Happy holidays! Merry Christmas! Happy Kwanzaa! Season’s greetings! Merry Winter Solstice! Happy Festivus! New Year’s greetings! Belated Chanukah wishes! Peace to one and all! I love the holiday season. There’s good food, good spirits, meaningful traditions, and (usually) time off from work to spend with family. What’s not to love?
In our home, part of what makes it feel like the holidays is watching many of the beloved Christmas movies and TV specials for the umpteenth time. I’m sure you know the titles I’m talking about: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Elf, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (the original TV version, not the creepy Jim Carey movie), Miracle on 34th Street (the heartwarming 1947 version), Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and A Christmas Story, to name a few of the most popular (at least at our house). I don’t know how many times I’ve seen It’s a Wonderful Life, but I can just be flipping through channels, catch five minutes of it, and start to tear up. I’m a fairly sentimental guy, so I have no problem in letting a film work on me in that way. Nevertheless, I have my limits.
Every year, a few more Christmas movies are made that compete for box office dollars, or space on network schedules. Unfortunately, for every Elf, The Santa Clause, or Love Actually made in recent years there are at least ten theatrical or cable-made Christmas movies that are either sophomoric, silly, or Saccharine-sweet. Those time wasters (I’m intentionally not mentioning titles to avoid endorsing them in any way), are just cynical attempts by producers to steal your money, or your time. Despite the cheeriness of the season, some of those movies make you angry that they wasted the resources in producing them. Angry enough to want an antidote. Therefore, in the spirit of Christmas, but with a serious mean streak, I will recommend ten Christmas season-set films that offer enough action and violence (sometimes in the name of comedy) to provide a catharsis and shake you out of that Lifetime/Hallmark Channel-sort of sugar shock you may be experiencing.
Most of the following films aren’t about Christmas, per se, but are set during the season and make various references, or allusions, to it. Nearly all of these movies are aimed at an adult audience, so think twice before gathering the entire family in the living room to share a Christmas movie together. The titles are listed in alphabetical order.
Bad Santa, 2003 – Billy Bob Thornton plays a department store Santa who uses the seasonal job as an excuse to case the joint before robbing it later; the tone of the film is very dark, and the characters are quite foul.
Batman Returns, 1992 – The second, and last, collaboration of director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton , as Batman, has the added pleasure of Michelle Pfeiffer wearing a skin-tight costume as Catwoman (if that sort of thing interests you) and veteran actor Danny DeVito as Penguin (if that sort of thing interests you).
Die Hard, 1988 – The introductory installment of the series centering on NYPD officer John McClane remains one of the best action thrillers ever produced, turning TV star Bruce Willis into a major movie star; yippee ki-yay….
Enemy of the State, 1998 – Granted, the Christmas connection is pretty tenuous (the most overt reference is at the beginning of the movie when Will Smith is buying his wife a Christmas present), but this is a thrilling spy drama well worth a look.
Go, 1999 – Christmas Eve gets crazy for several young adults when a drug deal goes wrong and the ramifications twist through several relationships; this has been variously described as a rip off of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, or Akira Kurosawa’s Rashōmon, both of which are good sources from which to crib, if you ask me.
Gremlins, 1984 – The movie, which starts on Christmas Eve, shows teens the consequences of not following instructions, when the adorably furry mogwai becomes the title creatures; though rated PG (before the introduction of PG-13) this movie is probably too intense for many young viewers.
Home Alone, 1990 – I realize that this comedy starred a child actor (Macaulay Culkin) and was aimed squarely at family audiences, but it’s also one of the most mean-spirited movies I’ve ever seen; sure, the criminals are bad guys and the setups are funny, the violence, however, is startlingly, disturbingly real.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, 2005 – Robert Downey plays a small-time East Coast hood who escapes to Hollywood, where he tries his hand at acting; this truly off-center action/comedy was penned by successful screenwriter Shane Black, who made his directorial debut with it.
Lethal Weapon, 1987 – Back when Mel Gibson was young, handsome and more guarded about his image, he made this in turns funny and exciting police detective buddy movie (co-starring Danny Glover).
Trading Places, 1983 – Although this movie is essentially a comedy, it’s a very dark comedy with elements of other genres, as well; and, of course, seeing Wall Street bigwigs get taken down is rather timeless.
Merry Christmas (or whatever holiday you’re celebrating) to all and to all a good movie!