SIFFRAFF Selects: Unconventional for the Holidays

Shelby Smout | Social Media Manager | Monday, December 4, 2023

SIFFRAFF Selects: Unconventional for the Holidays

What makes a holiday film a holiday film? We found that, while not every movie is perfect for seasonal enjoyment, any movie can be considered a holiday favorite according to personal criteria. SIFFRAFF selected their favorite unconventional festive films, based on plot, vibes, feelings, or good ol' tradition.

For SIFF's own Holiday Favorites, like The Muppet Christmas Carol and Fiddler on the Roof, visit

View the whole selection on our Letterboxd.

Batman Returns 1992

Batman Returns (1992)

"Every Tim Burton film has a patina glistening with festive cheer and despair. Maybe he's taking a page out of the Shane Black playbook, or perhaps it has something to do with nostalgia. It's probably all of the above for good ol' Timmy!

"Batman Returns is perfection in placing Penguin in the midst of the 'most wonderful time of the year.' I can't get over how chilly this film looks too. The lighting, the mise en scène, EVERYTHING is cold. It's felt through the screen.

"And Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman is so iconic that she's launched a million and one aesthetic Tumblr and Instagram account. I'm not kidding!"—Shelby Smout, Social Media Manager

Brazil (1985)

Brazil (1985)

"Ok ok hear me out. It takes place during Christmas and critiques hyper-consumerism. Sounds like a Christmas standard to me! Although, according to one of my colleagues, this is not a fun film to watch while feverish with Covid, so keep that in mind."—Reese Iliakis, Graphic Design Manager

Carol 2015

Carol (2015)

"It's December, which, as we know, is Carol-mas! It's the perfect time of year to cozy up to this achingly beautiful melodrama about falling in love."—Colleen O'Holleran, Festival Programmer

"The best lesbian holiday film you could ask for. The longing! The passion! We owe our lives to Patricia Highsmith."—Reese Iliakis, Graphic Design Manager

The Company of Wolves 1984

The Company of Wolves (1984)

"Neil Jordan's adaptation of Angela Carter's fairy tale retellings has an excellent winter atmosphere if you're looking for something seasonal, but a little less treacly. Dream-like practical effects, stories within stories - familiar and strange like a winter landscape."—Caroline Beston, Office Manager

Edward Scissorhands 1990

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

"I'll go with the 'Winona twirling in the snow' moment in Edward Scissorhands as a favorite moment in alternative holiday films. Let's call it the 'gateway drug' for the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton mutual addiction."—Julie LaLuna, Director of Finance & Administration

Eyes Wide Shut 1999

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

"Christmas backdrop for a psychosexual mystery...sign me up."—Carson Rennekamp, Development and Memberships Manager

"Self-explanatory."—Megan Leonard, Festival Programmer

Go 1999

Go (1999)

"You know what I like best about Christmas? The surprises."—Patrick Graham, Associate Director of Audience Development & Sales Strategy

"[Mannie is tripping on too much ecstasy; a cat gazes directly into his soul]
Cat: You are going to die."
—Marcus Gorman, Festival Programmer & Publications Editor

The Hebrew Hammer 2003

The Hebrew Hammer (2003)

"Apparently my favorite holiday movies have to have lots of comedy and action and this falls right in line. This may not be for you if you don't like ridiculous, madcap, cheeky, low brow humor or are easily offended. Example, evil Andy Dick is trying to make that loud whistle when people put their fingers in their mouth but he can't actually whistle so he just screams with his fingers in his mouth at his overworked toy makers."—Kelli Vasquez, Cinema House Manager

"The best Hanukkah movie ever—hands down."—Joel Feldman, Associate Director of Sponsorship Sales

Krampus 2015

Krampus (2015)

"I was not expecting to like this film as much as I did. We love a critique of our standard happy family holiday film including a demonic folklore figure! We all need a little more Krampus in our lives."—Reese Iliakis, Graphic Design Manager

"This is genuinely one of the best practical effect-heavy movies of the last decade."—Patrick McFarland, Cinema Assistant Manager & Rentals Coordinator

Love Actually 2003

Love Actually (2003)

"Here I am again, touting the simultaneous heart-breaking and heart-mending quality of LOVE ACTUALLY, which is celebrating its 20th year anniversary this year. While it is not unconventional in genre, it may be unconventional to be put among this list of highly curated and considered cinema. I endure the ridicule and eyerolls of my cinephile colleagues each holiday season, but in my mind, there is no room for taste, snobbery, or scholarly examination when it comes to holiday movies. It is my holiday movie platonic ideal - a movie I've watched a thousand times and will watch a thousand times not because of the quality of the film, but the memories created surrounding it: sobbing into my aunt's throw pillows with all the gals of my family surrounding me doing the same during that iconic scene between Karen and Harry..... breaking into the Prime Minister's victory dance when hearing the Pointer Sister's 'Jump for My Love' at a Goodwill much to the chagrin of my partner..... my mom calling me to tell me that 'hot Karl is on Westworld!!!'..... having to focus deeply to keep control over my body when someone told me they named their child Aurelia..... and on and on and on.

"It's schlocky, silly, and endlessly quotable. It's the movie version of the Christmas décor aisle of a Michael's or a Joann's. It makes me want to share it with someone and THAT is what makes any Christmas movie great."—Carley Callahan, Festival Producer

The Nightmare Before Christmas 1993

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

"Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is a yearly go-to for me—Jack Skellington's first taste of Christmas evokes that childlike wonder at the unattainable 'perfect Christmas.' Best when preceded by the Rankin Bass special The Year Without a Santa Claus..."—Beth Barrett, Artistic Director

Spanglish 2004

Spanglish (2004)

"One of the best things about December, on top of actual Holiday movies, is the fact that studios also use that time to release their Oscar-bait movies too, and Sony thought they had a surefire hit on their hands with James L. Brooks & Adam Sandler teaming up, and we all know how that went. I'm one of two people I know that love it.

"But I'll always think of this and the holidays in Wisconsin, because I was actually on my way to see The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, and when we got to the theater we were told the print never made it because of the snowstorm we just had the day before, so we had two movies starting at that moment: Meet the Fockers or Spanglish. We chose Spanglish.

"So, yes, it is a 'rich white people problems' movie that takes place in Malibu over a summer, but it makes me think of sitting in my winter coat in a Marcus Theater after a snowstorm during the Holiday season.

"Coincidentally, I actually liked Fockers when I finally watched it on DVD months later. Go, Babs."—Josh Wakeland, Technical Manager

The Muppet Christmas Carol
Little Women (1994)
Silent Night, Deadly Night
Fiddler on the Roof Sing-along
Little Women (2019)
Moulin Rouge! New Year’s Eve Sing-along
Winter Light

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