The Christmas season has arrived, and a variety of local family traditions will soon play out, like fathers inflicting massive head trauma on themselves extracting trees from basement nooks and teenagers telling drunk uncles they don’t know what they’re talking about.
One of the richest traditions is the Christmas movie. So here’s a useful guide to a trio of Yuletide cinematic baubles you really should include in the lead-up to Christmas, as well as a ‘classic’ double feature you should walk through a snowdrift to avoid.
Die Hard (1988)
We seem to have at last settled the debate over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie. The classic siege thriller is now regarded by a growing yuletide legion as the Christmas movie.
And what’s not Christmassy about it? Die Hard has Alan Rickman, Santa costumes, Christmas parties, a greedy, angry man threatening to ruin everyone’s celebrations, family travel, Bing Crosby and even climaxes with a bearded, central European gent flying through the air. Welcome to the party, pal!
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
John Hughes hit the bulls-eye with the third in the Vacation franchise, a sentimental paean to family togetherness including even the most diabolically infuriating family members.
There’s a cousin Eddie in every family, after all. Obligatory Christmas Eve viewing as one bolsters one’s courage for the day ahead with a tasty beverage of choice.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
Dickens purists favour 1951’s Scrooge, starring the incomparable Alistair Sim, as the best screen translation of A Christmas Carol. But I can’t resist this version. It has a gorgeous production design, catchy songs and it works superbly because Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit as Bob Cratchit play their roles completely straight.
Director Brian Henson doesn’t pull the source material’s spectral punches. Marley’s ghost has a more whimsical impact divided between Statler and Waldorf, but the ghost of Christmas future is as terrifying as ever. My newly-married niece has been watching this film since toddlerhood and still covers her eyes during the graveside scene. As delicious as a Christmas turkey and just as nourishing.
Now, for the broken baubles to be tossed aside:
Love, Actually (2003)
Treading carefully here, because Love, Actually is a beloved staple of many families’ festive seasons. And yes, Emma Thompson’s moment as Karen listens to Both Sides Now, absorbing how her life has just changed for the worse, is heart-tearing.
But that’s one moment among many, and the many include near-unwatchable scenes such Mark’s (Andrew Lincoln’s) Boris Johnson-hijacked, literally signposted declaration of love to Juliet (Keira Knightley), John (Martin Freeman) and Judy’s (Joanna Page) nude courtship.
Most unendurable of all, Hugh Grant’s British PM slapping down Billy Bob Thornton’s lying sexual-harassing POTUS during a ridiculous press conference.
Fans of the film might argue I’m approaching it from a Grinch’s perspective, which may be true. I’m probably still suffering shell-shock from the family pile-on my brother-in-law and I endured when we suggested Karen was overreacting to husband Harry (Alan Rickman) giving his assistant a Christmas gift, albeit a very sparkly one. It seems we were misinformed.
It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Whereas Love, Actually has produced two opposing camps, this Frank Capra classic is beloved by everyone – except me. The story of small town redemption where George Bailey (James Stewart), on the brink of suicidal despair, is saved by a bumbling angel who reveals how George affected people’s lives for the better always struck me as relentlessly deceptive.
The rushed happy ending doesn’t really erase the fact George just escaped being broken on the wheel of rapacious capitalism and his Christmas deliverance has only relieved his circumstances briefly.
It’s as if the Back to the Future cycle ended with an extended second instalment where Marty saves his parents from murder and sexual degradation but leaves Biff in possession of the Almanac. Fans of the film won’t be swayed by this view, and it’s true, any film that inspired Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes The Wish and Amends can’t be all bad.
But when George wakes up on Boxing Day I suspect he still has Buffy’s ‘summoned from the dead’ story arc ahead of him.
In closing, may your Christmas season overflow with seasonal movie treats from A Charlie Brown Christmas to Lethal Weapon. Have a safe and happy break, everyone.