The Ultimate Choice #7: Holiday Films

In my run hosting The Ultimate Choice over the past seven months, I have had a clear focus on making the topic be relevant to something that occurred in that month. October was horror due to the Halloween nature of the month, June was Keanu Reeves due to the release of John Wick: Chapter 3 and August was Quentin Tarantino in the build-up to Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Based on that logic, it is easy to see what my clear choice was for December’s edition of The Ultimate Choice.

This is The Ultimate Choice: Holiday edition.

Home Alone
Chosen by me:

People grow up with so many different Christmas and holiday films, and yet there is only one true Christmas film for me that I am guaranteed to watch every single year. That film is Home Alone. There is something about the humour and joy of that film that makes me excited to check it out, unlike other Christmas classics which feel either way too heavy on the Christmas spirit or preaching about the joy of life and forcing romance or emotion. At Christmas, I simply want a fun film that I can enjoy on a surface level, and Home Alone is that for me.

Macaulay Culkin as Kevin McAllister is simply genius casting, particularly for a child actor. He fits perfectly into the role, playing a smart yet mischevious boy who simply wants to have a good holiday by himself. The antics that he plays throughout the film are well set up to make you believe he actually pulled it off, but are inventive and fun and add a sense of fantasy to the situation. The film plays on heavy themes such as family and separation, but done in a comedic manner to heighten the humourous tone of the film.

The villains are also completely dramatised, but it works for a film of this style. The amount of times that they get injured is comical and plays to a slapstick sort of humour, but it is hilarious to see them continue trying to defeat what is essentially a young boy and completely fail. The audience all inspire to have the brains and humour of Kevin, but love the heart presented when the family finally reunites and a strong message is conveyed, but not shoved down our throats.

Scrooged
Chosen by The Real Mr. Positive: Blog | Twitter

It is a real Xmas treat that I get to write about a film that the majority of people agree from the offset that is praised. While polarizing at the time, soon has grown a substantial staple of many families (and single people’s) holiday celebrations. I certainly know it was one of mine, a tale of holiday spirits, remade for the 1980s, a tale of Scrooged.
The film follows the plot points of the Christmas Carol, as The Simpsons quipped “…writers have been milking that goat for years”. With dashes of humour and modern touches, as Scrooge is now Frank Cross, a cynical Television exec, who goes on a voyage of discovery through his early career in T.V., to what will happen if Frank doesn’t change his ways.
Fresh off Ghostbusters, Bill Murray, embodies that acclaim-winning combination of charm and humour that makes rooting against him almost impossible. Though relations with Director Richard Donner and overall mood of the set was far from as wholesome or festive as a Xmas film demands, it does seem to factor into his appearance and heightens it.
In keeping with the renovated story, the designers went to town updating the iconic ghosts to the late 20th century. The impressive design work on the nightmarish Ghost of Xmas future particularly stands out. Even its ending song, a lovely duet by both Annie Lennox and Al Green, that made its way into the charts, is an updated classic that fits in well for the finale.
While others have emulated the winning formula, (the Muppets version springs to mind), few come close to the ground-breaking charming holiday flick. True its foundations, from story to ending theme song, has been done before… but it manages still breathes fresh air into a classic tale. With dashes of deadpan wit, taking the edge of the schmaltzy comedy and making a film that the many can in enjoy… like most holiday treats should be.


A Christmas Story
Chosen by Shark Wrighter: Blog | Twitter

In the most shocking choice of all, I’ve selected A Christmas Story (1983) as my favourite Christmas movie. As my British friends may not know, this film is played around the clock on Christmas day by TBS (Turner Broadcasting System, a cable network). They also play it at least 3 times on Christmas Eve. Some might say it’s overkill, I say it’s not enough. They should play it 24 hours on Christmas Eve as well. Why so adamant?

First off, on its own and without the pregnant holiday ambience, it’s a funny tile mined from humorist Jean Shepherd’s short stories about his childhood Christmas memories from the 1940s. The plot is tight and the focus is narrow. It follows Ralphie’s quest to convince his parents and eventually Santa Claus himself to buy him a Red Ryder BB gun. You know us yanks and guns, right?

