Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The heroes and baddies of Christmas movies

It’s the time of year when Christmas movies are all over the telly. But none in the cinemas! There was a period about 10 years ago when there was always a Christmas movie out in theatres at this stage, usually starring Tim Allen and featuring some variation on the “cynical lawyer becomes Santa” story. But now Christmas has been banished to the Hallmark Channel.

Considering some of the stinkers I’ve seen in the last few years, this isn’t too surprising. There are a lot of truly awful Christmas films visited on the public as they lie on the sofa in a Quality Street-induced coma. But it’s a shame they’ve sunk so low because practically every writer has a Christmas movie in their drawer (I do, for one!)

So in honour of these seasonal shelf puppies, I thought I’d come up with my top five worst holiday films and the top five best:

The crimes against Christmas list

Four Christmases – I read the logline for this film long before it came out and thought it sounded like a fantastic idea for a high-concept Christmas movie. But the finished product was shouty, charmless and very, very low on laughs. A lot of talent - and a great initial idea – all wasted.

Deck The Halls – Kristin Chenoweth’s aggressive blonde trophy-wife aside, this is a really bad movie about two male neighbours fighting over who has the best Christmas lights on their house. Which if I remember correctly, was only a B-plot in Clark Griswold’s Christmas misery. Danny de Vito is given nothing to work with, script-wise, and I started falling asleep every time Matthew Broderick’s character came on screen. Rent Christmas Vacation instead.

Santa Baby – this is a jaw-droppingly bad film starring Jenny McCarthy as Santa’s cynical corporate daughter, who has to step up to the reins when her dad becomes ill. Everyone involved phones in their performance and it all looks like it was shot in a department store.

Mr. St. Nick - Kelsey Grammar was great as Scrooge in a straight adaptation for TV a few years ago. But he misfires in this one, where he’s a cynical newsman (can you sense there’s a theme here?) who becomes Santa. He also marries Ugly Betty’s sister in the end, even though (as my sister pointed out in outrage), they hadn’t even had a snog!

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause – I’m going to put this one in largely because they got rid of Bernard the Elf, the only character who made the previous two films worth watching. And hired Martin Short, who gives an utterly horrible performance in between making calls to his builder about his new house extension (I imagine).

And the goodies…

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – I’ve seen this practically every Christmas I can remember and it’s still funny. Not clever, mature or sophisticated. Just big laughs, and they keep coming. It’s a stone-cold classic that sends a shiver down the spine of anyone who ever agreed to host a family Christmas…

Scrooged – Bill Murray when he was the funniest man on screen. This is a great Christmas film because it’s not afraid to have a really dislikeable main character, and to show some really grim moments along the way. Vince Vaughn can only dream of starring in something this brilliant.

Home Alone – A John Hughes holiday movie with an underrated script, this film skirts a lot of potentially dark issues. A child left alone for Christmas, being terrorised by two creepy burglars? My mom practically cries with laughter at the bit where Joe Pesci tries to make it up a frozen set of steps and I don’t blame her. This is Macauley Culkin’s finest hour.

It’s a Wonderful Life – Again, a film which on the surface is loaded with sadness. A depressed man decides to throw himself off a bridge, only to see the effect his life has really had on others. Yet it’s one of the most heartwarming films ever made. Elf (another great Christmas movie) also had an on-the-bridge moment which I assume was in honour of It’s a Wonderful Life (only played for laughs).

Miracle on 34th Street – I don’t mind which version it is, this is a lovely film with a great story. Can we prove there really is a Santa! This is one film that always makes me choke up. Yes, I am a girl.

Happy Christmas and happy movie-watching!


Brett said...



Eilis Mernagh said...

Brett, you were right, Die Hard is a Christmas movie in my book. It nudged my top five, as did Gremlins.