In Brief: Skip the classic holiday movies that you’ve seen a dozen time or more and try something new this holiday season.
The bad thing about holiday movies is they’re holiday movies. Or as some of us in the non-PC crowd call them, Christmas movies. Whatever you call them, by this time of year we are overwhelmed with all things holidays and part of the overwhelm is movies.
I have a theory. Too many holiday movies is not all that good for you. No doubt you want proof for that belief. My hypothesis is based on a recent study by psychologists that notes too much Christmas music is bad for your health. As the season wears on the effect is similar to the Stockholm Syndrome.
For those not in the know, the Stockholm Syndrome is where — under stress and in a kidnapping or terrorist hostage situation — you begin to identify with, and develop a psychological alliance with your captors.
That led me to wonder if holiday movies might have a similar effect.
Early on watching the cartoon stuff with the kids or grandkids, or a nice evening spent in Bedford Falls with It’s a Wonderful Life’s Jimmy Stewart is a positive thing. However, by the time you get to the annual 24-hour TV marathon that broadcasts A Christmas Story start-to-finish from midnight Christmas Eve to midnight Christmas Day, do we become a zombie-like captive?
We’ve seen it a dozen or more times ,and we already know Ralphie gets his BB gun. So do we need to see it again?
The good thing about holiday movies is the considerable variety. The bad thing about holiday movies is — as with Christmas music — they’re holiday movies. The worst thing about holiday movies is found annually on TV’s Hallmark channel. For some of you, all those beautiful people with their perfect hair, perfect teeth and perfect bodies packed into beautiful people stories are — fittingly — decorative holiday movie perfection.
To the Scrooges of the world — like me — this is a form of zombiedom but, as the proverb goes, to each their own.
Here’s the bottom-line. Your family has its favorites. Mine has theirs. Me? I’m a critic. I don’t like all that many regular movies. Like most of you, I cannot avoid holiday movies altogether and being forced to watch this one or that is akin to getting a root canal. In fact, getting a root canal might be more entertaining.
Yeah, I’ll admit it. I’m a Christmas movie cynic.
Then I read a study like this and find that maybe my cynicism is based on decades of a bombardment of boring holiday movies. It also leads me to wonder why the rest of you don’t feel the same way.
That said, I don’t really expect you to be as bah-humbuggy as me, however, there are five or six versions of Dr. Seuss’ Grinch stealing Christmas and even more of Ebenezer Scrooge’s Christmas Eve revelations. Everyone from Disney to the Muppets to Bill Murray and Jim Carrey have taken a shot at this most wonderful story.
Some of you watch them all.
These days I get more pleasure out of reading Dickens’ prose than watching someone’s interpretation of his story. You might, too. By the way, the Murray and Carrey versions of Dickens’ classic pretty much suck.
You also might want to note that A Christmas Carol is my all-time favorite story. The story, yes. The movies? No.
That brings me back to my original point. There is a huge variety of films available for a nation with a nearly insatiable appetite for holiday films. So why watch the same ones over and over again? How about skipping the classics like White Christmas, 1947’s Miracle on 34th Street (not the 1994 crap remake) and one of my all-time favorite movies — and just one of two I’ll see every holiday season — It’s a Wonderful Life, and try something different?
Others you can pass over? Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer, It’s a Charlie Brown Christmas and 1967’s The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Home Alone, The Santa Clause and The Polar Express.
By the way, Die Hard is a Christmas movie. Die Hard is a blast from start to finish and turned Bruce Willis from a pretty face actor into the action hero model for action heroes to follow.
And this year, please bag two that I think may be the dumbest movies in holiday history, Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. When it comes to comedy Will Ferrell and Chevy Chase reside at the bottom of the forced laugh barrel.
As long as we’re equating the annual force feeding of holiday movies with zombieism, like Christmas decorations that fill up the big box stores in August, new holiday movies get released earlier every year. This year two of them were out before Thanksgiving. They are a new version of the Grinch’s story and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
The latter came out just a few days after Halloween. It isn’t exactly packing audiences in, and so far has only brought in $45 million and change. That can’t be close to paying for this effects-laden clunker. Look for it to do a lot better — and maybe recoup the production costs — when it becomes an annual TV event.
