I have never seen It’s A Wonderful Life.
For as long as I can remember, my family’s Christmas tradition has been to get together, eat a big meal in front of the TV, and watch a movie. It either has to be a movie that doesn’t really have anything to do with Christmas, but the holiday made a cameo appearance at some point, or a completely blasphemous, utterly inappropriate take on the holiday spirit. A few of the the more obvious films (like Die Hard and Gremlins) aside, here’s a list of the top ten anti-Christmas Christmas movies for you to shove right down your stocking hole this holiday eve.
1) Lady Vengeance (2005)
My personal favorite and the last of Park Chan Wook’s vengeance trilogy continues with many of the motifs set in the previous two films: kidnapping, parenthood, and vengeance. Beginning with a beautiful snowy Noel at prison, Geum-ja Lee (Yeong-ae Lee) is greeted by a a group of South Korean carolers donned in Santa hats upon her release from the facility. Disregarding chronology, the film then launches into the story of how Geum-ja got there, her transformation into a vengeful monster, and her journey to find redemption for her many sins. Themes of whiteness and purity echoing in the falling snow, this beautiful genre film starts and ends in winter. I highly recommend Lady Vengeance for the holiday viewer seeking a more challenging, complex Christmas thriller.
2) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
With films like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Writer-Director Shane Black is keeping Film Noir alive. I thank him for this. It’s Christmas-time and a petty thief, Harry (Robert Downey Jr.), has accidentally got himself involved in a much bigger caper: a Hollywood film. After comically stumbling into an audition while running from the cops, he’s been cast as the lead in a detective film. A gay Los Angeles P.I. named Gay Perry (Val Kilmer) is hired by his agent to let Harry tag along for research. And, they stumble across a real murder and a real mystery. Harry’s childhood sweetheart, Harmony (the very sexy Michelle Monaghan), who is now a struggling LA actress gets pulled into the mystery due to her obsession with pulpy detective novels. Downey Jr and Kilmer have great chemistry, and Black gives them great material to work with. The script is extremely clever, structured identically to classic film noir, obviously hearkening back to Sunset Boulevard. Christmas strippers and old Hollywood style mysteries, nothin’ betta!
3) In Bruges (2008)
Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson play a pair of hitmen who have gotten mixed up in some rotten eggnog and are sent by their boss, played by Ralph Fiennes, to hide out in the charming city of Bruges for a Christmas vacation. In Bruges begins as a very funny, situational dark comedy that develops into a riveting melodrama as they begin to come to terms with some occupational guilt. You begin to really feel for and fear for the well being of the two mobsters. This film is UK playwright Martin McDonagh’s debut feature, which he wrote and directed. It’s quite clear from the script that he is a playwright, information about the relationship of the men and the botched crime is revealed slowly and masterfully. All three lead performances are very intense, especially Fiennes as the psychopathic mob boss. All that and some Nic Roeg allusions thrown in for Roeg lovers like me. This morally conflicting flick might not fill you with the holiday spirit, but it will definitely enthrall you.
4) Silent Night Deadly Night (1984)
If you’re not familiar with this movie, I’m sure you have inferred from the title that Silent Night Deadly Night is a horror film. Many (myself included) will argue that it’s a much more complex, psychological thriller that deserves any praise it has received and more. This low budget film is gratuitously violent and upsetting, which accounts for much of its nasty reputation. Young Billy Chapman has already had more exposure to mental illness than most kids his age when he witnesses his parent’s brutal murder by a madman dressed up as Santa. Orphaned, he’s raised by an abusive nun who loathes sexuality and practices extreme punishment. From there, Billy has nowhere left to go but utterly crazy. This is what good horror is all about: taking minute fears and contorting them into immense monsters. A fat, old, bearded man in a red suit entering your house through impossible means while you sleep? That’s terrifying. Combine that with the intensity of unchained catholic fervor and you’ve got yourself a real nightmare.
5) Black Christmas (1974/2006)
It’s funny to think that Bob Clark directed not only one of the most iconic yuletide flicks of all time, A Christmas Story, but the quintessential Christmas horror, Black Christmas, as well. Black Christmas is often cited as the first real slasher film; it’s a story about a sorority being merrily stalked and picked off one by one by a deranged murderer in their house during Christmastime. And it was made in snowy Quebec! I’m also going to suggest, bear with me, checking out the 2006 remake. I acknowledge that this film isn’t what Glen Morgan wanted to make, nor is it, by any definition of the word, good. But it’s so absurdly over-the-top, and comically bad, it’s worth watching. The plot gets totally lost, but it’s loud and shiny and frantic, just like Christmas! Doesn’t hold a reindeer-shaped candle to the original, of course.
