Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Matted Screen's Top Ten Alternate Christmas Movies!

Well what better way to reboot The Mattedscreen than give to you lovely people my list of the top 10 Alternate Christmas movies! What is an Alternate Christmas movie? Pretty much any horror, sci-fi, comedy or action movie that takes place on or near the holiday and is also slightly inappropriate. A solid litmus test if you're wondering if in fact you are watching an Alternate Christmas movie, ask yourself the following: Does it have Bing Crosby either acting or singing? Does it feature Jimmy Stewart learning a valuable life lesson? Does it feature a plethora of violence, blood hungry monsters, or bullets zipping through the air and embedding themselves in the flesh of nondescript bad guys? If your answers to those questions were “No,” “No,” and “Yes,” you are in fact probably watching an Alternate Christmas movie of questionable family friendliness.

What are my 10 Alternate Christmas Movies? Glad you asked! With no further ado, and in no particular order of rank –

1: Die Hard – YES Die Hard. Big Bruce Willis way back when he had hair and the franchise didn't suck the bottom of a fish tank. This is perhaps my all-time favorite Christmas movie. There's drama, there's action, there's suspense and terror – this movie has it all! Also it is perhaps one of the best written screenplays ever, I kid you not. Just watch it, every bit of dialog or action in the beginning of the movie comes back full circle – the taking off the shoes – he has to run over floor of broken glass. I could go on and on about the awesomeness that is Die Hard but I think I'd lose you so I better get back to it.

2: Batman Returns – No, not the Dark Knight Rises – as much as that movie tried to be as awesome as this one – it just wasn't. No this one has the REAL Batman - Michael Keaton sporting a new Bat-Suit, a car that looks the same but can do a whole lot more, at Bat-Boat along with Danny DeVito as the Penguin, Christopher Walken being Christopher Walken with big spiky white hair, and best of all Michelle Pfeiffer as the best Catwoman to grace the big screen – although Lee Meriweather is still pretty damn amazing 47 years later. You get all these elements and you also have a Christmas movie on top of it! I remember it being intense for kids but then again these days you see parents bringing five year old kids to Man of Steel who seemed to love every minute of the intense mass destruction. So, if your kid is cool seeing an entire city wiped out, your little one can handle this.

3: Black Christmas (1974) – This one should be fairly obvious given that it has “Christmas” in the name, however the tragedy of this title is that most people either A: don't know it exists, or B: they dismiss it entirely or C: they accidentally pick up the shitty remake from 2006 and think they saw the real deal. Either A, B, or C – those are huge mistakes. This little gem from 1974 is a true holiday horror movie classic. Before Halloween, before Friday the 13th, this was the movie that made the idea of an innocuous, innocent, family-fun holiday terrifying. It features an outstanding cast in Olivia Hussy, Keir Dullea, A pre-Superman Margot Kidder, and the always bad ass awesome John Saxon at the whim of a serial killer that is slowly picking off coeds on a college campus during the titular holiday. Why is this one so scary to me? You never actually “see” the killer! Only his menacing voice over the telephone. Plus it's directed by Bob Clark – yes, that Bob Clark, the director of A Christmas Story!

4: Lethal Weapon – Yes, we have ourselves another action movie that takes place over the Christmas season, only this one beat Die Hard to the screen by a solid year. This tense little buddy-cop actioner features Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in their first outing in what would become their iconic roles as police sergeants Riggs and Murtaugh as they take down a drug smuggling ring in Los Angeles. Directed by Superman: The Movie and The Goonies director Richard Donner, this movie is tense and exciting from scene one and ups the anti when it comes to 80's action films. Not content to simply have our heroes walk into a situation guns blazing, this one takes the time to round out our two heroes exposing their flaws and weaknesses letting us the audience know they're human and at the same time make us care when bad things happen. Also this one was scripted by writer Shane Black who would create an entire sub-genre of action movies that take place over the Christmas holiday including The Long Kiss Goodnight, Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, and most recently Iron Man 3.

5: Gremlins – This is another fairly obvious pic on the list since just about every child born after 1985 has seen this movie at least once and knows that it takes place over the holiday. However, I stand by it as an alternate Christmas movie since it is so damn violent, creepy, disgusting, and hilarious! Directed by Joe Dante (The Howling) and written by Chris Columbus (Yes, the guy that made Home Alone 1 & 2, and directed the first 2 Harry Potter films!) features cute furry creatures that turn into evil green monsters if you manage to feed them after midnight. The plot tropes aren't important. What is important is that this movie is so dark in places that it kinda sucks your soul out of you while still being insanely funny.

