Published on December 10th, 2020 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Because Christmas is Only 2 Weeks Away!
It’s okay if you decorated a tree in mid-November, and it’s okay that I’m starting to watch one Christmas movie a day now. 2020 could use a month of everyone feeling really good, and an extra-extra-long Christmas attitude might be just the excuse to do exactly that. Bake some holiday cookies; video chat with a seldom-seen friend; write a letter; take photos; pour liquor into your coffee at 9am, and watch all the movies that can only be watched at Christmas. Nobody (except maybe my friend Craig) watches It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) to celebrate the Victoria Day weekend. Right now you can start pigging out on every Santa and Grinch and tinsel shopping, turkey stuffing, candy-cane, snow-falling, lesson-teaching, tear-jerking, scarf and mittens story from here to the North Pole. In the tradition of the season, go ahead and have another one! There are so many movies and holiday specials out there, you’ll never get to them all in one year anyway.
The following are ten holiday movies I seem to watch every single year. You do you, but if I might make a few suggestions, grab your hot chocolate and the marshmallows (or booze, no judgement here). I made you a list:
#10 – GREMLINS (1984)
Before I go on a well deserved rant about this movie (ps strong language alert coming up), a fair warning: at about the 1hr 18min mark, Kate (Phoebe Cates) is going to explain that there is no Santa Clause. Not a great surprise for kids if their parents let them watch this and they aren’t ready for that truth-bomb. Also, not a great movie for kids under 10.
More that any title on my list, this one best represents 2020 by a mile-long horde of destructive goblins. Billy works at the bank to help support his family when the town’s local Cruella DeVil comes in and threatens to torture Billy’s dog to death. Then his dad gives him an exotic pet for Christmas that looks like an Ewok and a Yoda had a few drinks and…y’know. All Billy has to do with his new pet is: 1) not get it wet 2) keep it away from bright lights 3) never feed it after midnight. Sound simple, right? Actually, sounds like 1) wear a mask 2) mind your distance 3) wash your hands but, haha, you know the rest. They multiply exponentially and gather in bars and movie theatres while everyone but a local scientist, a conspiracy theorist and two straight-edge teenagers seem to take no notice. Bedlam ensues.
I have, like, fifty favourite parts of this movie, but especially the scene where Billy finds the entire attic of their house covered in repulsive alien slime pods and his mum’s all, “yeah, that’s pretty whacky” instead of “gross, this ain’t right, I should call the CDC or Geraldo or some shit. But first, let’s get the fuck out of this super creepy lair of monster-eggs waiting to hatch.” Nope! Business as usual until it spreads all over town and they have to blow up the mall. Sadly, the real victim here is the economy.
I think I love this movie because it’s directed by Joe Dante, who made one of my all-time favourites, The ‘Burbs (1989), and written by the same guy who wrote The Goonies (1985). It’s got muppets and blood splattering blender deaths, a town drunk to end all town drunks, Jonathan Banks (Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad; Better Call Saul) as the town deputy, one of the Coreys’ and lots of pretty Christmas decorations. Everything about Gremlins is a wildly exaggerated, comically violent series of ridiculous events that amount to little more than being a 90 minute toy commercial, so this movie is only for people who like to have fun! A boozy, goofy, Christmasy amount of fun.
#9 – HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS (1966)
This made-for-tv classic, brought to you by Dr. Seuss and Chuck Jones, came out the same year as the Beatles perfect album, Revolver. Some stuff from 50 years ago was just made as good as it was ever going to be made. Yeah, there’s the Jim Carey movie and some other new animated version, but seriously – these attempts are just like covers of Beatles songs: none of them are ever as good as the original. Plus, the entire mood of the movie hinges on the narration and, other than Boris Karloff, the list of acceptable voices that could make this magical is smaller than the Grinch’s black heart. Vincent Price, James Earl Jones, Kelsey Grammer, and maybe Morgan Freeman or Jeremy Irons. Maybe, but who cares because it’s perfect the way it is.
Every year, that silly dog just doesn’t know how he got on the sled! It sets me giggling, every single year. Every December, I make a spiked eggnog cocktail, curl up on the couch and cheer for the Grinch, and every single time those infuriating Whos win. Well, tonight I shan’t pooh-pooh all those Whos. I shall actually cheer for the villagers as they unite in support of one another. It’s gonna take more rum than eggnog, but I’m going to cheer for those ridiculous Whos with their pantookas and dafflers and wuzzles. What the heck, right? Take that, 2020.
#8 – BATMAN RETURNS (1992)
Before Dr. Evil had freaking sharks with freaking laser beams on their heads, The Penguin had hundreds of wingless birds that look like fancy waiters strapped with rockets. Big fluffy snowflakes, Alfred goes Christmas shopping, the Gotham City tree makes the hundred-footer at 30 Rock look paltry, a ribbon-wrapped box the size of a high school gymnasium explodes with glitter and henchmen that seem like a version of all the Whos in Whoville – if they dropped acid and dressed all Dia de los Muertos for Santa’s birthday.
