Ah Christmastime. A time to sit back and watch some classic films. It’s A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, An American Christmas Carol, A Muppet Christmas Carol, Mickey’s Christmas Carol…..the list goes on. But sometimes, just sometimes, you get a little up to here with all this “Christmas Cheer” and “Peace on Earth” and Whatnot. It gets to the point that you sometimes need a break from your more traditional Holiday pictures. But Christmas comes only once a year so you don’t want to miss out by just watching any old movie. You want a film that gives you a more contemporary story while still having the illusion of staying within the spirit of Christmas. That’s where Alternative Christmas Films come in. They’ve got the content and narrative that work at any time of the year but are given the backdrop of Christmas to tell their story, making them appropriate fare for the Holiday Season. Take a look at the collection of four films I have compiled below. Some are obvious choices due to their time spent as classic film franchise favourites. Others are ones you may have forgot about or never gave a chance in the first place. Either way, their films that can be seen as festive without overdoing it. So take a look and make tonight’s movie holiday cheery without getting preachy.
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005) – This is the movie that tells me that Iron Man 3 may very well be the best Iron Man yet. This is the last time that Robert Downey Jr. and Writer/Director Shane Black teamed up to make movie. Based on the novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Haliday, the story follows Harry (RDJ), an unlucky thief and self aware narrator who gets mistaken for an actor an is flown out to Los Angeles to read for a part in a mid level detective movie. There he meets Gay Perry, played by Val Kilmer, a real private detective who’s been hired to show him what it’s like to be a real private dick. While at a Christmas party in La La Land, Harry runs into Harmony Lane (Michelle Monahan), an old friend from high school who he’s always had a crush on. This sets off a series of events that puts Harry right in the middle of a murder investigation that could not only answer the question of what happened to Harmony’s troubled sister but also bring down the career of Harlan Dexter (Corbin Bersen), a retired actor and millionaire that recently settled a 10 year long dispute with his daughter, Veronica, over his wife’s inheritance. Murder, Mayhem and Intrigue abound in this little comedy thriller that’s bound to keep you laughing if not on the edge of your seat. What I love is that it takes the classic detective genre and pays homage to it while taking jabs at it in the same breath. The film has the usual Film Noir narration but it’s done by Downey’s character who is the last person that should be in a Film Noir. He’s self conscious and selff aware and natters on like a little school girl on the phone. But he’s a funny narrator and his chemistry with Kilmer is undeniable. It’s one of the best directorial debuts I’ve ever seen. Black’s script is impeccable and Downey Jr. is a lovable scoundrel that you can’t help but root for. Michelle Monahan is also a delight to watch and it makes me wish that she and RDJ had more screen time together in Due Date as they also have great chemistry in this flick. If you feel like laughing without losing that Christmas cheer or if you just want to enjoy a film that’s both suspenseful and funny, then this is the film for you. But be prepared for a lot of dead bodies and people saying Fuck.
Go (1999) – “You know what I love about Christmas? The Surprises.” These are opening lines to a monologue by Katie Holmes in this holiday themed thriller comedy that loosely explores the Rave Culture of late nineties Los Angeles. Now when I say holiday themed, I am referring to the fact that it all goes down on Christmas Eve, not that that really has any baring in the film at all. In fact, it was released in late February, during the slow period of movie releases, during 1999. Director Doug Liman directorial debut, which was written by John August, boasted a young cast of up and comers of the time including Holmes, Sarah Polley, Scott Wolf, Jay Mohr, Timothy Olyphant, Tay Diggs, Brekin Meyer, Tay Diggs and more. Using a narrative style that borrows from Quentin Taratino’s aesthetic, Liman presents 3 stories that all start at an LA supermarket on the night before Christmas. Rona (Sarah Polley) is a down on her luck cashier who plays at being a big time drug dealer to get the rent money she owes by the next night or she’ll be out on her ass by New Years. Simon is an Englishman who also works as a cashier and is off for a wild time in Vegas with his mates but things don’t go as planned. And then there’s Zack and Adam, the stars of a mid-level soap who’ve been dragged into a sting operation that’s attempting to shut down the distribution of drugs in the area. The three stories weave and intersect with each other throughout the film and show scenes from multiple perspectives. With witty dialogue, fun characters and a plot that has a few somewhat outlandish twists and turns, this film is bound to entertain. Plus, for a movie that spends have it’s time at a rave, it’s got a pretty good soundtrack (minus the mistake of adding Len’s Steal My Sunshine to the mix). It’s also fun to see a few of these actors when they had so much promise and the world in front of them even though we know they didn’t really amount to much (Holmes, Wolf, I’m looking at you guys). Funny and even Daring at points, this film will give you the excitement of the Christmas season without the weight and reverence of traditional holiday films.
