There is something very comforting about watching holiday film classics in December. Whether you pull your well-worn VHS copy of “It’s Wonderful Life” or “Miracle on 34th Street” out with your Christmas decorations or you stream a Christmas comedy marathon of “Elf,” “Home Alone” and “A Christmas Story”, for most of us, holiday film classics are as an important a part of the season as singing Jingle Bells and decorating the tree.
Non-traditional Holiday Movies
If you have already watched your favorites or are seeking a few non-traditional options for this season, however, we have a few ideas for you. They may not be about the holidays, but they do feature the holiday season prominently as well as an aspect of the American business world. With a nod to “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the gloriously sinister financier Mr. Potter, we offer these films as an alternative to the standard holiday fare.
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Nicholas Cage stars as Jack Campbell, a single, life-in-the-fast-lane investment broker who is given the chance to see what might have been if he hadn’t have let an old girlfriend get away. Although the plot sounds like a reversal of “It’s a Wonderful Life” – and it kind of is – don’t discount this film as merely a remake or a rehash. Directed by Brett Ratner, the 2000 film is surprisingly fresh and powerful. Téa Leoni co-stars as Jack’s long-lost love, and the cast features the multi-talented Don Cheadle as Cash, a supernatural street-wise convenience store gunman who guides Jack through his Scrooge-like journey of redemption.
About A Boy
Will Freeman, portrayed convincingly by Hugh Grant, is a bored London bachelor who lives off the royalties of his late father’s hit Christmas song, “Santa’s Super Sleigh.” He has every new gadget and luxury and plenty of women, but his life is empty until he meets Marcus, an awkward 12-year-old boy who is badly in need of some direction and stability in his life. Directed and co-written by brothers Chris and Paul Weitz, “About a Boy” is a kind of coming of age story -- for both Will and Marcus -- and features a sometimes dark and sometimes quirky humor that is refreshingly honest this time of year. Of particular note is the film’s hauntingly beautiful soundtrack composed by singer/songwriter Badly Drawn Boy.
Bill Murray is at his best in this loose adaptation of “A Christmas Carol.” The 1988 film was produced and directed by Richard Donner and it features a big-name cast including Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Carol Kane and Robert Mitchum and cameos by a diverse list of celebrities such as Mary Lou Retton, Robert Goulet, Buddy Hackett, Lee Majors and John Houseman.
“Scrooged” has the framework of the familiar Dickens tale in the form of Frank Cross, a bitter, uncaring television executive, who is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve; however, it is not your average re-telling of the story. The film was marketed with a tie-in to “Ghostbusters” with the line, "Bill Murray is back among the ghosts, only this time, it’s three against one." The film may have suffered by the comparison because it received mixed reviews upon its release. The emergence of the Ghost of Christmas future from a bank of television screens is a highlight of this film’s special effects, and you’ll enjoy the cigar-chomping Ghost of Christmas Past.
It’s hard to put “Gremlins” in any one category. It’s a horror film. It’s a dark comedy. It’s a holiday film? Well, yes. Seeking a special Christmas gift for his teenage son, an inventor purchases a cute, fuzzy "mogwai" from a Chinatown shopkeeper's grandson. The little creature comes with the following instructions: "Don't expose him to bright light. Don't ever get him wet. And don't ever, ever feed him after midnight."
Of course, you can guess what happens in this film, and you’re sure to find it disturbing to see the mayhem and violence the creatures create juxtaposed with all the trappings of the holidays. Directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg, this 1984 film stars Zach Galligan as Billy and Phoebe Cates as his girlfriend. Howie Mandel is the voice of the original gremlin, Gizmo.
Although it was released in June of 1983, Trading Places is set in Philadelphia during the holiday season. The film tells the story of wealthy commodities broker Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) and how they unknowingly become part of a bet between the very wealthy Duke bothers (Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy).
By setting the story during Christmas time, director John Landis uses this loose adaptation of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper to reveal the irony of commercialism and greed during a time of love and giving. Although the film has a definite 80’s feel, it holds up surprisingly well today and has more of an old-fashioned, classic feel than an outdated one.
Need more ideas? Here are some other non-traditional films to consider this season:
The Ref: Directed by Ted Demme, this 1984 black comedy stars Denis Leary as a burglar who gets involved with a bitter, arguing couple (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) on Christmas Eve.
Love Actually: Ten separate and disparate stories set primarily in London about love gradually intertwine and come to a climax on Christmas Eve in this 2003 film.
Die Hard: If you are looking for some action, look no further than this 1988 classic starring Bruce Willis as a New York City cop who wants to spend Christmas with his estranged wife in Los Angeles.
Edward Scissorhands: Tim Burton has a thing for holiday movies (His “Nightmare before Christmas” is also a good choice). This unusual 1990 story of a gentle young man (Johnny Depp) who happens to have scissors for hands is also set during the holidays.
So go make some popcorn or maybe a cup of cocoa, put your feet up and enjoy. And let us know what your favorites are.