How I Letterboxd: Julie Collette

Christmas movie lover Julie Collette tells Jack Moulton all about her seasonal movie habits, the best big screen Santa Claus of all time, disability visibility in festive films, and some of the weirder holiday picks.

I like those movies because I can zone out and enjoy the predictable Christmas ride... I know that these aren’t Oscar-caliber films.” —⁠Julie Collette

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: when Letterboxd members turn to the Neverending Christmas List to help plan their Christmas movie viewing. Arrange it by highest rated, arrange it by newest release, or by popularity—any which way, there’s something for everyone, from corny TCM romances to obscure seasonal horrors.

Created six years ago by Canadian member Julie Collette, the list runs to more than 4,300 titles, and contains the word ‘Christmas’ 1,837 times at last count. Julie and her husband are die-hard Letterboxd fans, having allegedly used the platform every day for the past nine years. She’s logged every film she’s seen in theaters since 1996.

A message from John McClane in Die Hard (1988).
A message from John McClane in Die Hard (1988).

What inspired your Neverending Christmas List? Can you please explain the minimum requirement for eligibility?
Julie Collette: My husband had told me about a list on Letterboxd of Every Horror Film Made from 1895–Present and that gave me the idea to start the neverending Christmas list. My eligibility rules are not strict at all. It can be a film that centers on or around Christmas time. Even New Year’s counts in my book—as long as there’s a moment in the film that has a Christmas song, a Christmas scene, or Christmas decorations. Die Hard is definitely a Christmas film. First of all, it takes place on Christmas Eve at an office Christmas party. There’s that great note that John McClane sends to Hans Gruber on a dead guy’s shirt: “Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho.” Now that’s Christmas! There are a couple of titles that test my relaxed requirements. Examples would be Psycho—there are a few Christmas decorations at the beginning [and Bryan Fuller agrees]—and the documentary Beauty Day by Canadian director Jay Cheel, which has Christmas lights at the end.

And what percentage of the films have you seen?
As of right now, I’ve watched 20 percent—that’s 882 of the 4,322 films on the list. I’ve got a lot of homework to do. Here’s a few hidden gems I recommend: Mon oncle Antoine, Holiday Affair, Remember the Night, Olivia, On the Twelfth Day…, Bing Crosby’s Merrie Olde Christmas and One Christmas, which is Katherine Hepburn’s last role.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby sing The Little Drummer Boy in Bing Crosby’s Merrie Old Christmas (1977).
David Bowie and Bing Crosby sing The Little Drummer Boy in Bing Crosby’s Merrie Old Christmas (1977).

When does your Christmas movie viewing season start?
I usually start mid-November to try to keep up with the TV rom-coms because they start to air even before Hallowe’en. This year on Hallowe’en night we rewatched The Night of the Hunter and I had forgotten that there was a sequence that was set at Christmas time. It was a perfect segue between Hallowe’en and Christmas, so I started November 1st. As far as how I pick what to watch, I go through my list and randomly pick some. I try to watch as many first-time watches and mix up the genres. But the closer I get to Christmas, the more I want to watch my favorites—for the most part I go with the flow. Christmas Day is usually a day of family time, but I try to sneak in one favorite if I can.

What was the first Christmas film that got you into all of this?
I’ve always loved Christmas and growing up I watched the yearly airings of vintage Christmas cartoons and A Muppet Family Christmas. When Home Alone came out it was an instant obsession, then Home Alone 2: Lost in New York was just as good. Even now it’s our yearly tradition for my husband and I to watch the Home Alones while we decorate the Christmas tree.

If not Home Alone, what is your all-time favorite Christmas film?
It’s a Wonderful Life is up there for me. Partly because growing up I watched it every Christmas Eve and kind of forced my dad to watch it with me. I think he secretly didn’t mind. As a kid, I didn’t dwell on the sad parts of the story, I just wanted to go to that candy shop and run in Bedford Falls like George in that beautiful thick fake snow. Now as an adult, I appreciate the story about a small town coming together to support a man at his lowest of lows more. Jimmy Stewart is amazing as George Bailey and we can all see ourselves at some point in his journey in the film. The chemistry and comedic timing between Stewart and Donna Reed is one of the best. Every time they sing ‘Auld Lang Syne’, I always get a bit misty-eyed.

