With Christmas round the corner, what better way to get in the festive mood than to watch Bruce Willis running around with a machine gun? That’s right, today I’m bringing to you my five favourite ‘anti-Christmas movie’ Christmas movies.
While writing this in the office, Rory intervened and insisted I put two more upbeat, family-friendly picks of his in there, so you can find them along with his comments at the end. Without further ado, here are my top five.
1. Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)
Apparently more popular than Home Alone, Love Actually, or Miracle on 34th Street last Christmas, I had to include this even if ranking it as a Christmas film is becoming a cliche. Bruce Willis is John McClane, a tired New York cop who finds himself forced to save his estranged wife Holly and her colleagues when a Christmas party becomes a hostage situation. Apart from a fantastically sinister performance from Alan Rickman, and a Bruce Willis with hair, the highlight of this film is the writing and structure. How do we discover the status of McClane and Holly’s relationship? How does each protagonist grow as they go on an emotional journey?
2. Go (Doug Liman, 1999)
John August’s debut feature script sees Ronna Martin (Sarah Polley), working triple overtime to pay her back-rent and avoid being evicted for Christmas. When two strangers hit her up for 20 hits of ecstasy, she drags her friends along for this ill-advised and risky moneymaking opportunity. Watch this film for its perfect balance of tone, mixing the grit of drug abuse, crime and destitution with slick and sometimes zany humour. Not only did it launch August’s career, it also features future stars including Katie Holmes and Melissa McCarthy.
3. Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990)
I remember seeing this aged about 8 and being utterly baffled by the uniqueness of Tim Burton’s vision. The film sees the titular protagonist (a young man literally with scissors for hands) being taken in by the Boggs family after his discovery by Peg, an Avon salesperson. Set at Christmas time, the film follows his adjustment to suburban life after years of isolation, charting his rise and fall from grace as he discovers his new, friendly neighbours, are not as welcoming as they seem. A smart allegory on discrimination and the exoticisation/fetishisation of minority bodies (although the casting now looks dated), pay attention to how the world is built and how we get to know the largely silent Edward.
4. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (Shane Back, 2005)
A Shane Black Christmas-time post-noir crime comedy? Sign me up!
Accidentally finding himself in a film audition when hiding from the police after being interrupted burgling a toy shop for his niece’s Christmas present, petty New York criminal Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr.) is hired to play a detective in an upcoming film. Sent to shadow PI Perry van Shrike in LA to prepare for the role, Lockhart encounters his childhood crush Harmony Lane, now a struggling Hollywood actor, who mistakes him for a real detective and asks him to investigate her sister’s suspicious death, propelling him into a world of violent professional killers and ever-more-confusing conspiracy.
The film is a smart send-up of noir tropes, and Downey is well-cast as the modern-day gumshoe detective, using humour to bring to surface the fragile masculinity and questionable gender relationships of the original, conflicted noir heroes. The plot is nonsensical, but that’s sort of the point with these neo- and post-noir films; the conspiracy is too great or the hero is too flawed to understand.
5. Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)
Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play mind games in the film that allegedly ended their relationship. Dr William Hartford (Cruise) finds himself drawn into a sinister circle of erotic intrigue when he discovers his wife Alice (Kidman) has cheated on him. In my opinion one of Kubrick’s most underrated films, its ambiguity and ambivalence make it a fascinating watch as it explores the decadence and moral corruption of New York high society.
Note, this film comes with a heavy mature warning, so don’t watch it with the kids.
1. It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1946)
Capra’s perennial Christmas classic has gained a reputation over the years as a lightweight family movie, but that’s because its teary community coming together ending makes us forget the darkness we have just sat through. Suicide, child death, crushed ambition, alcoholism, and the villain getting away with theft, but somehow by the end I’m still in tears as Jimmy Stewart’s George is saved by all the townsfolk he has helped over the years.
2. Love and Peace (Sion Sono, 2015)
Japanese Christmas films aren’t a huge genre (the opening of Satoshi Kon’s animated Tokyo Godfathers comes to mind) but this recent offering from Sion Sono fills the gap perfectly. Yet to explain why it is a Christmas film will give away its ending, and the motives of Nishida Toshiyuki’s sewer-dweller. Suffice to ay the genre-mixing comedy, musical, fantasy, giant monster movie somehow remains a heart-warming family-friendly film.