5 Christmas Movies for all the Christmas Haters
Christmas, there’s no time of the year quite like it. Except for Easter. Valentine’s Day. Halloween. Thanksgiving. I could go on. Scratch that. Christmas is that time of the year where you are led to believe that Jesus was born so you could waste your hard-earned money on mostly obsolete presents and congregate with every member of your family, where all every one wants to do is go home and talk about how horrible everyone is. Don’t get me wrong, I have only recently began to abhor the idea of Christmas. I do get the idea of ‘giving’, but it all seems too misguided by corporate agendas and exponential profit. While I do not mean to offend anyone, if you are getting sick of seeing It’s a Wonderful Life every year, here are 5 movies which may expose a new side of the ‘Christmas spirit’ which you may not have seen before.
5. Trading Places (1983)
This might be one of the most pro-capitalist films ever, but it is also a comedy classic. The message that this movie ends on is like the antithesis of that of Robin Hood. While it is hard to argue that this is a straight-up Christmas movie, it is hard to leave it off the list, when it shows the absolute worst of capitalism (or rather capitalism at its best). Dan Aykroyd is Louis Winthorpe III, a wealthy managing director of a commodity brokerage who does not know what real work is. Eddie Murphy is Billy Ray Valentine, a homeless con-man pretending to be crippled and blind to get money off the Philadelphia streets. The two accidentally bump into each other, while Louis thinks he is trying to steal his briefcase. Rather than pressing charges, the owners of the brokerage make a bet that they could make Billy Ray as successful a managing director as Louis and make Louis turn to crime and squalor.
This may be Aykroyd’s best performance and definitely Murphy’s most subtle. However, this movie undoubtedly supports the very essence of Christmas or commercialism; that money and financial superiority corrupts everything. Billy Ray becomes instantaneously selfish and desperate to make the most profit as possible and protective of things which he did not earn. On the other hand, Louis crashes hard and it is with him where we see the true meaning of Christmas, as he finds help and eventually love from a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis). However, the film really takes another backflip, as Louis and Billy Ray take down the owners by beating them at their own game, tricking them out of all their money. Then, the film ends not with them giving up their fortune for a simple life, but living in luxury, perfectly happy, despite the arcs they went through during the first half.
The scene which most subverts typical Christmas movie scenes is Louis, dressed up in a dishevelled Santa Claus costume, stealing food from a party at his former job and threatening his former bosses and Billy Ray with a gun. While there are some brilliant set-pieces, it lets itself down in the ideological potential within the premise. Rather than truly analyse the origins and results of the ‘nature versus nurture’ theory, ultimately, it is the epitome of true capitalism. As long as you can cheat and charm, regardless of other’s feelings, whether it be in the stock exchange or for that last game console, you can end up happy on a isolated island.
4. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Like with most of Tim Burton’s projects, there really isn’t much of a point to this film. But, at least, it is consistently fun. It is easier to call this the perfect anti-Christmas film, because it is more of a Halloween movie. Taking place in ‘Halloween Town’, some sort of world in between the human worlds among worlds of all holidays. The leader, Jack Skellington is becoming sick of the routine of Halloween, wishing for a deeper meaning in his life. In a depressed trance, he accidentally comes across the portals to other worlds and enters ‘Christmas Town’. He consequently becomes obsessed in wonder at the foreign concepts of Christmas, even going so far to get the town to take over Christmas. By kidnapping Santa Claus from ‘Christmas Town’, he gives children demonic toys, which begin to attack the children.
First of all, it is a musical, with the majority of dialogue being sung in similar, Broadway-like songs, where exposition is hidden in nice, little ditties, which you gradually get used to. Secondly, it is animated via stop-motion, and the shot composition is really something to behold. Beyond its visual beauty, however, like most musicals, there isn’t enough substance in the premise to justify the length. At its centre, it appears to be about Jack’s search for happiness and love in the ugly and evil world which he inhabits. Yet, it is all filled with songs which do not progress his own arc, but rather are static, like writing a song called ‘This is What I am Thinking’ or ‘I Just Realised Something’. Bar ‘This is Halloween’, the songs are just distractions from what little the story has to offer.
Yet, there is a lot of cynical cheer to be found throughout this film, especially where Jack tries to find out the meaning of Christmas via scientific experimentation. However, where the film really shines in the sequence where Jack hands out the presents. There is nothing quite like seeing a child running away in terror from their presents. More than that, the film, like so many others does not try to confront Christmas as similar to Halloween or born from fear, but rather shoehorns a villain, a love interest and a final kiss scene. While one can interpret that ‘Halloween Town’ discovers happiness through snow and Jack discovers love after barely getting to know Sally, the film, as a whole, leaves you empty. Still, for the few subversive scenes and the innovative use of stop-motion animation, it is worth a watch for those who hate the idea of presents.
3. Toys (1992)
Toys is a truly underrated film and a beautiful ride which glances at the essence of Christmas; innocence. This wacky Robin Williams vehicle, directed by Barry Levinson (Rain Man), is so 90’s it hurts, as we enter Zevo Toys, a surreal, other-worldly toy company. Its creator then dies, handing over the reins to his brother, General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon). Despite having a British accent (don’t ask), he emanates American nationalism, and applies his regimented leadership to the free and fun nature of the factory. Leslie Zevo (Williams), on the other hand, is a chip off the old block, a creative inventor and an advocate for the childish. As is inevitable, the General takes over, forcing a dictatorial open military, using toys as a method for death.