Lethal Weapon (1987) – Before they were too old for this shit and it was a film franchise that brought us 3 sequels, Lethal Weapon was just an action comedy that played with the buddy cop dynamic and took place around Christmas. In fact, the film ends at Christmas as Riggs (Mel Gibson – playing a crazy person before he actually went crazy) comes and spends Christmas Day with Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family. But that’s after we see a whole of lot of trust building, buddy bonding and ass-kicking from the this duo. The poster for this film reads: Glover carries a weapon, Gibson is one. He’s the only cop in LA that’s registered as a Leathal Weapon. Murtaugh is an aging cop nearing retirement who’s investigating a suicide which may in fact be a homicide. Riggs is a Narcotics Sargent who loses it on a suspect and is transferred to Homicide by his superior officer. This brings the two cops together and on a path towards drug runners, money laundering and a group of criminals that are all Vietnam vets. Gary Busey plays an enforcer who’s handy with the martial arts. Riggs is pretty handy himself and the two tussle in the climax of the film. There’s a lot more to it but too much to get into here. It was directed by Richard Donner but is connected to Kiss Kiss Bang Bang by Shane Black, who penned the screenplay for this cinematic cop romp. It’s one of those films that’s gotten lost not only due to the career failings of Mr. Gibson but also due to the sequels that ruined the quality and credibility of this great action film by becoming an Action Comedy series that was too heavy on the comedy at times. Go back and revisit this film and you will see that it’s aged nicely. Better yet, check out the director’s cut of the film. The added scenes are not necessary but give the flick a more adult flavor that is lost in later outings. Nothing says Christmas like a cop with a death wish and this film’s got that too.
Die Hard (1988) – “Come out to the coast. We’ll get together, have a few laughs…” Those words said in a sarcastic tone by Bruce Willis sum up the feelings that most have on the holidays when things are not going their way. And things were not going John McClane’s way when he attended his wife’s Christmas Party that one fateful Christmas Eve. If fact, it’s safe to say that things were not going a lot of people’s way that night. Don’t you hate when international terrorists crash the party. So it’s up to John to save the hostages and beat the badguys. One cop against a group of deadly killers lead by the egotistical madman that is Hans Gruber. Sounds like a cliche these days but back then, it was the trend setter and the film that all others like it have been judged by since its release. This film is another victim of its franchise, spawning 3 sequels (only one of which is worth watching) and another one on the way. They moved away from Christmas and now it’s an action franchise like any other. But the original holds up as the most fantastic performance by Willis and the most fun you can have during the Holiday Season. I know for a fact that if this film was not the list, I would have been barraged wtih comments telling me that my list was bogus. Well no worry about that now as the king of action movies now sits as the crown jewel of not only this list buy any holiday movie night this side of Nakatomi Plaza. There’s really no reason to go on about this film because I think the classic trailer for the film speaks for itself. So check it out.
So that’s the list. I hope you take the time this holiday season to sit down in front of the television or home entertainment centre with the family and pop one of these movies on. I always say that watching a movie can bring people together so I hope one of these fine film does that for you and yours this Christmas.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!