A Misanthrope’s Guide to Christmas Movies

8 Dec

Gremlins

It’s December. The night’s are both very, very dark and very, very cold, and every pub, bar and club within a 50 mile radius of your house has been commandeered by drunken office workers wearing Santa hats. What better time to settle down to a good movie? And, better still, a Christmas movie?

Except, of course, most Christmas movies are so sentimental they make Little House on the Prairie look like Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist. They’re all shot in a kind of nauseating soft focus that gives every character’s festive jumper an eerie glow and makes their smug and cloying smiles all the more retch-inducing.

So here are five Christmas Movies for you misanthropes out there; the ones who thought Miracle on 34th Street should have ended with Kris Kringle being sectioned and sent to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, or that whatever the fuck this is should have ended with Cthulhu ripping everyone’s heads off.

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn!"

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!”


In fifth place, what may for some be a controversial choice. Many might argue it’s not as good as its immediate predecessor (I think it’s actually better), or that it’s been nudged out of existence altogether by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but in at number 5 is…

5) Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns

Clearly Tim Burton has a thing for Christmas. Oh, he might pretend to be all gothy and Halloweeny (in a way that’s not entirely dignified in a 53-year-old man), but three of his films (if we’re to include Henry Selick’s A Nightmare Before Christmas) have been set during the Holidays. And why, I hear you ask, didn’t I choose A Nightmare Before Christmas? Well, mainly because for all its ghosts and ghoulies, ANBC is still a very warmhearted movie, whereas Batman Returns is 126 minutes of sadomasochism and murder dressed up as a family film. Remember, this was the summer blockbuster of 1992, and it opens with a scene in which Paul “Pee-Wee Herman” Reubens hurls his hideously disfigured baby son into a sewer, but the festive highlight of the movie must be the moment when a beauty queen falls hundreds of feet to her death, landing on a plunger that in turn lights up Gotham’s Christmas tree.

Festive.

Festive.

4) Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins poster

Nowadays, when almost every film aimed at a younger audience is based on either a successful book, comic or toy franchise, it seems incredible that producers like Steven Spielberg took so many risks back in the 1980s. Take Gremlins, for example. Here we have a Christmas movie in which an army of tiny reptilian monsters wreak havoc upon a small town, murdering potentially hundreds of its inhabitants. It wasn’t based on a novel or an existing Hasbro toy range, and yet it was green-lit. That just wouldn’t happen these days. Neither would a family film now get away with telling its young audience that Santa doesn’t exist via a story in which a man slips and breaks his neck while climbing down a chimney, and is only discovered by his wife and daughter when his rotting corpse begins to smell.

Jolly.

Ho ho ho.

3) Home Alone (1990)

Home Alone

Not so much a knockabout, slapstick comedy as a remake of Straw Dogs aimed at the under-12s, Home Alone came from the stable of the late, great John Hughes, and features great performances from Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern as the bungling burglars, and a lovely cameo from John Candy as the kind-hearted leader of a Polka band. It’s a shame, then, that Macauley Culkin can’t really act (imagine how much better this movie would have been had they cast a then-9-years-old Elijah Wood), but that doesn’t really matter, because it’s the stunts and pratfalls that are the stars of the show. Yes, it descends into schmaltz in the last ten minutes, but this remains a Christmas film in which a small child sets fire to a man’s head. For laughs.

Merry.

Jolly.

2) Scrooged (1988)

Scrooged

I can almost guarantee that this Christmas Day, unless you’re the one tasked with making dinner, you’ll see at least three versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Last year, by mid-afternoon we’d watched Alastair Sim, Michael Caine and Kelsey Grammar all have a pop at playing Ebeneezer Scrooge, but for my money Scrooged is one of the most enjoyable – and, for the best part, misanthropic – versions around. For one thing, it stars Bill Murray, as almost every film should. And okay, so Murray talking to the audience during the end credits not only breaks the “Fourth Wall” but seems a little weird when you’re watching it on TV, and the Tiny-Tim-alike character saying, “God bless us everyone” is more sugary than a Mr Kipling French Fancy dunked in golden syrup, but this is still a film whose oh-so-sentimental climax takes place while a crazed, drunk guy threatens a room full of people with a shotgun.

Comfort and joy.

Comfort and joy.

