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The best of the big screen on the small screen

SATURDAY 22

Miracle On 34th Street

Film4, 11am

Scores high on the Christmas list because it's got the real Santa in it. Or is he the real Santa? Edmund Gwenn believes so, even though he's forced to prove his sanity in court – and give the daughter of a single mum the house in the suburbs she has always wanted. Pure magic from 1947.

Die Hard 2

Channel 4, 10.40pm

Scores high on the Christmas list because it's got snow in it. The white stuff is all over Dulles International Airport, helping the baddies and hindering the goodies as terrorists take the building hostage in order to boost a drug-trafficking dictator. Just as well John McClane (Bruce Willis) is in the arrivals lounge waiting for his wife's plane to land ...

Rare Exports From The Land Of The Original Santa Claus

Channel 4, 1am

Premiere. Scores high on the Christmas list because it's got snow and Santa in it. Quite a few Santas, actually, but they're not the friendly ho-ho-ho chaps we've grown to love. These wizened old men owe a lot more to ancient Finnish legends, and must be hunted and trained before they're let loose on kids. Trust me, you don't want to be on their naughty list. Gory black comedy with subtitles.

SUNDAY 23

Cool Runnings

BBC One, 2.55pm

The Olympics gave us some amazing against-all-odds stories this summer, but none quite as ripe for a big-screen makeover as this true-ish take on the exploits of the Jamaican bobsled team at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Canada. Classic sports underdog clichés win the audience over by the time it reaches the finish line.

In Bruges

Channel 4, 11pm

With his latest movie Seven Psychopaths released in UK cinemas just a couple of weeks ago, here's a timely opportunity to catch up with (or simply relish again) Martin McDonagh's brilliantly black comedy-thriller. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson spark off each other as Irish hitmen sent to Belgium to effectively wait out their own assassinations. Think Samuel Beckett with extra guns and swearing.

CHRISTMAS EVE

Lady And The Tramp

BBC One, 5.05pm

Premiere. It's odd to think that a 57-year-old cartoon could only now be having its first network television screening, but Walt Disney always jealously guarded those classics in his archives. True love breaks down the doggy class system as pampered Lady is aided by mongrel Tramp and his rough-and-ready chums when a new arrival disrupts her comfy lifestyle.

A Christmas Carol

BBC One, 6.45pm

Premiere. As ever, there are umpteen versions of the Dickens story sprinkled like icing sugar all over the telly schedules (go for the Muppets or Alastair Sim, if you can), and this one – starring Jim Carrey and animated by director Robert Zemeckis using the same motion-capture techniques he used in The Polar Express – is the latest on the list. Visually clever, it becomes wearing because Carrey ignores Dickens too often in favour of his own riffs.

CHRISTMAS DAY

Kids Movies

Alison Rowat has picked out the best of the bunch in the panels elsewhere on these pages, but if the little ones need a break from the day's unwrapping action, you could always settle them down in front of these animated treats. Robin Williams steals the show as the big blue genie in Aladdin (STV, 9.25am), while the endearing animals of the prehistoric franchise give Darwin a spin in Ice Age 3: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs (Film4, 11am). The stars of New York Zoo go back to their roots in Madgascar: Escape 2 Africa (BBC One, 12.40pm), and Woody meets Buzz in the buddy-movie masterpiece that is the original Toy Story (STV, 1.25pm).

Classic Movies

It's five-star viewing for grown-ups all the way as Scarlett O'Hara struggles through the Civil War in Gone With The Wind (Channel 5, 9am); three fun-loving sailors take Manhattan in On The Town (BBC Two, noon); the chariots are on fire in Ben-Hur (Channel 5, 1.15pm); the golden age of Hollywood is revisited with a splash of sound in Singin' In The Rain (BBC Two, 1.35pm); Bogart and Bergman play it again in Casablanca (More 4, 5.55pm); and Charles Laughton has a face that rings a bell in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (BBC Two, 1.30am).

BOXING DAY

How To Train Your Dragon

BBC One, 5pm

Premiere. One of the best children's animated movies to come out in recent years, this adaptation of Cressida Cowell's book follows village weakling Hiccup as he uses brains not brawn (and a bit of kindness to the flying menace) to rid his Viking tribe of the dragons that have plagued them for centuries. Good voice cast includes Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson and David Tennant – because Vikings were Scottish, obviously.

Alice In Wonderland

BBC One, 6.50pm

Premiere. The combination of the Lewis Carroll story, Tim Burton as director and Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter should have created something dark and delicious, but poor 3D rendering damaged this fantasy film in the cinema. Chances are it'll look better on the small screen – and there is plenty to enjoy in Burton's off-centre vision of Wonderland and its weird characters.

THURSDAY 27

Astro Boy

Channel 4, 11.50am

Premiere. Something has been lost in translation as favourite Japanese Manga character Astro Boy gets an American makeover, complete with a big-name voice cast including Nicolas Cage and Donald Sutherland. At least there are a few decent action sequences when the robot-kid goes on the run.

City Of Ember

Channel 4, 1.35pm

Premiere. No, that's not someone slurring the name of our country's capital, but an underground town in a post-apocalyptic world, where the power source that supplies the electric light within the darkness is beginning to fail. The setting boasts a terrific retro style and the youngsters in the cast (with Saoirse Ronan leading the way) keep pushing the story forwards.

