Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

Merry Christmas from Iggy Pop!

Posted: December 24, 2013 in Holidays, Punks

Iggy Pop

Iggy Pop and some friends have a holiday message for you:



Scrooged (1988)


We’re now in week four of Christmas.  Really.  Christmas Day is officially once every December 25, right?  Somewhere along the line, someone — very probably someone who owns a shopping mall chain — erased the numeral specific, and turned all of December into Christmas.


Actually, that’s too generous.  I started hearing Christmas music in stores on November 1st this year.  November 1st!  Like the otherwise relentless Headless Horseman and his aversion to bodies of water, these demons of consumerism haven’t yet found a way to cross the Halloween threshold, but since Thanksgiving doesn’t have much in the way of  identifiable tunage, they can stampede right over that one.  I know how these corporate coyotes think – people hear Christmas themes and they start buying like crazy.


You don’t have to agree, but I’m calling it like it really is.  The day after Thanksgiving is a shamefully, even despicably, early time for the major corporations to start pummeling the universe with Christmas songs and broadcasts.  The day after Halloween – that’s legitimately criminal.  Is it about the religion or the spirit anymore, or is it about selling CDs?  Gross.  It’d be all worth it if people all got with the program, but take a ride on the subway.  Most people are the same miserable, self-serving assholes in December that they are all year round.  Again, don’t get me wrong, I like the Christmas season mighty fine, but I have to admit that at just about this time every year, I’m just a little bit looking forward to December 26th.





As long as they slip Bill Murray’s SCROOGED into the programming every once in a while, I know I can make it through another day of getting knocked around by pushy commuters while being bombarded by that god-awful Paul McCartney song.  SCROOGED reminds me of what it could and should be about.


People who know what they’re talking about, when it comes to Bill Murray movies, usually point to QUICK CHANGE as the most underrated Bill Murray movie.  And they’re right (that‘s a longer talk for another time), but I would also submit this one for consideration.


SCROOGED isn’t as thoroughly hilarious as it might be, mostly because Bill Murray plays it so MEAN for much of the movie (‘course, he is basically playing Ebenezer Scrooge after all), and there are a couple genuinely creepy moments (which I won‘t spoil if you haven‘t seen it yet but of course it’s to do with Christmas Future), well evoked by director Richard Donner, composer Danny Elfman, and cinematographer Michael Chapman (TAXI DRIVER).



But mainly, Bill keeps things real damn funny.  No one plays the detached sardonic cynic with secreted reserves of sensitivity better than Bill Murray.  He also does a pretty decent Richard Burton impression, which is very random.


Also, I love the supporting cast. SCROOGED has got Karen Allen, the coolest lady in all of 1980s cinema.  She was the voice of sanity in ANIMAL HOUSE, the girl who brought Starman to Earth, and the indisputable greatest girl Indiana Jones ever met, and she’s really lovable in all her scenes with Bill Murray here.  The rest of the ensemble is filled out by weird, memorable cameos and surprising supporting turns from unexpected places.  And best of all, this movie even has room for the eternally badass Robert Mitchum as Bill’s boss.  (Which makes sense.  How many other actors could fill such a role?)


But moreover, this is a crucial showcase for the greatest working film comedian.  Murray made this movie in 1988, after four years of virtual seclusion from movies, so it obviously meant something to him for this to be his return to cinema screens.  I really think that the final segment of the movie, where Bill Murray makes the case for Christmas spirit directly to the camera in a combination of singing and pleading, is one of his all-time best performances.  I don’t know how much of it was scripted, but it sure doesn’t feel that way.  It looks just like someone genuinely pouring their heart out.  Sure, it’s more than a bit corny.  But big-time emotional moments like that always are.



I don’t know about you, but those look like real tears to me.  That’s not Hollywood actor bullshit.  That’s a guy speaking his heart.  That fucking moves me.


He was  so often misunderstood as strictly sardonic or detached or cynical in his approach, but I would maintain that there has always been at least one passing moment of authentic humanity in any Bill Murray comedy performance, no matter how out-there the surrounding film, whether it be GHOSTBUSTERS (note the way he looks at the statue of the devil dog when he thinks Sigourney Weaver is gone forever), GHOSTBUSTERS II (that brief moment when he addresses the baby with “I should have been your father”),  and yes, even in the elephant movie.  That’s why more serious-minded indie filmmakers like Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Aaron Schneider, and Jim Jarmusch were  able to snap him right up and do wonders with him.  And that’s why he’s one of the all-time great film comedians, and certainly why he’s my personal favorite.



