition, many of us are capable of making movies on the fly with affordable tools.

V. Anomaly | Dir. Salomon Lighthelm and Dan DiFelice, 2014

We’ve profiled this short film before, but it deserves another shout-out. Anomaly is a crowdfunded Christmas epic described by the filmmakers as “a story about relationships that intertwine around an unprecedented astronomical event… Set against the space-race canvas of the 1960s, it’s inspired by the traditional Christmas Nativity and explores, through a modern-day lens, the events of two-thousand years ago.”

Anomaly is an impressionistic piece of storytelling that’s a favorite of Michael’s, a fellow filmmaker, writer, and teacher here at Lights Film School. If you’re in the mood for a poetic and challenging Kickstarter success, then give it a watch!

Living snowmen, family dance routines, Christmas with strangers, budding filmmakers, astronomical oddities… I hope you’re inspired by our seasonal roundup of shorts in celebration of the holiday spirit!

Stepping back, it’s fun to observe that for the most part, these short films don’t depend on dialogue. Additionally, at least three of them prove that you don’t need a lot of screentime in order to tell a good story.

The next time you’re struggling with too much back-and-forth between your characters or an alarmingly high page count, rewatch these films for inspiration. Then get to work on revisions!

Do you have a favorite Christmas film that you love to revisit each and every December, either short or feature-length? If so, we’d love if you shared it in the comments below so that we can all indulge. ☃️

By Lauren McGrail


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