Day 12 – It’s A Wonderful Life 8/10
‘Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.’
And so to the finale. It’s A Wonderful Life is far and away the most acclaimed Christmas film of all time so a fitting end to this series and a nice dose of sentimentality after two hours of Bruce Willis in a dirty vest.
#26 in the IMDB top 250 and with Oscars coming out of its arse like stuffing from a turkey, we are talking about the daddy of Christmas films. The strange thing is until the final half hour there is barely a mention of Christmas. The ending is so uplifting and famous though and that is what people remember. Director Frank Capra takes a long time to get to that point though. Taking over two hours to convey the message ‘be thankful for what you have’ could have been a little indulgent but it is the performance of Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey (surely one of the most likeable movie characters ever) that pushes this film along and keeps the viewer engaged.
It is a testament to the films quality that nearly 70 years and untold cultural shifts later It’s A Wonderful Life still stands up and will continue to find a new audience at Christmas time for years to come.
Day 11 – Die Hard 9/10
‘Now I’ve got a machine gun… Ho Ho Ho!’
A Christmas film in the loosest sense of the word in as much as it takes place vaguely around Christmas time, the real reason for its inclusion here was as an excuse to make my girlfriend watch it. If Christmas is about one thing it is forcing other people to do things they don’t want to do for your own selfish reasons…
For me as well though any excuse to watch Die Hard is always welcome. Not only is it the definitive action film but Bruce Willis’ John McClane is also the definitive action hero.
What makes Die Hard great is that it is not all about the main star as other action films tend to be. Fleshing out the supporting cast is loveable kid killer Al, who is McClane’s only route to the world outside of Nakatomi Plaza, Argyle the limo driver who manages to stay on the right side of offensive black stereotype (just), and of course the wonderful Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber – one of the most memorable villains in movie history.
Another distinction between Die Hard and its peers (including later movies in the series) is that it is somewhat grounded in reality. McClane is not a superhero but just a cop who with a lot of luck and street smarts manages to take down a criminal operation. Obviously the story is unlikely but nothing here is impossible.
All in all Die Hard is not just the best action movie of all time it is one of the greatest films period, which is why it is such a shame that the preposterous A Good Day to Die Hard exists at all.
Day 10 – Scrooged 8/10
‘Well, I’m sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.’
So to me what is probably the main event of this entire series. Bill Murray’s masterpiece (in Christmas movie terms) Scrooged.
Part remake, part spoof of the classic Dickins tale, Scrooged is a weird film even by 80s standards. Just as comfortable with cartoonish violence as with heart tugging emotional scenes, it could have been an utter disaster if not for Bill Murrays brilliant performance as the protagonist. Murray can make anything funny but he has a genuinely clever and witty script to work with here and there are countless laugh out loud moments. Crucially most of the effects are simple and effective and they still hold up today and the ones that don’t are so ridiculous it doesn’t matter that they look a bit dated.
Stinking the place out with a rubbish performance is Indiana Jones’ main girl Karen Allen who I suppose doesn’t have much to work with being as her character is such a massive wet lettuce and continual doormat for Murray but nearly every scene featuring Allen feels unnecessary.
Particularly memorable are the three ghosts with the ghost of Christmas past a particular success and Scrooged is worth viewing for the mental concept behind the ghost of Christmas future alone. Things had started to get a bit saccharine since it’s been a few days since Bad Santa but Scrooged was the perfect remedy for that and a good precursor for Die Hard tomorrow.
Day 9 The Santa Claus N/A
It turns out that watching 12 films in 12 days at this time of year is a logistical nightmare.My plan was to go out for a friends birthday, have two pints (wait for it to all blow over – wink), then return home for a civilised night with Tim Allen and Judge Reinhold. Instead what transpired was, I had seven pints of real ale, stumbled home leathered and stared incomprehensibly at Tim Allen’s smirking face for forty five minutes before giving up and going to bed.
I really tried to follow what was going on but at one point I was seeing double Tim Allen’s and literally nobody wants that.
Day 8 – Jingle All The Way 3/10
‘You can’t bench press your way out of this one’
If you showed this film to somebody now who had no knowledge of Arnold Schwarzenegger they would be so baffled as to why this ever got a cinematic release. I haven’t seen an Arnie flick for a number of years and I had never before realized how much of a truly terrible actor he really is. Obviously I still love him, not just for kitsch value but for the huge part he played in my childhood. You can’t argue with Terminator & T2, Predator, Running Man, Total Recall etc… You can however argue with Jingle All The Way.
The highlight of this film from a technical stand point was when I nodded off for ten minutes and had a dream that I lived in a wooden shack with a lovely old loyal dog. I awoke to one of Arnie’s three facial expressions staring back at me. Truly when you stare deep into Arnie… Arnie stares back into you.
