Did we get there? Did the miracle happen already?
Please don’t get me wrong now: I love the Christmas season. I love holiday cheer. I’m well with that. Anyone who misinterprets me is just plain misjudging. I’m a holiday kind of guy.
I just hate repetition.
Christmas is a magical time when the aura of the season make the lights of New York look just that much prettier, and the effort to be decent and friendly make the cold air just a little warmer.
But it’s also a time when some of the worst music ever written gets played on steady loop for six weeks straight. There’s the occasional gem (praises be to Nat King Cole and Tony Bennett) but usually we’re dealing with Mariah Carey, and worse still. Here’s a tip to my enemies: If you ever find yourself needing to torture me, you can use this. It’ll do the job.
The movies we get this time of year are generally better, but let’s face it, anything gets a little tired being played every year for decades in a row. Obviously the season won’t go by without another viewing of ELF, RUDOLPH, FROSTY, IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, or A CHRISTMAS STORY. Even THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS is a little played-out at this point. All good movies, even great ones, but can we take a teensy break already?
So here are a few that serve as a solid alternative:
12. THE REF (1994)
A burglar (Denis Leary) breaks into the home of a rich family while the parents (Kevin Spacey & Judy Davis) are having epic domestic squabbles. Ted Demme, one of the most consistent directors of the 1990s (yup!), wrings the tang out of every last sardonic quip from the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss. You’d probably have to be a Leary fan to dig this movie, but you’re not already, it can probably make you one.
11. THE ICE HARVEST (2005)
Comedy legend Harold Ramis directs this passion project, a bleak holiday noir featuring John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, and the very underrated Oliver Platt, who runs away with this movie. Cusack and Thornton steal a ton of money from a local gangster (Randy Quaid, scarier in retrospect) but can’t get out of town due to the weather. Things go very wrong, as they so often do in noir films.
10. BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
You knew that Tim Burton had a thing for Christmas (THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS), but did you remember that this accurately-rated Batman sequel was a Christmas movie also? It’s a typically Tim Burton kind of holiday party, with some mightily evil-looking toys and some even creepier titans of industry running things from the top. (Christopher Walken’s character, Max Shreck, is a blatant homage to the star of one of the most important horror movies ever.)
Anyway, if you like penguins at Christmastime, here’s one of the very weirdest scenes from BATMAN RETURNS.
9. BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Almost ten years before he made A CHRISTMAS STORY, director Bob Clark made this holiday-themed horror film, which also predates another holiday film which it has much more in common: John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN. In this movie, a phone-call-makin’ freak terrorizes a sorority house over Christmas break. Some of the girls are played by SUPERMAN’s Margot Kidder, SCTV’s Andrea Martin, and the insanely distracting Olivia Hussey. Fans of awesomeness will want to know that ENTER THE DRAGON’s John Saxon plays the investigating detective. Here’s a typical scene, which starts as a typical Bob Clark comedic scene and hangs around long enough to become creepy. (The language is pretty upsetting, actually. Although I’ve heard worse around my family dinner table.)
8. GREMLINS (1984)
If you haven’t seen this movie, stop reading now and get to it. In fact, I’m not sure why I didn’t rank it higher. The great cinematic prankster Joe Dante directs Phoebe Cates (the Jessica Alba of the 1980s, make no mistake) and a ton of puppets in this story of what can go wrong when you don’t follow the instructions on the box of your Christmas gifts.
7. RARE EXPORTS (2010)
The newest addition to my list of favorite Christmas flicks is this awesome oddity from the old world. Rare Exports is a story about the kind of Santa Claus who’s more consumed with dealing with the naughty kids than rewarding the nice ones. The real Santa Claus, if you’re actually interested in the origins of the legend. Rare Exports is now available on all home-video formats – try and see it! For further incentive, check out my extended rave review.
6. KISS KISS BANG BANG (2005)
Ever spent Christmastime in Los Angeles? Writer-director Shane Black has. This movie is kind of what it’s like. KISS KISS BANG BANG was one of my top ten movies of the previous decade, and its dead-on depiction of Christmas for a certain kind of bruised optimist, during Christmastime or not, is only one of the many reasons why.
Bonus: Michelle Monaghan in her holiday costume.
5. MEAN GIRLS (2004)
No, it’s not a Christmas movie. But it has this scene. So… you know.
4. BAD SANTA (2003)
You knew this one was coming. It could have been for this scene. Or for this one. Or for several others. Honestly, this movie, about the most belligerent and degenerate department-store Santa of all time, is already a legitimate holiday classic. It’s just not been played out yet. Honestly, I’d be surprised to see a day when BAD SANTA doesn’t feel as fresh and funny as it did when it first came out. Hasn’t come yet.
3. DIE HARD (1988)
If only because it’s the only Christmas movie I know to have Run-DMC’s “Christmas In Hollis” (which is the single best Christmas song) on its soundtrack, DIE HARD belongs on my list. Also because it’s great and a model of superior action filmmaking, but for these purposes, all that is secondary to being a vessel for the aforementioned song.
2. TRADING PLACES (1983)
Remember what I said about BAD SANTA a minute ago? You have to give Dan Aykroyd his due credit for beating Billy Bob Thornton to the punch (pun fully intended) by twenty years. Check it out…
1. SCROOGED (1988)
It’s Bill Murray. It’s Bill Murray in the Ebenezer Scrooge role of a contemporary version of A Christmas Carol. Bottom line, it’s Bill Murray. Therefore, it’s my favorite Christmas movie. You can read my more extended appreciation of SCROOGED here. You can do whatever you want, really, as long as you have a very happy Christmas, and even happier New Year’s, and a happy all the rest!