What Are Your Alternate Christmas Classics?
Christmas time is upon us now and for many (certainly for this website with the word ‘film’ in its title), Christmas is a time for movies. Whether that means catching Back to the Future halfway through on RTÉ for the seventeenth year in a row or popping in your Home Alone DVD to watch while you’re wrapping presents, everyone has their own traditions and favourites. For anyone looking for some suggestions for what to watch this Christmas, some of the Film In Dublin team have put together some personal picks for you, complete with clips (some of which are NSFW, just so you know). Christmas classics can vary greatly from person to person and we’d love to know some of our readers personal favourites, so feel free to let us know.
The Dunne family are absolute Christmas lovers. With the holiday season starting earlier every year, we’re beside ourselves with excitement. We know Christmas time is all about togetherness; even families who’re at each other’s throats for 364 days of the year can manage to spend a few hours together with the season that’s in it.
But what about the one’s who can’t? Don’t they deserve some screentime? The Ref certainly thinks so. This film is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf set at Christmas if you can picture that. The acting is top-notch, as you’d expect from Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary.
The Ref tells the story of Gus, a burglar on the run who is forced to take a couple hostage so he can go to their house to regroup. He gets more than he bargained for though with these two. Gus immediately gets pulled in their relationship drama, taking sides within the first few minutes “You saw the stop sign, didn’t ya Lloyd?” and being put in the middle “I don’t believe it, you want to have sex with him!” Although not one for the kids, this is a Christmas film that is darkly hilarious, it will leave you feeling heart warmed and bemused.
I have a soft spot for Love Actually but it always misses a trick for me. The Holiday follows several characters but by limiting the points-of-view to two main characters and having a smaller ensemble cast, it pulls off what Love Actually lacked; emotional resonance. Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet are having rough Christmases, one’s been dumped and the other is hung up on her as who’s just gotten engaged. On opposite sides of the world, the ladies swap houses and find love with Jude Law and Jack Black respectively. Each character is three-dimensional, Cameron and Kate even have distinct, high-power jobs (an unfortunate rarity). This film is a mug of hot cocoa, go watch it.
We do indeed love a good Christmas movie in our home, usually trying to find the time to squeeze in one a day until the 24th. Whatever about the ‘best’ ones, when it comes to favourites there’s usually a personal connection of some kind, which is definitely the case for me and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Shane Black’s directorial debut and Robert Downey Jr comeback gateway. Seeing Kiss Kiss Bang Bang in an almost empty movie theatre on my 15th birthday was a formative experience; the first movie I loved that it seemed no one else was in on. RDJ plays screwup thief Harry Lockhart, whisked to LA after stumbling into an acting audition to hide from the cops and accidentally nailing it. To prepare for a role, Harry’s told to shadow detective ‘Gay’ Perry (Val Kilmer in fine sarcy form), who insists that his job is boring and nothing like the pulp novels or movies. Until of course, they get a case from Harry’s high school crush that’s exactly like something out of a movie. With self-aware noir archetypes trading the snappiest one-liners about Hollywood bullshit, all set at Christmas, it’s as Shane Black as it gets, so anyone who enjoyed The Nice Guys this year has to give this a go. What exactly does it have to do with Christmas? Well, Black really likes Christmas, and likes how in a city like Los Angeles you have to looking for little nuggets of the holiday, which Kiss Kiss Bang Bang definitely is.
If you’re looking for something a little more old school for Christmas, you could do worse than 1955’s We’re No Angels, a Christmas-set farce with some considerable star power and directed by one the greats of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Casablanca director Michael Curtiz. Humphrey Bogart, Spartacus actor and Renaissance man Peter Ustinov and Tarantino favourite Aldo Ray star as a trio of criminals freshly escaped from Devil’s Island after their pet snake Adolf fatally bit a guard. Posing as handymen helping out a family of down-on-their luck shopkeepers, they plan to screw the family over. That is until their hearts grow three sizes and they decide to give them the best Christmas ever, the only way they know how; stealing and killing. We’re No Angels has rougher edges than your typical Christmas fare, it’s a fun farce with great chemistry between its odd threesome of stars.
