Yule love it!
Cue the “OMGWTFHOLYSHITREALLY??!!1!” gnashing and wailing as I remind you that it’s now less than a week before Thanksgiving. I had originally planned to get preachy on your asses by encouraging you to remember those who are without homes, food or companionship for the holiday by taking part in canned food drives or meal service, but I’m not in the mood for finger waving. Instead, I’ll just post a fun link to Wired‘s 10 Unconventional Winter Holiday Movies list. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Christmas themed movies, as they tend to be uneasy combinations of slapstick humor and mawkish sentimentality. Movies like Deck the Halls and Christmas With the Kranks involve a bunch of insufferable schmucks who are forcibly taught the meaning of holiday spirit by people who are somehow even more insufferable than they are, and it’s supposed to leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy about it afterwards. The last Christmas movie I saw in a theater was 2007’s Fred Claus, with normally respected actors Paul Giamatti and Kevin Spacey stumbling around in the type of film that normally stars Tim Allen or Tom Arnold (Vince Vaughn, on the other hand, seems to enjoy the genre, as evidenced by the upcoming Four Christmases, which doesn’t look any better). In my defense, I didn’t pay for my own ticket, but again, same formula: after a series of plot contrivances it’s up to a miserable bastard to “save Christmas,” only this time he has to save Christmas for the entire world! Ho ho ho, indeed!
True, “miserable bastard redeemed by the holiday spirit” is the crux of the most classic Christmas story of all, but Dickens managed to write it with a minimum of crotch-punching elves, and it still works pretty well today. The limited number of Christmas movies I do enjoy tend to be on the traditional side. They may not count as movies, but I’ll never get tired of the Grinch or Charlie Brown’s sad, droopy little tree. It’s a Wonderful Life may feel like it’s four hours long, but two key scenes–when little George Banks cries after getting his bad ear boxed and the last ten minutes–never fail to make me feel like there’s something in my eye. The 1951 version of A Christmas Carol captures the story’s themes of hope and redemption perfectly. And yeah, it’s all but ubiquitous now, but I love, really love A Christmas Story, loved it long before TNT started running it in 24-hour marathons, can quote entire scenes of dialogue from it (the Old Man’s incomprehensible swearing is always fun to mimic) and usually try to watch it at least once per year. It’s pretty much the perfect holiday movie, touching without being sappy and funny without resorting to toilet humor. As far as less conventional fare, my second favorite “modern” Christmas movie is Scrooged, arguably the best updated theme on A Christmas Carol, followed by the absurdist National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, which is really only funny to those of us who actually have relatives that would empty out the septic tanks of their RVs in front of our homes.
That being said, Wired actually did pretty well with their list, even the lovably goofy Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. I always forget that Die Hard counts as a holiday movie; as with Gremlins it’s a movie that takes place at Christmas without actually being about Christmas. Still, if nothing else it deserves mention for featuring Run-DMC’s ‘Christmas in Hollis,’ one of my top ten favorite holiday songs, on the soundtrack. I’m also glad they remembered to include the hilarious The Hebrew Hammer, one of only two movies about Hanukkah, the other being Adam Sandler’s animated abomination Eight Crazy Nights. I’d argue that The Nightmare Before Christmas toes the line between being a Halloween themed movie and a Christmas themed movie, but since I can watch it pretty much any time of the year it doesn’t really matter. Commenters make a few other good suggestions, such as Edward Scissorhands, Trading Places and Lethal Weapon, not to mention a couple that wouldn’t have even occurred to me, like Better Off Dead and 1941. I was also glad to see quite a few mentions of The Ref, a holiday movie that’s black as a lump of coal. Kevin Spacey, long before Fred Claus, and Judy Davis are an estranged couple held hostage by Denis Leary, yet are less concerned with that than with getting through yet another interminable Christmas dinner with Spacey’s horrible family. The Ref works because its humor hits uncomfortably close to the bone for a lot of the viewers, Yr. Pal included. Its characterizations are sharp without resorting to stereotypes: everybody knows at least one member of their family who resembles someone in this film, whether it’s Spacey’s passive-aggressive sister-in-law or his arrogant, self-martyring mother who gives gifts less out of love than as yet another way to keep her family in her thrall. By the end of the film no one has been redeemed, no one has been taught the true meaning of Christmas, the best thing that happens is that Spacey and Davis discover that one step towards saving their marriage is Spacey cutting his apron strings. Perhaps next Christmas will be a better one for them.