Day 12: Nightmare Before Christmas – 7/10
‘Me… on vacation? On Christmas Eve?’
Last year I made it until day 9 before the never ending schedule of Christmas films and constant drinking caught up with me and I was forced to watch Tim Allen’s The Santa Claus whilst massively leathered. A disorientating and upsetting evening. This year I thought I was safe having made it to the last film on the list. To celebrate I thought I could perhaps have a sherry or two by the fire before retiring to bed.
When I awoke the next morning fully clothed and surrounded by my own vomit it appeared things had taken an unprecedented turn for the worst. I knew that no matter how much I wanted to spend all day in bed weeping though, that I had a job to do and that job was Nightmare Before Christmas...
Regular readers will know I am not exactly Tim Burton’s biggest fan but I must admit I caught myself really enjoying Nightmare Before Christmas. Memorable characters, mostly great songs (‘What’s This?’ being a personal highlight) and an imaginative world, I found my hatred of Burton’s previous work to begin to alarmingly melt away.
Luckily whilst researching this article after watching, I discovered that Burton actually didn’t direct Nightmare Before Christmas. Nor did he write the screenplay or the songs. It’s barely a Tim Burton film at all! A Christmas miracle…
Day 11: Miracle on 34th Street (1934) – 8.5/10
‘Anyone who thinks he is Santa Claus is not sane!’
Miracle on 34th Street is so old it could lay claim to being one of the first ever Christmas films. Certainly one of the first not adapted from a certain Charles Dickens novel. It’s so old in fact that Edmund Gwenn who plays Kris Kringle was born in 1877. To put that into context that is 21 years before Queen Victoria died.
Despite being nearly 70 years old there is no doubt that Miracle on 34th Street is a quintessential Christmas film. It is certainly one of the most influential, alone with It’s A Wonderful Life, which came out the year before.
While the 1994 remake has it’s charms, notably that Richard Attenborough plays Santa as less of a dick than Gwenn does, as a whole it doesn’t hold a candle to the original. Miracle on 34th Street won 3 Oscars upon release and is rightly considered one of the all time greatest Christmas films. No argument here.
Day 10: Gremlins – 9/10
‘Now I have another reason to hate Christmas…’
Loads of really bizarre things happen consecutively, this gets out of hand almost immediately, hilarity ensues…
Ahh Gremlins. Made in that glorious time in 80’s cinema where all characters had the same haircut. Male, female or gremlin. Gremlins is another film for me that just IS Christmas. It may not be the most traditional Christmas film but counts just for Kate’s wonderful monologue about why she hates Christmas.
Gremlins is over thirty years old now (!) but it has aged incredibly well unlike some films from that period, probably because it was written by Chris Columbus of The Goonies fame who seems to have the timeless classic thing pretty mastered.
Another reason Gremlins stands the test of time is there are loads of laugh out loud moments throughout and it is actually darker than you may remember it which is always a bonus with a family orientated film.
I do have to point out however that the biggest laughs came when our hero Billy Peltzer’s mom Lynn Peltzer showed up wearing literally the most bizarre outfit I have ever seen (see picture).
I loved Gizmo as a child but I now realize his evil counter parts actually have a really brilliant time (in the 24 hours after being born one of them has hilariously adapted a penchant for drinking alone in jazz bars) so I have sided with them now.
I’m going to leave you with this outrageous admission: I actually prefer Gremlins to E.T.
Day 9: A Christmas Story – 7/10
‘He looks like a deranged Easter Bunny.’
Sadly director Bob Clark has perhaps become best known for his final movie Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2 (the second worse film of all time according to IMDB) than his 80’s output which is actually not bad. As well as classic and influential teen comedy Porky’s in 1981, Clark also directed A Christmas Story in 1983 and it is by far his most critically acclaimed work.
A Christmas Story is actually a genuinely realistic portrayal of what it is like to be a little boy growing up at Christmas, so much so that the fact that plot is paper thin hardly matters. Bullies, daydreaming and daring your friends to lick lampposts… heady days indeed.
After a couple of films with only tenuous links to Christmas (Die Hard 2, Star Wars Holiday Special), it was actually quite nice to get back to something as Christmassy as my Dad falling asleep during the Queen’s speech whilst still clinging on grimly to his glass of whisky.