メリークリスマス Japanese style, in Tokyo Godfathers (2003).
メリークリスマス Japanese style, in Tokyo Godfathers (2003).

What have you noticed about the ways in which Christmas films have changed over the years?
In classic Christmas storytelling, there are a lot more religion-centered ones like The Bishop’s Wife and It’s a Wonderful Life. The ’80s and ’90s were about the blockbusters that the whole family could enjoy; Batman Returns, Home Alone, and The Santa Clause. The last twenty years have brought us a lot of different movies, but I do find that the start of the 2000s had a better crop of Christmas movies; Love Actually, Elf, Tokyo Godfathers, Far from Heaven, Bridget Jones’s Diary, About a Boy and so many more. The last decade has been saturated by the rom-coms of Hallmark, Lifetime and their imitators, but from the last five years, a few stand out that could be destined to become Christmas classics: Carol, Little Women and The Night Before.

The best, most rewatched Christmas stories tend to be remade. Do you have a classic Christmas story that you always love, no matter who’s telling it?
Hands down Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. From my favorite—Scrooge—to The Muppet Christmas Carol, to Scrooged. Growing up, I had the book of Mickey’s Christmas Carol and I loved the cartoon adaptation. I love to see the different actors’ excitement and elation at the end when Scrooge wakes up on Christmas Day. My ultimate favorite is Alistair Sim in 1951’s Scrooge. He’s so jubilant asking the maid what day it is and wishing himself Merry Christmas in the mirror. It’s a bit darker than others. When I was a kid, the intro with Jacob Marley and the build-up of the chains scared me, but I couldn’t stop watching. Patrick Stewart’s Ebenezer [in the 1999 TV movie] is also great for his relief that he survived the journey through time. What an actor! An honorable mention to The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail, which are all based on [the 1937 Hungarian play Parfumerie by Miklós László].

A Christmas Treat in Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020).
A Christmas Treat in Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square (2020).

Treat Williams stars in not one but two of this season’s films (who knew he could sing?!). Which actors bring that special spark to festive films for you?
Yes, and boy can he sing! Another actor who can sing and puts me straight in the Christmas mood is Bing Crosby. Those classic songs in White Christmas and Holiday Inn are favorites of mine. Jimmy Stewart is an obvious one. He has that charm that’s perfect for Christmas movies, especially in The Shop Around the Corner.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure on the list? Why do we love cheesy movies so much?!
Every year I watch TCM’s Classic Christmas marathon [but I also watch] the Hallmark and Lifetime Christmas rom-coms. For me, I love them partly because there’s always a happy ending. I love to see all the decorations and all the cute small towns—some I wish existed so I could visit them because they’re so darn cute! Another reason I love them is the nostalgia, as some of the better ones star TV actors from the ’90s and ’00s like Candice Cameron Bure, Lacey Chabert, Jonathan Bennett, Adrian Grenier, Mario Lopez, Alicia Witt, Alison Sweeney and so many others.

One of the other great Christmas-themed lists on Letterboxd is the one about Christmas movie posters with white heterosexual couples wearing red and green—though many members pride themselves on having seen none of them.
I like those movies because I can zone out and enjoy the predictable Christmas ride. However, like other Letterboxd members, I know that these aren’t Oscar-caliber films—though some are better than others! I’m glad that the powers that make these movies are starting to be more inclusive with more POC and LGTBQ+ characters. As a wheelchair user with a physical disability, I was happy to see that Lifetime has an upcoming one called Christmas Ever After, starring Ali Stroker.

Ali Stroker finds love in Christmas Ever After (2020).
Ali Stroker finds love in Christmas Ever After (2020).

Indeed, our Make the Yuletide Gay list is an attempt to highlight queer festive films, but the pickings have been slim.
Yes, very slim. There’s been queer characters in Christmas films but it’s your stereotypical gay friend or something like that. This year I feel there’s a shift in the air to be more inclusive. My favorites this year so far have been the star-filled lesbi-rom-com Happiest Season, The Christmas House—featuring a landmark first gay couple in a Hallmark festive film, Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square and Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey—with Ricky Martin! I’m looking forward to checking out A New York Christmas Wedding, The Christmas Setup and Dashing in December.

