When it comes to unconventional holiday stories, I believe we have one man to thank: Charles Dickens. We're so numb to the traditional charms and affirmations of A Christmas Carol that we don't realize how bizarre it really is. Visions of death and despair figure more prominently than sugar plums and reindeer hooves -- I mean, the Grim Reaper shows up! Surely that helped pave the way for violent Christmas stories like these. I doubt many of you will find these selections that unconventional (Die Hard is a Christmas staple in many a household) but they certainly don't star Jimmy Stewart or Charlie Brown.

1. L.A. Confidential

"You're like Santa Claus with that list, Bud, except everyone on it's been naughty. " This is a Christmas staple in our house. Technically, only the beginning of the film is set at Christmas, but the entire plot hinges on that fateful holiday. If Bud White had never stopped to buy some booze for the station's Christmas party, he and Ed Exley would have never cracked the case, plain and simple. This is a great film to watch all year round, but you really need to squeeze in a viewing between Miracle on 34th Street and It's a Wonderful Life. (And Bud's smackdown on that abusive husband? Sexier than The Holiday.)

2. The Long Kiss Goodnight

Christmas and Shane Black go together like holly and ivy. I think Long Kiss is particularly suited to the holidays, because sandwiched in between all the guns, knives, explosions, and Samuel L. Jackson expletives is the most traditional Christmas theme of all. That ruthless assassin Charlie Baltimore tries to pretend her daughter and her fiancee were nothing more than a cover to her -- but then she catches a glimpse of her family through the scope of her rifle and realizes what they mean to her. Cue the jingle bells and bring out the hanky!


3. Lethal Weapon

I never hear Jingle Bell Rock without thinking of Lethal Weapon's opening credits. Once again, Black manages to work in some affirming holiday spirit into the story. Martin Riggs finds peace on earth and goodwill towards men at the end -- he has to strangle Mr. Joshua with the sheer strength of his thighs first, but his redemption is almost on par with Ebenezer Scrooge's.

4. Die Hard


"Ho Ho Ho -- Now I have a machine gun." I am still waiting for someone to recreate that scene in their front yard with a mannequin in a gray sweat suit. It would be brilliant.

5. The Lion in Winter

"What shall we hang ... the holly or each other?" If your family is making you pull your hair out by December 24th, pop this on the old DVD player and realize it could be so much worse. You could have been stuck in Chinon with a bunch of bloodthirsty, scheming Plantagenets, with no cable, aspirin, or hot baths. If you finish the movie and find your family is still misbehaving, summon up your Hepburn poise, and deliver this speech: "Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history's forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can't we love one another just a little -- that's how peace begins. We have so much to love each other for. We have such possibilities, my children. We could change the world. "

6. Gremlins

Funny, gory, and cute all at the same time, it also packs a powerful message on the overmerchandising of Christmas, and the danger of giving live animals as presents. "You do with Mogwai what your society has done with all of nature's gifts. You do not understand." Plus, no I-stopped-believing-in-Santa Claus story beats Kate's. Again, if your family starts to get on your nerves, put this on, and be grateful your dad never put on a Santa suit, and climbed down the chimney as a surprise.

7. Batman Returns

I've always thought it was a shame this was released in the summer instead of Christmas -- there should be a rule preventing snow-filled holiday movies to debut in June, it's such a waste of set design. While Returns hasn't held up over the years, I wish it would pop up on cable in December just for laughs. It is the only Christmas-themed superhero movie ... I wonder if that will ever change?
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