6) Go (1999)
I must start off by making an admission: I haven’t seen this film in several years, but I was terribly fond of it when I was in high school. With its intertwining, non-linear, high-octane narrative, Go is another entry in the wave of features riding off Pulp Fiction’s immense popularity. Go follows the stories of several different characters all involved in a drug deal gone wrong at a Christmas eve rave. Ronna (Sarah Polley) and Claire (Katie Holmes) accidentally stumble into a situation where they may make a lot of money by selling drugs, Zack (Jay Mohr) and Adam (Scott Wolf) are wearing wires, trying to help the police catch the dealer to clear their names, but drug dealer Simon (Desmond Askew) is on a vegas adventure with Taye Diggs and James Duval. This, of course, goes bad as well. It’s a fun, fast paced black comedy, with a very enjoyable cast.
7) Brazil (1985)What’s more nauseatingly commercial and all-encompassing than Christmas? The setting fits right in to Terry Gilliam’s vision of the corporate, Kafkaesque future in this sci-fi satire. Sam Lowry is little more than a speck in the massive company he works for, but he’s started having bizarre prophetic dreams of a beautiful woman. After discovering she exists, Sam must find her and rescue both her and himself from this future world’s totalitarian government. Brazil is a beautiful dystopian opus, a cinematic classic, and a must-see for any film lover.
8 ) The Silent Partner (1978)
A Canadian Christmas crime caper with Eliot Gould! When a bank teller named Miles (Gould) pieces together some clues that a robbery is going to occur by a Santa Claus, he takes advantage of the crook by pocketing most of the money himself moments before being held-up. Furious that he has been outsmarted by the teller, the crook enters into a battle of wits with Miles that quickly escalates to dangerous proportions. A great screenplay with lots of clever dialogue and plenty of plot twists. Chug some nog and have a Gouldy Christmas.
9) Inside 0r À l’intérieur (2007)
This French extremist horror takes place on Christmas Eve. Sarah is a single woman making preparations for the birth of her baby on Christmas day when a deranged woman breaks into her home and attacks her. The woman is hellbent on cutting the baby out of Sarah’s belly, and Sarah must do everything she can to protect her unborn child. Inside is a vicious, highly-stylized work of cinema. Playing with the intensity of a mother’s devotion to her own children, the film is a sort of femme-horror, and one of the best and bloodiest horror films dealing with pregnancy. Since making Inside, which was their first film, Hollywood has been tossing directing team Julien Maury and Alexander Bustillo at several remakes, all of which fell through. Luckily, they opted to avoid the States altogether and make another horror flick in France. Maury and Bustillio’s new film, Livid, has been playing at film festivals for the past few months. I have my fingers crossed it’s anywhere near as good as Inside.
10) A Wish For Wings that Work (1991)
“Hopefully [ A Wish for Wings that Work is ] in the rubbish pail. We can do better than that and we will with an eventual Opus film.. but I’m glad you enjoyed it. I presume your family was on speed when they watched it. I would imagine it helps.” - Berkeley Breathed
While not under the influence of drugs, as an underdeveloped and emotionally unstable 3 year old I found myself completely in love with this film (A love which has driven me to watch A Wish for Wings that Work every Christmas Eve since it’s creation.) A Wish for Wings that Work’s protagonist, Opus, is depressed penguin who is desperate to fly. His emotional vulnerability is taken to the limits after a brain damaged cat (a friend of his, who has had his brain replaced with potatoes) interrupts and ruins the last of his many flight attempts. Devastated by this final failure, and the belittlement of his fellow townsfolk, Opus gives up and joins a flightless birds self-help clinic (moderated by a pre-pubescent yet sassy black girl). What ensues is a bizarre adventure of self-denial, filled with cross-dressing bugs, disgruntled birds, pigs who believe they are Rhinoceroses, and unscrew-able butts which chronically fall off. There’s also some Christmas message about Santa not drowning and believing in yourself tossed in there. What more could you want? - Greg