Besides the laughs, the movie reigns supreme because of the fine acting performances from all the players, the spare but sharp dialogue, the halcyon cinematography, the deft direction and pacing by director Bob Clark, and the unparalleled voiceover narration.

But many appreciators before me have noted these things. I love it because it will always remind me of my own childhood. The movie came out in 1983 when I was nine years old and was a Christmas enthusiast. Sadly, I cannot say I am anymore. I still love the pomp and circumstance and decorations and parties and ugly sweaters and food and carols. But the day will never be what it was.

It’s also a nostalgic film for the United States in general. It harkens back to an era that probably never was. Fond memories should never be sullied by historically accurate socio-economic analyses. It’s too much Hallmark Channel but it’s nice that many people try to put down their beefs just for a day. To paraphrase your Scottish songmongers Frightened Rabbits, “It’s Christmas so us Americans will stop”. There’s no irony in that truce, okay boomers?

Finally, and probably above all, this movie IS Christmas to me. I watch it every year on Christmas Eve. Christmas to me just simply isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Story. I haven’t missed my annual viewing in 34 years. I hope I never miss it for 34 more.


Tokyo Godfathers
Chosen by Ted Hornick: Film Producer (Boys In The Boat) | Twitter

Even for an “unusual” holiday movie, Tokyo Godfathers (2003) is not like most Christmas films. For starters, the main characters are a trio of transients at a time when Japan’s homeless population had spiked to more than 25,000 and the government was only beginning to acknowledge the issue, let alone consider solutions. The story of a drunk, a drag queen and a runaway struggling to reconnect an orphaned infant girl with her parents over one surreal Christmas Eve edges into despair with topics like suicide and characters like gangsters but counterbalances them with something approximating sincere lessons about family and the true meaning of Christmas. This is a movie that commits to its themes and its total sincerity helps it avoid cheap laughs or jejune platitudes. I’ve seen the movie more than once and I’m still not entirely sure how it accomplishes this but it helps that it plays up connection and coincidences as forces beyond our full comprehension in the same way that movies like Amores Perros or books like David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten do. Christmas is all about things working out for the best and the joys of Tokyo Godfathers all feel earned, even if you have to get through cross-dressing assassins and confront your worst self to get to them. It’s like unwrapping a series of presents that would be perfectly satisfying on their own to get the one you didn’t know you really wanted.

Whereas more “realistic” riffs on Christmas movie cliches like The Ref or Bad Santa (both worthwhile and highly entertaining films in their own right) emphasise the bitterness of their defeated and despondent characters for cutting humor, Tokyo Godfathers treats its main characters like real people to reward faith even as it surprises them with where their beliefs lead. Director Satoshi Kon once said that “Things become confusing when you force something ephemeral to become… more concrete,” but it seems clear that that’s exactly what he’s doing here and a big part of why it works. It’s a great film to convert any sceptic of anime or the holidays and a fitting outlier in the short but significant career of a man who never repeated himself.

Last Christmas
Chosen by Richard V of Music City Drive-In: Podcast | Twitter

I obviously had a wide selection of movies to choose from as my favourite Christmas movie but ultimately I went with my recent bias and picked Last Christmas. Emma Thompson’s screenplay is equal parts fun and as crazy as you could imagine with one of the strangest twists (one of which will make you throw your popcorn at the screen) of the year.

The story follows Kate who is a 20-something-year-old “hot mess” who can’t seem to get on the right track. She stumbles into Tom at the craziest of times which leads us down a path of which is predictable but equally as fun.

Emilia Clarke is just a star. She radiates star power with just a simple smile. She does a fantastic job within Kate’s transformation from a quirky slacker into a passionate do-gooder. The chemistry between Kate and Tom is a massive highlight of this film and one of the big reasons why it works. Henry Golding truly embodies a beautiful spirit of not just the holiday spirit but the amazing truth behind the good in which we all should be.

I haven’t even begun to talk about the soundtrack. You are swooned throughout the film within the songs of Mr George Micharl (hence the title of the film) which you find yourself singling along various times within the film.

