Merry Christmas, folks. Instead of watching A Christmas Story or It's a Wonderful Life or (god forbid) Elf again this year, why not take a look at this list of alternative holiday viewing options that I've compiled here.
I have trouble with counting and with numbers, so I'm pretty sure I have more than 12 films and things here. It's a lot, sure, but I think you'll enjoy it. If not, keep the receipt and return it after the holidays.
Thanks and you're welcome.
1. Die Hard, the quintessential alternative-Christmas film.
Die Hard (1988) is a lot of things. It's an action classic, one of the iconic movies of the 1980s, and is something of a pop-culture touchstone. I probably don't need to sell you on it. It's great and you know it. Ho-Ho-Ho, here's the trailer:
2. Tired of Die Hard every year (gasp!)? Here's some other Christmas action films.
The Silent Partner (1978), from our friends up in Canada, is a great little thriller starring Elliot Gould and Christopher Plummer. It's a great cat and mouse crime story with some humor and violence; I wrote a full review of it HERE. I highly recommend it (my review and the movie).
it seems that Iron Man Three (2013) takes place during Christmas, so it's official: Shane Black is totally into Christmas.
Mr. Joshua. . . not so much...
3. Gremlins, a personal tradition.
Every year for the last dozen years or so I've watched Gremlins (1984) either on or near Christmas Day. It's a seasonal holiday tradition, which is funny as when I first saw the film at the age of 5, it scared the bejeezus out of me. There's so many great things in the movie, from Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" over the opening credits to Phoebe Cates's infamous "why I hate Christmas" speech to Mrs. Deagle's flight!, but my favorite is the "mom vs. gremlins" scene in the house, which is one of the best scenes in any movie ever, inmyopinion. I can't find a clip of the whole thing, so here's the teaser trailer for the film's re-release:
4. A Very Tim Burton Christmas.
Despite it's bizarre aesthetic, I think The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) is a perfect holiday film, playing well anytime between October and December. I always make it a Christmas film. This year we watched it while assembling and decorating our tree. The music in the film is wonderful and near composer Danny Elfman's very best. I mean, seriously, how great is "What's This?"??
For Advanced Studies in Tim Burton and the Holiday Season, check out his charming Edward Scissorhands (1990) or his second Batman movie, Batman Returns (1992), which is holiday themed and has it's own bizarre aesthetic.
5. A Muppet Family Christmas: Watch out for the icy patch!
One of my favorite things growing up was the Muppet Family Christmas TV special from 1987. Thanks to a VHS dub, I used to watch it all the time and it was a big part of my childhood. Seeing all the Muppets, the Sesame Street gang, and the Fraggles all come together to celebrate Christmas at Fozzie's mother's house is just wonderful stuff. I still dig it. Big thanks to YouTube for providing a clip of the full, unedited show:
While on the subject of the Muppets, you can't go wrong with The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) either. It's some good, family friendly material, with plenty of good jokes and the requisite big freaky Ghost of Christmas Yet-to-Come.
6. Christmas comedies. Ho-Ho-Ha.
In addition to the Muppets version, my favorite telling of Charles Dicken's holiday classic A Christmas Carol is the 1988 Bill Murray movie Scrooged. It's sort of a mean Christmas movie, but I think it has a great heart at the center of its story, perfectly mixing the sweet with the bitter. It straddles that line of alternate and regular Christmas movie (for me at least). Also, it's really funny and there's some killer special effects, especially the terrifying Ghost of Christmas Future.
For an additional Christmas comedy recommendation, I'd say check out Trading Places (1983) with Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy. It's waaaay funnier than Elf.
7. Mystery Science Theater 3000: Santa Claus Conquers the Martians.
MST3k is one of my favorite television shows ever and it's not Christmas until I've heard "A Patrick Swayze Christmas," an original song featured within the 3rd season episode Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, which is a great bad movie, perfect for riffing by Joel and the Bots. It's a classic, inmyopinion. Here it is:
The other holiday MST episode, season five's Santa Claus, is also pretty good, with a delightfully daffy Mexican movie featuring Santa vs. a devil named Pitch. It's weird stuff.
For advanced holiday movie riffing fun times, might I wholeheartedly suggest the slice of cinematic madness that is Santa Claus and the Ice Cream Bunny from the guys at Rifftrax (former members of team MST3k). It is beyond bizarre and the only thing that is guaranteed to keep you from going insane while watching it is the funny commentary and jokes from the Rifftrax guys. Here's a best-of:
8. Let's take a Hip Hop Break!
Run DMC kicking it old school!
Keep it running with Run The Jewels! Maybe not a Christmas song per se, but these two are near the top of the game and dig those bells!
And why not, here's DMX! What?!
9. Christmas Horrors: Silent Night, Deadly Night.
One of the most controversial holiday horror films of all time is without a doubt Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984), a crude slasher film that is both incredibly fun and incredibly rough around the edges. The film was condemned by PTAs across the country and screenings were picketed by protesters, leading to the film getting yanked from theaters after a brief theatrical run. Later, due to home video, it would become a cult classic. If you're a horror fan and you somehow haven't seen it, consider yourself "naughty!"
Of course the film produced sequels (4 in total), the second one which is infamous for both padding out over half its running time by recycling footage from Part 1 and also for GARBAGE DAY!
10-11. Further Studies in Christmas Horrors.
Black Christmas (1974) is one of the first holiday horror films and was also a forebear of the slasher films of the '80s, which might make it the granddaddy of Silent Night, Deadly Night. Comparably it's a much better film, with a tighter story, better actors, and stronger filmmaking from director Bob Clark, who would go on to do another Christmas classic, A Christmas Story (1983). I think he got it right with his first stab at the holidays.
A little more obscure, but nonetheless wholeheartedly recommended is Don't Open Till Christmas (1984), a sleazy British slasher featuring a psycho who kills people dressed as Santa. It's a much meaner and nastier film than Silent Night, Deadly Night and very much worth checking out if you like that sort of (naughty) thing.
Also, no holiday horror film festival would be complete without Tales from the Crypt (1972), specifically the first segment "...And All Through the House" with Joan Collins and a killer Santa. It's great:
12. It's Christmas, kinda.
And finally, here's two great movies that take place during the holiday season but aren't necessarily Christmas movies at all.
Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985) is a Orwellian nightmare of bureaucracy and a tale of the desperate need to break out of the norm to find love and yourself. It's a great, great movie, one of my favorites, but even I forget that it takes place during the holiday season (gift giving is a recurring theme in the film), but somehow it's perfect, as the commercialism of Christmas makes for good backdrop.
Yup. I end on an orgy joke.
Well, there you go. That's the list. Hope you liked it.
Happy Holidays and all that stuff.