I love old movies, but even the first time I saw It’s A Wonderful Life I gagged on the sappy, daft storyline and banal message. Yes, the world’s a better place because you’re in it, dear reader, but really? This has become the go-to film for Christmas? Can I stop yawning now?
To be fair, I’m not Christian nor was I raised in a Christian household. I enjoy singing Christmas carols and appreciate the cheer and goodwill of the season, even if I watch askance at the capitalist excess and fist fights at Black Friday sales. A holiday about a so-called Prince of Peace subverted by a battle to get the best, the coolest, the “stuff” that says “yes, I’m a loving parent”?
That’s the backstory. When Big Hollywood asked me about my favorite Christmas films I balked, predictably, and said “not so much.” Instead, my list of five films that even us non-Christian, non-Christmas celebrating movie fans can enjoy…
The Hebrew Hammer (2003)
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What, you want serious? Oy! Here’s the story: Mordechai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg) is The Hebrew Hammer, an orthodox Jew who is on a mission to save Hanukkah from Santa Claus’s evil son Damien (Andy Dick), who has killed his dad after Santa got overly liberal. Now Damien is on a campaign to get rid of the Jewish holiday altogether. That’s okay; the Hebrew Hammer joins forces with the Jewish Justice League and the Kwanzaa Liberation Front to kill Damien and save Hanukkah. Hurray!
Jack Frost (1997)
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A killer snowman terrorizes a small town during Christmas. Turns out he’s a reincarnated serial killer! Hair dryers, use your hair dryers! I mean, really, how can you not like a holiday B-movie with the tagline “He’s Chillin… and Killin!”
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
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A fascinating and innovative stop-motion animated film produced by Tim Burton, the movie tells the tale of Jack Skellington (voice of Chris Sarandon), the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, who stumbles into Christmas Town and is startled by the idea of a positive, happy holiday. He tries to get the residents of Halloween Town to put on a Christmas celebration, but they can’t quite seem to get it right…
Trading Places (1983)
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See that homeless guy? Yeah, let’s bet money that the rich guy can’t swap places with him and survive. The rich guy is Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) and the wiseass homeless guy is Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy, in one of his best roles), and they’ve become the victims of a cruel holiday season bet by a pair of callous millionaires. While there are a lot of laughs in this irreverent film, there’s also a thoughtful undertone about how we are products of our environment, particularly when Billy Ray first walks through his palatial new digs.
Holiday Inn (1942)
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Bing Crosby. Fred Astaire. Virginia Dale. How can you go wrong, especially when you throw in music by Irving Berlin, including the mainstay “White Christmas” and the, well, rather dated musical number “Abraham”? The storyline: Jim (Crosby) and Ted (Astaire) are vaudeville performers who work at an inn that only opens on holidays and vie for the affection of beautiful Virginia (Dixon). Fun, fluffy, inoffensive, and way better than It’s a Wonderful Life. Trust me on this.
And a few to avoid…
Other than the obvious cloying Christmas movies, here are a few that I’ll just mention in passing as films I’ll switch off — or flip to the Home Shopping Network for relief — rather than watch: Christmas with the Kranks, Elf, Fred Claus, Miracle on 34th Street, The Polar Express and Silent Night Deadly Night.
Bah, humbug. Where’s my DVD collection when I need it?