Friday, December 24, 2010
2010 years ago (give or take a few months or years), a baby named Yeshua was born. He would grow up to be a very popular reform rabbi. He was really cool (if a bit of a hippie), and said we should be nice to each other, which meant he had to get the ever-living shit killed out of him by the Romans. One thing led to another and now me and my fellow goys trip our balls off (not literally; well, not necessarily literally) every December when Rabbi Yeshua's official (but not real, he was born in July like Harry Potter) birthday comes around. Which is funny, for reasons I'm not prepared to explain.
With Christmas being the massive thing that it is, different types of people react differently to Christmas. In fact, in spite of Christmas tradition being as seemingly a monolithic thing as it is, there are as many ways to get through Christmas as there are people. With that in mind, the crack staff (of one crackhead) here at Movies By Bowes ™ has compiled a helpful list of Christmas movies, tailored to different types of moods. You're quite welcome.
First, a perfunctory nod to tradition:
Traditional 1.0: It's A Wonderful Life
It's certainly not a wonderful movie. It's A Wonderful Life is clunky, oppressively maudlin, not particularly deep, and about four years long. But, until fairly recently, people all insisted that it was awesome and tried like hell to pretend that they enjoyed it, and who knows? Some of them might not have been pretending. But I personally can't stand Frank Capra movies. They're all way too long, all full of gushy sentimentality and fuzzy religious shit, and they give me diabetes. His true calling, during World War II, was making propaganda movies, which were pretty effective, but his “non” propaganda work was just as specifically, manipulatively tailored toward producing specific emotions in the audience. It's a shame, because Frank Capra was a really interesting guy in real life and he genuinely loved what he did . . . I just can't get on board with the cat. It might be my fault, it might be his, it might be nobody's. But I'm not the only person who feels this way, and I'm certainly not the only person who was forced, by some asshole, to sit through It's A Wonderful Life “because it's Christmas.” You know what? I have a calendar. I know what day it is. I want to watch something else. Like . . .
Traditional 2.0: A Christmas Story
This is more like it. I'm very happy that people who run TV stations are apparently now under 90 and not assholes, because if something is going to be on loop all day, it might as well be this picture, with Bob Clark's neo-classical direction, Jean Shepherd's infectiously good-natured Americana narration, and a great cast who all totally mean it. Sure, it seems like it upholds all the materialistic shit about Christmas that's mildly lame in the wrong hands, but these are the right hands, and little Ralphie whipping himself into a frenzy over the BB gun that he wants somehow isn't annoying, which in and of itself is a sign of this movie's four-star, unqualified classic status. The end, where getting the thing isn't as perfect as he thought it was going to be, is handled well, and not cynically, but gently, reassuringly. This picture, if you observe Christmas (which I kind of do by proxy), gets the balance just right: it's something to be enjoyed. The fact that it's also a great movie, and really funny (“Fra-JEE-lay . . . it's Italian!”) is the star on top of the tree.
But what's that, you say? An iconoclast, are you? Looking for non-traditional fare? All right, you communistic heathen son of a bitch (or, in other words, my friend), just this once, you shall be indulged:
“It's Christmas and I want to see shit blow up”: Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, Die Hard 2
Hey, look, I feel you. I like watching things explode, too. But if you're going to take your action movie rum in a traditional glass of Christmas egg nog, do so with these three fine motion pictures, all set in Christmas season. As a bonus touch, if you're not feeling terribly Christmas-y, the first two are set in Southern California, one of the least Christmas-y places on the planet. Die Hard 2 has the traditional snow that gives “White Christmas” its name, but it's about the fakest fake snow ever committed to celluloid. Die Hard 2 also has the definitive Fred Dalton Thompson performance: as Trudeau, the southern-accented pillar of strength who runs the air traffic control tower, the former Senator Thompson joined the exalted ranks of actors who were so fucking great in a role that I only ever call them that ever again, alongside such luminaries as Mas (Takakura Ken in Black Rain), Eddie Sakamura (Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa in Rising Sun), O'Reilly (Dean Winters on OZ), and everybody on The Wire except Method Man. Trudeau reassures me. He's a benevolent presence. Kind, but firm. Kinda like a clean-shaven, Southern Santa Claus.
