Posted by: themoviecheese | December 28, 2011

Tom’s Top 10 Christmas Movies

Tom’s Top 10 Christmas Movies

And so the Christmas season is here, and with it comes a selection of fantastic Chrimbo rarities on TV. There’s also the selection of those films that are shown year in year out. My list may not be as predictable. I don’t like films like It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas and The Snowman. I find them to be nothing more than pretentious, over-indulgent, soppy nonsense. I don’t care about going “Aawww” at Christmas, I’d rather go “Wow!” and split my sides open at hilarious comedy. I also prefer the films that represent the darker side of the holiday season. So here is my list of what I class as the top 10 Christmas films of all time…

10. Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)

The phrase “You have to see it to believe it” rings true here. Rare Exports is an incredibly bizarre Finnish movie directed by short film maestro Jalmari Helander. It tells the story of the “real” Santa Claus, who is unearthed from an underground prison by scientists. But this isn’t the Santa Claus who “rewards you when you’ve been good”, but it is the one who “knows when you’ve been naughty”. A dangly, almost troll-like creature, he is a terrifying sight to behold. Soon after, children on the dig site start to disappear, which forces the diggers (with the help of some hunters) to capture Santa. But then Santa’s elves appear, determined to free their leader at any cost… Putting an entirely original spin on the Santa Claus legend, Rare Exports is like a cross between John Carpenter’s The Thing, 30 Days of Night and Miracle on 34th Street. It’s a brilliantly new vogue of film making and definitely more than deserves a place in this list. He knows when you’ve been naughty…

9. Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Another film showing the darker side of Christmas. Silent Night, Deadly Night is an old horror slasher film from the Grindhouse era of cinema. It tells the story of a young boy whose parents are murdered in front of his eyes by a scalpel-wielding Santa impersonator. He is then sent to an orphanage, and whilst there he spies on people having sex and realizes that sex is something very naughty indeed. Years later, he gets a job at a local store. But when he is required to wear a Santa costume for work, he snaps and goes out on a mass killing spree – dressed as Santa. A surprisingly scary film, Silent Night Deadly Night contains top-notch kills, brilliantly cheesy acting, and some fantastic gore. It also contains one of my favorite death scenes of all time: I am, of course, talking about the infamous sleigh decapitation scene. Brilliant.

8. Bad Santa (2003)

The general stereotype of a Santa impersonator is a fat, bubbly, cheery, bearded middle-aged man who loves children and yells “Ho ho ho!” at least 100 times a day. In Bad Santa however, he’s a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, chain-smoking, child-hating, store-robbing bastard. This does in turn, actually cause him to be a lot more lovable. Bad Santa tells the story of two con men (Billy Bob Thornton & Tony Cox) who cruise from mall to mall dressed as Santa and Santa’s little helper respectfully, with the sole intention of robbing each store. This strategy becomes a lot harder however when they encounter a young boy who begins to teach them the true meaning of Christmas, and a security head who is on to their scheme. There was a lot of controversy surrounding Bad Santa when it was released, with many people ignoring the fact that it had a “15” certificate in the UK and an “R” in the US, and passing it off as a Jingle All The Way-style family film. Said people were met with an astounding shock when they found a film containing more “four letter words” than a Richard Pryor stand-up show. The proof is in the word “Bad”. This isn’t the Santa you know. Thornton is fantastic in the main role. His transformation from just an asshole into an asshole who gives a damn is a joy to watch.

7. Jingle All The Way (1996)

I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for putting this film higher than the previous three. In fact, I’m probably going to get flack for putting this film in the list at all. But the truth is; defending Jingle All The Way is very easy. Everyone knows the story; Schwarzenegger plays a hard-working father who forgets to buy his son the number one toy of the year, so he sets out on Christmas Eve at the height of consumerism hell to frantically find said toy. Most people who hate the movie, simply hate it as a crass consumerism movie based around the crass consumerism of America…starring Arnie. There are those who defend it by calling it a “sly undercutting of the Christmas consumerism myth”. I, however, ignore both of these things and simply see it as one of the most enjoyable films that an entire family can sit down and watch at Christmas. At the end of the day, Christmas is a time for the entire family to be together, which is why Jingle All The Way is so high on my list. There is something in here for everyone to enjoy. The adult humor for the comedy fans, the occasional fisticuffs for the hardened Schwarzenegger fan, the more child-like action scenes for the kids. This film should be in every Christmas list.

6. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

By 1993, Tim Burton had already proven that he was box office gold with Batman, Batman Returns, Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, so by this time he was given the go-ahead to let his imagination run wild with the phenomenally successful animated film The Nightmare Before Christmas. He got together with director Henry Selick to discuss his vision. His vision was simple; as well as there is a North Pole where Santa and all the other Christmas creatures live, there is also a spooky land where all the Halloween monsters live. One of the greatest things about Burton’s films is that he always has a knack at portraying two (or sometimes several) completely parallel worlds. Here we have the Halloween world, the Christmas world, and the “real” world. The story is simple: Pumpkin King Jack Skellington begins yearning to claim the Christmas holiday for his own after getting bored with Halloween, so he sets out to kidnap Santa Claus. But while the plot may be simple, the character designs, songs, and general tone of the movie was incredibly unique and original for its time, and still remains so today.

5. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Another Tim Burton film here and I’m sure I can here you say “What is Christmas about Edward Scissorhands?”. Come on, the entire story revolves around “why it always snows at Christmas” – as evident by the elderly version of Winona Ryder’s character. So while most of the images that will stick in your head are the bright suburban California setting, the beginning and ending are extremely snowy and Christmassy indeed. Also of note is the most beautiful and pivotal scene in the film. I am talking, of course, about the scene in which Edward goes a little bit mental with his scissorhands to create some beautiful ice sculptures. Most people know how I feel about Tim Burton. He is incredibly overrated and one of the least versatile directors of all time, but even I can’t deny the sheer grandeur of this film. Edward Scissorhands is one of those rare occasions in cinema when a group of truly talented people have set out to create something utterly amazing and emotional. The dedication of everyone involved shines through the screen, and never has Burton’s directing skills been so strong. A beautiful film that marked the very beginning of the long friendship and professional collaboration between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.

4. Scrooged (1988)

My favorite of the hundreds of “Christmas Carol” films on offer, Scrooged brilliantly switches the original setting for modern-day New York. Directed by Richard Donner (SupermanThe Goonies) the “Scrooge” in the film is Frank Cross (played brilliantly by Bill Murray), a TV exec who’s station is about to do an adaption of the beloved “Christmas Carol” tale. Before you can say “breaking the fourth wall”, Cross has fired his staff, has “ba humbug’d” at the thought of Christmas, and is soon receiving visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past to teach him the value and meaning of Christmas. Donner’s direction is fantastic as ever, but the film belongs to Murray. Despite many claiming him to be “a chore to work with”, the man simply has comedic timing down like it’s a science.

3. Black Christmas (1974)

First of all, let it be known that I am talking about the original Black Christmas, not the terrible remake. The 1974 original Black Christmas is one of the scariest horror movies of all time. It’s a dark disgusting, atmospheric Grindhouse film with a fantastically eerie soundtrack. The film tells the story of a sorority house that is stalked – during Christmas – by a killer who uses grotesque language on the phone. It features some pretty strong performances including a star turn from Grindhouse legend John Saxon, and a hilariously mental turn from Margot Kidder (more famously known as Lois Lane in the Superman films). Black Christmas contains possibly one of the most scariest opening scenes in cinematic history, and to this day, even the original trailer (seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=08U_JOv-6_Y) sends some serious fucking chills down my spine. It’s also the subject of a very controversial debate: just which was the first “stalk and slash” horror film made? The first ever slasher film is arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, made in 1960. As for the “stalk and slash” genre, many people claim that John Carpenter’s Halloween is the first ever film to employ the “stalk and slash” horror technique, but that’s not true. Black Christmas is indeed the very first, made a full 4 years prior to Halloween.

2. Gremlins (1984)

The most festive of monster movies, it was obvious Gremlins would be high up on this list. A dark, twisted, violent and hilarious Christmas classic. It is damn near impossible to categorize Gremlins. It’s too violent to call it a kid’s film (it does have a 15 certificate), but it’s not quite intense enough to justify a higher rating. It’s a bizarre, fucked up consumerism satire that finally brought the darker side of Christmas movies away from Grindhouse theaters and into the mainstream. And for that sole purpose, it deserves infinite praise. Just in case you haven’t seen Gremlins, it tells the story of a young bank worker who receives a new pet for Christmas. Named “Gizmo”, this pet is a strange hairy little creature that has to follow three important rules: don’t give him water, don’t give him food after midnight, and don’t expose him to bright light. When two of these rules are broken, Gizmo “gives birth” to a group of green evil monsters who set about tearing his entire town apart. Director Joe Dante as always been brilliant at horror fantasy mash-ups. Even his live action/animation mix Small Soldiers is heaps a guilty pleasure because Dante presents a film for what it truly is, and doesn’t try to turn it into something it isn’t.

And so, the number one Christmas film of all time is…… 

 1. Die Hard (1988)

What else? In 1988, director John McTiernan took the Christmas movie category and turned it on its head to prove that all you need to make a successful Christmas movie is a fun action comedy movie with an incredibly likable hero taking down terrorists in a multi-story building. The set-up is simple, but it’s that simplicity and minor attention to detail and care that makes Die Hard the greatest action movie ever made in the minds and hearts of most film purists. And since it is arguably the greatest action movie ever made, then so should it be the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Bruce Willis left the life of TV shows and made-for-TV comedies and jumped straight into mega-stardom as the enigmatic NYPD officer John McClane. After arriving at the Nakatomi Plaza Building in Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his wife, the building is soon overrun by terrorists, and it looks like McClane’s Christmas won’t be so “merry” after all as he is the only one capable of fending them off. Mixed perfectly with hilarious witty comedy (everyone remembers that hilarious elevator scene) and intense action sequences, Die Hard is the perfect holiday season movie. Sure, it may not be for younger kids, but despite the “18” certificate It’s my belief that anyone as young as 12 could enjoy Die Hard in its entirety. The best thing about Die Hard, certainly at its time of release, was that its hero wasn’t a muscle-bound Austrian oak, or a Muscles-from-Brussels…instead he was just a regular, believable guy who just so happened to have extraordinary combat abilities. So on Christmas time 1988, this allowed the average Joe to really connect with McClane in a way that they had very rarely connected with an action hero before, certainly in the 80s where almost every mainstream action movies was taken up by the likes of muscle-bound beasts like Schwarzenegger, Norris and Van Damme. And that’s exactly the kind of thing you want from a Christmas movie; to connect with its hero and thoroughly enjoy his/her journey. Yippie Ki Yay, motherfuckers!

Have any more films to add? Or maybe there’s a few things you disagree with? Maybe you want to tear me a new asshole for not including It’s A Wonderful Life and White Christmas? Then sound off in the comments section below…

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