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Here’s the good news; not only did leaving the twentieth century on New Year’s Eve mean fireworks, parties and a rise in designated drivers, it also must have done something to the suits at Hollywood. Quality finally came to Christmas movies. Let’s be honest, trying to find an all-round, satisfyingly good Christmas themed movie during most of the previous decades was as unlikely as discovering a Marks and Sparks gift card in that final demand from Scrooge & Marley. But from 2000 going-forward, Christmas movie prayers were answered.
The problem now when looking for films to recommend is not what to put on the list but what to leave off. There’re so many we could be talking about them from now until, well, Christmas. For example, who wouldn’t want to recommend the 2004 animated feature, ‘The Polar Express’ (find similarly amazing movies right here)? True, the early technique of Performance Capture animation made most of the human characters appear like talking cabbage patch dolls but the film looked spectacular. The problem is, you’ve probably seen it.
…The problem now when looking for films to recommend is not what to put on the list but what to leave off…
Not that everything with a seasonal flair released after 2000 was first class. There were still all of those made for TV movies where any creativity began and ended with a catchy title, such as ‘Santa Paws,’ ‘Holidaze’ or ‘Karoll’s Christmas.’ For all I know they could be perfectly decent, but I’d be suspicious of the 2007 movie ‘What Would Jesus Buy?’ I’m not exactly sure what they might be going for, but if hard pressed, I’d say socks.
The following is a list of five films that might have slipped by or maybe you’ve sort of heard of them but never gave a second thought. If the latter is you, you’re on the naughty list. I watch them in rotation.
Things are fucked up at the North Pole. Mrs. Claus caught me fucking her sister.
Definitely for adults only. In ‘Bad Santa,’ Billy Bob Thornton plays a drunken, sex addicted, mean spirited criminal who each year becomes a department store Santa, then robs the place, and it’s hilarious. But let’s repeat, this is for the older set. Billy Bob has even admitted surprise when eight-year olds come up to him and tell him how much they like the film, though where Billy Bob Thornton is hanging out when eight-year olds can freely walk up to him is concerning.
The film has a record amount of potty mouthed cussing for a Christmas film. In the regular version there are 300 swear words. The f-bomb is dropped 159 times while the remainder appears to be more colorful variations on the word ‘pooh.’ In the Unrated version, that total increases.
Both Jack Nicholson and Bill Murray were going to be Santa but had to pull out due to other commitments. It became Billy Bob’s role and he’s great in it. The actor is on record as saying that if he could go back in time and re-live favorite moments, making ‘Bad Santa’ would be one of them. The other was when he worked for the Arkansas Highway Department. That’s not a joke, by the way. That’s what he said.
He also said that he was flat out drunk during most of the film and staggered around intoxicated. And there was me thinking he was doing some of his bed method acting.
I don’t think anyone would criticize us for laying down our riffles on Christmas Eve.
In the 1969 musical ‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ there’s a Christmas Eve sequence where German and British soldiers crawl out of their respective trenches and meet in an area called No Man’s Land. They exchange greetings, show each other family pictures and generally wish each other the best for the season, until the bombs start again. It lasts about ten minutes. In the French film ‘Joyeux Noël,’ the same thing happens, but it’s the whole film.
Based on a real event though fictionalized for narrative purposes, on Christmas Eve in 1914 the two fighting sides really did crawl out of their trenches and meet in the middle. They even played a game of football in the snow.
As the title suggests, ‘Joyeux Noël’ is a French film with a story that truly embodies the spirit of Christmas as enemies temporarily become friends. As a footnote, something nice happened in 2008 in memory of the event. Britain and Germany sent over a couple of football teams to France to play another game ninety-six years after the first one. The film is dedicated to the soldiers.
So, technically, you slept with Santa?
From a title based on a 1970 Donny Hathaway song, ‘This Christmas’ is a family film that has a little of everything that happens when families get together at Christmas; comedy, music, drama, and Idris Elba with a great American accent. That last one has never happened in our house, but if Alba was to drop by at Christmas, the accent would be a definite party piece.
It’s Christmas at the Whitfield family home and everyone is coming together, each one bringing not only gifts but a lot of personal baggage which is all going to spill out throughout the course of the next few days. The incidents are all the kind of conflicts you might find on an American TV soap – there’s nothing particularly cinematic about it – but the film looks great and very seasonal, plus the music is good throughout.
Singer/actor Chris Brown covers a particularly good version of that Hathaway song, though considering that just two years later he became less famous for singing and more for the felony assault charge for beating his girlfriend, singer Rihanna, I’m guessing Santa knew where to stick that extra piece of coal that Christmas.