Danny DeVito is so unrestrained and unhinged, he makes Christopher Walken seem like a normal, regular guy. Lucky for us, Walken soon pushes a woman out a window so, y’know, he’s quickly back to Walken “normal”. Michelle Pfeiffer’s skin-tight catsuit is the gift that keeps on giving and, even though The Penguin’s cold heart tries to ruin Gotham’s holiday season, this movie is hotter than a fresh cup of coco!
#7 – HOME ALONE (1990)
Remember when your dad took you guys to fucking France for Christmas that one year, but it wasn’t totally perfect because your stupid brother stayed home to fight crime? Yeah, me either. This movie is all about rich people problems, am I right? Still, it’s pretty funny. My goal as an adult is to live the rest of my life like Kevin McAllister in a a giant house and do whatever I want all the time. Plus, the kid was super covid compliant – kept his distance from people, worked from home, shaved every day even though he didn’t have to, and kept an eye on his neighbourhood but didn’t rat anyone out to the cops.
This is basically a live action Roadrunner cartoon, complete with swinging booby traps and all. Katherine O’Hara and John Candy play parts because Oh, Canada! and Joe Pesci is in it because, shut up and give me your money or I’ll crack your freakin’ head open. Plus, 30 years later, Macaulay Culkin is still the best kid in a movie ever, while a distant 2nd place goes to someone who now has a non-alcoholic beverage named after her. Lame!
These rich pricks all treat poor Kevin pretty badly, if you ask me. They pick on him, exclude him, insult him, and the worst burn of all comes when his sister, Linney, says to Kevin, “You’re what the French call les incompétente.” Ouch! I guess that’s why Kevin spends the rest of the movie proving himself to be a cunning and capable lone wolf. Go watch this movie while I connect a zip line from my bedroom to the back alley. Y’know, just in case.
#6 – ELF (2003)
Will Ferrell is like eggnog – some people love it and some people hate it. But once a year, in just the right glass, mixed with all the right ingredients, it’s pretty great. So if Ferrell is the eggnog, then Jon Favreau is the bartender. Elf was the first big step on Favreau’s now stunning career behind the camera and this movie proved that he knows exactly what to do in that position.
I find everything funny about a 6’3” 225lb middle age man dressed like a sprite and screaming all the time. It’s Christmas in New York, there’s candy at every meal, and I ain’t don’t got good word stuff to express how much I bloody love Zooey Deschanel. Her singing in this movie is legitimate. She continued to prove this over the years, making six albums in eight years with M. Ward as She & Him, including two Christmas records. I guess she loves loves a yuletide jingle in real life, too.
Not much on this list is a sappy, sentimental parable, but Elf does just enough to tug the heartstrings. And if Sonny Corleone can loosen up and enjoy some eggnog during the holiday season, so can you!
#5 – DIE HARD (1988)/DIE HARD 2 (1990)
Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie! The movie score is laden with the sound of sleigh bells, and when I hear that specific, distinct tone from those bronze and tin chimes I only think of Christmas. Even when that sound floats off Pet Sounds (1966) I think of Christmas, but the Beach Boys should make me think of surf waves or sand. Our brains just go: sleigh bells, reindeer, Santa, Christmas, and the makers of Die Hard used that to their advantage in the sound department.
The sleigh bells are a smart, nearly subconscious device to enhance the festive mood of the movie, but it’s also just plain blatant in several scenes. Hell, the movie starts at a Christmas party on Christmas Eve, ends with Vaugn Monroe’s version of Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, with “Now I have a machine gun, Ho-ho-ho” right in the middle. And that’s all it takes to get me to watch this every single year. Die Hard is also a heist movie with uber-cool Euro-villians (why does everyone insist on calling them terrorists when they are clearly bank robbers?) and possibly the greatest action flick of the 80’s.
I’ve seen it so many times that now I treat it like turkey. That is to say, I can watch this movie whenever I want, just like I can eat turkey whenever I want – Valentine’s Day, my birthday, a Wednesday in July – but I save both of them for when they taste best: Christmas! In fact, I firmly believe that it’s not Christmas until I see Hans Gruber fall out of Nakatomi Tower.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (best sequel name ever) is just going back to the same kitchen for another plate of all the same potatoes, gravy, turkey, cranberry sauce and machine gun bullets. This time it starts on – surprise – Christmas Eve and, spoiler alert, ends with Vaugn Monroe’s version of Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! The sequel takes place in New York instead of L.A. so they could add a fluffy blizzard and make it even more Christmassy.
What? You’re going to watch Die Hard but not Die Hard 2 this Christmas? Your lies are making baby Jesus cry.
#4 – SCROOGED (1988)
Bobcat Goldthwait. Karen Allen. Buster Poindexter. Robert Mitchum. Brian-Murray Doyle. Brian-Murray Doyle’s brother. Latka’s wife on Taxi (1978). The Six Million Dollar Man. Need I go on? Star power is stuffed into this Christmas favourite tighter than a fat man in a chimney.
