When thinking about the perfect Christmas movie, the first thing that usually springs to mind is that it absolutely must contain a couple of laboured explanations of commodities trading, a hooker with a heart of gold, some evil rich white guys, a good measure of blackface, a failed suicide attempt, a plot that pivots on the price of Frozen Concentrated Orange Juice (FCOJ) Futures and a finale where a man is raped by a gorilla. So well does Trading Places fit this age old formula that it’s surprising that people are still bothering to make Christmas films.
It’s impossible to celebrate Christmas until a couple of estranged stoners, on a mission to replace a Christmas tree, journey through New York City on Christmas Eve and encounter a violent Eastern European drug lord, become claymation characters after drinking spiked eggnog, join a stage performance of The Nutcracker starring Neil Patrick Harris, are saved from certain death by a lovestruck waffle making robot and accidentally shoot Santa. Although this film is puerile, offensive and morally questionable, it is certainly the most fun of any of the Christmas films I have watched so far and probably the one that most successfully contains some kind of Christmas cheer.
If anything captures the spirit of Christmas, it’s the angry booze fuelled gathering of a bourgeois family whose bitterness and loathing toward each other is palpable and who use charity as just another weapon to express their spite for one another. I would say that it’s unlikely that Arnaud Desplechin’s A Christmas Tale will replace Bob Clark’s similarly titled A Christmas Story as the go to cheery feel good Christmas movie of the masses, but it is quite an exceptional film, just one that is probably best watched around June. After all, just like pets, loathing and disgust are forever, not just for Christmas. A Christmas Tale is also a film which is impossible to discuss without giving the gift of quite detailed spoilers, so if you think that the passive-aggressive gathering of a French family who are tainted by hatred and betrayal is your kind of thing, you should probably watch the film before reading on.
Christmas is a time for peace on Earth and goodwill to all mankind, a time for giving and receiving, a time to remember others less fortunate than ourselves, but most of all it’s a time for endless remakes, reboots and reimaginings of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella A Christmas Carol. Richard Donner’s Scrooged is one such adaptation and it’s a hot mess. As with any competent Christmas film, Scrooged opens with Santa and his elves in a battle with armed terrorists, with a voiceover informing us “Psychos seize Santa’s workshop and only Lee Majors can stop them in… The Night The Reindeer Died”. It’s then revealed that we’re watching a television screen, which cuts to Robert Goulet crooning as he paddles along a swamp in the advertisement for Bob Goulet’s Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas. The final ad we see for Father Loves Beaver, is so brutally unsubtle it is basically a single entendre, which makes me laugh every time I see it, of course.
What says Christmas more than a movie that is quite possibly the prequel to Blue Velvet and is set over pretty much the course of an entire year? Well probably a lot of things, but Meet Me In St. Louis is the film that was drawn out of the hat, so here we go… Opening on a street with a horse-drawn carriage to let us know it’s ye olde times, we are taken into the Smith family home. Instantly we are drawn into a seemingly endless series of critiques on the flavour and texture of the soup. Rather than view this as some kind of Masterchef style cooking show critique as it seems to become over the course of a few minutes, I prefer to read it as the deeply cynical judgements of an angry screenwriter, bitterly pronouncing their characters as “too sour” or “too thick” and raising their middle finger to the upper middle class… Although I’m probably wrong about that.
Nothing says Christmas more than Bruce Willis in a wifebeater surrounded by explosions, shooting a bunch of European criminals. Die Hard is one of my favourite Christmas movies, for the simple reason that it’s a massively enjoyable movie that is coincidentally set somewhere around Christmas. Once you get past being bludgeoned over the head by the 80s anachronisms (in the first five minutes we see a series of terrifying hairstyles and fashion choices, Bruce Willis carrying his gun on the plane, people smoking in the airport, outrageous workplace sexual harassment and Bonnie Bedelia), you can settle into the exposition, which lets us know that we are in “California!” because people are apparently different there, that the Nakatomi Plaza is a state of the art building controlled by computers (which are probably not to be trusted), Bruce’s wife is [gasp] using her maiden name in the workplace and that they may or may not celebrate Christmas in Japan.
The stated aim of The Criterion Collection’s Eclipse Series is to curate a “selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple, affordable editions”, with each volume “a brief cinemateque retrospective for the adventurous home viewer”. Due to the relative obscurity of the majority of titles in this series, the films are DVD only and with prints of variable quality, however the real goal is to simply make these films available to a wider audience. The previous releases in the Eclipse Series have been divided between collections of lesser known films by important directors (Early Bergman, Silent Ozu, Late Ray, The First Films Of Akira Kurosawa) and collections of films from overlooked directors or movements (Travels With Hiroshi Shimizu, Three Popular Films By Jean-Pierre Gorin, Pearls Of The Czech New Wave, Nikkatsu Noir).
I think the fact that I watched all four of the different versions of Army Of Darkness contained in the amazing Scream Factory Army Of Darkness Collector’s Edition blu-ray package over the course of three days may give some indication of just how much I love this film. Over the years I have owned numerous versions of this film across pretty much every format and can now safely say that there is finally a definitive version and I can get rid of all of the other versions… Well, I can get rid of all of them except “The Necronomicon” blu-ray edition because that has some pretty cool packaging.
The Criterion Collection’s stated aim is that they are “dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest technical quality, with supplemental features that enhance the appreciation of the art of film”. Their success in this endeavour is reflected not only in oft-used phrases like “Criterion worthy” and “Criterion like” as a description of the quality of films and home video releases, but also by the very presence of the Criterion Blogathon of which this is part.