The Grinch opened two weekends before Thanksgiving. Again, what’s the rush?
Though it’s another redo, it’s the Grinch so what’s not to love? He’s one of my favorite characters and — obviously — has enough Scrooge-like characteristics to warrant a comparison. In this case, it’s a better film than the bloated 2001 Jim Carrey star vehicle and Ron Howard directed critical bomb that many of you force yourselves to watch each year.
The new, animated version is pretty good but not close to as easy to watch as the 26-minute Boris Karloff narrated TV special from 1967. What that tells you is this: The story of the Grinch — based on a very short book — doesn’t need that much padding.
Back to my point. Maybe it’s time to stretch a bit. Skip the classics and start a new tradition. One suggestion is Arthur Christmas. This 2011 film is a really sweet, and sometimes funny, story about passing the Santa mantle from one Santa to the next.
Or how about The Ref. It’s not really a “Christmas” movie though it takes place at Christmas. The film is about a robbery. Comedian Dennis Leary anchors the chaos but it is the work of Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis that pack the film with laughs. The last I heard — unless it is a Hallmark film — it is okay to laugh at a holiday movie.
Hallmark movies get a much different kind of laugh.
Christmas with the Kranks was royally panned by critics. Admittedly, the film is pretty bad until you get to the break out the hanky scene at the climax. It is so deep, and so touching, and so what Christmas is all about, that it makes the movie more palatable than a 20th shot at White Christmas or A Christmas Story.
Since we’re talking about more modern, and mature holiday fare, if you haven’t seen it, try Love Actually from 2003. It is set at Christmas and follows the lives of eight couples trying to figure things out. And who doesn’t hope things get figured out by fresh-start time on New Year’s Eve?
Tired of all that sappy holiday movie positives? Believe it or not, horror — and a classic animated feature that’s almost horror — has also been a Hollywood holiday focus. Krampus, Black Christmas, Gremlins and Better Watch Out did well at the box office and now get seen by those of us bored with “ordinary” holiday fare.
Gremlins has become a horror classic and is more often seen at Halloween but it is — friends — a Christmas movie.
The almost horror film is Tim Burton’s, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Ironically, it was released two-days before Halloween in 1993. This is one — however — fits in the annual classic holiday movie mold and ought to not be seen.
That brings me to the second movie I watch every year. I cannot emphasize enough that this movie is not for everyone. It is Bad Santa.
What? Bad Santa? Are you kidding?
That’s not an unusual reaction. For one, Billy Bob Thornton’s department store Santa is not just one of the most disgusting holiday movie characters ever, he’s one of the all-time most disgusting movie characters ever. The film appeals to this Scrooge — and others like me — because it is a tongue-in-cheek, packed with laughs, dark comedy about a guy not deserving of redemption who gets forgiven anyway.
Thornton is a great character actor and from heavy drama to comedy, he does everything well. This is the best Thornton has ever been and the best character he has ever played. It’s also John Ritter’s last film. He had a blast doing the timid, non-confrontational mall manager. Ritter is — like everyone else in the film — terrific.
And do not — I repeat — do NOT, bother with Bad Santa 2. I love the character but the sequel is as bad as the first film is good.
I saw Bad Santa in 2003 a couple of days before Christmas. There were about 15 critics in the theater. Two of us laughed our butts off. The others — obviously too PC — found the film very offensive. The other critic and I belong to the weary Scrooges society. We’re tired of the whole holiday thing but by the end our hearts some how soften and we end up actually enjoying what’s left of the holidays.
Whatever you chose to watch — or not watch — this holiday season, I wish you and your family a happy holiday season.
Catch Gary Wolcott Friday afternoons at 4:50 on KXL’s Afternoon News.
Gary has been KXL’s movie critic since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 28-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.
He is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.
Got a movie suggestion or comment? Click here to email him.