(This month we're bringing back some of our favorite holiday-related posts, as well as sharing some new ones. Happy Holidays!)
By: Christopher Campbell (reprinted from December 25th, 2007)
Enough with the same old lists of favorite holiday movies! Every year, I see the same entries, probably because there hasn't been a good Christmas movie in years. At least here at Cinematical we shake things up a bit and present you with our favorite Christmas horror, favorite Christmas action, favorite holiday musicals, favorite Christmas movies for Jews, favorites you probably haven't seen, favorite R-rated Christmas, Scrooge's favorites, least favorite obnoxious Christmas comedies and we have a guy who really hates the usual favorites, including A Christmas Story.
Last year we also had a list of non-Christmas movies set during Christmas. Somewhat similar to that, I present you with my favorite non-Christmas movies NOT set during Christmas. I know, that just defines any movie that isn't a holiday movie. I could pick ... Old School ... or The Hunt for Red October. But there's actually some logic here. On Christmas I like to avoid all true holiday movies, whether they are about Christmas, set at Christmas, make fun of Christmas, steal Christmas, blow sh*t up at Christmas, whatever. Yet there is enough holiday spirit in me to choose movies that could almost just barely be associated with Christmas, at least for me. So, if you're tired of It's a Wonderful Life, Gremlins, Home Alone, Santa Claus: The Movie, or whatever you normally watch today, try out one or seven of these:
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988)
I've never been a big fan of Santa Claus as a character. If I had to reinvent Christmas I'd choose another large jolly figure that brings joy to young children: the Totoro, specifically the largest, O-Totoro/Miminzuku. He's kind of like Santa without the annoying "ho, ho, ho", and he's probably more fun to fly with (the Catbus is likely also more comfy than a reindeer-led sleigh). Sure, Totoro's origins are more Shinto than Christian, but isn't appropriation what Christmas is all about?
Brewster's Millions (Walter Hill, 1985)
Or is Christmas really all about consumerism? The Richard Pryor and John Candy version of George Barr McCutcheon's novel (also adapted in 1914, 1921, 1926, 1935, 1945 and 1961) is one of my favorite movies that both celebrates and scorns the idea of being rich and the act of spending money frivolously (Capra's Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is another). In the movie, Pryor is a minor league baseball player who inherits $30 million that he has to blow in 30 days, after which if he's successful at maintaining no assets or savings, he receives $300 million. Another fun Pryor comedy that would make for great holiday viewing is The Toy, in which he's bought by Jackie Gleason as a plaything for his son (but that one might be viewed as a tad too racist nowadays).
You Can't Take It With You (Frank Capra, 1938)
Capra is always good for reminding us that money isn't everything. After all, he gave us Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and the perennial Christmas favorite, It's a Wonderful Life. His 1938 Best Picture winner, though, is the best to watch during the holidays, because in addition to pointing out that we can't take our money (or Christmas gifts) with us when we die, it also presents us with a family that's positively more loony than our own.
Amelie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)
If not appropriation or consumerism, then Christmas is really all about giving. And there's not much better a non-holiday film about the giving spirit than Amelie. The titular character, played by Audrey Tautou, doesn't exactly go around bearing gifts or showering people with material things, but she does make a point of giving people happiness (well, except for the grocer, Collignon, I guess). In that way she's like a cute, French, female Santa Claus.
March of the Penguins (Luc Jacquet, 2005)
One of the reasons this overrated, Oscar-winning nature documentary was such a phenomenal hit was that it came out during a very hot summer and it made audiences feel like they were in a much colder climate. My thinking is that it could also be watched at Christmas time for the same reason. Those of you without a white Christmas can put this on and pretend its actually all snowy outside. And for those of you who have snow and are sick of the cold, you can watch this and be thankful you're not in Antarctica. And for those of you who don't get along with your dad this time of year, remember all he went through to carry you in between his legs that whole journey (that last part was just for the penguins).
Three Kings (David O. Russell, 1999)
This one is pretty much only on the list because of the Christmasy title. But in line with March of the Penguins, I guess it can also apply those people sick of the snow and cold; you can pretend you're out in the hot sun of Iraq ... or be glad you're not in the hot sun of Iraq.
Monty Python's Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
OK. I figured out what Christmas is really all about. That's right, J.C. Don't forget who you're celebrating today. It always surprises me that more Christmas-movie lists don't acknowledge the religious flicks, such as King of Kings or The King of Kings. But since they actually directly relate to the holiday, I'm not going to include any of them either, not even the less happy ones. Instead, I've chosen this parody of Jesus' life, which stars Graham Chapman as a normal guy named Brian who is mistaken for the messiah. More than the true Jesus pics, this one should really clear up any misconceptions about what Christmas should truly be about. Oh, and for anyone who tries to point out that Brian is born on Christmas and so this should count as holiday-related, I discount that idea on the basis that when the movie takes place, Christmas didn't yet exist. Wait, I guess that would mean King of Kings could be included, too. Eh, I'm still not including it. Don't you oppress me!