It's that time of year: the tree is up, the lights are lit, and people are shopping. And with the holiday season come the holiday movies. From time-tested classics like It's a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th St, to newer additions to the canon, like A Christmas Story and Home Alone, the airwaves (bandwiths?) will be clogged with holiday cheer.
Nothing against the fine films listed above, but we here at The Maddow Blog Film Club would like to provide you with a few alternatives. We have a feeling they may be useful:
1-A Christmas Tale
Not to be confused with A Christmas Story, which will be playing in a loop for 24 hours, A Christmas Tale is Arnaud Desplechin's film from 2008. Desplechin has been building his reputation in international cinema for several years, and A Christmas Tale finds him in peak form. The synopsis reads like a list of holiday-film cliches (a fractured family reunites over the Christmas season as they deal with their matriarch's terminal-cancer diagnosis), then subverts them all by turning out to be awesome. It's cast includes Catherine Deneuve, (if you don't know of her, she's kind of like the rest of the world's Meryl Streep), and Mathieu Almaric, who American audiences will recognize as the bad guy from the last Bond film, and film-nerds will recognize as one of the leads from Desplechin'sKings and Queen. The film feels so overstuffed it's amazing that it works: it features unrequited love, sex, excessive drinking, estranged sons, terminal diseases, fireworks, family fist-fights at the kitchen table, Christmas, France, and subtitles (unless, of course, you speak French). I've been watching it every December since I first saw it a few years ago. You should, too.
You can find it on Netflix, or in a wonderful edition from The Criterion Collection.
Three more after the jump...
Ah, 1988. Before this was released, if someone asked "Do you want to see the new Bruce Willis movie?" the proper response was "That guy from Moonlighting?" Yes, this is the film that defined the action movie for a generation, but its easy to forget that's it's also a Christmas movie. From Argyle blasting Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis" after picking John McClane up at the airport, through Hans Gruber's team of "terrorists" crashing the Nakatomi Christmas party, to McClane using gift-wrapping supplies to create a makeshift holster for his gun, Die Hard is indeed overflowing with the spirit of the season. It might be just the thing you need after a long Secret Santa session at the office holiday party.
3- Children of Men
The premise is awesome: in the near-future, humans are no longer able to conceive children. As the years go by, society begins to collapse. Then, miraculously, one girl is carrying a child, and its up to Clive Owen, a former activist, to shepherd her through a collapsing dystopia to a team of scientists working to save the human race. The film is from 2006, and is packed with shades of the Bush II-era political landscape: illegal immigration, war, "Homeland Security," terrorism... the list goes on. But director Alfonso Cuaron treats them the same way he treats the ingenious facets of his totally believable vision of the future: as part of the detailed world the characters inhabit. The film works as an action film, as a political allegory, as one of the best science fiction films of the past decade, and as something of a bravura technical cinematic achievement (several key sequences are shot in unbroken, single-shot takes, one of which is so jaw-dropping that it defies description.)
So... the birth of a child heralding the salvation of all of humanity? Sounds like a Christmas movie to me. Added bonus: the mother of the child is an unwed illegal immigrant. In other words, this was not on the GOP's "Best of 2006" list. It did make ours, however.
While it is now commonly accepted as a classic, when Joe Dante's subversive film was released it caused something of a stir by being a children's film that was in fact too scary for children. In addition to being simultaneously genuinely scary and genuinely funny, Gremlins is also a Christmas film. It's opening sequence is an homage to It's a Wonderful Life, and it features the Maddow Blog Film Club's favorite holiday monologue:
Added bonus: that's Glynn Turman as Mr Hanson, the science teacher, whom fellow Wire-heads will recognize as Mayor Royce.
Let us know if you have any favorite alternative holiday films that we missed!