This year has been unnaturally awful, particularly in America, but the world over as well it seems. From Brexit to Harambe and from politics to the losses of some of our most beloved entertainers like David Bowie and Alan Rickman, it seems pretty clear across the board: 2016 has just been the worst. I say, let’s end it all… with Christmas cheer! What follows is not all an “All Time” or “Top Ten” Christmas movie list, but rather what I will be watching in the twelve days preceding the 25th in order to wipe the last 11 & 1/2 months from my mind. Some are age old classics, others are purely what I enjoy. Maybe you’ll find something old to cherish, or something new to love. Or maybe not, either way; chill out, and lets just watch movies.
Set in 1980’s New York Bill Murray stars as Frank Cross in this modern retelling of Charles Dicken’s literary classic, “A Christmas Carol”. Cross is a massively successful television executive whose particularly curmudgeonly behavior drove away his one time love Claire Phillips (Karen Allen). The story follows as you might expect this being one of many “Carol” modernizations and remakes over the years. Cross fires an employee (Bobcat Goldthwait) on Christmas Eve and is then met by an old ghostly friend warning him of his wrongdoings, and subsequently met by three Christmas Ghosts. Bill Murray is great as always, the excess of the eighties is ever present, and there’s plenty of dark humor to go around.
2 How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Live Action + Animated)
One of my personal favorites, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” is one of Dr. Suess’ most infamous creations. Here I am counting both versions as one as they are both classic and entertaining in their own right. With rhymes and whimsy abound in every which way, this tale is about a Grinch who decided he had something to say, he growled, with his Grinch fingers nervously drumming, “I MUST find some way to stop Christmas from coming!” From then on songs and antics abide by the festive nature until the Grinch has a change of heart when learning that the whos, thus having their christmas stuff swiped from them, stood together in song and celebration. Proving a timeless classic to remind us that the flair and advertising associated with Christmas can be fine, but it isn’t the point, the meaning of Christmas is more than just the gifts found under the tree, as the Grinch came to realize, “It came with out ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes or bags!” Don’t get caught up in the hype just let it be, and if you can, go forth and enjoy some who-pudding and rare who-roast beast!
Will Ferrell embodies the pure Joy that children experience around Christmas in “Elf”. When Buddy (Ferrell) is accidentally transported to the north pole as a baby he is raised by the elves of Santa’s workshop. As Buddy grows to be a man he increasingly finds himself ostracized by the other elves and feelings of not fitting in begin to flourish. Eventually he is told the truth and he sets out to New York City to find his real father. Walter Hobbs (James Caan), is a cynical New York businessman that ends up harboring his chaotic new son after confirmation via blood test. “Elf” quickly became a christmas classic from the early 2000’s as it earned its place among the numerous Christmas movies by leaning on Ferrell’s bombastic performance, but also from having a solid director in the form of Jon Favreau with a stellar cast on the sidelines. Ed Asner plays Santa, Zooey Deschanel plays Jovie (Buddy’s love interest), There’s also Peter Dinklage, Amy Sedaris, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Artie Lange, and Ray Harryhausen in a voiceover role. Unless you’re a complete Scrooge or a total Grinch you’ll likely find something to love here.
4 Jingle All The Way
Perfectly mimicking the real life toy craze of the “tickle-me-Elmo” toy at the time “Jingle All The Way” follows Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad playing two desperate fathers racing around town attempting to buy their sons the last of the popular Turbo Man toy. This slapstick favorite mirrors a popular christmas tale theme of materialism and to what length we will go to find that perfect gifts for our families. If you wanted Christmas, Comedy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger along with Sinbad.. well actually that’s a pretty specific “want”, and I’m pretty sure this is the only film to include all of that. Anyways, it’s a fun, mindless, Christmas comedy, enjoy!
5 The Night Before
This treat of a Holiday comedy came out last year and is an excellent mixture of modern comedy and the Christmas season. Starring an unexpected triad of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie, and Seth Rogen “The Night Before” focuses on the three lifelong friends as they set out to find the Nutcracka ball, a Holy Grail among Christmas parties. As the three find that they’re entering adulthood, their longstanding tradition is coming to an end thus making this a last ditch effort to make the night as memorable as possible. Plenty of laughs and a good hearted spirit to it all, this is Rogen’s best appearance in a film over the last few years. If you found “The Interview” or “This is The End” to be somewhat lacking I suggest this flick, it should raise your barometer for modern comedies.
6 Die Hard
Not just one of the greatest Action movies of all time, “Die Hard” also happens to take place on Christmas. I know, a bit of a cheat, but it’s something I’ll be watching. Plus it’s good to remember a time when Bruce Willis actually wanted to be in movies instead of begrudgingly waiting for his check to clear. It’s also especially nostalgia filled nowadays with our recent loss of the endlessly talented Alan Rickman. “Die Hard” is one of the best films to come out of the 1980’s and it still holds up to this day. As an added bonus you get to introduce younger family members to the wellspring of 1980’s action at its best. Merry Christmas indeed.
