Christmas Movies Less Ordinary
(Originally published 12/23/10.)
There are Christmas movies, and then there are Christmas movies you don’t always remember being Christmas movies.
Though not entirely void of holiday spirit, they’re just a little off kilter, either using the holidays as creative juxtaposition, plot device or some form of redemption.
Case in point: “Trading Places,” starring Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Satirical, clever and outright hilarious, “Places” uses Christmas as a festive background for its protagonist’s bitter descent into destitution, followed by self-realization and, eventually, redemption.
One of director John Landis’s best comedies, it has all the trappings of a Christmas movie, but they’re hidden beneath a vile Santa suit stuffed with smoked salmon and grime. In other words, good stuff.
While traditional Christmas movies are fine and good – and I do believe “Scrooged” belongs on that list – The Mountain Times has drummed up a few more colorful examples that just might make your holiday viewing a little less ordinary.
Director Joe Dante’s horror comedy is a quintessential Christmas movie less ordinary. When teenager Billy Peltzer (Zach Galligan, “Waxwork”) receives a most unusual Christmas gift – a cute-as-pie furball called a mogwai – he fails to follow three important rules for its upkeep.
The results are catastrophic – and hilarious – as the innocent little creature (voiced by Howie Mandel, “Little Monsters”) spawns a legion of mischievously deadly gremlins that wreak havoc on Billy’s small town during Christmastime.
Co-starring Phoebe Cates (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) and country singer Hoyt Axton, “Gremlins” is pure fun, packed with laughs, jumps and a most bizarre screening of “Snow White.”
Trivia: Michael Winslow, better known as Motormouth Jones in the “Police Academy” series, voiced numerous gremlins.
“Die Hard” (1988)
Directed by action stalwart John McTiernan (“Predator,” “The Hunt for Red October”), “Die Hard” not only has the distinction of being Bruce Willis’s first major action role, but also a Christmas movie.
Willis is New York cop John McClane, attending his estranged wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia, “Presumed Innocent”) office Christmas party in an L.A. skyscraper. Before he knows it, the building and its occupants are taken hostage by German terrorists, led by the cruelly pragmatic Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, the “Harry Potter” series).
Gruber and company are seeking a Christmas present of their own, namely a cache of riches stored in the building, and are willing to harm anyone to get it. But McClane has other plans.
One of the most iconic action movies of the ’80s, “Die Hard” revels in just about everything, including its festive setting. The “Ode to Joy” robbery scene ranks up there with some of cinema’s best.
Trivia: Richard Gere was reportedly considered for the role of John McClane.
“The Hudsucker Proxy” (1994)
The Coen Brothers released this charming “comedy of invention” seemingly under the popular radar. Boasting stellar performances by Tim Robbins (“The Shawshank Redemption”), Paul Newman (“Cool Hand Luke”) and Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Dolores Claiborne”), “Hudsucker” tells the tale of naïve business graduate Norville Barnes (Robbins).
Set in December 1958, when art deco flies high and businessmen have names like “Sidney Mussburger,” this redemption story focuses on Norville’s swift rise to the top, as part of a stock swindling scheme that business titan Hudsucker Industries’ greedy board members – led by Newman – have concocted to save their coat tails.
But Norville’s got a few surprises of his own, including the invention of the hula hoop (“You know, for kids”) and the support of fast-talking reporter Amy Archer (Leigh).
“Hudsucker” is drenched in colorful ambience, featuring the Coens’ trademark wit, comic surrealism and top-notch storytelling.
Trivia: “The Hudsucker Proxy” was the opening film at the 1994 Cannes Film Festivcal.
“Ghostbusters II” (1989)
All right, “Ghostbusters II” wasn’t a very good sequel in retrospect, but it did offer a chance to revisit the first film’s hilariously endearing characters. Directed by Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) and written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, “Ghostbusters 2” did have its funny moments, but is ultimately bogged down by a particularly silly plot and pop culture references of the time.
It’s Christmastime in New York City, a time when stress and anger fly high, along with some malevolent spirits that thrive on the lack of holiday spirit. One such is Vigo (Wilhelm von Homburg, “Die Hard”), a long-dead Carpathian warlord/magician who lives on through a painting in the Manhattan Museum of Art.
Vigo wants to rule the world and must possess a child to do so. That kid, however, is the son of Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver, “Ghostbusters”), and only the Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis and Ernie Hudson) can save the day.
In some sense, “Ghostbusters II” offers a literal interpretation of Christmas spirit. It also offers hilarious performances, not only limited to the titular characters, but also from Peter MacNicol (“Dracula: Dead and Loving It”) and Rick Moranis (“Spaceballs”).
Trivia: Acclaimed director Jason Reitman, son of Ivan Reitman, appears in the birthday party scene, telling Aykroyd and Hudson how his dad thinks the Ghostbusters are “full of crap.”
“Batman Returns” (1992)
Who better to spend the holidays with than Christopher Walken? Walken joins a star-studded cast for director Tim Burton’s (“Ed Wood”) return to Gotham City, including the likes of Michael Keaton (“Beetlejuice”), Danny DeVito (“Twins”) and Michelle Pfeiffer (“The Fabulous Baker Boys”).
Burton brings brooding life to a gothic Christmas tale, centered on Batman’s (Keaton) struggle with a perfectly cast – and perfectly grotesque – Penguin (DeVito), the seductive and deadly Catwoman (Pfeiffer) and murderously corrupt businessman Max Shreck (Walken, “Pulp Fiction”).
Moody, fun and splendidly scored by Danny Elfman, “Batman Returns” is the last decent “Batman” movie before the 2005 Christopher Nolan reboot. Burton seems to enjoy Christmas (consider “Edward Scissorhands” and “Nightmare Before Christmas”) in his creatively bizarre way, and “Batman Returns” is no exception.
Trivia: Paul Reubens (Pee-wee Herman) makes a cameo as the Penguin’s father in the film’s opening sequence.