Christmas, so they say, comes earlier every year. In the past, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year's chief harbinger was big fat Santa, chugging a bottle of Coca Cola, riding in lightbulbs and CGI on the side of a van, heralding the festive year with a mouthful of fizzy sugar and rotted teeth. Cola's Santa may be mildly annoying and has forever tainted our jolly green English Father Christmas, but at least his adverts only last about sixty seconds and never aspired to, you know, real cinema.
Recently, however, the rules have changed. The past few years have seen the rise of the John Lewis Christmas advert and its imitators - all cloying children and covers of The Smiths, a bunny and a bear, and, as of 2014, Monty the Fucking Penguin. Cutesy, heart string-tugging affairs with actual stories, carefully chosen music (this year being a cover of a John Lennon song) and cuddly central characters that make softies like you and I go 'aww, look at that penguin!' Who doesn't like penguins?
And so, in a matter of years, the John Lewis Christmas advert has become event television. Like Doctor Who, except earlier. This year has seen TV continuity announcers actually promote the advert as though it's, you know, real cinema. Tears are shed, hearts have been melted and Monty the Fucking Penguin is a bona fide Christmas icon. Harmless, eh?
Well, no, actually. Adverts are not cinema, and if we continue to treat them as such, we're likely to end up living in a dystopian future in which the John Lewis advert of 2020 wins that year's Oscar for Best Story. Best acting? Why, that'd be Sainsbury's, of course. Not one to be left out, the supermarket has produced their own masterpiece; an epic war story about Christmas Eve in the trenches. Granted, they are using their cutesy little chocolate bars to raise money for charity, but you're highly encouraged to buy a ready-cooked chicken or some mince pies while you're there. These massive corporations have told us that their telly adverts are part of the Christmas Experience - that the latest adverts are big, unmissable events - and we've bought it, just like we buy their expensive baubles and bland foodstuffs.
You can't criticise any of it though; because that automatically makes you a Scrooge cunt or an emotionless Spock; because the penguin is cute; because most mainstream movie releases these days are such facile bullshit that TV adverts actually seem like a valid alternative anyway; because most mainstream movie releases these days are also manufactured and put together like the product they are; because if you dare criticise Our Boys or the military then you're probably an Al Qaeda lefty cunt; because shut up, stop taking it so seriously and get your Christmas shopping done, dummy.
With that in mind, a list! Ten alternatives to the John Lewis and Sainsbury's adverts. Not all are guaranteed to make you cry, but at least you won't be contributing to the downfall of our society's collective intelligence and cultural integrity by blubbing over a TV advert cooked up around a table in a John Lewis/Sainsbury's boardroom.
To penguins and dead soldiers!
10. Mr. Popper's Penguins
I know, I know. Any argument which opens with the gambit 'watch Mr. Popper's Penguins' is doomed from the start. Only slightly less manufactured and cynical than a television advert, but at least it has Jim Carrey in it, plus penguins - I would assume. I have never actually seen Mr. Popper's Penguins and (spoiler) probably never will. But I'll be not watching it with less passion than I will be in my not shopping in John Lewis' or not praising Sainsbury's for caring so much about soldiers. Carrey's buffoonery may not be held in such high regard as it once was, but this is the man who brought us The Mask, Ace Ventura and Batman Forever (shut up, I like it). What have John Lewis ever done for you? Sold you some overpriced cutlery, that one time?
9. March of the Penguins
Morgan Freeman. Penguins. Not trying to sell its audience anything but an abiding love of penguins and really cold climes. It may have daftly attached human properties to its subjects, but at least you won't walk away with the curious urge to buy an overly expensive cocktail mixer afterwards.
8. Forrest Gump
The first of two Tom Hanks movies on this list. Now, I am not a fan of Tom Hanks movies in general - or much of Forrest Gump - but if you're talking war films that make me sad (Come and See doesn't count, as I will curl up into a ball and start crying if I so much as think about that movie), then you don't get much better than the saga of Lieutenant Dan. It's a performance which makes Tom Hanks' oblivious dipshittery seem sort of charming and leaves the viewer feeling for the plight of the armed forces without feeling obligated to go out and buy a cynically-flavoured chocolate bar afterwards.
7. A Will Smith Movie
Some of the best plotted adverts ever made. I walked out of I, Robot, straight into Schuh and bought a pair of Converse. If I gave a fuck about cars, I'd probably drive an Audi. Nobody makes adverts like Will Smith. Except Will Smith is too big a star to make lowly adverts, so Hollywood has to spend a fortune on CGI and co-stars (except Martin Lawrence, who will probably turn up for a hot meal and copy of Reader's Wives), just so as to get Big Will flogging Converse, Audis and robots. Even better, some of it is even capable of achieving real emotion - just ask anyone who ever watched the fucking traumatic I Am Legend dog scene.
The only penguin worth giving a shit about. Monty? Little bastard will spend the whole night whispering sweet John Lewis nothings in your ear, snidely convincing your subconscious that you really, really want a toaster. Pingu, on the other hand, makes a great drinking buddy (although you may want to put some newspaper down) and his honk is bloody adorable.
5. Saving Private Ryan
Poor Steven Spielberg; all that time, money and talent spent putting together one of the biggest war movies ever made, only for a four minute television advert by a bread salesman to come along and steal all of the sniffles. I realise that not everyone has 169 minutes per advert break to sit and watch a gritty, hard-going Tom Hanks movie, but if you've given Sainsbury's propaganda the time of day, you owe it to yourself - nay, to Steven Spielberg - to watch this at least once. It won't earn you any Nectar points though, sorry.
4. Happy Feet
There's a reason John Lewis have gone for a cover of John Lennon's other song about love - the anti-consumerist streak of 'All You Need is Love' doesn't exactly go hand in hand with shopping at Classy Primark. If you really must get your fix of musical penguins, then Happy Feet is the way forward. Worth it for Brittany Murphy covering Queen's 'Somebody to Love', you'll come for the cute penguins but stay for the soundtrack. Crucially, you won't find yourself accidentally dancing first foot forward into a giant department store either. There is a sequel, but it's not as good. Still better than a fucking television advert though.
3. Blackadder Goes Forth: You know the episode...
The fourth series of the BBC's Blackadder (goes forth, geddit) transcended its sitcom format with what might be the most heart-breaking final episode of a TV programme of all time, ever. There are no jokes to the episode's final moments, and none here either - Blackadder Goes Forth is television's finest tribute to the fallen of WWI. The Sainsbury's advert is a Sainsbury's advert.
2. Batman Returns
Phew. And now, on a lighter note, back to the penguins. As televison-watchers everywhere rediscover a love of penguins through John Lewis commercials and FOX's Gotham, I'd like to (re)submit cinema's finest ever Penguin for your consideration. Even better - Batman Returns is a Christmas film too. So you've no excuse. Unless, of course, your excuse is 'I prefer TV adverts to classic movies.' In which case [insert Futurama 'I don't want to live on this planet anymore' meme here]
1. The Skittles Advert
I am not, nor ever have been employed by Skittles. Honest. I do work for Starburst though.