7 Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Okay, okay, so it’s two cheats in a row. Shane Black has a tendency to set his films during the wintry holiday, but I promise you- this one is worth the watch. It’s a wonderful treat to see Robert Downey Jr. pre-Iron Man, as thief-mistaken-as-an-actor Harry Lockhart. The story follows Lockhart as he winds up embroiled in a complicated murder mystery with Val Kilmer as private-eye Gay Perry and Michelle Monaghan as struggling actress Harmony Faith Lane. It’s a wonderfully entertaining flick and one of Shane Black’s best works.
8 Tree Man
This documentary follows Francois, the infamous “Tree Man” from Quebec that travels down to New York City each November to stay for a month and sell many New York natives their Christmas trees. This was a relative break from the rest of the films on this list as it examines how the season of joy effects those in the business of making their livelihood from it. The Doc begins and ends with Francois but once he arrives in New York the film meets and follows many of the other tree sellers in the community. As it goes on you begin to see the ripple effect of how the arrival of the tree man brings the anticipation of tradition and the warmth of community, even on the corner of Broadway and 102nd street in Manhattan.
9 The Ref
Are you one of those people that may enjoy the holiday, but hate having to spend it with your relatives? Then “The Ref” might just be the Christmas movie for you. The film stars Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey as Caroline and Lloyd, a particularly argumentative married couple with Denis Leary as Gus, a thief on the run from the cops. We start the film with Gus in the middle of an affluent suburban heist when his getaway driver leaves him stranded when the cops show up. Gus manages to escape and bumps into Caroline and Lloyd in a convenience store on their way home from marriage counseling. From there the film takes the hostage situation to a comedic gold mine as Caroline and Lloyd happen to be expecting guests for their Christmas dinner. Full of neverending bickering from every family member the film eventually descends into dragging every character’s flaws, excuses, and past mistakes out into the open as Gus pretends to be their marriage counselor while crafting an escape plan. It’s a dark but hilarious jab at familial controversy (for the early 1990’s anyway) and the facade people create for their families- but especially the in-laws.
10 A Muppet Christmas Carol
Honestly this is a fairly straight up rendition of “A Christmas Carol”, but with the Muppets! This is my favorite version of the Carol story, not simply because of the practical effects of the puppetry (Although I do appreciate it), nor the warm and wintry feelings associated with this tale, but rather the whimsical nature of the late Jim Henson’s creations. There is a certain goodness among the characters that permeates their productions. Henson worked hard to avoid the easy route of cynicism and anger, and it shows even in the works his crew and family took on after his passing. This is the time of year when that attitude is needed most, to get through whatever bombardment life throws at you. Take time to thank those who have helped you, meditate on your place in the world, make an effort to be more humble, and take the spite out of your mouth. The world has enough of that as it is. That’s why I included a muppet entry, not simply because I enjoy it, but because I mightily respect the creators of these appropriately childish affairs.
11 It’s a Wonderful Life
Possibly the most replayed Christmas movie of all time, besides “A Christmas Story”, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of my all time favorite Christmas movies. Growing up I never saw this film, somehow unknowingly avoiding this decades old classic, but a few years ago I wandered upon it late at night on Christmas eve. As someone that lives in a small town and frequently dreams of moving away and traveling the world (Some of this I had already done before this viewing), I could relate to George Bailey’s plight. As someone always willing to help, George’s circumstances in life always ended up preventing him from seeing those dreams come to fruition. He sacrificed his own education for his brother’s, kept the family savings and loan afloat, protected the town from the avarice of the greedy banker Mr. Potter, and married his childhood sweetheart. However when things turn fiscally dark for George Bailey he contemplates suicide as an option to give his family something to live off of. Just then, an Angel appears, not in traditional heavenly garb though, and intervenes to show George Bailey what life would have become for the residents of Bedford Falls if he had never lived. It’s a timeless classic and I highly recommend giving it a watch if you, like me, had never stumbled upon it until recently.
12 A Very Murray Christmas
Might as well end the marathon the way we started it, with Bill Murray. Harkoning back to the variety shows of old Murray, in a traditionally meta wink to audiences, is throwing a christmas special but is down on his luck when he realizes that a heavy snowstorm will prevent his guests from arriving in time. His in-show special falls to pieces and he ends up heading to the bar where more showtunes with celebrities and bands continue to appear as the night progresses. The special includes the likes of George Clooney, Paul Shaffer, Amy Poehler, Julie White, Dimitri Dimitrov, Michael Cera, Chris Rock, David Johansen, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, Rashida Jones, Miley Cyrus, and the band Phoenix. As a plus, the special is directed by Sofia Coppola-look her up if you don’t know who she is.