Your luck just ran out.

Leprechaun (1993).

There has been one story consistently dominating the news stands and magazine racks for the last six years or so, and it is clearly the dominant political issue of our times.  No, it’s not marriage equality.  No, it’s not the Iraq War.  No, it’s not the recession.  It has only ever been, in fact, this question:


Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie?

To this question I tend to reply: I’m not Brad Pitt (obviously) so I never had to choose between the two.  It’s a Coke/Pepsi, Betty/Veronica kind of a decision – you could probably pick a favorite if you really had to, but it’d be a photo finish.  Both options are pretty great.

That said, Jennifer Aniston is the only one who appeared in a Leprechaun movie, so she holds a special place in my heart, and has for almost fifteen years.  I don’t imagine she’d appreciate me spotlighting this early credit on her resume, but she’s welcome to take it up with me personally.  I have only nice things to say about her in Leprechaun.  However, it’s interesting to note that, while it’s hard to remember a time when Jennifer Aniston wasn’t one of the most famous people on the planet, on this movie she took second billing.


Marvel put little effort into their She-Hulk movie poster.

Look at that poster.  Look whose name comes first.  Look who appears first.  Look where your eye is drawn, despite the pretty lady in the foreground. If the Leprechaun franchise is comparable to the James Bond franchise in any way, it’s that Jennifer Aniston’s role in it is that of a Bond girl.  She may be the best of them, she may be the Ursula Andress of the Leprechaun movies, but she’s still not the star of the franchise.  Warwick Davis is.  Warwick Davis… is James Bond.

At the time of Leprechaun‘s release, Warwick Davis had appeared in Return Of The Jedi and Labyrinth, but was otherwise best known for his starring role as the idealistic, courageous magician called upon to save the day in the George Lucas/ Ron Howard epic fantasy film Willow.

"Heroes come in all sizes."

From that role, of quintessential decency, to a role of the most vile and lascivious evil – this is some range.

Yes I said that.

You can’t see me right now, but my tongue is not at rest in my cheek; it is instead blowing a disparaging raspberry at all those who disagree.  I won’t ever make the argument that Leprechaun is in any way a great, good, or even decent movie, but I will argue that Warwick Davis dives into a thoroughly ridiculous role to hugely entertaining results, and that such a performance does in fact require a talented actor.  Without Johnny Depp’s lead in the Pirates Of The Caribbean flicks, Jack Sparrow does not endure.

Warwick Davis as "Willow Ulfgood."

Warwick Davis as "The Leprechaun."

So it is with Warwick Davis and his portrayal of the evil Leprechaun.  He gives his entire commitment, even in the scene where he is forced by the film’s protagonists to run around shining shoes as they toss them into his path.  (If you’re asking why, you’re probably giving the detail more thought than the filmmakers did, but it has something to do with a little-known rule of legend that evil leprechauns remain shoemakers by trade and therefore cannot stop themselves from plying that trade, even amidst a homicidal rampage.)  With the Leprechaun, Warwick Davis managed to create a memorable movie monster, even if the distance between the Leprechaun and Michael Myers or Francis Dollarhyde is akin to the distance between Jupiter and Cleveland.

Probably not included on her Lifetime Achievement reel.

The supporting cast, or his stable of victims, is not quite as memorable.  In fact, without going back to the original film, the only characters besides the evil Leprechaun who I even remember are Jennifer Aniston, who did her job and sometimes acted scared and was otherwise adequate and adorable, and Mark Holton, who is best known as Chubs (cruel naming there) from the Teen Wolf pictures, and more importantly, as Francis from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.

"Hey, it's Enrico Palazzo!"

In Leprechaun, he plays Ozzie, a mentally-challenged handyman who sets off the whole chain of events by finding the Leprechaun’s pot of gold at the end of a rainbow and promptly swallowing one of the gold coins.  Basically, the Leprechaun can’t have his money fucked with.  Whenever that happens, he shows up to take back his gold and to kill everyone who comes in contact with it.  You can keep your Pulp Fiction and your Seinfeld:  “I need me gold!” is one of the great lost catchphrases of the 1990s.  The exchange between Ozzie and the Leprechaun when they realize the location of the last gold shilling is also pretty priceless.  Basically, any interchange between these two dudes are among the film’s highlights.

"You only got away because me powers are weak! I NEED ME GOLD!"

