Lists about the best Christmas movies are everywhere this time of year, and, most likely you’ll get a variation of It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. These are great movies, and I try to watch each of them, including a few others, every year around Christmas, reminding myself to ring bells, not to lick frozen metal polls, and that the shitter might be full. Below is a list of what might be considered “Non-Christmas, Christmas Movies.” The criteria here is a bit broad. These films take place near Christmas, but aren’t necessarily Christmas movies. Admittedly, the inclusion of Christmas more than likely includes some irony about the holiday. But, these films were not marketed as Christmas films, and I would bet no one went into them saying “Hmm…looks like a nice, uplifting, holiday movie.”
Edward Scissorhands: For most of Burton’s film, we are unaware of the time of year. We see conformity in houses, cars, routines, and color palates. We know time passes because Edward is brought down from his dilapidated castle by the benevolent, lonely Avon lady, Peg (Dianne Wiest), becomes a popular novelty in the neighborhood, and he becomes yesterday’s news. He is no longer invited to play rock, paper, scissors because Kevin is “tired of winning all the time,” and soon his uniqueness is relegated to a dangerous deformity, categorizing him as an outlier and a freak. Perhaps we forget, but the third act of this film begins as Bill, the family’s patriarch, staples fake sheets of snow to his roof and Kimberly and Peg trim the family Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, awaiting guests that aren’t coming. At this time, Edward becomes the target of anger, from Jim (Anthony Michael Hall) and the rest of the neighborhood. The cops chase him; the town chases him; and he flees to his isolating castle. And, as the film winds down, we realize that Edward gifts the town with their very first snow – though they fail to question its source. He works tirelessly and endlessly in his immortal existence, without a thank you or recognition. Merry Christmas suburbia.
Gremlins: Cute furry creatures that become scaly, green carnivores that reproduce at the touch of water is the perfect analogy for all of those unnecessary toys that you buy your children only to be driven crazy by the flickering lights, the high-pitched scrannel, and the dozens of batteries that aren’t included. At the same time, Gremlins also reminds us of differences. The differences that cause prejudice – perfectly presented by the racist war veteran Mr. Futterman – and the differences that completely divide us, exacerbating our vulnerabilities. In other words, the violent gremlins are a threat to humanity, but only able to multiply and ravage because we’ve been divided by other influences. Mrs. Deagle represents the disparity between affluence and middle class. Mr. Futterman exemplifies the racist isolationist; Randall Peltzer, Billy’s father, is dishonest and commodity driven – both in career and family: he’s a salesman looking for progress, an inventory striving to be unique, and a father whose subversive purchase of the magwae is both a way to stand out to his son but a dishonest move that brings havoc to Kingston Falls. Gremlins reminds us to embrace what we have, particularly a juicer in case of gremlin attack.
Lethal Weapon: For me, the first few bars of “Jingle Bell Rock” now portends a coke-fueled, half-naked woman swan-diving from a penthouse balcony. A similar ominous prophesy is conjured when I see any clip from “A Bugs Bunny Christmas.” All that comes to mind is Martin Riggs – Mel Gibson well before he took the celebration of Jesus to a whole new level – sitting on his couch in tears, staring down the barrel of a gun and mustering the strength to pull the trigger and end the misery brought on by his wife’s murder. In Lethal Weapon, Christmas comes to represent Martin’s rebirth as he teams with Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family, but it also represents a time to kick some sadistic bastards onto the naughty list.
Die Hard: There’s at least one Santa reference in the first three Die Hard films, but the first is still the best. John McClane, on a mission to visit his wife on Christmas ends up taking on an amalgam of foreign mercenaries and criminals. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) is the sadist holding everyone hostage, and the cat to McClane’s mouse. Classic lines, classic scenes, and justification that Bruce Willis only ever needs to play himself makes this a solid fall-back film after the classic Christmas-movie canon. (Die Hard 2 would also qualify as a Christmas movie inasmuch as it takes place on Christmas Eve, but it’s much campier than the first one and all around an exercise in explosions. While awesome, not top 5.) For a more in depth analysis of this film and its politics, you can click here.
Eyes Wide Shut: (Admittedly, Die Hard used to be my number one Non-Christmas Christmas movie, but then I recently watched Eyes Wide Shut and remembered that it took place on Christmas.) You might be scoffing and noting how viscous this movie can be. You might also be writing it off because it’s difficult to imagine Tom Cruise in anything other than a Top Gun cum Mission Impossible mediocre action film. But, this is still Stanley Kubrick, and being such, it is replete with allusions to the influence of illuminati, presence of Nazi fascism in America, and cultural hypocrisy. Books can be – and have been – written on symbols in Kubrick from Clockwork Orange to the Shining. The pace of Eyes Wide Shut certainly doesn’t elide this. The movie begins at a Christmas Eve party, wherein Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman), stoned on a bit of pot, confesses to her husband Bill (Tom Cruise) that she has fantasized about another man. Denying that he has fantasized about anyone, he leaves his wife and wanders the streets of Manhattan, determined to have an affair. The premise here is simple, but the tension and discomfort elicited by the couple (married in real life during the shooting) is palpable and eerily realistic. In the span of twenty-four hours, Bill’s life is twisted, tried, and turned upside down while his wife is genuinely unaware of anything that’s going on. At once, Kubrick uses the Christmas holiday to tackle communication breakdowns and the abjectly detrimental way in which American squeamishness transforms human sexuality into something pejoratively taboo is profound and poignant.