‘Tis the Season: Yuletide Movies

Ealasaid/ November 1, 2001/ Movie Reviews and Features

Originally written for SCROOMtimes.

Aaah, Christmas! The time for action films and saccharine family fare. In honor of the approaching holiday, I have decided to write about my favorite holiday films of all time rather than the various films out now (it was a hard decision, though, particularly since the wonderful Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has finally hit theatres). Since my view of Christmas is a little skewed, my taste in films is similarly peculiar. Be Warned.
The Nightmare Before Christmas has to come first, partially because it has “Christmas” in the title and partly because it combines my two favorite holidays: Christmas and Halloween. A charmingly twisted claymation fable by Tim Burton, it relates the disastrous results of an attempt by Jack Skellington, the leader of Halloweentown, to take over the duties of Santa Claus.
Every holiday has its own little town, and Jack is tired of Halloween. He’s been in charge of it for so long that it’s just lost that pep it used to have. On a depressed ramble through the woods he discovers the doorways to the other holiday towns, and finds himself in Christmas town. Captivated by the snow and gifts and merriment he decides he has to have it for himself, and soon the Halloweentown residents find themselves taking over for “Sandy Claws” and making gifts to be delivered to the children for Christmas.
Although the plot peters out and doesn’t quite live up to the terrific characters and setting, The Nightmare Before Christmas is well worth watching. Spooky enough that adults and teens will like it but friendly for older children as well, it’s a definite winner.
My pick for “holiday comedy for dysfunctional adults” is of course The Ref. Denis Leary plays a cynical and sarcastic burglar who ends up saddled with a constantly bickering husband and wife for hostages. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis give wonderful performances as the couple, who involve the hapless burglar in their ongoing spat.
Things are only complicated when the in-laws and offspring arrive for Christmas dinner, and the burglar finds himself forced to play along for the family gathering. The stress the couple is under produces astonishingly hilarious results. This is not really a film for kids, however – although it lacks violence and sex, it does contain masses of profanity and sexual allusion. This is one for stressed out parents to watch after they’ve put the kiddies to bed.
No Christmas movie list would be complete without a reference to at least one Die Hard film, and my favorite of the three holiday action fests is definitely the first. The plot, as if one were really necessary, finds New York cop McClane flying to LA for Christmas to be with his estranged wife. This plan is complicated when a group of terrorists take over the building where she’s having her company Christmas party. McClane manages not to be taken hostage and finds himself having to figure out how to save the day.
Bruce Willis is a blast as brave-but-thick-headed John McClane, and Alan Rickman is brilliant in his breakout American role, the villainous Hans Gruber. All the actors seem to be enjoying themselves, especially Rickman. He gets to chew scenery, be suave and scary, and even delivers the famous “yippie-kye-yay, mother—-er,” line. Plenty of action (gunfights, explosions, hand-to-hand combat, you name it) and more than a little comedy as well, this is another good film for parents to watch after staying up shopping and assembling things for the kids.
The perfect holiday film, however, is easily George C. Scott’s A Christmas Carol, finally available on DVD. It is easily the spookiest version of the Yuletide ghost story around. Although it might be too scary for the youngest in the family (I have never seen a Marley as terrifying as the one here), it’s a good counteragent to the often overly sappy fare most kids find themselves exposed to.
Scott’s Scrooge is chucklingly nasty and he can actually say “humbug!” and mean it. The ubiquitous David Warner is a very convincing Bob Cratchett, and the various ghosts involved are creepy and jolly by turns, keeping the audience on tenterhooks waiting to see what on earth will happen next. The story is an old one, but the treatment here is perfect and more than worth the price of rental.
Christmas is a good time for movie watching both at home and in the theatre. With films like these to rent, and films like The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in theaters, there’s enough to keep everyone busy over Christmas vacation.

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