Besides all that?  Even if you haven’t seen this movie, you’ve already seen it.  Spooky prologue introducing villain, protagonists introduced, GOLD, “gulp,” villain shows up to reclaim his property, murder, murder, murder, murder, good guys win, but maybe villain will come back.  Same structure as most horror flicks — it’s just a series of murders of peripheral characters by the evil Leprechaun, as Jennifer Aniston and her friends try to find out how to stop him.  [SPOILER:  Four-leaf clover, slingshot, mouth, “I’m melting!”]

What I fondly remember from this movie are the various methods of transportation appropriated by the Leprechaun, most of which double as implements of murder:  the mini-car, the pogo-stick, the roller skates, the wheel chair.  It’s amazing to watch, if a bit insane, considering the fact that the Leprechaun has the power to magically teleport himself anywhere he wants.

Anyway, that’s what you need to know about the first one.  If for some reason someone reads these articles and is somehow persuaded to actually watch these movies, this is one of two to watch.  The franchise very quickly gets very rough on you, as we’ll soon see.

Next up: Leprechaun 2: Bride Of Leprechaun (1994).


Cold, cold, cold.  That’s all I hear about, the second the thermometer drops below 40.  But at the moment, all the complaints are pretty valid.  It actually is very cold in New York, 16 degrees worth, as evidenced by the fact that my scrotum is tucking itself up in my grundle.  That’s gross, so it’s a good time to change the subject and look at the greatest Winter Movies ever made.  There aren’t as many of them as you’d think — probably because the majority of folks who make the movies live in Los Angeles and they don’t have the same meteorogical issues to ponder.

So what makes a great Winter Movie? 

First of all, forget the holidays – we’re well beyond all that happy-joy-joy nonsense.  A Winter movie isn’t about celebrating, quite the opposite in fact, and it probably doesn’t end happily.  A great Winter Movie may or may not have snow in it, although all ten of my choices do, so maybe that is a criteria after all. 

OK, a great Winter Movie convincingly depicts snow.  That’s number one.  But it goes much deeper than that. 

At heart, a great Winter Movie must make you feel COLD.  Just watching it, regardless of season, will make you feel cold in your bones (and aforementioned other parts.)  A great Winter Movie leaves you lost and snowblind and deeply suspect at the very concept that springtime will ever come.

The following ten (give or take) are the movies that I chose.  If you have your own suggestions, I’d love to hear ‘em…

P.S.  Having seen Joe Carnahan’s bruising, brutal new film The Grey, be forewarned that this list will very soon be either amended, addended, or extended.



10. Encounters At The End Of The World (2008)

In keeping with his absolute lack of fear at jumping right into foreign situations, the iconoclastic director Werner Herzog made this documentary about daily life at McMurdo Base in Antarctica.  As with every one of Herzog’s documentaries I’ve seen, there are moments of bizarre eccentricity and moments of extreme sadness and sometimes both at the same time.  Herzog makes profound observations about an isolated culture made up of people who have abandoned the rest of the world, and captures otherworldly images that will blow your mind.  (The underwater footage literally looks like life in another galaxy.)  The must-see moment in this movie happens when a penguin goes insane and heads off alone to certain death.   When Herzog warns you at the beginning that this ain’t no March Of The Penguins, he isn’t kidding.

9. Never Cry Wolf (1983)

This movie is based on a book by Farley Mowat, a famous naturalist, and it’s about a scientist who is sent to the Arctic to study wolves who have been [wrongly] blamed for a drop in caribou numbers.  It stars Charles Martin Smith (American Graffiti, The Untouchables, Starman), Brian Dennehy, and a bunch of wolves.  I haven’t seen this movie in more than twenty years (holy crap!) and still it makes my list.  That’s some memorable cold.

8. Orca (1977)

I’ve written about Orca before, in the context of its intentions as a post-Jaws horror movie, but Orca’s major cinematic contribution is less its ability to scare you, and more its ability to make you shiver in the literal sense.  The movie is set on the wintery coasts of the Canadian North, and killer whale or no, these people are getting in the water.  Crazy!  The feeling gets more frigid as the movie’s action moves away from civilization.  As star Richard Harris pursues the vengeance-crazed killer whale further and further north, the scenery goes white and looming ice floes are as dangerous as the primary threat. Things don’t end well for the human half of the cast, so be forewarned:  this list gets ever bleaker from here on out.