At the end of the film once the story concludes but before the end credits, there’s a fun four minute sequence where the cast drop character and become themselves. It’s as though they’re taking a bow and they do it by dancing a gauntlet in the living room to a Marvin Gaye song.
Many white reviewers, particularly a certain English radio film critic on BBC’s Radio Five, didn’t get it and ranted about why they were doing it and asked why the song went on and on. It’s a cultural thing. In America, the black ‘Top of the Pops’ on TV was called ‘Soul Train.’ The cast were doing what millions of African-American families do at party time – they dance the ‘Soul Train’ line, or gauntlet. And as for letting Marvin Gaye play out, when ‘Got to Give It Up’ is on the turntable, you don’t switch it off until it’s over.
Then I’m going to spend four hours skiing alone. Completely and utterly alone. I’m going to do that because that is my life.
The film is often described a Capra-esque, which is actually appropriate. In its way the movie really is ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ but in reverse. Where an angel showed James Stewart what his life would be like without a family, without a small town job and without a community to support him, ‘The Family Man’ does it the other way around.
Nicholas Cage is Jack, a successful business shark who makes multi-billion dollar deals on Christmas Eve. It’s not that he’s mean; he’s just single, rich and loves killer Wall Street deals. The fact that it’s Christmas Eve is beside the point. So it’s Christmas. So what? Then an angel – well, a sort of angel – gives what’s coming to Jack. The wheeler-dealer wakes up on Christmas Day and he’s no longer at his penthouse. He’s in a suburban home with a wife and two children he doesn’t know and he has a small town job selling car tires. The last thing Jack’s life suddenly appears to be is wonderful.
The film has a solid dose of seasonal sentimentality, the widescreen photography is quite beautiful at times, and once you surrender to the silly fantasy of it all you start to hope that Cage’s character takes to his new life instead of going back. After all, the wife is played by Teo Leoni. That’s a Christmas wish made manifest for starters.
When you watch it, keep a couple of things in mind. Despite a great score from Danny Elfman plus plenty of seasonal sounds, at one point there was also supposed to be Led Zeppelin’s ‘All of My Love’ playing in the background. It doesn’t play. The rights were off-the-charts expensive. And when Cage’s character is bowling and mentions in passing that he once jumped out of an airplane over the Mojave desert, he did, but not in this film. He did it in ‘Honeymoon in Vegas.’
You have a freak flag. You just don’t fly it.
The poster gives the impression that a woman is giving us the finger. A closer look shows it’s the wedding finger and there’s a diamond on it. It’s a play on the title of the film, the name of the family and the cherished heirloom ring that the family’s oldest son wants to give to his girlfriend at Christmas. It’s the family stone.
It’s also a good film with a nice seasonal flavour and great cast including Diane Keaton and Craig T. Nelson as Mom and Dad Stone along with family members Luke Wilson, Rachel McAdams and Delmont Mulroney, who brings his uptight, Manhattan executive girlfriend home with him when he visits his family for Christmas. It’s funny with some screwball thrown in, a little serious when certain dinner table conversations get out of hand, and finally sentimental with love conquering, just what you would expect from a Christmas themed film of family conflicts.
The producers had a wish list of actors they wanted, and they ended up getting them. Keaton was the first to sign on. Once Annie Hall committed, the other actors stood in line.
The uptight girlfriend is played by Sarah Jessica Parker, and at the time she was looking for anything that was different from her HBO series, ‘Sex and the City.’ Concerned with becoming typecast, Jessica took the role of Mulroney’s humorless, workaholic and tightly wound girlfriend as she considered it to be the polar opposite of her TV character.
Check the scene where Parker’s character gets drunk at a bar, lets her hair down and dances with strangers. You may find yourself thinking, been there, done that, or at least wishing you had. After all, if you can’t let rip at a biker bar at Christmas, when can you?
Looking back, there’s another film I would love to have put on this list; ‘Love Actually.’ But like ‘The Polar Express,’ what’s the point? Not only have you seen it, you’ve probably seen it every Christmas since it was released and even have favorite key scenes.
And that’s what makes Christmas movies unique. More than any other genre, they’re personal. Like the same ol’ decorations your parents used to put up each year, it doesn’t matter if they’re tasteful or not, they’re what makes you feel warm and cozy in winter and represent what the season means to you.
Whether you have yet to find your personal favorite or not, our list will add to whatever brings you your own feelings of comfort and joy. So, Merry Christmas, happy holidays, and here’s the really great thing about DVDs, rentals or downloads – if you’re so inclined, you don’t have to wait until December to see them.
At itcher.com you can browse through the holiday movies by decades and discover lovely Christmas gems that will surely get you in the Christmas spirit!
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