For me, this will be a yearly Christmas watch. It’s not the perfect film but I walked away from this film in the Christmas spirit and isn’t that what makes a great Christmas movie? I believe so.

Die Hard
Chosen by Bradley Fisher: YouTube | Twitter

When you think of Christmas, the usual train of thought is pretty much the same, you have food, there’s presents and you share some laughs with family and friends. I can testify to this. However, I have begun my own tradition and it was born from an unusual source: one particular movie called Die Hard.

We have all been there. As we grew up in front of our parents they would try to shield us from the movies we were then too young to see and much less understand. But my younger brother and I found ourselves in love with action films of the late 80s and early 90s and as such, we happened upon the action film of the decade that was Die Hard. We watched that movie almost religiously. The pair of us were in absolute awe at the gratuitous violence, colourful wordplay and what I – personally – would consider the most decadent villain in cinematic history. The story was standard action fare: a hostage situation allowing for the completion of a heist. I suppose the twist comes in when we learn that our hero, John McClane, is there to see his estranged wife and when it all goes pear-shaped; McClane has no time to put his shoes on. Needless to say, finding a pair of shoes that would fit made finding a machine gun all the more action-y.

Much like Joey Tribbiani from Friends, my brother and I would rent Die Hard every chance we got. We had memorised the one-liners, act out our favourite moments from the movie and risked destroying the VHS cassette player we had by constantly stopping, rewinding, pausing and fast-forwarding (thank goodness for “Scene Selection” these days). We share an almost indestructible bond because of Die Hard and as such, no matter where we are on the planet, every year for Christmas I make it my mission to watch this movie and relive not only one of the greatest action flicks of our lifetime, but to also relive the days of building a connection with my brother through this film.

Black Christmas (1974)
Chosen by Kevin Crighton: Blog | Twitter

Most festive films like to give you warm feelings even if they have a lot of darkness in them (looking at you, It’s a Wonderful Life!). But not all. 1974’s Black Christmas is an example of a film that revels in that darkness.

In a number of ways, Black Christmas must have had an influence on the films that followed in its wake. From its title, invoking the festive period (apparently one of the first horrors to be set around a particular date) to its creeping POV o the killer as he stalks the girls in the sorority, to the two final chilling events in the final act, it might have had an influence on Halloween, but it almost certainly had an impact on the slasher films that were to come.

The plot, by today’s standards is clichéd, a killer breaks into a sorority house and starts picking them off one by one. But, because we never see the killer, the film keeps you guessing right up to the very end.

Director Bob Clark keeps the tension high throughout, yet keeps the killings restrained. The film was written by Roy Moore (with Clark apparently doing some re-writing, changing aspects of the story) and it keeps the mystery going well. is it the boyfriend of one of the girls, or someone else?

Looked at now, it does have some humour that doesn’t fully work and there are also some story developments you do wonder about (the police never fully searching the house being a big one). It has to be said too, that some of the performances are weak. But Olivia Hussey is a great lead and there is a superb performance from Margot Kidder as one of the sorority sisters.

It’s often considered a feminist film in some ways, because of a subplot involving Jess being pregnant and wanting an abortion despite her boyfriend’s efforts to get her to change her mind. However, it is a subplot that, according to both the director and the actress, was only there to add detail to give the film more depth. What it does do, however, is add another suspect to who the killer is.

And then there is the final act.

The first one, which a later film would use in a stunning way, really throws you off. Throughout the film, the girls have been getting obscene phone calls from someone they dub “Billy”. The resolution of that in itself would be enough of a twist. But then there is a last-minute development that ends the film on a truly creepy note. If you have been paying attention then as the end credits roll over a ringing phone, you realise its implications, leaving the film on a chilling moment.

I’ve loved this film since it first creeped me out and even now, many years later and despite its flaws, it still is a truly effective horror film. Merry (bloody) Christmas, indeed!

—–

What would you have chosen as your favourite festive film? Are you more traditional or prefer your genre picks? Do you have any holiday picks that aren’t Christmas, but another holiday such as Hanukkah? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section and let’s have a discussion.

filmswithamy

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