Top 5 Unconventional Holiday Film Classics

via BuzzFeedSixty-six years ago yesterday, It’s A Wonderful Life was released to the American public and despite losing RKO studios over $500,000 during its initial release, its legend has grown over the years and has become what many consider the quintessential holiday picture.  That it has persevered isn’t a terrible shock – it boasts one of the most iconic Jimmy Stewart performances in a career built out of them and delivers its message proudly and unambiguously (a hallmark of director Frank Capra’s films that has led some to dub them ‘Capra-corn’) with an ending that doubles as an affirmation for living.  So I understand fully why people would like to settle in for such an affirmation after a season of holiday shopping that is more likely to leave them in a state of existential panic.  

That said,  IaWL, Miracle on 34th Street, Charlie Brown and A Christmas Story have kept a stranglehold on our holiday film viewing for far too long, so what I would like to do here is propose an alternate brand of Christmas viewing for the more adventurous filmgoers who frequent this blog.  And why not start with one of the most heart-wrenching, glorious celebrations of the holiday spirit ever captured on film…


“But”, I can hear you saying already, “the film is only set during the holiday, it is in no way emblematic of the spirit of the season!”  To the contrary, good reader – is there any more powerful example of the seasonal axiom ‘’Tis better to give than receive’ than John McClane proving it ten times over as he cuts a bloody swath through Hans Gruber and his associates?  He even kindly gives Hans his wife‘s watch as a parting gift at film‘s end!  And I’d argue that Bruce Willis’ performance as our hero captures the ‘disheveled but willing to make an effort’ nature that truly embodies the season for most of us.   But if one of the most immaculately constructed films ever made doesn’t give you the holly jollies, then let me suggest…


Joe Dante’s paean to X-Mas anarchy features antagonists who perfectly encapsulate the unchecked greed and avarice that the holidays can unfortunately foster and then proceeds to blow them up in the microwave.  And look no further than the classic monologue delivered by Phoebe Cates’ Kate explaining her distaste for Christmas that lays this movie’s gooey, darkly comic heart bare.  Much like Die Hard, this film might not be an all-ages holiday treat, unless that is, your kids are awesome.  If more austere holiday fare is what you seek, then perhaps…


…will fit the bill.   Consider this the yang to Double Indemnity’s coal-black yin.  Once again pairing Barbara Stanwyck (the greatest actress of all time!) with Fred MacMurray (inventor of Flubber!), and backed by a sterling script from Preston Sturges (underrated genius!), this holiday romance features both actors at their best (Stanwyck plays damaged with a chance for redemption better than anybody ever will) as MacMurray plays the Assistant DA who bails Stanwyck’s petty shoplifter out of jail and takes her home to his family for the holidays, showing her a graciousness of spirit and warmth she was never provided by her own family.   If by this film’s pitch-perfect ending you find your heart insufficiently warmed, then let’s burn that sucker down with…


No offense to It’s A Wonderful Life, but it’s a pretender to the “best Jimmy Stewart holiday film” crown.   This, one of the best movies ever made by one of the best directors (Ernst Lubitsch) of all time, filled to the brim with humanity, compassion and heart.   The story may seem familiar (originally a stage play, it’s been retold as both In the Good Old Summertime and You’ve Got Mail over the years), but nobody has spun the tale as beautiful and humanely as Lubitsch and his brilliant cast.   Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart share exquisite chemistry as rivals who don’t realize the truth staring them right in the face and Frank Morgan (The Great and Powerful Oz!) provides dramatic heft to the proceedings as the emotionally frayed shop owner.   I truly believe this is one of the best movies ever made and that it happens to be set during and exemplifies the best of the holiday season is simply icing on the cake.   But I fear these selections have veered too far in the direction of the heart-filled and classic, so let’s wrap my suggestions up with…


Why bother with elegantly rendered, gorgeously constructed masterworks of cinema when you could opt for one of the most misguided, absurd and blatantly incompetent movies ever made?  The original Silent Night, Deadly Night made some waves after being pulled from theaters shortly after its release, with the PTA and film critics alike decrying the “killer dressed as Santa” premise.  And if you’re at all concerned that you haven’t seen the original before you’d delve into this crapsterpiece of a sequel, don’t worry, the majority of part two is the actual footage from part one being shown again under the guise of a series of flashbacks.  That said, you will get a nun decapitation thrown in there towards the end as well as the greatest psychotic rampage in the history of cinema (just hop on YouTube and type in ‘Garbage Day’ to get a taste).   And the original footage that does comprise the structure for the sequel features the greatest amateur acting performance of all time, as Eric Freeman takes what could’ve been (and honestly, still is) a craven cash-grab masquerading as a movie and elevates it to the level of fine art with his stilted line deliveries, awkward physicality and AMAZING facial expressions.   Unfortunately the filmmakers have still not been able to pin down Mr. Freeman ever since, but if they did, I would thank him for the greatest Christmas gift I’ve ever been given, which is his embodiment of one Ricky Caldwell in the most gloriously inept films ever made.

This of course barely scratches the surface of the truly varied and interesting films that one can watch at Christmastime in lieu of the same old, same old; for example, the gnarly Black Christmas, a holiday slasher flick made by the same man who brought you A Christmas Story or the more recent gonzo Finnish action-comedy Rare Exports, which rescues the darker folklore of Santa Claus from obscurity with European aplomb!  But  the films I’ve listed above are the real deal, and you just might find yourself creating a new holiday tradition if you give any of them a chance! 

Tom is Assistant Store Manager at our Brookfield, WI HPB.

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