Secretariat

BBC Two, 3.05pm

Premiere. Schmaltzy and old- fashioned horse drama that's a few furlongs behind Black Beauty and Seabiscuit in the Movie Charm Stakes. Diane Lane plays Penny Chenery, the real-life owner of the titular nag who won the Triple Crown in the early 1970s.

Sunset Boulevard

Channel 4, 3.50am

A ridiculous time of the day (or night) to screen the film that's far and away the best movie on the small screen today, but there you go. It starts with a corpse floating in a swimming pool, relating the story of his own demise, and gets even better from there, as Billy Wilder casts a caustic eye on the dark side of Hollywood.

FRIDAY 28

Planet 51

Channel 4, 11.05am

Premiere. In a neat little reversal on the golden age of sci-fi movies, an American astronaut lands on a planet populated by little green men – but it's the aliens who think he wants to eat their brains, based on the programmes they've been watching on their televisions. There's lots of fun to be had here, even if the animation itself isn't quite up to big-budget standards.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

BBC One, 3.30pm

Premiere. A schoolboy discovers that he has an aptitude for magic and a destiny to become the greatest sorcerer ever, but first he must overcome great evil. Umm ... I'm not sure, but I think Disney might have been trying to cash in on another, rather more successful franchise when they threw some noisy special effects at the screen and cast Nicolas Cage as a Merlin-style magician in modern Manhattan.

SATURDAY 29

Space Chimps

Channel 4, 8.45am

Premiere. With the same narrative subtlety as Snakes On A Plane, Space Chimps blasts the slacker grandson of the first ape astronaut out into the universe. After that, the big ideas dry up, the banter becomes wearing and the animated action begins to flag.

Wuthering Heights

Channel 4, 11.10pm

Premiere. Much was expected of Red Road director Andrea Arnold's first stab at a period drama. And much was delivered, certainly by Robbie Ryan's cinematography and the bold, dark-skinned casting of Solomon Glave and James Howson as Heathcliff. Arnold dirties up the costumes and goes for a more realistic take on Emily Bronte's book, concentrating on the class and racial divides at the centre of the obsessive affair between Heathcliff and Cathy.

SUNDAY 30

Arrietty

Film4, 4.55pm

Premiere. Perhaps there was always something about Mary Norton's novel The Borrowers that would appeal to Japanese animators. This version, from 2010, shares the same senses of wonder and imagination found in other works by Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), the co-writer here. As the tiny Clock family, who live under the floorboards of a house in Tokyo, get to know an ill 12-year-old boy, the adventure plays out against the distorted scale of the familiar interiors and a scary back garden.

Blade Runner

BBC Two, 11.30pm

If you've lost count of the many versions of his 1982 science fiction classic that Ridley Scott has sanctioned, this is the "final cut" of 2007, which makes minor changes to tidy up continuity errors and greatly improves the print quality (it's also being shown on the BBC HD channel). The vision of the future – in which Harrison Ford hunts down renegade "replicants" – is one of the most memorable in cinema history. It's followed at 1.20am by feature-length documentary Dangerous Days: On The Edge Of Blade Runner.

HOGMANAY

The Sound Of Music

BBC One, 3.10pm

Come on, you knew it would be on at some point. So here it is, nicely positioned a couple of days after Sue Perkins got you interested in the story again with her Climbed Every Mountain documentary (BBC Two, Saturday 29, 8.15pm). Mary Poppins is on BBC One tomorrow at 1.45pm, in case you're wondering.

NEW YEAR'S DAY

The Princess And The Frog

BBC One, 4pm

Premiere. Just as the 3D boom was beginning to grip cinemas, Disney struck a blow for traditional animation techniques with this feisty tale of a go-getting poor girl from New Orleans, whose plan to open her own restaurant is made more difficult when she's turned into a frog. A little bit of local voodoo is added to the mix, giving a darker hue to the characters and songs.

Robin Hood

Channel 4, 9pm

Premiere. More a prequel to the story we know so well than yet another stumble through the tourist-friendly legends of Sherwood Forest. Russell Crowe is suitably battle-hardened as the crusader returned to England's shores just in time to save the realm from a French plot. Ridley Scott's film is visually, psychologically and politically more realistic than earlier adaptations.

WEDNESDAY 2

The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad

Channel 4, 11.25am

It should be one of the rules of the holiday season that, before a return to work/school/normality beckons, everybody has to watch at least one movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen. The technology that brought men and monsters together in the same shot has dated, but not Harryhausen's cleverly designed creatures, which here include a giant Cyclops and a sword-wielding skeleton. Jason And The Argonauts, with a whole army of those bony battlers, is on BBC Two on Friday at 3.15pm.

THURSDAY 3

Catfish

Channel 4, 12.05am

It's best to know as little as possible about this weirdly compelling documentary before you sit down. Let's just say that nothing – nothing – is as it first seems when a New York photographer begins online correspondence with the family of an eight-year-old art prodigy. What's true and what's fake, on every level, is questioned when he goes on the road to meet her.

FRIDAY 4

Calamity Jane

Channel 4, 2pm

Doris Day at her tomboy best, Howard Keel dressed as a Red Indian, The Deadwood Stage, Just Blew In From The Windy City, Secret Love, The Black Hills Of Dakota ... a handful of the many reasons why this Western-themed musical from 1953 will always be on the must-watch list.

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