“I want to see shit blow up but I don't want to watch a good movie”: The Long Kiss Goodnight
Anyone else notice that everything Shane Black ever wrote takes place at Christmas? Not complaining or anything, just, you know. Everything Shane Black ever wrote takes place at Christmas. For the explosion aficionado who doesn't have the time to deal with a good movie, The Long Kiss Goodnight fits the bill. Don't get me wrong, I fucking love it, but it is a Renny Harlin picture, it does go full retard once Geena Davis gets her memory back, and the action shit at the end makes comic books look like Ken Loach pictures. Being a Shane Black script, there's plenty of wonderful, quotable dialogue, but not all of it makes a ton of sense, and once the action picks up, the wit disappears. But shit blows up, and for certain Christmas moods, that's very important.
“I'm hung over from too much egg nog and can't handle explosions; what do I do?”: Trading PlacesWell, as long as you're not so hung over that laughing hurts, because Trading Places is one of the funnier movies ever made. It's got Eddie at the peak of his powers, Dan Aykroyd playing a rich twit, the maestro John Landis conducting, a great supporting cast, and a fairly wonderful couple seconds of Jamie Lee Curtis' tits. It's a nice blend of old-fashioned comedic premise and modern-day execution (wait shit, it was 27 years ago? Fuck, where's that fucking egg nog . . .) making a kind of neo-classical form, that because it was 27 years ago already (grrrrrrrrr) establishes it as a classic in its own right. And also, for Christmas, a movie where the good guys win and the bad guys lose is kind of key. We can go back to being cynical on the 26th.
“I have a massive joint. Get it? I'm blazing trees on Christmas! Huh huh huh . . .”: Scrooged
Of all the movie versions of A Christmas Carol, this one tops them all, because it has Bill Murray. To further establish dominance, it was co-written by the legendary Michael O'Donoghue, one of my gods. Michael O'Donoghue is the author of the book How To Write Good, which is where I learned how to write good. In it are such wonderful pieces of advice as, if you're at a loss as to how to end your story, have everyone get run over by a truck (if your story is set in England, remember to have them get run over by a lorry). Also, to teach the art of exposition, O'Donoghue recommends heavy use of the phrases “As you know” and “Of course you remember” (the latter as in a man saying to a woman, while pointing to a child, “Of course you remember our son” as a means of identifying the child).
Scrooged is a giant mess that lurches around from hilarious comedy to genuinely dark to truly scary, but fuck it, not everything has to be all neat and tidy, and Scrooged is awesome, which invalidates all of your petty accusations of uneven tone. If you're not feeling as cynical as you think you are, Scrooged is a great Christmas movie, even if the end can be a bit much (though trying to figure out what Bill Murray is on for the last ten minutes of the movie is some of the deepest thinking a cineaste can do).
“Fuck you”: Bad Santa
Cuz sometimes there ain't nothin like some good old-fashioned nastiness. Dig the high concept: Billy Bob Thornton plays a mall Santa who, in association with a wiseass midget (Tony Cox), pulls heists. Who's on board? Me, that's who. Over the course of the movie, Billy Bob and Tony Cox run afoul of Bernie Mac (man, I miss Bernie Mac) and John Ritter (yeah, I kinda miss him too) and Billy Bob manages to teach a mildly retarded kid how to be a man, while the kid helps Billy Bob become a better man. Without, in the slightest, being remotely sappy or any of that fuckin bullshit.
Bad Santa radiates “fuck you” from the bottom of its cinematic heart. It's not for every Christmas mood; if you're already in a good mood, you should stay away, but if you're a little grumbly or lonely or if that bottle of Jim Beam is telling you “Hey, I ain't gonna drink myself,” pop it in. By weird nihilistic cynical alchemy, it's a real feel-good movie. But only if you were growling at the universe in general and telling it to fuck off first.
There are a few other worthies, I'm sure, but these should get you through most Christmas scenarios imaginable. Unless there are kids around. In which case, you're stuck watching Bambi and Thumper Save Santa Claus or whatever those short, noisy little fuckers are watching nowadays. But really, Christmas is for them, not you anyway. Just so long as you don't make them watch It's A Wonderful Life. They will hate you forever, and if they don't, you should hate them. On that note, Merry Christmas!