Despite a massive IMDB rating of 8.1, A Christmas Story seems to have become a bit forgotten about in recent years which is a shame because it’s influence can be seen everywhere from Stand By Me to Malcolm in the Middle.
The great thing about A Christmas Story is that there is no moral message about Christmas being a time for giving or seeing family. It is largely about people wanting stuff and no matter what adults may like to think, when you are a kid that is literally all you care about at Christmas. This lack of moral fibre is certainly refreshing in this genre!
Of all the films I have watched for this project, only a handful are actually objectively good. A Christmas Story is one of them.
Day 8: Star Wars Holiday Special – 1.5/10
‘You’re like… family… to me’
For those of you that don’t know back in 1978 CBS produced a one off Star Wars holiday special around Christmas time that was fully licensed by Lucasfilm. The basic outline of the plot is Chewbacca’s family on his home planet of Kashyyyk are waiting for Chewie to return home from his adventures with Han Solo to celebrate life day.
For those who have heard of it you will know that George Lucas has done everything in his power to stop people seeing the Star Wars Holiday Special and it is widely considered to be one of the worst things ever committed to film. What you may not know is that it is also off the chart fucking mental from start to finish.
For the opening 10-15 minutes or so the only on screen characters are Chewie’s family who of course don’t speak English and bizarrely there are no subtitles. Then Chewie’s son turns on a hologram game, similar to the one on the Millenium Falcon, that features humans in garish colours performing circus tricks in what can only be described as an ongoing and seemingly never ending nightmare. It is an assault to the senses. I was truly aghast.
A lot of the segments in this two hour (!) special are films within a film and it is here that things take a truly bizarre turn. Firstly Chewie’s father is fitted with a headset where he watches a virtual woman talk about their connection before she sings a really long song whilst looking straight into the camera and indeed into my very soul. It was at this point that I found myself reaching for the whiskey and making sure the front door was properly locked.
Later Chewie’s wife or mother (it is difficult to fathom) watches an instructional video that could only have been directed by David Lynch and the dark lord Satan himself and this is then followed by a soap opera kind of thing called ‘Life on Tatooine’. Can you imagine anything so fucking boring as life on Tatooine? These mini movies are honestly some of the most baffling things I have ever seen and to think they are associated with the most well known film franchise of all time is truly absurd.
Even more odd is pretty much the full cast from Star Wars returns. Mark Hamill looks like a Mark Hamill look alike who has been drugged and forced on screen. Harrison Ford actually seems quite up for it in the earlier scenes but by the end there is a moment where he literally sighs into the camera. It is genuinely sad. Carrie Fisher was probably off her tits at the time which may explain her insistence on singing at the end and of course Anthony Daniels plays C3PO with as much gusto as if this were an integral scene in the final Star Wars movie, showing that his constant enthusiasm isn’t dampened by the ludicrous events nefariously unfolding all around him.
Aside from the mini movies, occasionally storm troopers will appear and show the true magnitude of the empire’s evil by ripping the head off of one of Chewie’s sons cuddly toys or perhaps half heartedly knocking something off a shelf.
Then, and I swear to God I am not exaggerating about this, Boba Fett shows up and he is riding a fucking dinosaur. Now it is an animated segment and this was his first ever appearance but even for one of the most beloved characters in the franchise, this is an unlikely entrance.
The animated sequence is actually not completely terrible even though Han Solo’s face is for some reason at least twice as long as every other characters but an animated section amongst all this madness just adds to the general uneasiness of the whole thing.
I left the Star Wars Holiday Special feeling sad, exhausted, bewildered and most of all confused. Did that just happen? Or have I finally cracked up forever.
Day 7: Die Hard 2 – 8/10
‘Ah what the hell… it’s Christmas!’
Perhaps because of the quality of Die Hard and Die Hard with a Vengeance, the second instalment in the series if often unfairly overlooked. There is actually loads to enjoy though as Bruce Willis properly takes charge of the character of John McClane and delivers some of his best one liners of the whole franchise. This is also the last film to make use of Holly McClane and while nobody in the supporting cast are going to win an Oscar, they are memorable, well thought out characters.