The movie is apparently based on some old book that’s supposed to be pretty good. It must have been a real page turner, because Scrooged manages to make an old storey new, be funny with the material, and expose genuine feelings of sentiment and joy. It gets a little schmaltzy with the desperation of moving the audience to tears of rejoice, but dialogue like this offsets that saccharine sensitively:
Frank Cross: I want to see her nipples.
Censor Lady: But this is a Christmas show.
Frank Cross: Well, I’m sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.
Carpenter: You can barely see them nipples.
Frank Cross: See? And these guys are really looking.
Frank is not wrong. Who says that a merry Christmas and see-through lingerie have to be mutually exclusive? Not me or those carpenters, that’s for sure.
#3 TRADING PLACES (1983)
Director John Landis made not only one of my favourite Christmas movies, but also one of my favourite Halloween movies, An American Werewolf in London (1981) and the only musical I’ve ever liked, The Blues Brothers (1980). Landis is in his prime here but so is Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd (a Canadian hero who should be on our money), and Jamie Lee Curtis. And when I say prime, my god, you don’t even have to try hard to see Jami Lee’s nipples! They are just, um, there.
Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy), Louis Windthorpe III (Aykroyd) and Ophelia (Curtis) pit their wits against the greedy, smug Duke Brothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy) in a Dickeneque, Ebenizer vs The Three Ghosts evolution. They represent the life that was, the life that is and the life that could be. It’s a pretty standard joy-love-friendship-over-money story, but it splits my sides every December. When Louis crashes the office Christmas party, drunk out of his mind in the filthy Santa suit and waving a gun around, I think to myself, there’s no way this can get any better. Then Louis hops on a bus where he proceeds to eat a raw fish that he drags out of his dirty beard, puts a gun to his head that clicks mockingly as the rain pours down, a stray dog urinates on his leg, and I stand corrected.
As Billy Ray says to Louis, “It occurs to me that the best way to hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.” This rarely happens in real life, and that’s why movies are magic. Watching the Dukes loose everything during the holidays warms my insides like a hot toddy, even if it’s just a satisfying fantasy.
#2 – NATIONAL LAMPOON’S CHRISTMAS VACATION (1989)
Clark: Can I re-fill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?”
Cousin Eddie: Nah, I’m doin’ just fine, Clark.
Clark W. Griswold tries harder than a toy company to make Christmas a magical time for his family. But even Clark has his limits, and we can all relate. Everyone has a Cousin Eddie that shows up unannounced in his non-roadworthy RV and empties the shitter in your storm-sewer. But, it’s family, so waddya gonna do.
Chevy Chase has gotten a bad rap over the years, shunned by fans, co-workers and the industry as a whole, but he’s not really guilty of much more than being an ignorant jerk. Here at the end of the 80’s (and his career, really) his comic ability for physical humour, sight gags and dialogue delivery are so powerfully funny that he is to be marvelled. Christmas Vacation is going to be a part of holiday tradition for as long as we decorate trees and hang stockings.
Rocket sleds, wild squirrels, roasted cats, senile relatives, snobby neighbours, stingy boss, inbred cousins, dry turkey, opulent and complex Christmas lights – I don’t think this movie is missing a single thing. ’Tis the season to be Merry. No shit.
https://www.christmasvacationcollectibles.com *Just in case you’re reading this instead of getting your shopping done!*
#1 – ABOUT A BOY (2002)
This movie comes from the 1998 best selling novel of the same name, written by English author Nick Hornby who also penned the books that inspired Fever Pitch (1997) and High Fidelity (2000). It’s my favourite Christmas film of all time.
Hugh Grant plays Will Freeman, a wealthy man-child living off the royalties of his deceased father’s Christmas hit, Santa’s Super Sleigh. Circumstances lead Will to Marcus and Fiona, a socially ostracized boy and his low-income, suicidal mother. As the story moves across a year and a half we see Christmas twice, and the holiday is used to underscore and highlight all the troubles and opportunities in the characters’ lives.
About a Boy is very much a Scrooge-like story, but far more subtle: after all, it’s not 1825 anymore and the deep faults of each character are flushed out slowly. ‘Ol Ebenezer was a miser and easy to hate from the get-go. He was filthy rich but would rather grump around in the dark than light a candle because, God forbid, he should ever spend a single penny. Will is far more understated in his faults, and I always envied his lifestyle, even when the point of the story is that I’m supposed to pity the stunted growth of his emotions. But I didn’t (don’t). He is the coolest guy in the fucking world, and I based years of my life buying clothes on his style. Handsome, rich and charming, Will doesn’t seem to have a care in the world – until the lonely sadness creeps back in during the holiday season and his father’s famous song haunts him.
I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but About a Boy hits my every nerve and feeling like it was written just for me. Will’s opening speech about man-as-an-island and the way his endless days of freedom are broken into ‘units of time’ are a lottery dream to me. The movie gently hammers at a clear message for an hour and forty minutes: family can be whatever you make it, and without family, weird as those dynamics may be, no amount of money can buy what’s missing. The soundtrack by Badly Drawn Boy (aka Damon Gough) is sweet, tender and soaring with melody to create the perfect musical companion. Get after it, folks. You won’t be sorry.