And finally, in first place, a movie that’s widely considered the greatest Christmas film of all time. Indeed, when many of us think of Christmas movies, we picture this story of an American Everyman who comes to understand, one Christmas, just how chaotic and terrible the world would be without him. I’m talking, of course, about…

1) Die Hard and Die Hard 2: Die Harder

Festive

Okay, so I’m kind of cheating by including two films, but seen back-to-back Die Hard and Die Hard 2: Die Harder aren’t so much a movie and its sequel, as one great big, festive four-hour action epic. For the none of you who haven’t seen it, Die Hard tells the story of how maverick New York cop John McClane finds himself at a Christmas party in a Los Angeles skyscraper on the one night when a group of opportunistic terrorists-cum-thieves decide to hijack the joint.

Opportunistic terrorists-cum-thieves with amazing hair.

Terrorists-cum-thieves with amazing hair.

Given the excesses of the later films (yes, Live Free or Die Hard/Die Hard 4.0, I’m talking to you), it’s easy to scoff at the original Die Hard, but I’d maintain that it’s the leanest and slickest action film every made. Seriously, the opening 5 minutes should be studied by anyone wanting to be a screenwriter. By the time McClane rocks up at the party, we know he’s a cop from New York, we know he’s carrying a gun, we know his wife and kids have moved to LA, and we know things are frosty between them. That’s within the first 5 minutes of the movie. And at no point do you feel as if you’re being clobbered over the head with exposition.

It goes without saying that Die Hard also features, in Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, one of the all-time great movie villains. The test of a good movie villain is if, by the end of the film, you find yourself asking, “But why did he/she go to all that bother?” Take, for example, Dennis Hopper in Speed. What exactly does he want? Does he want the money? If so, why plant a bomb that’s more likely to go off than not? Does he just want to blow up a bus? Well, why not plant a bomb on a timer, rather than one that’s rigged to go off based on the speed the bus is going? Nothing about his scheme makes any sense whatsoever.

"I have literally no idea why I'm doing any of this."

“I have literally no idea why I’m doing any of this.”

Now, while there are plot holes in Die Hard, on first viewing (and second, and third) Gruber’s scheme makes diabolical sense. And he’s debonair, likeable. We’re almost upset to see him tumble to his death.

"You and I could have been friiiieeeeeeeennndds..."

“You and I could have been friiiieeeeeeeennndds…”

William Sadler’s Colonel Stuart in Die Hard 2: Die Harder may not be as debonair as Gruber, but he more than makes up for it in cold blooded kick-assery. This is a man who crashes an airliner full of passengers just to prove a point. Plus: He does naked karate.

Hans Gruber preferred "Swimsuit Tai Chi".

Hans Gruber preferred “Swimsuit Tai Chi”.

Okay, so Die Hard 2: Die Harder is when the silly really begins to set in (for one thing, it’s called Die Hard 2: Die Harder), but this remains a cracking action film in which the exciting stuff starts happening within the first few minutes, and doesn’t stop happening pretty much until the end credits.

Both films are spectacularly violent in a way the PG-13-conscious studios would no longer dare (the most recent Die Hard was trimmed of blood and swearwords to make it suitable for children), making them the ultimate Christmas movies for anyone who’s sick of seeing cute little gap-toothed moppets’ dreams come true.

"You want a pony? I want the CIA to stop stealing my thoughts."

“You want a pony? I want the CIA to stop stealing my thoughts.”

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3 Responses to “A Misanthrope’s Guide to Christmas Movies”

  1. josephlidster December 8, 2012 at 2:45 pm #

    Oh! I haven’t seen Batman Returns in years but I remember that beauty queen death freaking me out!! Sick!!

  2. Ceri Gray December 11, 2012 at 6:47 am #

    Great choice. Michael Keaton – the best Batman. How can you look at his face and not see a tortured soul? Die Hard was one of my Mum’s favourite films 🙂

    • thedaillew December 11, 2012 at 8:28 am #

      I like Keaton because he’s so unlikely. If you lived in Gotham there’s no *way* you’d suspect him of being Batman. In the Nolan movies, they have to have Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne act like a dick in public so people won’t suspect him. And as for Kilmer and Clooney – it would take somebody of average intelligence about 3 minutes to work out it was them!

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