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Holiday Movies for the Scrooge in You

December 19, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

by J.J. McCabe

Every year we’re inundated with movies, T.V. and advertising portraying the all of America as a magical Thomas Kincaid painting of goodwill, joy and happiness. The reality is, if you can make it to December 26 without a serious rift in your family, a divorce, or a bloody nose, then you either don’t have any family in the first place, or you’ve wisely invested in a big jar of horse tranquilizers. When it’s time to throw on a movie to avoid having to talk to each other for a solid wonderful 90 minutes, consider these less traditional alternatives to your usual holiday programming.

Less Than Zero
There’s a lot of white powder falling in this Holiday movie, but it isn’t snow. Based on Bret Easton Ellis’ bleak Catcher in the Rye update for the “Me” generation, Less Than Zero is a hilariously overwrought slice of ’80s-tastic melodrama. Simultaneously condemning and glamorizing the lives of a group of the teenage kids of the one-percent of the one-percent home on holiday from college, it’s the perfect antidote to the barrage of typical family-friendly treacle.

Black Christmas
This nasty little thriller from Canada is probably the very first of the “slasher” movies that dominated the box office in the ‘80s, pre-dating Halloween by four years. The film takes place over the last night and following day of the beginning of the winter break from college, as a group of sorority sisters’ parents are coming to collect them and one of the girls is discovered missing. The police shut down the little town and confine the girls to their sorority house, little realizing that… THE CALLS ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE!!! (Seriously, that cliché did come from somewhere!) Besides being a taut scare-fest with some excellent giallo-inspired set-pieces, there’s a bit of sharp satire on the perception of authority by the youth (not surprising considering this was ’74, and there was a lot of anger over Vietnam.) A much smarter film than most of the imitators that were to come over the next three-and-a-half decades.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Another film that takes place around Christmas rather than being about Christmas, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang opens on Robert Downey Jr. burglarizing a toy store in New York City to get a Christmas present (which is probably an activity that a lot of American’s can sympathize with right now,) and through a series of events ends up at a Christmas party in Los Angeles with Downey Jr. cast in a film.

This film doesn’t just break the fourth wall – it destroys it with a sledgehammer from the beginning. By delivering the audience wholly over to Downey Jr.’s fractured, almost improvised narrative, the film cleverly explores the intersections of memory, lies, and desire and the way that they shape our perceptions of ourselves (and what happens when we run into the brick wall of reality.) Robert Downey Jr.’s one man Rashomon performance and the snappy back-and-forth between him and Val Kilmer elevate what could have been a fairly rote detective story into a thoroughly entertaining post-noir satire.

Ahh… Bill Murray. To my mind the penultimate performance in the first stage of his career, and a hint of the sad-eyed elder statesman he would eventually become fifteen years or so later. All you need to know about his character Frank Cross is he’s got a banner hanging up in his office “Cross (n): a thing you nail people to.” Scrooged is a deliriously unhinged re-telling of A Christmas Carol. Meta before meta was cool, thigh-slappingly hilarious and seriously dark with some great performances from the likes of Steven Wright, Bobcat Goldthwait, Karen Allen, and a scenery chewing psychotic Tinkerbell played by the great Carol Kane. This is definitely NOT one for the whole family, but good fun for anyone with a twisted sense of humor.

It’s a Wonderful Life
Wait, wait, hear me out! Look, try to actually sit down and watch this movie all the way through and appreciate the actual content, rather than catching a scene in passing on your way back to the kitchen to grab another beer. It’s THE staple holiday movie… and it opens on an attempted suicide! ‘Cuz what says “Christmas” more than throwing yourself off a bridge! This movie’s got deaf children, drowned children, poisoned children… Seriously, the death count in this film is ridiculously high for a “family” film, certainly higher than The Santa Clause. Plus it’s Capra and Stewart both bringing their A-game. All I’m saying, you can watch it with your grandma, you get the war scenes and the poisonings, and she gets angels. Win-win.

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