As with Elf, this is not a film I had the pleasure of viewing as a kid and while I am really glad I finally watched it as it is definitely an experience there is no denying it is just awful. To be fair this is a film completely of its time that would never be made today but it is a pretty fair indication of the 90s culture that seemed to result in every single idea anyone had immediately being turned into a feature film.
Jingle All the Way is a kids film that features a man explicitly trying to have sex with his neighbours wife. It takes in a genuinely offensive racial slur (shaking like a dog in a Chinese restaurant). The acting, script and execution are truly terrible all the way through. It is however, a film that when I compiled this list for the 12 days of Christmas films was one of the most requested so director Brian Levant (responsible for such masterpieces as Problem Child 2 and The Flintstones Movie) obviously did something right.
Day 7 – National Lampoons Christmas Vacation 7/10
‘Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.’
Christmas Vacation is the third of National Lampoon’s… Vacation series and I must admit before beginning I haven’t seen any of the others so there is probably loads of stuff that passed me by here. I still love this movie though and it is in my top five Christmas films. Unlike the cloying sweetness of stuff like Miracle on 34th Street and Elf, Christmas Vacation is closer to a real family Christmas what with the turkey being ruined, the Christmas lights not working and putting up with borderline insane relatives for days at a time. It’s also a bit different as it ends on Christmas Eve so doesn’t have the big Christmas day pay off that renders all the films in this genre a bit samey.
As it came out in 1989 Christmas Vacation is obviously a little bit dated now (animated intro anyone?) but when you have Randy Quaid and comedy God Chevy Chase heading up the cast the majority of jokes are going to land and there are many laugh out loud moments along the way. The kind of Christmas film I imagine Scrooge would enjoy.
Day 6 – Elf 6/10
‘You sit on a throne of lies!’
Elf is the first film on the list that is neither new to me or beloved from my childhood. I was about sixteen when I first saw Elf so I was too busy listening to Slipknot and wearing black nail varnish to have any time for Christmas films (apart from maybe Black Christmas or A Nightmare Before Christmas...) so Elf passed me by at the time. I did catch it a couple of years later but I wasn’t that impressed and I have to say after a second viewing it still didn’t do a great deal for me.
Anchorman and Everything Must Go aside, I’m not actually that into Will Ferrell and he is consistently loud and irritating as Buddy. Being flanked by Zooey Deschanel who always toes the line between adorable and downright annoying doesn’t really help either and it is telling that the funniest scenes are the ones that Ferrell isn’t in at all (The brilliant scene where Peter Dinklage is pitching children’s literature ideas and the funniest part of the movie where the interviewee is in love with the television reporter).
James Caan looks at Ferrell with as much disdain as I felt towards the character so I enjoyed the scenes between the two more than the stuff involving Ferrell prancing around making noise.
Elf is the film I have enjoyed least on this list so far but I’m sure it is loved by people who grew up watching it.
Day 5 – Miracle on 34th Street (1994) 7/10
‘I’m not just a whimsical figure who wears a charming suit and affects a jolly demeanour. You know, I’m a symbol.’ – Santa Claus/Batman
Day five of 12 days of Christmas films and I feel like I have eaten the cinematic equivalent of a full selection box so sickly sweet, that it is all becoming too much for a cynical, miserable old turd like myself. Miracle on 34th Street is the most traditional and festive film yet and at nearly two hours long it did get a bit much towards the end. However Richard Attenborough really is superb as Kris Kringle. If Santa is real I want him to be like this. I firmly believe it would feel really safe and warm sitting on Attenborough’s knee. He even cracks a few jokes. Banter Claus if you will.
It is weird seeing Saint Nick in a courtroom drama but those scenes are probably the best in the movie with dreamy lead Dylan McDermott also putting in a strong performance as the lawyer defending Santa. That little girl from Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire is adorable once again but it is a smart move to fade her character out a bit in the second half as I think she would have started to grate on me eventually.
Miracle on 34th Street has absolutely no edge and it takes zero risks but sometimes a straight up heart warming fable is called for and never more so than at Christmas.
Still waiting for the dark crossover sequel A Nightmare on 34th Street where Kringle is burnt to death by local residents and he comes back in a green sweater and emerges from the fireplace with knives for fingers to murder the children.
Day 4 – Home Alone 8/10
‘Keep the change ya filthy animal!’
The first movie on the list that isn’t specifically about Christmas but it does take place over the Christmas period and features various xmas songs on the soundtrack.
Writer John Hughes had barely put a foot wrong what with the success of his much loved Shermer films Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, Weird Science etc but it was with Home Alone that he really hit the jackpot.
Home Alone is still in the top 50 highest grossing films worldwide and it made a huge star of Maculey Culkin albeit briefly. The real stars of Home Alone however are the hapless and brilliantly named Wet Bandits portrayed by the always hilarious Joe Pesci, and Daniel Stern. I have also loved John Candy since seeing Cool Runnings and Uncle Buck as a kid so his cameo as Gus Polanski – polka king of the Midwest – is also a plus point.
