A year ago, Adam and I gave a thoughtful look at some of the classic Christmas movies that make the very cockles of our hearts glow with warmth. We shared our memories of the wonderful, quirky and funny films that fill our holiday season with joy and laughter.
And you bastards complained and complained about all the movies we didn’t put on the list.
So in the spirit of – not the season – but of you being totally unpleasable, we return to our semi-regular Watch This feature with more of the holiday movies Adam and I both love.
And, hopefully, your cold, black hearts will be sated with our choices this year.
Once again, to keep things festive, Scott’s comments will be in Rudolph red, and Adam’s will be in Grinchy green.
Trading Places (1983)
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Eddie Murphy, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliott, Jamie Lee Curtis
It’s been a while since I’ve seen Trading Places, but I remember it being quite a good movie. Essentially the plot revolves around the Duke brothers, a pair of rich stock traders, making a bet about “nature versus nurture.” They decide to see what happens if change the social circumstances of snooty, upper-class employee Louis Winthorpe III, with down-on-his-luck con man Billy Ray Valentine.
What ensues is a hilarious – and at times heartbreaking – look at one man’s descent into utter destitution, and one man’s rise to glory.
Is this a Christmas movie? Yes. Christmas does play an important role in the story, and if anything, the fact that it takes place over the holidays only makes what the Duke brothers do to Winthorpe and Valentine even more cruel and callous.
Trading Places is absolutely worth checking out if you’ve never seen it. It’s a modern retelling of The Prince and the Pauper with a fun twist.
Ah yes, the Duke brothers. Wealthy dudes who place a $1-bet that essentially ruins Dan Aykroyd’s life. Since that time, of course, Aykroyd’s done much of that job on his own, voicing Yogi Bear in the upcoming motion picture, and releasing his own vodka that includes a fashionable skull-shaped container that agencies like the LCBO refuse to carry.
But I digress, because regardless of Aykroyd’s recent real-life fall from grace — or slightly latter and below-latter shift downwards from grace — Trading Places is one of those classic 1980s comedies with just the right tinge of Christmas to it.
And besides, Eddie Murphy’s at his best when he’s basically playing himself, NOT wearing a fat suit and NOT acting in a film with animal- and child-protagonists.
Starring: Hoyt Axton, Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, Frances Lee McCain, Corey Feldman
Rule number one, don’t expose it to bright light. Rule number two, don’t get it wet. Rule number three, don’t feed it after midnight. These are the three rules Rand Peltzer is given when he buys a Mogwai he names “Gizmo” – and then gives the furry critter to his son as a Christmas present.
And there wouldn’t be a story if all three of those rules weren’t broken in short order.
It turns out when you get Gizmo wet, he reproduces. If a Mogwai eats after midnight, he’ll turn into a hideous creature dubbed a “Gremlin.” And sunlight, of course, can kill them.
Gremlins is a strange mix of horror movie and comedy. The antics of the titular creatures are absolutely malicious, but ultimately also done for laughs. And the creatures die in some of the most hilariously gory ways imaginable.
This movie is a classic, and is actually fairly tame by horror movie standards – it’s rated PG-13. The somewhat more comedic sequel is also worth checking out as it really is a case of “so bad it’s awesome.”
I saw a gremlin once. It was gnawing on the face of a long-dead homeless man. The I woke up, to find my cat liking my face, demanding to be fed her breakfast.
And let me just say that if you’re hoping to score a cuddly pet, a cat is really the way to get. If you get them wet, they become ornery; if you expose them to light, they’ll lay down and feel its warmth; if you feed them after midnight, they might not wake you up at five AM in the fucking morning before you have to go to work.
Gremlins doesn’t care about cats, though. And as far as Christmas movies go, if you can deal with the fact that this film hasn’t aged particularly well you might actually enjoy this romp through what apparently passed as acceptable horror in 1984. Like Scott says, it’s a classic. And any film that ends with an all-out battle in a hardware store is aces in my books.
Batman Returns (1992)
Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken
Oh, Batman. I can’t imagine a movie series that has seen more ups and downs. Fortunately, Batman Returns falls firmly into the “up” category.
Set over Christmas, the story revolves mainly around the machinations of the Max Shreck – an unscrupulous businessman. You might think that The Penguin is the villain, or Catwoman, but that’s really not the case. Max is the glue that binds them together, and he’s the driving antagonist behind much of the action.
Suffice to say, in typical Tim Burton fashion, the darkness of the plot and environment are juxtaposed with the traditional festive atmosphere of Christmas-time. There’s a lot of interesting use of monochrome, as well – Batman, Penguin and Catwoman all primarily wear black, and that plays off well against the snowy backdrops.
Batman Returns was the last good film before Joel Schumacher came along with his Kilmers and his Clooneys to ruin the series bad enough for a reboot. It’s definitely worth the dollar-bin prices you can find it at.
And remember, mistletoe is deadly if you eat it.
The best part of Batman Returns, other than the fact that it takes place over Christmas — which in Gotham is just about as depressing as a Christmas with the Klumps, except with increased crime and street-drug use — is the fact that it star Christopher Walken. He plays the role of Max Schrek (whose namesake is actually this man), a political con man who will stop at nothing to crush those in his path, and who plays the public like a fiddle.
Until Oswald “Penguin” Cobblepot gets his mutated hands on him.
Forget the atmosphere, the gloom, the [very sexy] Catwoman, or even DeVito’s excellent portrayal of the Penguin. You’re in this for Christopher Walken. Oh, and Christmas.
Die Hard (1988)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, Reginald VelJohnson, Alexander Godunov, Paul Gleason
This is one of those classic action films that everyone should have already seen. I’m serious, if you’ve never seen Die Hard, it’s because you hate freedom. So I’m “spoiler alerting” anything that comes next.
All John McClane wants to do is visit his estranged family for Christmas – a situation complicated when his wife is taken hostage by terrorists led by Hans Gruber. McClane, in true action hero style, becomes a one-man army who takes down the terrorists, gets the shit kicked out of him at intervals, and drops Snape off a building with the iconic badass quip “Yippie kai-yay, Motherfucker.”
Yes, it’s a holiday film for the whole family.
Explosions, German terrorists, and Bruce Fuckin’ Willis. If you hate this movie, you hate freedom, America and the entire Harry Potter series. Why mention Harry Potter? Why, because Alan Rickman is the villain in Die Hard. And his villainy is first-rate.
This is a high-action, cat-and-mouse game where Willis’ McClane stays one step ahead of the terrorists and eventually brings every last one of them down. And he also walks bare-foot on fuckin’ glass. GLASS!
Did I mention Alan Rickman?
If you don’t like this movie, you’re a soulless wank who should go back to watching Bridget Jones’ Diary and blowing your nose into a lacy kerchief. You disgust me.
Oh, and Merry Christmas!