Thursday, December 23, 2010

Great Christmas Movies

Growing up we all have had the pleasure of watching festive films that enhance the Christmas atmosphere. Here are my favourite festive movies that help me count down the days to Christmas:

"Bad Santa". Here is a brave performance from Billy Bob Thornton, who plays a drunk, vile, depressed, mall Santa during the weeks leading up to Christmas. His reason for doing this? To rob the mall with his midget/elf accomplice, Marcus (Tony Cox), but in reality Willie (Thornton) doesn't real have a goal. He hates himself and the world around him. That is until he comes in contact with the simple naivety of Thurman (Brett Kelly), who clearly is a dependent and needs Willie, who eventually becomes a father figure to him. That's the sweet part, which takes a slow pace to reach. Until then we witness Willie's train-wreck of a life that proves to be extremely hilarious in  a dark fashion. Bernie Mac and John Ritter (the mall's authorities) are excellent supporting characters that provide very funny dialogue. Although this is a comically dark film it concludes with an uplifting spirit.

"Christmas Vacation". A classic Christmas movie that many people can relate to. Everyone tries to keep up old traditions by trying to perfect Christmas nostalgia and of course it always fails horribly, but that is what is so great about the holiday season and this movie. Chevy Chase continues his role as the all-American dad, who attempts to create the perfect family moment. This time it is Christmas and everything that can go wrong does with very amusing consequences. The carnage begins when the relatives arrive with their bombarding problems and habits and they keep the family busy until the "beastly, bulging" Eddie arrives with his RV and hick family. We follow the massacre until the grand finale on Christmas Eve, when Clarke (Chase) cracks and tirades through the house dressed as Santa Claus with a chainsaw. Their are also some moving moments such as the when Clarke gets trapped in the attic and watches old Christmas home movies and his conversation with his father after he breaks down. Everyone has their own interpretation as to what Christmas means to them, which Clarke poignantly points out at the climax of "Christmas Vacation".

"The Santa Claus". No other Christmas movie that I know of has ever gone into to history or mythology of Father Christmas as well as 1984s "The Santa Claus". John Huddleston gives the greatest portrayal of Santa Claus on screen ever and the smarmy Dudley Moore and wickedly funny John Lithgow give brilliant supporting performances as the shamed elf and the evil corporate tyrant. This is how I visioned Chris Crinkle when I was a child.

"Die Hard". Not only one of the greatest action pictures of all time, but also a damn fine Christmas classic too. The first of the John McClane excellent trilogy that inspired hundreds of imitators, places McClane (Willis) in a tricky spot of trouble that includes enough action and explosions to make Al-Quada blush. Alan Rickman is superb as the terrorist antagonist Hans and supporting characters such as Sgt. Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson (Paul Gleason), and the sleazy coke sniffer Harry Ellis (Harry Bochner). Great one liners, cliche action scenes and Christmas cheer in this one.

"It's a Wonderful Life". The quintessential feel-good Christmas movie that provides the greatest performance in any Christmas movie and possibly any movie pre-Brando. Jimmy Stewart is one of my favourite actors of all time and I believe he could hold up his own against any great actor of any time. The story is quite simple as it really is an American re-enactment of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", but delves a bit deeper into the human condition. George Bailey (Stewart) isn't a "Scrooge", but through sqaundered dreams and financial difficulties he soon becomes a suicidal Scrooge. "It's a Wonderful Life" has some really great scenes, such as when George and Mary (Donna Reed) are drawn together during a phone call to a mutual friend, when George lashes out at Mr Potter (Lionel Barrymore) or when he falls into a drunken depression and begins to contemplate suicide. This isn't just simply a Christmas movie, but stands as an ageless American piece of art. Director Frank Capra and James Stewart had both returned from their service in WWII and set out to make a movie about normal American citizens with real problems and accomplishments and until this day it expresses that wonderfully.

"Trading Places". Now this is a great comedy and brilliant idea, as John Landis forces wealthy commodities broker Louis Winthorpe (Dan Aykroyd) and street bum Billy Valentine (Eddie Murphy) to swap lifestyles through a wager by the the extremely wealthy Duke brothers (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche). Besides from making excellent horror movies (American Werewolf in London), Landis also concentrates on themes such as culture shock and class systems (also check Coming to America). Not only is this a great festive flick it is one of the best comedies of the 1980s. Perfectly cast. I mean look who is on screen together here: two of Hollywood's up and coming comedy stars placed against two Hollywood veterans in their closing years and they all click perfectly together. Not to mention great performances by Jamie Lee Curtis (the whore), Denholm Elliott (the butler) and Pail Gleason (the tough). First time Curtis exposed her cans on screen and they're not too shabby at all. Again, great story with a hilarious depiction of class diversity. 

"The Santa Clause". Absolutely absurd, insane, funny and sometimes gay, "The Santa Claus" is one of the best family Christmas movies of its time. It incorporates the whole Miracle on 34th Street mind games (is he real/is he not...just believe), but much more humorous and hysterical. Without Tim Allen and possibly Judge Reinhold this movie would be a disaster, but fortunately they were cast and help deliver a Christmas classic.

"Home Alone". John Hughes actually didn't direct two of his produced and written films on this list, but both "Christmas Vacation and "Home Alone" don't need a directing credit to know that they came from the mind of Hughes. I said it before about Hughes being the Sinatra of filmmaking because he can make everyone feel like they are in a cozy home while watching his movies and I stand by that especially for "Home Alone". The movie that made Macauley Culkin  a household name that drove him to not leave his own house. Ironic that the boy from the fiction of "Home Alone" became the man from the reality of actually been home alone. Regardless of what critics might say this is a classic holiday film that conveys a priceless, heart warming, family classic. Hughes always focused on family life and its importance during childhood and adolescence; here he conveys just that in a wonderfully ridiculous way.

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