Alternative Christmas Movies
There are a glut of movies out there that focus on the holiday season, but for every It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street there is a lot more direct-to-DVD or made-for-TV dreck that assails us during the season. But from the best to the worst, they’re generally the same: a poor misguided person learns the true spirit of togetherness and generosity just in time for Christmas dinner.
But every now and then filmmakers use the Holiday season as a backdrop for a tale that doesn’t follow the Christmas-Cookie-Cutter formula. We’ve complied a list of movies here for people who want to observe the season, but maybe don’t want to have the same themes hit them time and time again.
Just a word of warning, some of these movies have mature subject matter and imagery, so it’s probably best to watch with the children nestled all snug in their beds, with the proverbial sugar plums dancing through their heads.
KISS, KISS BANG, BANG
The directorial debut of Shane Black, who seems to use Christmas as a theme in a lot of the movies he had written before this (more on that in a bit). Kiss, Kiss Bang, Bang stars Robert Downey Jr. as a bungling thief who literally bungles his way into a part in a big Hollywood movie. Once his producer whisks him off to L.A., the thief starts taking lessons from a real L.A. detective (Val Kilmer) and the pair soon find themselves wrapped up in a sinister murder mystery.
THE ICE HARVEST
Another film that, like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that borrows heavily from the hard-boiled noir films of yesteryear. John Cusack plays Charlie Arglist, a lawyer for some of the less reputable businesses in Witchita, Kansas. Arglist and his partner (Billy Bob Thorton) manage to embezzle $2-million from Arglist’s client on Christmas Eve, it’s a game of twists and turns as every seedy personality in Wichita seem to want to get their hands on the money. Arglist can’t trust anyone. Not his partner, not his dysfunctional family, not the women he desperately wants, and even his current best friend his married to his ex-wife.
Pets are a favorite gift for families with kids. In this Joe Dante directed Steven Speilberg produced horror comedy, a cute but mysterious pet purchased in a dark New York street, becomes the harbinger of destruction to a small town. Gremlins is a great cautionary tale that reminds you to follow the directions when you open your Christmas gifts. What’s more is that if you are getting a pet for Christmas, be sure you’re ready. Christmas time bonus for this movie: The creepiest use of the Johnny Mathis song Do You Hear What I Hear that we’ve seen.
THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT
Imagine The Bourne Identity if, when Jason Bourne had woken up as an amnesiac, he had a family and joined the P.T.A. That’s what happens to Geena Davis when her character, an amnesiac who has spent the last several years living the American Dream. When she hires a private eye (Samuel L. Jackson) to help dig up her past, they dig up more than they bargained for. It turns out that the soccer mom was a highly trained assassin in a past life, a life that’s quickly catching up to her. Another Christmas action movie from Shane Black who wrote the film.
Tim Burton’s run with The Dark Knight has been eclipsed, of late, by Christopher Nolan’s wildly popular reboot trilogy. However, the Burton Batman films are a creature all their own. Not as campy as the television show from the 60’s, but also not as stone-faced as Nolan’s modern take on the franchise, Burton’s Batman was an embodiment of the 90s. In the second of Burton’s two films, Batman (Michael Keaton) does battle with The Penguin (Danny DeVito), Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), and billionaire industrialist Max Shrek (Christopher Walken). Regardless of the quality of the movie as a whole, we’d pay $10 a ticket to see that cast eat toast at the same table for 90 minutes. Add a Christmas backdrop and themes of family and companionship, you have a holiday classic.
Detective John McClane is the quintessential action hero who has been punching bad guys for 25 years, and is due for yet another movie in 2013. The jury is still out on if A Good Day to Die Hard, the 5th film in the franchise which is set to be released next February, will be any good. But the first film in the series still holds water and is often cited by the action-fan set as a favorite among Christmas movies. Die Hard goes beyond just using Christmas as a pretty backdrop, it integrates the season into dialogue and action making this every bit a Christmas film.
Okay, Scrooged is little more than a modern day re-telling of the classic Christmas Carol where Ebeneezer Scrooge learns the error of his miserly ways and embraces the true Christmas spirit. So can it really be considered an “alternative” holiday film? We think so, because sometimes it’s less about the destination and more about the journey. First if you take the classic story on its own terms, its a time-travel ghost story, which doesn’t seem very Christmasy. This movie, specifically, plays up that angle to a degree where the Ghosts are a little more crude and rough around the edges and some are downright scary. To top it off, the Scrooge character is played by a manic devil-may-care Bill Murray with a manic and oppressed Bobcat Goldthwait in the Bob Cratchit role, Scrooged is a much darker take on the classic Christmas theme.