7. Fargo (1996)

One of the touchstone movies of the 1990s, this movie probably needs little introduction.  If you love movies, you’re probably a Coen Brothers fan, and if you’re a Coen Brothers fan, you’ve seen this one.  It’s set in Minnesota in the dead of winter, and while serious critics can go on and on about the originality of the screenplay and of the choice of a pregnant police chief as protagonist, all I think of when I think back to this movie is “BRRRR.”  That refers to the cold existential state of criminality displayed in the movie, sure, but mostly to the physical reality that a state of constant snow and ice presents.  Essential Winter Movie scene: Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy), frustrated and furious, venting his blind rage on his iced-over windshield with an ice scraper.


6. Let The Right One In (2008)

Another film set in the dead of winter, only this one takes place in Sweden, where I’m not sure if they even get any other season.  Have you heard about this movie?  It made just about everyone’s year-end best list back in 2008.  It really is that good – atmospheric and affecting.  It’s a story about a young boy, tormented at school, who meets an unusual little girl who moves into his apartment complex with her much-older companion.  Safe to say, she isn’t what she seems.  (I won’t reveal it here, but what she is becomes clear fairly quickly, although you’ll never guess how the story develops.)  I feel like a movie that’s this good about showing the breath escape from a just-killed person on a freezing night is guaranteed a place on this list.

Honorable Mention: The American remake, Let Me In, from 2010.  Nearly as chilly as its inspiration.

5. Groundhog Day (1993)

Yeah, it’s a comedy.  There’s a happy ending.  Am I breaking my own rules here?  Maybe – but remember how dark this particular comedy gets in the middle, even if it never relinquishes its hold on hilarious.  Quick synopsis, as if anyone needs it:  Bill Murray, the most profound of comedians, plays a nasty, self-obsessed weatherman who finds himself reliving the most boring day of his life over and over in a quaint town in Pennsylvania.  At one point, the monotony gets to him so much that he decides to take his own life.  Which doesn’t work, don’t worry, but let’s see something that dark make its way into a Sandra Bullock comedy.  Won’t happen.  No one else has the guts.  Bill Murray’s never been afraid of the big questions in his comedy, which is why he’s been so successful in recent years in more dramatic roles.   Additionally, Groundhog Day is linked to an earlier wintry Bill Murray movie, Scrooged, in a fairly depressing way – both movies feature Bill Murray encountering a homeless person who has died from ailments related to prolonged exposure to cold.  In Scrooged, the homeless guy is literally frozen, but in Groundhog Day, it’s arguably more upsetting since it plays out in a more realistic way.  For a while there, Bill Murray was uniquely concerned about not letting the homeless freeze to death.  It’s not a very humorous concern, but it sure the hell is something we could all stand to think about in this weather.


4. A Simple Plan (1998)

When people think of Sam Raimi, they are either thinking of the Evil Dead movies or the Spider-Man movies.  It takes a moment to recall that he had an intriguing transitional period between those two “trilogies,” where he started to merge his incredible horror-cinema skills with a more mainstream sensibility.  A Simple Plan is the best film from that period, adapted from a novel by Scott Smith and starring Bill Paxton, Bridget Fonda, and a hardly-recognizable Billy Bob Thornton.  A trio of small-town guys find an abandoned airplane full of cash in the middle of the woods, and decide to keep the money.  Things go bad.  It’s better the less you know going in, so I’ll ruin no plot details – just please note that we’re now in the top five bleakest Winter Movies ever, so you know I mean seriously bad.


3. The Shining (1980)

A Winter Movie rises in greatness proportionally to the level of movie star who is frozen solid at the end, and in The Shining, one of the hugest movie stars of all time is frozen solid.  This movie needs no introduction and it’s best remembered,  fairly, for its terrifying horror imagery.  (The moment with the highest pants-pooping potential, in my opinion, is this one.)  But beyond its status as one of the most memorable horror movies ever made, let’s not forget its Winter status. Jack and his family are cooped up in that spooky hotel all winter – it’s the season, even before the ghosts, that turns him into an unfriendly lumberjack.

2. The Great Silence (1968)

If you’ve seen Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, congratulations!  You’ve seen the greatest movie ever.  But even if you’ve seen every Western that Leone made (which you ought to), you’ve only scratched the surface of the vast reserve of wonderfulness that is Italian Westerns.  Sergio Corbucci’s The Great Silence is among the best-regarded of those movies – it’s about a mute gunslinger that tries to help a small community who have been besieged by vicious criminals led by the ever-disturbing Klaus Kinski.  And it all takes place on a wooded frontier blanketed with snow – even the horses have a hell of a time getting anywhere.  The Great Silence has probably THE down ending of all time, and the score by Ennio Morricone (already on this list for his contributions to Orca) is one of the most haunting I’ve ever heard.  If you think you can handle it, then I couldn’t recommend this movie any more highly.