Die Hard 2 does suffer in comparison in some areas to the films that sandwich it. William Sadler is a good actor but he makes for a forgettable antagonist when compared to Hans and Simon Gruber. The great thing about Die Hard 2 though is that it comes from a different time. A golden age of action films that were funny, well scripted, exciting and struck a perfect balance between serious violence and absurd action sequences. Action films in the last decade are either derivative, forgettable nonsense (Olympus Has Fallen) or self referential, almost parodies, that spend too long winking at the audience instead of making a good movie (Expendables).
Now for the age old debate. Are Die Hard and Die Hard 2 Christmas films? Die Hard 2 takes places on Christmas Eve. The script has numerous references to Christmas. Let It Snow plays over the end credits. Die Hard 2 is a fucking Christmas film.
Merry Christmas and Yippee Ki-Yay!
Day 6: The Polar Express – 6/10
‘Seeing is believing, but sometimes the most real things in the world are the things we can’t see’
Veteran director Robert Zemeckis should know how to tell a good story. This is the man responsible for Forrest Gump, Castaway and Back to the frickin’ Future for Christ’s sake! The Polar Express looks pretty awe inspiring and Tom Hanks is wonderful as the train conductor but the story itself is surprisingly predictable and boring.
The first half is actually pretty good with interesting characters and some good action sequences culminating with the protagonist bumping into a sinister hobo atop the train which is by far the strongest moment of the film.
When the train journey itself ends with an excruciatingly bad bout of singing and the train arrives at the North Pole, The Polar Express really goes downhill fast.
Having got up to watch this the morning after the midnight showing of The Force Awakens I was in no fucking mood for bratty kids standing around in the snow. I kept expecting (hoping?) Kylo Ren to smash his way through the ice and cut that fat bitch Santa in half with a light sabre.
Maybe all these sentimental Christmas films are getting to me after all… Roll on Die Hard 2 tomorrow.
Day 5: The Snowman/Father Christmas
The Snowman – 9/10
I haven’t seen The Snowman since I was a little kid but I used to watch it every Christmas religiously, sometimes two or three times back to back, much to the annoyance of my parents. Looking back on it now it is surprising to see how much of a heart breaking piece of work The Snowman actually is. What is most surprising however is the bizarre intro from David Bowie, sporting a wonderful Christmas jumper and claiming to have once met a really big snowman…
The animation is gorgeous and the score is incredible. The Snowman also benefits from a total lack of dialogue as this allows the viewer to imprint their own view of the characters personalities. The famous Walking In The Air sequence has been spoofed to death now but it really is a truly magical sequence sung in Peter Auty’s dulcet Welsh tones.
The Snowman was nominated for an Oscar and remains one of the most beloved Christmas films of all time. It is also one of the best.
Father Christmas – 6/10
Like The Snowman, Father Christmas is based on the children’s book by Raymond Biggs. Where The Snowman is all beauty and whimsy, Father Christmas is more pickled eggs and pints of bitter shandy as Mel Smith plays jolly old Saint Nick as a bloomin’ cockney. This interpretation of Santa Claus grated with me as it turned Father Christmas into more of a member of the UKIP party conference than a wonderful mythical figure.
Day 4: How The Grinch Stole Christmas – 5/10
‘Even if I wanted to go my schedule wouldn’t allow it. 4:00, wallow in self pity; 4:30, stare into the abyss; 5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one; 5:30, jazzercize; 6:30, dinner with me – I can’t cancel that again; 7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing… I’m booked.’
Christmas in Royston Vasey? Not quite…
How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the remake that absolutely nobody asked for and it does indeed end up being a chore. Somehow director Ron Howard has made an origin film about a green fictional character worse than both Hulk films…
This incarnation of the classic Dr. Seuss children’s book should have a lot going for it. Arrested Development’s matriarch Jeffrey Tambor is normally hilarious but he sleepwalks through this one. Anthony Hopkins dulcet Welsh tones are fine when reading poetry but his soothing rhyming couplets combined with the full box of mince pies I ate about halfway through just made me sleepy.
Jim Carrey as always is full of enthusiasm and he has a few genuinely funny moments but nearly two hours is a long time to watch Carrey in such a one dimensional role. By the time the closing musical number farted out I wanted to take a hammer to the television and tear down the Christmas tree whilst simultaneously laughing and weeping… and it is only day 4. Two long days to wait for Die Hard 2.
Day 3: Four Christmases – 7/10
‘Boys, I don’t want to speak ill of your mother on Christmas, but she’s nothing but a common street whore.’