Somewhere in our family home, there is an old VHS tape (remember those!?) banging around with a picture of Chevy Chase in a Santa outfit, being electrocuted by Christmas decorations…need I say more? National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, originally based on a short story published by National Lampoon magazine, is one of the season’s most original and gut-wrenchingly funny films. With only a matter of days until Christmas, the entire extended Griswold family tree arrives at Clark Griswold’s (Chevy Chase) front door, bringing with them loaded caravans, pestering rodents and infinite bad luck! What genuinely makes this movie stick out above the rest is it’s unrelenting honesty and insight into family-orientated Christmases: the pain of getting ready, the clash of personalities, the agony involved in festivities, and yet, the utter joy of it all! It’s got the perfect balance of heart and humour, delivering line after line of uproarious comedy, especially from Randy Quaid (who was doing ‘drunk uncle’ long before Bobby Moynihan was doing it!). This is definitely one to add to the list, but maybe watch it before you and your brother kick off over whose presents were better…
Cynics beware! As a young, Santa-sceptic child boards a train heading straight to Saint Nick’s doorstep, a wondrous Christmas adventure occurs along the way, calling for a singing Tom Hanks, an endless supply of hot chocolate and a little bit of Christmas magic. Ultimately The Polar Express is the kind of story that has been told for years, however you cannot argue with the genuine care and craft put into this rendition from Back to the Future director Robert Zemeckis. Shot entirely through motion-capture technology, The Polar Express throws you in amongst the pages of the original book, unearthing the exact same wonder and charm along the way. For all its heart, it is hard for this reviewer to turn his nose up at such a well-intentioned Christmas flick.
No Christmas Eve in the Fitzhugh family household would be complete without the obligatory viewing of Christmas Classic Scrooged. Imagine Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol but through the filter of cynical 80’s Corporate America. Ebenezer Scrooge is now Frank Cross, a heartless TV television executive determined to ruin Christmas for everyone around him. Murray’s sleazy Frank is easily one of the most down right despicable versions of Scrooge ever to grace the screen. He is mean to his colleagues, disliked by his family, abusive to homeless people. It is dark, mean-spirited and ugly, adjectives not normally associated with Christmas. It also manages to be funny, sweet, moving and easily the most endearing Christmas movie since It’s A Wonderful Life. All this is down to the excellence of Bill Murray. It is easily one of his best performances. Watching his transformation from Grinch to caring is a total blast and provides the most heartwarming upbeat ending ever committed to the silver screen. Seriously, try to imagine any other actor in the film’s final scene. Who else could break the fourth wall to deliver a 10 min monologue about the importance of Christmas and togetherness? It is sentimental sure (the mute boy speaks!), but it is pure joy and Murray’s clinical delivery means it is devoid of any schmaltz. It is a gem, 90mins of pure Christmas Spirit.
You can stuff your Die Hard. For this reviewer there is only one Christmas-set action film showing in my house every year. That film is of course Lethal Weapon. Sure, the festive season does not play as big a role in Lethal Weapon as it does in Die Hard but for me Lethal Weapon is the one that manages to capture the spirit of Christmas. Directed by Richard Donner (also of Scrooged fame), the film is a down and dirty dark thriller, that effortlessly weaves Christmas into the action. There is a shootout in the Christmas tree lot, an opening murder set to haunting “Jingle Bell Rock”, Mel Gibson’s Riggs considers suicide while watching a Looney Tunes Christmas special. Ok, so it is not exactly eggnog and wrapping presents but it is also a film about redemption and friendship. It is about opening your home up to strangers and celebrating Christmas with new friends and family. John McClane might have his wise cracks but I would take dinner with Murtaughs every time.