Do They Know It's Christmas? | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

December 18, 2019 News » Cover Story

Do They Know It's Christmas? 

11 not-quite holiday-themed movies guaranteed to transform you from Grinch to cheermeister.

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SERHII BOBYK
  • Serhii Bobyk

Last year, I took joy in writing about terrible Christmas movies. Some readers, however, thought my endeavor was pointless.

To wit, from the comments: "What a waste of time and precious print space to spend reading about terrible Christmas movies. It would really be more valuable to offer readers a list of the best Christmas movies to watch ... My time is more precious than knowing what to avoid than what to actually do with me [sic] time."

Unpack that tortured syntax and you're left with two things: First, what kind of dickbag with precious little time to spare reads a piece he or she hates just to spit on it? (A troll.) Second, when the dickbag/troll is right, the dickbag/troll is right. So here we go again.

There has to be a compromise, though. I love the holiday season but I don't want to watch Jimmy Stewart live his horrible wonderful life for the 25th time. So here are some movies to enjoy—listed alphabetically because I'm not playing favorites—that take place around the holiday season but aren't necessarily about joy and goodwill toward men and all that stupid crap. Some of 'em even have good killin'!

UNITED ARTISTS
  • United Artists

1. THE APARTMENT
This Billy Wilder classic features parties, gin rummy, attempted suicide and the kind of office behavior that would make human resources automatons slap their foreheads. (Leave it to Wilder to make a romantic comedy that features people trying to kill themselves.) Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) falls for Fran Kubelick (Shirley MacLaine), but she's in love with Bud's assface boss Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray, really douching it up). By the way, the apartment of the title, a kind playpen for executive ickiness (read: cheating on wives), is Bud's. Will love prevail? Did grandma get run over by a reindeer?

WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Warner Bros. Pictures

2. BATMAN RETURNS
Depending on whom you ask, Tim Burton's Batman—starring Jack Nicholson as the Joker—is fun. Imagine the shock audiences felt seeing this sequel, an exercise in darkness dressed up in camp. Danny DeVito's bile-spewing Penguin is in cahoots with Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) as they battle Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) and a brooding Batman (Michael Keaton). DeVito has never been better. Count how many Christmas trees and ornaments and paraphernalia are destroyed in this movie. It's hard to believe this screenplay got the green light, considering how bizarre it is.

WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Warner Bros. Pictures

3. EYES WIDE SHUT
If you can see past the bountiful nudity, the father pimping his teenage daughter, and Nicole Kidman's naked backside, you might actually notice that Christmas is everywhere in Stanley Kubrick's final film. The opening party? A Christmas party. The prostitute's apartment? Dripping with Christmas lights. The only thing missing from the ridiculously unsexy orgy Tom Cruise crashes is some knucklehead boning away while dressed as jolly old St. Nick. Must be in the director's cut.

20TH CENTURY FOX
  • 20th Century Fox

4. THE FAMILY STONE
Sure, The Family Stone's plot is pure Christmas: Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings home uptight girlfriend Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) to get an engagement ring (the family stone of the title). Hilarity, such as it is, ensues. More compelling: Partner swapping ensues! How many Christmas movies end with brothers sharing a girlfriend (not at the same time, perv). TFS is also of note because it was made during that odd period of time when Mulroney stopped being shot to death in movies and became the romantic lead instead. I prefer seeing him shot.

PARAMOUNT PICTURES
  • Paramount Pictures

5. THE GODFATHER
Speaking of getting shot (and garotted and blown to smithereens), The Godfather has all those things, along with a wonderful Christmas backdrop. Around the time Don Vito (Marlon Brando) is gunned down by would-be assassins, Michael (Al Pacino) and Kay (Diane Keaton) walk through midtown Manhattan amid all its yuletide splendor. And don't forget the colorful blinking lights at the hospital's entrance. You know, nothing says the holidays like a gangland slaying. (Or is that a gangland sleighing? SEE WHAT I DID?)

NEW LINE CINEMA
  • New Line Cinema

6. JUST FRIENDS
Former fat kid Chris (Ryan Reynolds) ends up stuck in his wintery hometown because of lazy plotting and he has an opportunity to finally make his high school BFF Jamie (Amy Smart) his GF. If you can get past the tasteless gay jokes (Chris has a younger brother who torments him; enough said), you'll maybe find all the ugly Christmas sweaters and exploding reindeer decorations a hoot. Plus, Julie Hagerty is, predictably, a joy as Reynolds' mother.

