Film

Haul Out the Holly

Christmas is coming

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. Everywhere I go—which, to be honest, isn’t very many places. These days, most of my travel happens between my bedroom, living room and kitchen.

However, like most folks, I log more time being logged in than I once did, and what I have gleaned from friends in my network is where we once waited until closer to Dec. 25 to deck the halls, in 2020 all the rules are out the window and we have no chill left, which means Christmas starts now.

As you all know by now, my holiday season began weeks ago with Hallmark Christmas movies—and it hasn’t stopped since save for a brief Thanksgiving airing of Ocean’s Eleven while I was baking pumpkin cheesecake bars. Now that the countdown to Christmas has begun in earnest, I’ll queue up my personal playlist of holiday classics.

While I certainly watch my fair share of traditional Christmas movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, Miracle on 34th Street, and, of course, Die Hard, the ones I return to time and again are either not classics at all or enjoy a status that is best described as “classic adjacent.” Mind you, none of my favorites are highbrow cinematic fare—I’m not fancy like that. I’m just here to haul out the holly and have a good time.

One movie you’ll never find me suggesting on any list ever, unless it’s a compilation of movies that should be burned to ash and then that ash should be burned to dust: Love Actually. I think Lindy West said it best when she described it as being “the apex of cynically vacant faux-motional cash-grab garbage cinema” in her Pulitzer-worthy 2013 review titled “I Rewatched Love Actually and Am Here to Ruin It for All of You.”

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I can get down to the business at hand.

Every Dec. 25, after the presents have been opened, the family Skype calls have been made, and Amy Kepferle’s Christmas lasagna has been consumed, I end my holiday with a viewing of the 1988 Richard Donner comedy Scrooged. Sure, its jokes—and its fashion—are vintage 1980s and it certainly has its cringey bits, but what keeps me revisiting this modernish take on A Christmas Carol is not its surfeit of Christmas spirit, but instead its gleefully unhinged performances. The engineer of this crazy train is Bill Murray as Frank Cross (aka Ebenezer Scrooge)—and he veers off script and takes the film off the rails shortly after the opening credits and never quite gets back on track. Matching him scene for scene is Bobcat Goldthwait (remember him?), who is somehow the perfect copilot for this wild ride. Along the way, Carol Kane shows up to slap people around, Robert Goulet plays Robert Goulet, and no part of it makes a lick of sense. Kind of like Christmas itself.

On his way to a remarkable Hollywood comeback that would result in his anchoring the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. starred in a little-seen gem of a Christmas movie called Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It’s a hardboiled neo-noir that pays homage to the detective stories of Raymond Chandler set during a present-day holiday season in Hollywood. It’s whip smart, razor sharp—and packed with hilarious one-liners aplenty thanks to the nimble pen of screenwriter Shane Black. After finding considerable success writing Lethal Weapon scripts, Black fell out of favor in Hollywood. By the time he made Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he was a bit of an outcast, and so he made a film about outcasts and then cast it with a pair of outcasts, Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer, as its main characters. A modest hit, the film was well-received by critics and led to RDJ’s massive comeback—and then the Avenger paid Black back with a gig writing and directing Iron Man 3.

I was this many years old when I learned that Gremlins was not a Steven Spielberg film. In fact, I have written about it before, and I’m pretty sure I attributed it to Spielberg. Mea culpa. I was so wrong. The 1984 horror comedy—which is considered a Christmas classic by more people than just me—was directed by Joe Dante, and judging by the rest of his resume, he definitely peaked with this holiday creature feature. Spielberg did act as producer (and has a cameo in the film), while Chris Columbus (no, not that one) did duty as screenwriter. Columbus would go on to do a short stint behind the camera on National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation before leaving the production after scrapping with Chevy Chase, and followed that up with Home Alone and Home Alone 2, making him Hollywood’s King of Christmas. But before being at the helm for the hijinks of Kevin McCallister, Columbus wrote a story about a furry little creature called a mogwai, who would remain insufferably cute as long as it wasn’t fed after midnight. Cue the post-midnight snacking and all holiday hell breaking loose. It wouldn’t be Christmas without a little chaos, right?

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