1. The Thing (1982)

Skip the shite remake, with all its CGI and sound stages.  This right here is the G.O.A.T.  Accept no substitutes, or more specifically, beware all imitations. 

What can be said, at this point? John Carpenter remade a sci-fi classic by his hero, Howard Hawks, and arguably, he beat it. It’s still a brilliant set-up – a malicious shape-shifting alien being plagues twelve guys manning a research station in Antarctica – and the follow-through is equally brilliant, between the direction by Carpenter, the imagery by cinematographer Dean Cundey, the effects by Rob Bottin, the score by Ennio Morricone (him again!), and the eclectic ensemble cast of character actors (some you’ve seen before; some who were never seen again), led by Kurt Russell and the legendary Keith David.  The end result is the greatest movie T.K. Carter was ever affiliated with NOT named Doctor Detroit.  It’s arguably Carpenter’s masterpiece.  It’s a classic in science fiction, a classic in horror, a classic study in isolation and paranoia, and it’d be all of those things even without that remarkable ending, which is legendarily, chillingly, ambiguous. Carpenter has said that he has the answer to the famous question in that ending, and naturally I have my own take on it – what’s yours? See the movie (again) and let’s hear your opinions!


four christmases

I had all kinds of nice things to say about director Seth Gordon’s breakthrough movie, the documentary The King Of Kong: A Fistful Of Quarters, one of the great documentaries of recent vintage.  I have less enthusiasm about his follow-up, the much more scripted Four Christmases. It’s not even that I disliked it in any way.  I just had been conditioned to expect transcendent things from this director, and what this latter movie provides is more like growing pains.

Four Christmases is about a young couple with commitment issues who are both products of divorces (both sets of parents have since remarried), and on one particular Christmas they decide to see all four families over the course of one holiday. It’s one of those too-high-concept-to-be-anything-resembling-real-human-behavior high concepts, but I still like the idea, honestly.  Another thing that helps is that Gordon and his producers were able to stack the casting bench deep with great supporting players, but even that is a be-careful-what-you-wish-for embarrassment of riches.

Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn play the central couple, and while this is a promising comedic tandem on paper, it’s a bit problematic as it plays. When the couple discusses the prospect of children, it’s alarming to consider the mental image of humongous, high-foreheaded Vince Vaughn astride poor sweet little Reese Witherspoon. It just seems like an unsafe coupling, like a Yeti trying to mount a Pekinese.

This movie also serves as Exhibit A that Vince Vaughn’s comedic talents aren’t well suited to the PG-13 rating (as if anyone’s truly are.) PG-13 comedies feel neutered from the outset, where “Friggin'” and “Freakin'” are the exhortations of the frustrated, and canine flatulence is as transgressive as it gets. Vince Vaughn’s greatest hits reel would heavily feature Swingers, Made, Old School, Anchorman, and Wedding Crashers, movies where his brash brand of vocal diarrhea isn’t impeded by invisible arbiters of so-called morality.  At this point, I just can’t buy a scenario where Vince Vaughn spends the weekend with four pairs of parents, two of them made up of in-laws, and due to the mandate of the MPAA he only gets to drop one F-bomb the entire time (and maybe not even then, if someone else beat him to it.)

I’m not saying that PG-13 comedy is always toothless, but I am unhappily suggesting that this one kinda is. The comedy in Four Christmases is muted and generic, full of jokes about baby puke and MMA fighting — it’s comedy for people who listen to popular country. It’s a movie for airplanes, when with a cast and a director like this, it could have been much more memorable.

The main reason for this, ironically, is probably the premise.  By definition, the two main characters have to visit four separate families in a movie that only runs an hour and a half. The movie, then, can’t help but feel as rushed as they are. There’s never enough time for the supporting characters to develop in any significant way: it’s just a quick visit, an over-the-top slapstick incident, an embarassment, an apology, and then on to the next one. The segmented structure is all the more conspicuous when the cast features familiar, beloved faces such as Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen, and Jon Favreau, and Jon Voight. It’s like this movie was made for commercial breaks.

So the natural home for Four Christmases, sadly, has proved to be the small screen, in syndication, where its already-brief running time can be truncated and its already-inoffensive humor can be further hacked away by network censors.

