December’s holiday activities tend to keep us all busier than usual, both inside the house and out, and that’s probably for the best, since there isn’t anything to watch on TV this month. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m on the lookout for my favorite film version of A Christmas Carol (it’s the one with Patrick Stewart on TNT), and I will not hear anyone speak against my treasured Rankin-Bass specials. But there are stations running whole days of those painfully sweet home-and-hearth Christmas movies. If you’re already struggling to maintain your sanity this month, that’s not really what you need.
In the spirit of the season, then, I’m going to give you five of my favorite Christmas movies. These are films that contribute to my own less-than-sweet holiday traditions, but in a non-traditional way. This year, if you can’t take any more of the sweet stuff, give one of these fine films a try!
“Now I have a machine gun. Ho. Ho. Ho.” Be honest. You’ve thought it at least once, haven’t you? Of the Christmas action films, Die Hard might be the most Christmasy. From Reginald VelJohnson’s “dum-de-dum delightful” rendition of “Let It Snow” to the climactic surge of the Ode to Joy, this movie won’t let you forget about the most wonderful time of the year. Save it for the most stressful night of the season – you know, the one where you left yourself too much to cook in too little time and you’re just realizing that a necessary ingredient is missing. Tiny Tim can’t help you the way that John McLane can. Yippie-ki-yay!
When work starts to get crazy at the end of the year, Trading Places provides us with both perspective and wish fulfillment. If you’ve ever thought your bosses were out to get you (or just trying to screw with you), if you’ve ever daydreamed about sweet corporate revenge on company time, or if you’ve ever faced the cleanup that follows an out-of-control Christmas party, this one’s for you. And you can look to Coleman the butler for some top-notch career advice. “Just be yourself, sir,” he says. “Whatever happens, they can’t take that away from you.”
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
I spent many Christmases trying to figure out a way to get a moderately normal Christmas from my decidedly abnormal family. I never managed to do that. Time has taught me, however, that I’m not the only person trying far too hard to obtain impossible results each and every year. For all of us who have a hard time accepting the “fun” in dysfunctional, I give you National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Without getting preachy or cheesy, Christmas Vacation explores that eternal paradox: “How can I love these people so profoundly and still spend several days every year wanting to kill them?” You might find the answer in Clark Griswold’s old home movies. And you will never complain about your holiday turkey again.
Christmas is about nostalgia, right? There’s nothing better than Lethal Weapon for nostalgia. Step back in time and see Mel Gibson and Gary Busey before the various stresses and pressures and motorcycle accidents of later years got to them. (Actually, Gary Busey had the motorcycle accident the very next year, in 1988.) If you think you have it tough, watch jolly ol’ Mr. Joshua set his forearm on fire. If he can get through that, you can get through the ordeal of mall parking.
Eyes Wide Shut
Stanley Kubrick’s last film is proof that you don’t need to be with the whole family to feel the strain of the holidays. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman play a married couple in crisis. Is extramarital sex the solution? Of course it isn’t. But those two need the entire film – complete with a masked orgy – to arrive at that conclusion. Aren’t you glad they made a real effort to answer that question? Now all you’ve got to do is watch them struggle through their predicament with beautifully Kubrickian discomfort. It’s one honey of a palate cleanser if you have no choice but to watch those sweet movies.
Wherever you go this year, be safe, enjoy yourself, and remember that this only happens once a year. That has a lot of meanings to a lot of people, but don’t worry. I’ve got a wineglass that says I know which one you’re thinking of.
What’s your favorite non-traditional holiday film? Hit me up in the comments.