Great cast. Laugh out loud funny. Four Christmases may well be the most underrated Christmas film ever.
There is nothing about Four Christmases that says ‘flop’. Director Seth Gordon was fresh from his much loved Donkey Kong documentary King of Kong. A cast featuring four Oscar winners in Jon Voight, Rober Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Mary Steenburgen. Also featuring Jon Favreau and led by Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn. A solid and original premise. Despite all this it undoubtedly was a failure as a rating of 5.6 on IMDB will attest to. I can’t for the life of me think why though.
Reese Witherspoon is a genuinely amazing actress who has chosen a mostly lazy career in rom com’s such as this, but that doesn’t make her any less enjoyable to watch. Witherspoon has strong chemistry with an on form and frequently laugh out loud funny Vince Vaughn. The old guard of Voight, Duvall and Spacek have loads of fun and Favreau just seems to enjoy the opportunity to beat up Vince Vaughn over and over.
Sure the message is rammed down your throat a little but this is a Christmas film damn it. Unless you are going full Bad Santa there has to be some sentimentality and schmaltz as that is what Christmas is all about.
Come back to me on day 8 or 9 though and I might be singing a different song. These films are all incredibly similar and whilst the buying of a particularly nice ham has made three consecutive Christmas films bearable, I can already feel my mind beginning to snap…
Day 2: Surviving Christmas – 6/10
‘I’m not wearing the hat. Now get it away from me before I shove it up your ass!’
Like many films in the Christmas genre, Surviving Christmas is fucking weird…
Ben Affleck is a lonely millionaire who pays to hang out with a random family so he isn’t alone at Christmas. In this unlikely family we have James Gandolfini angrily putting on and taking off coats every few minutes, a chilled out Catherine O’ Hara playing a much calmer version of her character from Home Alone and perennial straight guy Christina Applegate playing that one same role she always plays.
The experienced comedic cast mostly hold the flimsy premise together but then things take a turn for the incestuous and the film threatens to derail entirely. Incest jokes and Christmas make for an uncomfortable combination it turns out.
The saccharinely sweet ending just about saves Surviving Christmas, as I had developed something of an attachment to the characters despite the predictable script.
Surviving Christmas is not a great film but in a genre filled to the brim with actual shit it more than holds its own.
A better movie would be ‘Surviving, Surviving Christmas’. A harrowing and sensual documentary about the time when I made myself watch Surviving Christmas for this article…
Day 1: A Very Murray Christmas – 7/10
‘You haven’t quit drinking yet, have you?’
After beginning last year’s 12 Days of Christmas Films with my all time favourite Christmas film A Muppets Christmas Carol, it could have been anti climatic to kick things off with a new release for 2015. I needn’t have worried, A Very Murray Christmas is a wonderfully weird way to begin.
Bill Murray has already won Christmas once with his classic 1988 film Scrooged so he had nothing to prove with this one off Christmas special. Now I should probably get this out of the way early… A Very Murray Christmas involves singing. Loads and loads of singing. This may be off-putting and unexpected for some but with a wide range of mostly melancholy Christmas songs performed by an incredibly eclectic mix of people, I enjoyed most of the musical numbers. Personal highlights were the Bill Murray and Phoenix duet Alone on Christmas Day as well Maya Rudolph’s genuinely fucking incredible rendition of Christmas Baby Please Come Home.
Aside from the all the singing, A Very Murray Christmas felt like one of my more potent cheese dreams. Trapped in a hotel, with Bill Murray, singing Christmas songs. Wow. The dreamlike quality of the colour scheme and ethereal feel just exudes Christmas and director Sophia Coppola deserves credit for how gorgeous A Very Murray Christmas looks.
One criticism is at just under an hour there are a couple of songs that could have been replaced with a bit more scripted stuff because the mostly spoken introduction is probably the highlight but Murray obviously had a vision of what he wanted A Very Murray Christmas to be and it mostly involved him drinking, eating and singing and who am I to deny an old man that – indeed you get the feeling from watching all this, that Bill Murray’s actual life is pretty close to the one portrayed in this film.
With three critically reviled films up next (Surviving Christmas, Four Christmases and Jim Carrey’s Grinch adaptation) it is good to kick off this year’s 12 Days of Christmas Films with a bit class. You can always rely on Bill Murray in the class stakes.