Culkin is certainly confident and he has a certain charm but it is difficult to see why he became such a massive star on the strength of this film. I much prefer Devin Ratray as Culkin’s bullying older brother Buzz. I have often longed for a spin off pairing Buzz up with Biff Tannen from Back to the Future where they go on a spiritual and existential journey but alas nothing has materialized.
Home Alone is not a brilliant film from a technical stand point but it is a real, bona fide classic and for many people of my generation it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.
Day 3 – Bad Santa 8/10
‘Why don’t you wish in one hand, and shit in the other. See which one fills up first.’
After the saccharine sweetness of Santa Claus, Billy Bob Thornton’s anti Claus is a welcome change of pace. If you are looking for something a bit risqué but still Christmassy then don’t watch this. Especially don’t watch it with your family. If you want to see Santa drinking, smoking and whoring his way across the advent calendar though then look no further than Bad Santa.
Thornton is superb as mall Santa Claus and thief, Willie. He is disgusting, foul mouthed and by all accounts a truly terrible person but Thornton somehow makes him likeable to the point that in the genuinely emotional conclusion I was actively rooting for him. It is a testament to the quality of Thornton’s performance that even though Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson were considered for the lead role, I don’t think anyone could have pulled this off as well as Thornton does. Brett Kelly is also superb as The Kid that acts as Willie’s potential salvation, matching Thornton’s scowl with blank nothingness. Elsewhere Bernie Mac is a pleasure as always displaying more humour with one look of disdain than Chris Tucker could with a thousand loudly screeched sentences.
The most Christmassy thing about Bad Santa is the score which is made up entirely of well known classical music including stuff from The Nutcracker which I always assume has something to do with the festive season despite knowing nothing about it (and being too lazy to research it properly).
This was director Terry Zwigof’s follow up to much loved cult classic Ghost World but for me Bad Santa is more cohesive and definitely funnier if not as quirky. If you have nobody to pull your cracker with and you find yourself surrounded by empty beer cans and overflowing ashtrays this Christmas let Bad Santa make you feel better about yourself.
Day 2 – Santa Claus 7/10
‘Santa Claus doesn’t tell lies’
Santa Claus plays like three very different movies all squashed into one. The first is like a Marvel origin story for Santa complete with tragic beginnings and rebirth. This film takes place entirely at the North Pole and is about as Christmas as anything could ever be. The set looks like the ghost of Christmas present has been sick everywhere so resplendent is it in red, green and gold.
The second part is a truly terrible piece of cinema about Santa befriending the most orphany orphan since Oliver Twist upon which time all sorts of sickly, heart warming events transpire.
The third and most brilliant plot line involves a rogue elf unwittingly teaming up with an unspeakably evil toy executive to try and respectively save Christmas and make loads of money by blowing up children. This is as brilliant as it sounds especially with John Lithgow channelling his inner (Jolly Saint?) Nic Cage with a wonderfully over the top performance as the exec.
On a serious note though Santa Claus is all heart and crucially Dudley Moore respects the role of Patch the Elf (in the same way Michael Caine did with Scrooge in Muppets Christmas Carol). Sure it’s sentimental and some of the acting is atrocious and one moment of product placement featuring McDonalds is so blatant that I half expected Santa to eagerly proclaim ‘I’m loving it’ into the camera with a cheeky wink, but isn’t that what Christmas is about? Sentimentality and crass consumerism? Humbug!
Day 1 – Muppets Christmas Carol 10/10
There is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to Christmas films. You can’t look at one Christmas film and say that is definitely better than another one. Your preference depends on what you were brought up on. Just as there is no answer to the Coco Pops vs Sugar Puffs debate, one could not provide an unequivocal winner in a battle between Scrooged and Miracle on 34th Street. For me you can forgot the tree going up, the Coca Cola advert or my Dad starting to drink a single malt with every meal, Christmas begins when I watch The Muppets Christmas Carol.
Before Adventure Time and Pixar, The Muppets followed the trail blazed by Looney Tunes in not talking down to children. Muppets Christmas Carol takes in themes of omniscience, death, regret and redemption while still staying faithful to Dickins’ beautiful prose. Perhaps if Disney had taken a leaf out of The Muppets book they wouldn’t be producing such turgid affair as Frozen.
At the heart of this anthropomorphic retelling of the Dickins classic is a wonderful performance from Michael Caine as Scrooge. He plays it straight and adds gravitas to the heavier scenes towards the end shared with the ghost of Christmas yet to come (always the life and soul of the party).
The juxtaposition of classic literature with familiar Muppets classics such as heckling old men, singing mice and talking frogs, always seems surprisingly natural and it never jars. The songs are mostly on point, even when Michael Caine starts warbling like someone’s uncle at a New Years Party and because of the aforementioned refusal of The Muppets to patronize the audience there are many genuinely laugh out loud moments throughout.
For me Muppets Christmas Carol simply IS Christmas and perhaps for the first time ever on this blog I am not afraid to use the word magical.