SONY PICTURES RELEASING
  • Sony Pictures Releasing

7. LITTLE WOMEN (1994) and LITTLE WOMEN (2019)
Louisa May Alcott's story of the March sisters becomes very different movies from directors Gillian Armstrong (1994) and Greta Gerwig (2019). Both films have strengths, but wholly different spirits. You'll have a chance to see the new film on Christmas Day, and witness the March girls give away their Christmas breakfast to the Hummel family. (And what do they get for their trouble? Dead.) The 2019 film features a fleshed-out Amy (Florence Pugh) and Saoirse Ronan turns in a typically flawless performance as main sister Jo. Timothée Chalamet (2019) isn't as charming as Christian Bale (1994), but Chalamet's doomed marriage proposal feels more gut-wrenching.

WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Warner Bros. Pictures

8. THE NICE GUYS
Watch just about any movie with Shane Black's stamp on it (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3) and you'll think Christmas should share equal billing with the stars. The Nice Guys leaves Christmas (mostly) in the background, but it's just as well because it would probably be overshadowed by all the shooting, arm breaking, porn and dead bodies. What you're left with is a solid mystery, fun action and a 13-year-old (Angourie Rice) who's considerably smarter than all the adults around her—including Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, who plays her father. Oh, and it's a comedy.

COLUMBIA PICTURES
  • Columbia Pictures

9. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY...
No movie has portrayed as accurately the agony of carrying home a Christmas tree solo. (Or how to fake an orgasm.) Sentiment warning: I always watch this during the holiday season, not because it's a holiday movie (the Christmas scenes total maybe five minutes), but because if you ever wanted to curl up with someone you love to watch a movie about people in love, this is the movie and this is the time of year.


And here are two concessions to various parties:

20TH CENTURY FOX
  • 20th Century Fox

10. DIE HARD
Ah, the eternal argument over whether it's a Christmas movie! It takes place on Christmas Eve, but killing terrorists does not a holiday movie make. Die Hard could have been set on July 15 (its release date), Halloween or motherfucking Arbor Day and it would still be the same story. Got it? IT'S NOT A CHRISTMAS MOVIE. IT'S NOT IT'S NOT IT'S NOT IT'S NOT IT'S NOT IT'S NOT. It is great, though. You should totally watch it again.

WARNER BROS. PICTURES
  • Warner Bros. Pictures

11. GREMLINS
I hate this movie, but some people love it. Some people also eat cranberry sauce out of a can during the holidays instead of making their own. What I'm trying to say is that Gremlins is a movie for cretins. What's to love? The gremlin in the microwave? The woman blown through her roof on the easy climber? Phoebe Cates recounting how her father broke his neck in the chimney while pretending to be Santa Clause? Ho, ho! Larfs aplenty in Joe Dante's holiday shitfest! Ugh, it was all downhill after The Howling.

Readers: Thank you for spending your precious time with me. Hopefully this piece has given you a few options for holiday viewing that aren't Holiday Inn or The Bishop's Wife or whatever the hell is on the Hallmark channel. And if you found it just as big a waste of time as last year's piece, I hope you fall in a ditch and sprain your ankle. Happy holidays!


BUT WAIT! There's More ...

click to enlarge ABC DOMESTIC TELEVISION
  • ABC Domestic Television
Deck the Newsroom!
City Weekly staffers reflect on their holiday guilty pleasures.


click to enlarge enrique.png

For me, the holy trinity starts with Rankin/Bass' 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, the animated special that showed us that even a miracle needs a hand, and that mousy intellectuals with a penchant for clockwork should just mind their own damn business. The sleigh ride continues with the classic "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" from Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, featuring the legendary crooner and David Bowie—the oddest of holiday pairings since "fruit cake" and "delicious." (You can sense Bing's impending fear of a dandy home invasion when Bowie walks through the manor and asks to use his piano.) Then there's the Muppets' timeless rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas" from John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. The gusto from Miss Piggy belting "Five goooold rings!" always gets me in the mood for the season—and for Christmas ham.

