Silver Bells of the Silver Screen: Non-traditional Christmas Classics to Forget About Your Family With

Greetings of the season everybody! Last week’s blog post was a paltry one, so this week’s will grow three sizes comparatively. A lot of things have happened recently that I could talk about, from stupid movie pulling by stupid movie studios to beloved hoarse-voiced singers dying (RIP Joe Cocker) to my car having things fall off it yet again, but I’ve got one thing to discuss right here and now. As you have probably heard, this Thursday is kind of a big deal to some people. The season my local radio stations have been looking forward to for months has now has finally arrived and will come to its thrilling climax on Christmas day. Speaking of which, have I got some goodies for you. In celebration of the tradition-steeped occasion that is Jesus’ birthday party I am supplying you with a smattering of films that are not exactly the most traditional Bing Crosby-crooning Christmas carols. Sure, many of them have become classics, especially if you’re not into the whole “let’s do Christmas by the book” thing, but they are lovably off-kilter from the usually Rudolph-y fanfare you loved and were probably somewhat terrified by as a kid (and I’m not just talking about that Abominable Snowman) and they all mean a little something to me. I’ll elaborate on each, but know that all of the following films are part of my weird, personal Christmas tradition and are what really get me into the holiday spirit. I’m sure you watch some of these same movies as part of your festivities. Either way, hopefully you enjoy these Xmas Xtravaganzas as much as I do.

Die Hard (1988)

Let’s start with the obvious one. A lot of people are tired of hearing things like, “Die Hard is my favorite Christmas movie,” but for me it really is. Die Hard is fucking awesome, and the fact that it takes place on Christmas Eve is just an added bonus. It gives me a reason to watch a movie I can watch any time of year on a specific date each year. Die Hard is the epitome of the American action movie, and it’s filled with all the essentials needed to ramp us up so much we won’t even care if Santa shows. You’ve got a charismatic and clever villain who is not exactly what he initially appears and is rarely rattled facing off against a guy who’s trying to salvage his already underwater marriage and keep his family together who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time but rises magnificently to the occasion against overwhelming odds. In addition to the leads, there are many great side characters who represent a wide range, from good to bad, expert to inept, quick-witted and witty American to murderous and maniacal German. And let’s not forget the most important character: the building it all takes place in. The Nakatomi Plaza tower complex is the perfect playground for barefoot Bruce Willis to run around and hide from Hans Gruber and his horde of henchman who had everything worked out so well before he announced his presence. That’s still my favorite Alan Rickman line in anything he’s done.

Die Hard is wildly over-the-top and I love every minute of it. I know you want your annoying coworker to stop talking it up as the greatest thing to grace the holidays, but ask yourself which would you rather spend two hours watching: children that aren’t yours butcher “O Little Town of Bethlehem” at a crowded church that smells like a potent collage of cinnamon, grandma’s house, and the perfume tables of a JC Penney’s, or Bruce Willis rattle off one-liners while killing terrorists with guns, explosions, and loose-hanging chains?

Lethal Weapon (1987)

While we’re on the subject of Christmas cops, let’s talk about Lethal Weapon. I refer of course to the original film, and not the 5th or 6th installments put together by an independent group of amateur filmmakers in sunny Philadelphia. Starring Mel Gibson as a crazy guy that we thought was just an act back in 1987, and Danny Glover as the soon-to-be retiree who is “too old for this shit”, screenwriter Shane Black’s first Christmas movie to take place in L.A. is an action-filled fun time highlighted by the incongruous police partners Riggs and Murtaugh not seeing eye-to-eye. Plus it’s got Gary Busey. GARY BUSEY!

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Shane Black’s go-to formula for making a movie seems to be to throw together a couple of guys who don’t seem to make a good pair at first but work it out through unraveling a criminal mystery set it in L.A. during Christmas. It works with Gibson and Glover, and it works again with Downey Jr. and Kilmer in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Even heavier on the humor than Lethal Weapon thanks a bunch to the chemistry between its stars, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is less buddy cop movie and more modern film noir with Robert Downey Jr. nailing it as a bumbling thief who ends up in Hollywood by hilarious coincidence which continues to carry on for both good and bad for him and his newfound partner, a hysterical gay private eye excellently played by Val Kilmer. This is worth multiple viewings to catch things you missed the first few times around, and because it’s just so much fun.

Brazil (1985)

If Kiss Kiss Bang Bang leaves you confused you may want to steer clear of this one. Unlike Black’s caper, Brazil doesn’t exactly tie up all its loose ends. Well, I guess it kind of does, but it does it more by tying knots upon knots upon knots. None of that matters though, because this is a movie you just sit back and enjoy. It is the work of Terry Gilliam, the guy who made all those crazy cutouts dance around ridiculously on Monty Python’s Flying Circus, after all. His fellow former Python, Michael Palin, also features in a funny role. There is plenty of biting social and political commentary to be found and it is often hilariously presented. Jonathan Pryce is perfect as Sam Lowry, an efficient bureaucrat working for an inefficient bureaucracy who finds solace in his dreams. Fortunately then unfortunately, his dreams lead him to his dream girl who leads him to become targeted as a terrorist by the totalitarian government he grows weary of. Good thing we get to watch them continue to bumble even as his situation darkens. Some brief yet great performances from Robert De Niro, Bob Hoskins, and Ian Holm help make this wild and wacky adventure entertaining throughout. While not as Christmasy as the previous films, Brazil is still worth watching if you’re looking for something really far removed from Frosty the Snowman. Like George Orwell’s favorite Christmas kind of thing.

Trading Places (1983)

Getting back to the Christmas we’re more used to, this comedy has two of the genre’s top dogs from the 1980s: Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. The former is a clever street-side con artist, while the latter is a high society stock broker who’s just a touch too snobby. The two have their lives shaken up when they are switched to settle a bet between the super rich, old, and white Duke brothers, one’s for the better; the others’ for the worse. When the two learn of the wager they team up to get back at the Dukes with the help of a hooker with a heart of gold (Jaime Lee Curtis) and a trusty butler (Denholm Elliott, you know, Marcus Brody from the Indiana Jones movies).

Elf (2003)

Will Ferrell is a human raised as an elf at the North Pole who ventures to find his biological father in New York City. If you haven’t seen this movie yet, you need to. Easily the most enjoyable Christmas movie of the last 20 years, everyone is perfectly cast. The whole family can watch this with no worries, but there are plenty of jokes that only adults will understand and enjoy.

Home Alone (1990)

You’ve already seen it, and if you haven’t, c’mon man! See it already! It’s great! Watch it again even if you have seen it a million times and observe how everything gets set in motion because Kevin spills milk at the beginning. Seriously, everything in this movie happens over spilled milk. God bless you John Hughes.

Thanks for reading! Have yourself a Merry little Xmas and remember not to have too much of your dad’s famous special  eggnog of bourbon and ice cubes (save it for New Years). Ho ho ho back next week for the comedown from Christmastime.

Yippee Ki Yay,

Alex

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