Note: When I first started writing this post I was feeling very bitter about the holiday season. I’m still not excited about it but feeling decidedly less Grinch-y (& have since watched some classic Christmas movies that didn’t make me gag from the schmaltz!!!) than I was but I figured I’d post this list, anyway. And some of the films do have nice endings! I also want to apologise for my writing in this post – I ended up doing most of it last minute and without a lot of editing.
After my top 5 Halloween appropriate films for scaredy cats, I thought I would do a post of my top films set at Christmas for people who don’t want to watch something overly schmaltzy and feel-good (as a lot of holiday themed movies are). I will admit I’ve not seen a lot of Christmas movies, partially, I think, because a lot of them make me want to throw up a little but also because they’re almost all set in the Northern Hemisphere and winter movies don’t feel like Christmas movies to me. So these movies aren’t actually for Scrooges (pre-Christmas spirit visits) but I couldn’t think of anything else to call the post.
The Long Kiss Goodnight directed by Renny Harlin, 1996
Any movie with Geena Davis playing an assassin with amnesia has got to be great, right? Well, I’m sure not everyone thinks so but it also stars Samuel L. Jackson as a not-particularly-great private detective who ends up being in over his head. Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson. What more could you ask for? It just so happens to also be set at Christmas, hence its place on this list. Oh, and it does have some great one-liners…fun aside, I could probably analyse some aspects of this film a bit more (the portrayal of women being an obvious one) but I sort of left this list to the last minute so I’ll leave it ’til I rewatch the film again. It does have a fairly traditional ‘happy ending’ so doesn’t entirely escape the ‘feel good’ category, I guess?
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang directed by Shane Black, 2005
As a full-time lover of film noir/detective movies and a part-time lover of pulp novels (often the source novels for aforementioned films) this film is right up my alley. It draws inspiration from these sources and incorporates the tropes and devices into the plot but sort of…turns them on their heads, I guess? The most obvious device is RDJ’s voice-over narration but I love that it’s not perfectly narrated and he keeps having to go back over things and forgets bits and pieces (which is a perfect illustration of how the tropes and devices are twisted around a bit). And it doesn’t veer into spoof territory, either. Plus, Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer are hilarious and play off each other so well (all that banter!). And, of course, Michelle Monaghan rounds out what is, to me, a perfect cast. It’s another film that has a lot of quotable one-liners, too: “Don’t worry, I saw Lord of the Rings. I’m not going to end this 17 times.” The first time I saw this film I was actually in tears because I laughed so much so, whilst not exactly a traditional Christmas film, it’ll at least make you feel good (unless you’ve just eaten a big Christmas lunch/dinner…all that laughing could just get awkward after lots of food.)
Black Christmas directed by Bob Clark, 1974
I’ve only seen this film once but, boy, did it stick with me. A lot of what I read on it online pans it for not holding up to modern horror standards. But we all know by now that I’m a scaredy cat so it disturbed the heck out of me. Besides, I generally go for the whole ‘what you don’t see is scarier than what you do’ idea (did Stephen King say something like that?) and this film definitely works into that. Plus, whilst I was watching it I was alone in the house and the phone actually rang. How ridiculous is that? (For anyone who doesn’t know, it works on the babysitter urban legend and was one of the first – if not the first? – films to do so.) I don’t want to give anything away but with the creepiness and tense atmosphere of the film coupled with the ending, this is definitely one of the most unsettling films I’ve seen. And it certainly won’t instill a sense of holiday cheer in the viewers, I should think (well, I should hope a movie about young women being brutally murdered wouldn’t cheer anyone but that’s possibly a post for another time).
Batman Returns directed by Tim Burton, 1992
Aside from my love of Adam West (what a babe!), I’d say that Michael Keaton is probably my favourite onscreen Batman. Burton’s adaptations are so iconic and are the perfect blend of camp and something a bit darker. As much as I love 1989’s Batman, I think this one is my favourite of the two…mainly because Michelle. Pfeiffer. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with her since I was a small child (in part thanks to her Catwoman but mainly due to her portrayal of Stephanie Zinone in Grease 2) and her interpretation of Catwoman is brilliant. The moment when she and Michael Keaton both realise who the other is, is one of my favourite scenes. Beautifully acted. Plus, we also get Danny DeVito as the most disturbing Penguin, and Christopher Walken who is always amazing.
Brazil directed by Terry Gilliam, 1985
Another one that I’ve only seen once but it also stuck with me. I had actually forgot this was set at Christmas until I was googling for ideas for this list. I don’t even know what to say about this film but it wasn’t exactly what I expected when I set out to watch it. I loved it, though. The sets, the cast…the story in general. Wow. Another one that isn’t going to get you in the ‘holiday spirit’ but so very worth the watch. I need to watch it again as I think I didn’t manage to process it all after the first viewing and it’s probably been long enough now that it won’t be too fresh in my head for a good rewatch.
Anyway, as I said, it’s not don’t like every single feel-good holiday film (and some of these still have at least somewhat happy endings, anyway) but I enjoy these films more than more traditional Christmas films, I guess. And watching movies with lots of snow and everyone wearing cute sweaters just feels weird when it’s 40 degrees celsius and the thought alone of roasted food is enough to make me sweat. And hopefully anyone reading will realise any lines about wanting to vomit were made in good fun.
Happy holidays to anyone still reading!