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Christmas movies for every type of movie fan

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The holiday season is here and that means there is no shortage of options as far as seasonal fare goes. For a film critic, it can be a bit difficult to recommend something at this time of year that few have seen. Like everyone else, it’s easy to suggest familiar favorites, so I’ll run down obvious titles before drawing attention to a few that deserve more attention.


Naturally, if you haven’t seen them, it’s certainly worth checking out classics like It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), A Christmas Carol (1951) aka Scrooge (this is the British production with Alistair Sim) along with White Christmas (1954). Those looking for some holiday trivia may be interested to note that the famous Irving Berlin tune “White Christmas” was first sung by Bing Crosby in Holiday Inn (1942). It wasn’t intended as the big single from the movie, but became such a hit that producers were eventually inspired to re-record and create a very loose remake with the lead actor using the song as its title.


One feature very familiar to horror fans that flies under the radar for most audiences is the extraordinarily creepy Canadian chiller, Black Christmas (1974). The movie features a mysterious, disturbed maniac known as “The Moaner” terrorizing a college sorority. He calls residents, threatening them and stalking them.

This production is notable for its eerie atmosphere, as well its portrayal of the young leads. The policemen, boyfriends and all male characters in this film are ineffectual and do nothing to effectively help the female protagonists. By contrast, the ladies are more intelligent than their male counterparts – this wasn’t common in genre films at the time.


The 1980s and 90s ended up delivering some comedy perennials, including A Christmas Story (1983), Scrooged (1988) with Bill Murray, as well as the Chevy Chase sequel, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Not long after, Home Alone (1990) became a smash that airs frequently at this time of year.


While it was a summer box office hit, many now associate the fantastic action picture Die Hard (1988) with the holidays because it is set in December.


The same goes for Gremlins (1984),  a Steven Spielberg production with an enjoyably dark comedic streak about cute little furry creatures who spawn when exposed to water. They also turn into monsters if they eat after midnight. The movie has some genuinely creepy moments when the gremlins run wild on Christmas Eve as well as some great sight gags and is held in high regard by this reviewer.


The hidden gem of this era is Comfort and Joy (1984) from Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsythe (who made the award-winning Local Hero a year earlier). This comedy follows a Glasgow radio morning show DJ who loses his girlfriend and then accidentally wanders into the middle of an “ice-cream truck” war between two competing factions.

The accents are thick, but just like the director’s previous work, this is a low-key charmer. There are plenty of laughs as the protagonist tries to act as mediator between the groups and bring peace during the holiday season. While the movie is well-regarded abroad, North American distributor Universal Pictures only gave it a VHS release. A Blu-ray has been released abroad, but it has never been put out on DVD or Blu-ray in this part of the world. That’s a shame, but at least the movie can be found on Youtube.


The 1990s were a bit leaner for these types of film, but one dark comedy did stand out with this reviewer. The Ref (1994) stars Denis Leary as a burglar whose Christmas Eve robbery plans go awry. He’s forced to take a wealthy couple hostage, but finds himself in over his head when the hostile husband and wife can’t stop bickering. He must act as therapist to try and survive a family dinner and evade capture.

The cast, which includes Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey, are excellent in their roles. It’s a snarky and very sharply written comedy, with the characters verbally eviscerating each other at every turn. Alas, Touchstone/Buena Vista Pictures seem to have buried this title after releasing it. There was a DVD decades ago, but the film has never received a Blu-ray release. Thankfully, it can be rented and streamed from Amazon.

Additionally, this reviewer is a fan of the fantasy Edward Scissorhands (1994) and a large portion of the second half of it is set during Christmas. There are some very amusing bits during the holidays in which decorations are set up. The movie also uses ice-sculpting and snowy shavings to beautiful effect during the climax and the finale feels like a holiday fairy tale.


The 2000s delivered some notable features like the comedy Elf (2003) and the British rom-com Love Actually (2003). While the latter has its detractors and not every one of the nine story threads work, there are amusing moments and effective drama in this ambitious production. Highlights include the segments involving an aging rock star and his manager, a jilted writer who falls for a woman who speaks a different language, and a wife who is shocked to learn about her husband having an affair. The movie’s format inspired many imitators, but none have been handled as effectively.


Another winner and a much darker comedy is Bad Santa (2003). This effort stars Billy Bob Thornton as a rude, nasty, sex and alcohol addicted thief who takes a job as a department store Santa in order to eventually rob the place. When he meets a strange, socially awkward kid who won’t leave him alone, the lead ends up developing a conscience… or well, a slightly less selfish attitude. The movie makes the most of contrasting the iconic Santa image by placing him in horrible and, at times, obscene situations to comic effect. Thanks to the cast and tone, it manages to work.

Speaking of Billy Bob Thornton, one underrated and underseen effort is the darkly comic and quirky neo-noir feature, The Ice Harvest (2005). John Cusack plays a lawyer who teams up with Thornton’s pornographer to rob a mobster on Christmas Eve. When the weather turns nasty and covers the roads with ice, the pair are forced to wait out the storm. There are plenty of grimly humorous moments and great performances from the cast (which also includes Connie Nelson and Oliver Platt) as greed takes control of some of the characters and they begin to turn on each other.

Another interesting horror obscurity is The Children (2008), a British feature about a large group and relations coming together to celebrate Christmas. When a strange virus causes the kiddies to lash out, the parents are quick to judge and assign blame to other parents. But as the infection spreads, things get even more violent and disturbing. This is a discomforting and fast-paced effort with a mean streak. It isn’t for new parents, but does disturb and make a lasting impression.


Speaking of disturbing Christmas movies, Krampus (2015) certainly delivers dark humor and horror in equal measure. This tale features another bickering family who come under attack from the European legend that punishes the naughty during the holidays. Recently, a Director’s Cut was released in a 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray. This package includes scene extensions and some extra gruesomeness.


Finally, those who haven’t seen Netflix’s recent Oscar-nominated animated film Klaus (2019) might want to give it a shot, as it’s a pleasant surprise. This is a beautifully animated feature that tells a story of a toymaker becoming the famous mythic Santa Claus after teaming up with a postman to bring some happiness to a joyless town.

Hope this gives you some options in a variety of genres for something to watch over the next two weeks. Be sure to have a good time!


By Glenn Kay
For the Sun