OK, so this is theoretical: Charles Dickens died in 1870, about 25 years before the very first motion pictures were shown. He published A Christmas Carol in 1843, when he was about thirty, which would have put his fictitious Ebenezer Scrooge several years older, with even less chance of ever having seen any movies. So we're just imagining that if Scrooge was around today, and still hated Christmas, but loved movies -- and preferred to spend Christmas alone watching mean, dark Christmas stories -- then these might be his favorites. A Happy Humbug -- er... Holidays to all!
1. Bad Santa (2003)
Of course: Billy Bob Thornton's Willie T. Soke has gone down as perhaps the greatest Christmas curmudgeon since the Grinch, and even Scrooge himself. His beautifully crafted dialogue is like an opera of swear words, soaring over the proceedings like the wings of drunken, unwashed angels. Terry Zwigoff's masterful direction walks an impossible line between vicious and sweet, hilarious and human. (Note: avoid the theatrical cut and the bogus "Badder Santa" version, and stick with the superior, official Director's Cut.)
2. Black Christmas (1974)
Bob Clark directed everyone's holiday favorite, A Christmas Story, but nine years earlier he made this horror masterpiece about the first holiday serial killer, a nasty piece of work who torments a girl's sorority house on the eve of the holiday break. But these girls (including Margot Kidder and Olivia Hussey) are no innocent Cindy Lou Whos; they can out-drink and out-curse any slasher. Even Scrooge wouldn't accept the dreadful 2006 remake, however.
3. Morvern Callar (2002) 4. Female Trouble (1974) 5. The War of the Roses (1989)
This stunning odyssey, directed by Lynne Ramsay, begins as Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) traces her fingers along the dead body of her boyfriend, lying under the Christmas tree (complete with sickly, blinking lights). She opens his presents to her, steals his money and his unpublished manuscript, and hits the road in search of more beautiful things. How's that for the spirit of the season?
Dawn Davenport (Divine) wants nothing for Christmas except her beloved cha-cha heels. When she wakes up Christmas morning and fails to find them under the family tree, she screeches one of my favorite lines: "I hate you and I hate Christmas!" She storms out and embarks upon a life of crime and debauchery. Writer/director John Waters still has the spirit: in 2004 he assembled a wonderfully nutty album of Christmas music, ranging from the hilarious to the truly annoying.
Danny DeVito's pitch-perfect black comedy takes place over many Christmas seasons, following the loving relationship between the materialistic couple Oliver (Michael Douglas) and Barbara Rose (Kathleen Turner), whose hatred for each other becomes more focused and more sadistic as the film goes on. In one happy holiday scene, Barbara chooses Christmas decorations based on how much they will spite her husband (a handmade tinfoil star, instead of an expensive, store-bought model).
4. Female Trouble (1974) 5. The War of the Roses (1989)
5. The War of the Roses (1989)
6. Gremlins (1984)
How much would old Scrooge love the monologue by Phoebe Cates, in which she describes how she learned the secret of Santa Claus? If you saw this PG-rated movie before the age of 10, it probably sent cold chills up your spine and haunted you forever. Certainly parents had their hackles raised; this movie (along with Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom) was responsible for the induction of the PG-13 rating. Besides all that, Joe Dante's film, set during the holiday season in which an innocent Christmas present goes awry, is a brilliant blockbuster laced with ferocious satire.
7. 'R Xmas (2001)
One of Abel Ferrara's most underrated movies is also one of his most twisted, and touching. A family of drug dealers prepares for the holiday season, which includes tracking down the latest, hottest toy item. But trouble strikes when the husband (Lillo Brancato Jr.) is kidnapped and the wife (Drea de Matteo) must come up with the money to rescue him. Amazingly enough, Ferrara paces this just right, letting brief periods of rest, and even warmth, seep in.