I will say this though, I’ll still catch it when it’s on. It’s comfortable. Also, there’s another reason, and I’m not a theater fan so I wasn’t familiar beforehand, but this Kristin Chenoweth you theater fans like so much…


I want to put my private parts there!

Pretty sour little bastard of a holiday flick.  Very solidly done, and not at all what I could have expected from its director, who is one of my personal creative heroes.  I’m just saying, remember this one come Christmastime.  Here’s what I wrote about it when I made my holiday list back in December:

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 wrong.  [Here’s the trailer.]

kiss kiss bang bang harmony

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:



The Ref (1994)

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.


The Ice Harvest (2005)

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.

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.


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.)


Gremlins (1984)

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.

Rare Exports (2010)

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.

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.

Michelle Monaghan

Mean Girls

5. MEAN GIRLS (2004)

No, it’s not a Christmas movie.  But it has this scene.  So… you know.


Bad Santa (2003)

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.


Die Hard (1988)

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.


Trading Places 1983 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

Scrooged (1988)

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!


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.  Remember that title.  If you’re the right kind of person, this title will become a beloved part of your Christmastime movie schedule for years to come.  This is one of those sweet, weird, awesome little movies that will catch you by surprise and brighten up your whole moviegoing season, if you’ll let it (or if you can find it.)

Rare Exports is a little bit like what John Carpenter might do with a Christmas movie for kids, or what Tim Burton might do if he was raised in Finland instead of Southern California.  Actually, the closest comparison is to the early work of Steven Spielberg, or, more specifically, those weirder side projects that Spielberg produced without directing himself.  I’m talking about Gremlins, folks.  For some of you, that’s got to be a mighty enticing prospect.

Rare Exports is based on a series of short films that the Helander brothers made about the truth behind what we know to be true about Santa Claus.  (Watch them here and here!)  Rare Exports has now been expanded into a feature film, and it’s a terrific surprise. 

The movie opens with a richly-funded archaeological excavation of a dark, looming mountain in the wilds of northern Finland.  It’s an ominous start, and writer-director Jalmari Helander smartly creates a mythic atmosphere in these early scenes.  It’s not so terrible if you’re reminded of movies like Lord Of The Rings or The Thing in these early moments, because this isn’t the real world we know.  It’s a movie real-world, wherein unbelievable things can enter a very believable world.

That believable world is the home of young Pietari (Onni Tommila) and his single father, Rauno (Jorma Tommila, Onni’s dad), a reindeer hunter.  We actually meet Rauno first, as he’s setting some very sharp – and very illegal – animal traps, because something has been preying on the reindeer that he and his two business partners, Amimo and Piiparen, depend on for their sole source of income.  The unconventional families at the heart of this family fable are one thing that distinguishes Rare ExportsRauno looks not unlike Kris Kristofferson and the other two hunters, also single fathers, are similarly tough and weathered in appearance.  This isn’t a world of women, let’s put it that way.  This is a cold land where tough men are raising their children, and it turns out that children are particularly vulnerable to whatever’s been let loose from the mountain.

The Santa Claus that corporations have sold us isn’t the Santa Claus of this movie.  The Santa Claus of this movie, as Pietari learns from avid reading once he starts to suspect what’s going on, is much less joyous and loud with a laugh.  This Santa Claus, Pietari believes, is the reason why all of the local children have begun to go missing, on the eve of Christmas.

I loved going into Rare Exports without a concrete idea of what to expect, so I won’t rob you of the many surprises that this very fun, very clever movie has in store.  Just when you think it’s a horror movie, just when you think it’s a fairy tale, just when you think it’s a kids’ movie, just when you think it’s a satire, it proves itself to be all of those things and none of them.  It’s a thrill to see little Pietari unravel the secrets behind the real Santa Claus, and the way that the trio of badass dads ultimately have to defer to his wide-eyed belief in an unimaginable scenario.  The threat is very real, but the movie itself is surprisingly bloodless, even innocent in spirit – that’s a very difficult thing to pull off successfully, and with such an impressive command of shifting tones, it will be interesting to see what Helander does next.

For now, we have Rare Exports, which is a wonderful treat for those of us who like our Christmas stories unconventional.  As a movie, it looks great, all crisp and chilly and widescreen (courtesy of talented cinematographer Mika Orasmaa), and as a seasonal fable, it’s a romp and a spookfest and one of the most original Christmas movies I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing in quite a while.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is now in limited release.  If you live in New York, you can find it playing at the IFC Center.  I can’t recommend it highly enough!