Bad Santa

It's Christmas Eve, and you're visiting your family. You've just finished wrapping gifts, or going to early church, or entertaining dozens of relatives. Or perhaps it's Christmas Day and you've just enjoyed an enormous dinner. What do you do next? Many of you film geeks are probably thinking that this is a great time to see what holiday movies are on TV, or whip out a new DVD for the whole family to watch.

You better watch out.

My little brother the film geek and I have had trouble for years with watching movies around the holiday on our parents' big TV in the middle of their living room. We flip through the channels, we find something interesting ... and then Something Bad Happens. You would not believe the problems that can crop up when you pick the wrong movie or TV show to watch at a relative's house during the holiday season.

This Cinematical Seven provides a handy guide of the types of movies you should avoid watching with your family during the holiday season. And at the end, I'll tell you what's left. Football is going to sound like a much better option when we're through.

The offensive. Example: Bad Santa


I realize this goes without saying -- your parents may not want to watch anything with lots of four-letter words or graphic sexual scenes, especially with a holiday theme. But a few years ago, I couldn't resist the idea of showing Bad Santa to my dad, whom I know would love it to death while bellowing, "That's disgusting! I can't believe they said that!" Oh, he would get a kick out of John Ritter describing the events in the big-and-tall ladies dressing room. But I put on the DVD and realized that even the menu screens were too blue for my mom, who sat through 10 minutes of Four Weddings and a Funeral and was nearly traumatized by the bad language, and who thinks Moonstruck would be a good movie if not for all the sex in it. You don't even want to know about the time she sat down to watch TV with my brother and me while we had on a South Park Christmas special. Poor kid still has scars.

The ones with annoying songs your mom might sing. Example: Meet Me in St. Louis

For many people, the holidays are a time for movie musicals, not just the ones with holiday-related songs but anything light-hearted and sentimental. I love Meet Me in St. Louis myself. I think Singin' in the Rain is a great movie for Christmas Eve, after everyone has left ... except for one thing. If you have parents who delight in singing their favorite catchy tunes from movie musicals, you might want to avoid such movies during the holiday season. Because round about the 900th time you have to hear your mom's rendition of "The Trolley Song," or your dad's "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," you may want to throw yourself under a festive holiday trolley.

The tearjerkers. Example: Little Women

I'll admit it -- some holiday movies make me a little teary. It's perfectly understandable that anyone might sniffle and even cry a bit during Little Women, especially when you-know-what happens to you-know-who. I even get a bit sad during The Muppet Christmas Carol. I don't mind telling you this, but I'll be damned if I let my family see a stray tear running down my face during a movie. If anyone puts on any movie that's even remotely tearjerker-y, I have to get up and go make fudge, which is bad for my waistline, or surf the Web or wrap presents in another room or anything distracting. So you may want to avoid any dramas or movies that will bring on a wave of misty nostalgia.

The violent. Example: The Godfather

For some reason, The Godfather always shows up on TV around Christmas. Perhaps some twisted programmer considers it a good film about family. My brother and I were delighted to find it while channel-surfing one Christmas morning and sat down for a good few minutes' watch until my mom walked into the room, took one glance and became nearly as violent as the characters. Along the same lines, you'll want to avoid any holiday-themed horror movies, no matter how much you think the grandfather scene in Silent Night, Deadly Night is in the spirit of Christmas. And putting on Black Christmas (1974) while pointing out that the family is about to enjoy a holiday film from the director of A Christmas Story? Totally doesn't work.

The ones that very small children will watch 20 times in a row. Example: How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)

Let's face it. Kids have no taste in movies. They will watch things repeatedly that will make you want to rip out your eyeballs (or theirs). You may put on some old awful version of Babes in Toyland thinking it'll be fun for everyone to see lil bitty Drew Barrymore for 10 minutes, and then the kids in the room will demand that you keep on the movie until the bitter end. And then watch it the next day. And the next. Or maybe they'll want to alternate it with the horrible live-action version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. So be careful about what you watch around the little ones if you don't want to watch it again and again.

The ones with dysfunctional families. Example: Home for the Holidays

I once wrote a Cinematical Seven about dysfunctional families on film and my mom commented and made me change the entry since I had -- accidentally, of course -- referred to my own family as dysfunctional. Families are sensitive that way. You sit down and watch Home for the Holidays and whisper, "Isn't that just like Sis?" to your brother, and the next thing you know, your sister is throwing dinner rolls at you. Not that this has ever happened to me or anything. Nor did my mom ever get fussy because I was watching Matilda with her and said I totally sympathized with poor Matilda's situation. Nope. Not me. But I'd still be careful if I were you.

The ones you don't want interrupted. Example: Remember the Night

It drives me nuts to sit down to watch a movie at a relative's house, and have to deal with what is less than an ideal viewing situation. The phone rings continually, people drop in to visit, the kids want to watch that damned version of Babes in Toyland instead. And then there are the comments. Dad wakes up from an impromptu nap and wants to know what's going on, then rants about the politics of one of the stars. Mom comes in from the kitchen and asks who that actress is and wasn't she in some movie with Omar Sharif? And just as you get to the best part, someone turns off the TV and demands you go eat dinner or get in the car or say hi to your aunt, as though you're 10 years old. I tried watching Breakfast at Tiffany's at my parents' house 10 years ago, gave up 15 minutes in, and have never attempted it since. If you haven't seen a movie before, or if you know you'll get absorbed in the story and will hate interruptions, save it for when you get home.


So what's left? Well, there's a reason why many perennial holiday classics survive -- they're the only movies you can watch with the family without some kind of trauma. It's best to pick movies you've all seen before and don't mind watching only a few minutes of without interruption. This is why that A Christmas Story 24-hour marathon is so popular. James Bond movies also seem to go over well, especially Sean Connery for some reason.

On Christmas night, my family used to fuss and debate over what to watch, combing through the video shelf and the TV guide, with no consensus. My mom and I always ended up watching home movies on videotape of past Christmases. My dad would fall asleep on the couch, and my little brother would go into the back bedroom and watch either football or Kevin Smith movies. That's Christmas.