While the film does contain the usual Robin Williams schtick, an unnecessary love interest (Robin Wright) and a somewhat outrageous ending, it is utterly beautiful. No matter how silly it gets, any film buff has got to appreciate the set design, shot composition, and music, despite its clichés. Often taking inspiration from the art of Rene Magritte, and, in one brilliant sequence, Talking Heads, it surprisingly creates its own mostly believable world. Mind you, this is a world where it is normal to sleep in a bed shaped like a massive duck, dress up in clip-on doll’s clothes and where LL Cool J is Michael Gambon’s son.
However, more than being a visual spectacle, Toys comes so close to being more meaningful than your typical ‘good overcoming the powers of bad’ story. Surprisingly, this film predicted the use of drones by the military, as General Zevo comes up with the idea of exploiting the dexterity of kids brought up on arcade games to unknowingly attack far-away cities. It is here where the film goes from being whimsical to being anti-war. Not only is it anti-war, but anti-commercialism and exposes Christmas and innocence as being slowly corrupted by authority and nationalism. However, in the film’s final act, it commits a baffling ideological backflip, when you see Leslie repeatedly punching his uncle in the film’s climax. The conclusion does kill the film, as it suddenly turns from a deep commentary on the obscuring of typical Christmas values to a battle exactly like every other action movie.
Despite its several downfalls from unnecessary plotlines, hammy acting from Williams and LL Cool J and a contradictory ending, this film is a hidden gem of the early 90’s, which could please both kids and adults. It comes the closest to being true to the meaning of Christmas, a time period where all are allowed to return to innocence, where happiness and fun are pure and unadulterated by the world of adults.
2. Bad Santa (2003)
Meet Willie (Billy Bob Thornton): a very unprofessional thief, who, along with his partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), steal from department stores by working as Santa and an elf at different cities every year. However, Willie is a chronic alcoholic, sex addict and is depressed about where his life has ended up, after years of supposed abuse from his father. This year, they end up in Pheonix, Arizona, where the manager (John Ritter) and the security chief (Bernie Mac, who is hilarious) become suspicious of their activities. Willie befriends a boy who believes he is the real deal, and with a father in jail, he exploits the boy’s innocence and his senile grandmother.
Nobody hates Christmas more than Willie, as is made obvious by his excessive drinking to obscure his pathetic situation. However, the central arc is his relationship with the kid, who makes the most out of his less than perfect life, by trying to find a friend in Santa Claus. Although Christmas is depicted as a financial venture through the eyes of the adults, once again, it is the purity of the view of children which creates the true meaning of the film; that as long as you have loved ones, money and possessions do not matter.
This movie is much more than an adult black comedy, but comes close to being a meaningful tale of redemption. However, like all the movies on this list, it just misses that point. It eventually tells the audience that you can solve any problem by either admitting to your wrongdoings or hitting someone in the balls. Perhaps, looking for some meaning in this movie is misguided, but, despite a beautiful last act, it just seems that Willie learns nothing. Yet, this movie ultimately displays Christmas as not a time for growth, but re-evaluation and new beginnings from the climax of the commercial, physical and emotional cycle.
1. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
Forget about It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) or A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965). National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is the ultimate Christmas movie. Not only a Christmas staple, but a comedy classic, this shows Christmas at its absolute worst. Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase), (Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and a young Johnny Galecki) takes his Christmas very seriously, dragging along his family (Beverly D’Angelo, Juliette Lewis and a young Johnny Galecki) for the ride. However, nothing seems to go right as Clark tries desperately to make this Christmas perfect, despite living with the rest of the family who hate each other and his wife’s cousin’s husband Eddie (Randy Quaid) constantly messing it up.
However, it is hard to pick what message about Christmas this film is trying to convey. It seems that it says that if you do stupid, illegal things, everything will always turn out fine in the end. In addition, there is not much of a plot, just several unrelated comedic sequences. Regardless, the film is not about leaving you with something to ponder, but is really a satire of the idea of the modern Christmas, as exemplified in the Christmas Eve dinner. It explores exactly how Christmas strains the family dynamic, a time where people can air their grievances or sit silently, and then talk about them behind their back afterwards. It eventually becomes a parody of Christmas movies in the final scene, as Clark’s sappy, well-meaning monologue about the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ being the ‘Christmas star’ is interrupted when told it is the light of the sewage treatment plant.
Despite it being devoid of a real problem for Clark to solve, this movie is full of laughs, while also poking fun at the superficial and commercial nature of Christmas, with Clark spending hours to light up his house, travel for many hours to find the perfect Christmas tree and getting a pool. While it may not be the perfect family Christmas movie, it should be a Christmas tradition, which presents the holiday season in its basest form: people yelling at each other to feel better about themselves, as well as get stuff they don’t need.
To reiterate, I do not wish to incite any hatred for any anti-capitalist or anti-religion sentiments. While all bias is included, I have evaluated the movies on their subversive views on these ideological systems, rather than perpetuating the usual Christmas movie. Merry Christmas (or if you hate it, Merry Festivus) and a Happy New Year!
What do you think? Leave a comment.