Here at Electroshadow, we love Christmas. Especially the cultural aspects of the occasion. It’s such a warm, cheerful celebration, and those carols are catchy as heck. While crass commercialism has unfortunately overwhelmed the original meaning of Christmas, there is room for Santa and the Savior to be honoured side-by-side.
We say, honour the values of the season by watching a movie! Not just any movie, of course. Christmas-themed films can put you in the mood better than any gaudy mall display or drunken office party. There are so many choices out there, starting from classics like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “A Christmas Carol”. Can’t fail with those. Electroshadow presents 5 films that we consider essential viewing for X’mastime. Here are our own favourites, in no particular order (except the last — that’s our absolute favourite. Ever. Hands down)…
If you’re looking for a modern-day feel-good fantasy, look no further. “Love Actually” is 100% pure fairy tale, set in an alternate universe where an ugly loser can walk into a bar and get picked up by a bevy of babes, the British Prime Minister is a dashing gentleman of upstanding moral fibre, and love is always enough to save the day. Like the title implies, it’s a celebration of love in all forms: compassion, lust, unconditional, unrequited, and unabashed. In the true spirit of the season, the movie takes a very bright, hopeful view of mankind. It’s also pretty funny, with likable performances by the huge ensemble cast, led by Hugh Grant, Colin Firth, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy and Keira Knightley. Director Richard Curtis scored a real winner with this one, and it’s gone on to be a perennial favourite for many people.
Wait, a horror-comedy about destructive, malicious monsters who cackle in the face of propriety and goodwill? Featuring one of the most depressing stories about Santa Claus ever? (See the video below) How could this be essential viewing for anyone but anarchists? Because it features what is inarguably the single greatest Christmas present of all time: Gizmo the Mogwai! When I watched “Gremlins” as a kid, I remember pestering my parents incessantly for Gizmo as a birthday present. When they switched to default Ignore-The-Annoying-Delusional-Brat mode, I resorted to Plan B: have my aunt give me one for Christmas. It was only (much) later that the realisation hit me. Mogwais do not actually exist. At which point I switched to Plan C: a stuffed toy replica of Gizmo will do.
Decades later, my wish remains unfulfilled. But the movie still remains on my list of must-see holiday starters. It’s a lot of fun, has some cool creature designs & effects, and has loads of festive feel. Ultimately, you can’t hate the gremlins because they’re just out to have a good time. Anyone with kids can testify that it’s pretty much the same as having gremlins in the house, wreaking havoc and generally driving adults crazy. Especially with ridiculous pressie demands.
This was billed as a family movie without the family. The nice thing is that it taught kids (and some parents) the importance of togetherness. At the beginning of the story, Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) is a selfish tyke who thinks his family is annoying. The feeling is mutual for them. Of course by the end of it all, everyone learns their lesson. At the expense of the nasty but dim-witted Wet Bandits, played by Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. “Home Alone” is one of those flicks that works much better for children than it does for adults, mainly due to the simplistic characters and juvenile humour. Slapstick is a tricky thing, since if it’s layered on too thick it can land on the wrong side of silly. This movie straddled a very thin line, and in some ways it hasn’t aged well at all. But its simple charms haven’t been completely lost to time. Some of the gags are still side-splittingly funny, and Culkin is fantastic. He’s just precocious enough to be a believable 8-year old, without becoming irritating. It’s a great movie to sit down and watch with a younger audience, as it’ll make you feel young again. Try it.
Now this is definitely not a movie for young eyes. At first glance it’s not even appropriate as a Christmas movie. Its main character is a guy who plays a department store Santa for a living. But that’s just a cover he uses to rob the stores blind on Christmas Eve. Willie is a foul-mouthed, unreformed ex-convict with a serious drinking problem and a deep-seated sense of self-loathing. He has almost zero redeeming qualities. Which makes his journey to redemption all the more satisfying. Billy Bob Thornton does a great job playing this very complex and unsympathetic character, giving him sparks of humanity in the unlikeliest instances. “Bad Santa” features some superb comedic moments and characters, including Marcus the midget, who is Willie’s partner in crime (he plays the store elf). If there is hope for someone as screwed up as Willie, then there is hope for all of us.
The ultimate benchmark for the action genre is also one of the best films to watch for the festive season. Ever. It’s extremely profane and unflinchingly violent, but its heart is definitely in the right place. It’s no coincidence that “Die Hard” is set during Christmas. The movie’s underlying spirit is one of faith, forgiveness and brotherhood. Then of course, there’s the whole good triumphing over evil bit. Although truth be told, there’s a small part of every guy that secretly roots for the bad guy to succeed in his plan. He’s just so darn charming. Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman, a double entry on this list with “Love Actually”) is the coolest villain to ever grace the silver screen, in my book. And the filmmakers knew what they had on their hands right from the start. So much so that they gave him his own little moment of triumph. When the safe vault containing millions is finally cracked open by the band of thieves, Hans is bathed in a halo of white light, the look of a kid on Christmas morning forming on his face while Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” soars like angelsong. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating criminal behavior. But damn, that scene summed up the pure joy of receiving like no other X’mas movie.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a very good night of movie-watching! Ho! Ho! Ho!*
*Now I have a machine gun.