What is the scariest Christmas film that your horror-loving husband has made you watch?
The best one is Black Christmas. I love that it’s female-centered and ahead of its time in their portrayals. The killer’s POV really gets me into it and still to this day puts me on edge, so much so that an ornament fell off our tree while watching it this year and it freaked me out!

Also, should we be watching The Nightmare Before Christmas on Hallowe’en or on Christmas?
I watch The Nightmare Before Christmas on both holidays so you get the best of both worlds—the ghoulishness of Hallowe’en and the merriment of Christmas!

What other films on your list show Christmas in an unusual light?
The first weird one that popped to mind is The Star Wars Holiday Special. That was weird! Also, from what I’ve watched I would say Eyes Wide Shut, The Ref and 3 Godfathers are not your usual Christmas films. I do have quite a few on the list I have to watch that seem weird and unusual like Elves, Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.

Editor’s note: Previous How I Letterboxd interviewee Dave Vis urges you not to watch Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny under any circumstances.

Which actor is the quintessential Santa Claus?
For me, it’s the Santa in Miracle on 34th Street, played by Edmund Gwenn. He truly embodied the part in the way he plays Kris Kringle. The gentleness and innocence he shows throughout the film is magical. It’s no wonder he won a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance.

Gunn Wållgren in Fanny and Alexander (1982).
Gunn Wållgren in Fanny and Alexander (1982).

Of course, so many films in the Christmas canon are American films. What are some of the best Christmas films from around the world?
This question makes me realize I haven’t watched enough Christmas movies from around the world. With that being said here’s a few; A Christmas Tale from France, A Child’s Christmas in Wales from the UK, Tokyo Godfathers from Japan and Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander from Sweden. Mon oncle Antoine is a great Canadian film set in a small mining village during Christmas. It reminded me of the stories my mom and grandma talked about their Christmas traditions in their small village.

Are there any overrated classics you want to protest?
I didn’t watch A Christmas Story growing up, so when I finally did watch it as an adult, I didn’t connect with it. The iconic scenes are funny and all, but it’s just okay. Now I’ll be on my hubby’s naughty list!

Does the film marathon continue through that purgatory week between Christmas and New Year? Do you have any film-related traditions to ring in the New Year?
It does continue during that week to a certain extent. Some years after Christmas I’m done and what I haven’t watched goes to the following year but other years I can watch a few more and not feel overwhelmed. On New Year’s we have no traditions per se, but this year we might do a Tarantino marathon.

Christmas season is also synonymous with awards season. You keep track of a lot of Academy Awards history. How are you feeling about the awards season this year?
First off, like many others, I haven’t even set foot in a theater this year and that is sad. I hope that the theater-going experience is not irreparably damaged. One good thing that came from the pandemic is film festivals streamed online and we were fortunate to watch some great titles from TIFF from the comfort of our home in September. I saw Nomadland, and it’s going to be a frontrunner for many of the main categories. I hope Regina King’s One Night in Miami gets some love. Miranda July’s Kajillionaire script is so unique—Evan Rachel Wood and Richard Jenkins should be contenders. I haven’t watched a lot of docs yet but Boys State stands out. I’m also eager to see First Cow, Minari, Ammonite, The Truffle Hunters, Soul, Mank, The Father and Promising Young Woman.

This Christmas is going to be weird for a lot of people. What’s one film you’d recommend for a guaranteed happiness injection?
Weird indeed. If I have to pick just one it would be John Favreau’s Elf. Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf instantly brings a smile to my face. You can feel his joy for Christmas from start to finish. From the classic claymation, to New York City at Christmas, to eating all that sugar, to that hilarious scene with Peter Dinklage—it’s Christmas gold!

And finally, are there some other Letterboxd members you recommend we follow?
Emily, Flurryheaven, Guyzo997, Peter Spencer, Michael Dean, Brent Vanhomwegen, Ara Hiddleston and also some more Christmas lists.


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