—Enrique Limón, editor

click to enlarge scott.png

Christmas is always such a frantic season for movie-watching for me—packing in all the stuff to be considered for year-end awards—that I almost never have time for stuff I've seen 100 times and actually like. Probably the closest I get to something like this is Robert Zemeckis' The Polar Express, which I often have a hard time turning away from when I'm channel surfing during the holidays. It gets even more fascinating as the years go by, and its primitive "uncanny valley" motion-capture computer-animated characters look ever creepier. Sure, it's cheesy, schmaltzy spectacle, but it also feels more nightmarish than anyone involved could ever have intended.

—Scott Renshaw, A&E editor

click to enlarge kara.png

I used to start watching holiday movies as soon as the calendar turned to Dec. 1. Nowadays, I have trouble getting into the holiday spirit with all the anxiety-building hustle. The one movie that always gets me ready to shop until I drop or spend the evening with all my extended family is Love Actually. This isn't your typical holiday movie, but I adore it. I stumbled upon it a few years ago, and have continued to watch it over and over again. I'm a fool for good ol' rom-coms and this one adds a bit of Christmas magic. As the only perpetually single gal in my family, I suppose Love Actually reminds me that "love is all around us," even though yet again, I'm single another holiday season.

—Kara Rhodes, contributor

click to enlarge ray.png

Come December, I try to stay far away from seemingly everyone's favorite Christmas flick, Elf. Instead, I find myself more fascinated with mid-1990s holiday nostalgia. This is clearly because those were the years I still believed in Santa and everything seemed magical. Now, if I'm flipping through channels and come across Jingle All The Way, you can sure as hell bet I'm not going anywhere else. Between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad's buffoonery trying to track down the virtually sold-out Turbo Man action figure and the cheesy lines throughout (I'm going to deck your halls, bub!), I can't help but smile. Bonus: I first saw this film during a birthday party at the small theater inside Jolly's Pharmacy and Top Hat Video on 1300 South and 1700 East—you know, back when video rental stores were still a thing. Ah, the '90s.

—Ray Howze, editorial assistant

click to enlarge erin.png

The Christmas movie that has become my favorite—outside of childhood cable staples like A Christmas Story—also happens to be one of my favorite movies in general, and functions as maybe the only lesbian romance and Christmas movie out there. I'm talking about Todd Haynes' Carol, a beautiful, melancholy period drama starring the elegant Cate Blanchett alongside Rooney Mara. Taking place within a picture-perfect landscape aglitter with all the trappings of a silver-tinseled 1950s Christmas, Blanchett plays Carol, a jaded divorcée who falls in love at first sight with Mara's Therese while gift shopping at the department store. Therese is even wearing a little Santa hat in the scene, and still manages to capture Carol's attention. The film deftly utilizes the holidays—their family-centric themes and yet their tendency to fill one with longing for intimacy—as a way to depict Carol's inner struggle, which is to either indulge in her new love or to prioritize her relationship with her daughter, which is jeopardized by her jealous ex-husband. Unlike many romantic dramas though, and especially queer ones, this film stands out because it doesn't end tragically. Great as a standalone film, it functions as my favorite Christmas movie because it reinstills a real sentiment into that theme, captures the feeling of melancholy and quiet love during one of the most lonely and chaotic times of the year.

—Erin Moore, music editor

click to enlarge lance.png

For several years, there in the '70s, I refused to watch the World War II epic Patton after I'd read somewhere it was Richard Nixon's favorite film. My pettiness waned, and the 1970 film starring George C. Scott become a favorite. Sole holiday connection is when elements "Ol' Blood and Guts'" 3rd Army relieved Yanks in the French town of Bastogne on Christmas Day. Patton pivots on quotes—which he actually uttered. A war correspondent asks him about his pistol grips. "They're ivory," snaps the general. "Only a pimp from a cheap New Orleans whorehouse would carry a pearl-handled pistol." In another scene, a chaplain remarks, "I was interested to see a Bible by your bed. You actually find time to read it?" Responds Patton: "I sure do. Every goddamn day." He tells troops: "Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." But, of course, the most-famous quote comes after he loses command of the 7th Army after slapping a shell-shocked soldier in a Sicily field hospital. "Ah, George," he laments to his orderly, "I wish I'd kissed the son-of-a-bitch!" And in this spirit of good-will-toward-all, that's my sentiment exactly.

—Lance Gudmundsen, proofreader

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