6: Prometheus – Yes, that Prometheus! The pseudo-prequel to Alien is in fact a Christmas movie. While this movie has taken its beatings for its various plot holes and the depiction of its supposedly brilliant scientist characters who make grand leaps of logic and simply look left to find the thing they traveled light years to find – however, I dig it. While not the best sci-fi film ever made, it is one that is made up of big ideas that are too abstract to give a definitive answer to. Personally, I'd rather have a movie that has a lot of big ideas that raises a lot of interesting questions and makes no attempt to answer them than to have a movie that looks pretty but does nothing and is ultimately forgettable. Plus this one also brings director Ridley Scott back to the genre he helped define in Alien and Blade Runner. It's creepy, it's well directed, the effects are awesome, and the use of 3D is incredible! The “Med-Pod” scene alone makes owning a 3D TV set worth the sticker price.

7: The Searchers – While as of this writing I don't recall it actually taking place over Christmas – it covers pretty much every holiday during it's 2 hour run time as it features John Wayne tracking down his kidnapped niece and the renegade Indian Chief Scar who took her. The movie spans several years as Wayne's character Ethan and his 1/8 Indian nephew Martin literally hunt for their missing relative. The passage of time is marked by Ethan and Martin returning home empty handed only to see the people they've left behind grow older and progress without them. This John Ford classic western examines so many themes from the rampant racism of the era to the role of women in the family, to the role of men in the family with a deft touch that you rarely notice the lessons being learned by the characters. And that is perhaps why this movie makes the list. Like such classics as It's A Wonderful Life, this is a movie that features a whole cast of characters who start the movie one way and end it changed for the better. It counts as a Christmas movie in my book – if for no other reason than it gives me another excuse to put this in my blu-ray player.

8: The Brood – This David Cronenberg classic from 1979 might also stretch the “Christmas” theme a bit, but it does take place in the winter and it features one of the most messed up family dynamics put to screen. A father that only wants the best for his daughter is subject to the whim of his insane wife Nola (an incredible Samantha Eggar) and her psychiatrist Dr. Raglan (played by the always awesome Oliver Reed) who is administering a controversial treatment. Oh, also it features murderous mutant children that attack, maim, and murder people under the direction of Nola's subconscious. So there is that. Why does this count in my book as a Christmas movie? Well, sometimes visiting family can be a bit dramatic to say the least. There is the awkwardness of the re-connection and then the airing of grievances by a family member in a drunken stupor. And then there is the cold weather which like this movie, gives the holiday a sense of claustrophobia. So even if you want to get away – you can't!

9: Trading Places – Another comedy classic featuring some of the best work of SNL alums Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd is also a Christmas movie! I love this movie. It's still one of the funniest flicks to come out of the 80's. Lines like “Five dollars! Maybe I can go to the myself.” kill me every time I hear them. What helps this movie along is the fact that other than a handful of scenes, the laughs are for the most part played entirely straight. For those that haven't seen this one, I don't want to go into the plot too much since so many of the laughs hinge on the plot points, but suffice to say, I love this movie and it's one to watch each holiday season! - only maybe not with the little ones!

10: Scrooged – What would Christmas be without a little Dickens? Albeit updated to mid 1980's featuring a deadpan Bill Murray as a callow self absorbed television executive that is trying to produce a Christmas special, but doesn't give a crap about the holiday. This is dark material folks. Few get the humor in a movie this dark, and maybe it's telling of my sensibilities since I saw this as a child and thought it was funny as hell. In addition to Murray, we get fantastic performances from Karen Allen, John Forsythe, John Glover, Robert Mitchum, and Bobcat Goldthwait. There really isn't much point in going into the plot since it is “A Christmas Carol” only updated and made to work for 1980's yuppie excess culture. So if you like your satire subtle – this is the one to watch!

That is it ladies, gents, and germs! Sorry I've been away from you all for so long – I got really busy with the new job editing movies and writing press releases, but I'm hoping to get back to a regular thing with this. Probably not daily, but weekly should be possible! Go slow out there, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!