Now that it’s officially December and all, we are socially obliged to stop moaning about pre-Christmas festivities. Whilst shop dressings have been telling us so for months now, it is just starting to look like Christmas and for some of us, it has come a little too soon. What is it with Christmas? Sure, the food’s good and it’s nice to see lights and all but does that mean that we have to be jolly, chuckling and merry all month long?
Apparently yes. If, unlike the whole of the media and the Christmas-celebrating population, you have a normal appreciation of Christmas, you are delegated to the grumpy corner. If you don’t wear Christmas jumpers and buy overpriced generic Christmas branded coffee, you are not taking part in the spirit of the season. You are that grumpy friend, called upon during Christmas parties and marvelled at like you’re the star attraction of a freak show. Embrace it, I say.
Don’t worry, not everyone is against you. In fact, many people believe Christmas could and, indeed, should be something other than we are told it has to be. If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the festive season, why not take a look into one of these films which have a somewhat different idea of what Christmas time should involve.
We should start at the beginning, I’ve heard it’s a very good place to start. Die Hard is probably the first non-Christmas-Christmas-film that will pop into anyone’s mind. Bruce Willis is on top form as the ruggedly flawed policeman attempting to thwart the evil plot of Hans Gruber and his bunch of merry thugs. (On a separate note, why is the villain always European?) In truth, the film has nothing to do with Christmas season at all, merely using the holiday as a backdrop for more interesting action. But hey, what could make you feel more warm and fuzzy than a series of sweaty, tense action sequences?
Set in 1960s New York, Billy Wilder’s festive film is hardly the most uplifting of tales. Playing the biggest push-over on film (on whom The Simpsons’ Gil was apparently based), Jack Lemmon’s Bud Baxter allows senior members of his company to use his flat for extra-marital affairs in the hopes of climbing the career ladder. Of course, Bud is in love with the hopelessly unreachable elevator girl of his office, who in turn is in love with another man. Hilarity ensues. Or not. Culminating in two suicide attempts, one missing person and a whole lot of unrequited love, The Apartment isn’t your typical Christmas film. Watch it until the end, though. It will make you feel warmer than any Christmas card ever could.
In Bruges takes place in perhaps one of the most Christmassy places in the entire world and yet, is remarkably unaware of the festive season. The film follows two Irish hitmen who flee to the Belgian town after completing a job. Apparently, gangsters are unaware of picturesque Christmas spots. The pair’s tranquility soon spirals out of control and, inevitably, culminates in further death and destruction. In Bruges is unabashedly anti-Christmas, taking no notice of the season and somehow continuing to ruin it for everyone else. If you want to destroy Christmas, too, this film is for you.
The Hudsucker Proxy
Of course, you can’t have an alternative list without mentioning the Coen brothers. When it comes to offbeat, satirical humour, the pair are unparalleled. Set in a very stylised New York, the film tells the plot of a greedy fat cat businessman who hopes to take control of a business by devaluing its stock. He employs a hopeless graduate to front and, he hopes, sink their business but whaddyaknow, the hopeless schmuck hits on a genius idea! At the time, the film was criticised for its empty glamour and lack of heart. The film is cynical but with purpose and perhaps filmgoers rejected it at the time as they recognised their own consumerist tendencies in the plot. Whatever the case, the film is worth a watch at Christmas, especially if you’re feeling undervalued by those around you.
Eyes Wide Shut
Who better to ring the Christmas bells than Stanley Kubrick? His final and critically uneasy film Eyes Wide Shut is not the most obvious Christmas film, using, as so many other did, the Christmas season as merely a backdrop to his plot. Weaving an often incomprehensible plot, the film’s got it all, from sexual intrigue to secret societies to extra marital affairs. Your classic Christmas, really. With a closing line uttered inappropriately loudly in a children’s toy shop, the film is as anti-Christmas as you would want something to be.
Don’t let the name fool you, this 1959 film is less about Father Christmas than it is about the Devil. No, really. Propelling Santa Clause into the farthest reaches of space, the film sees the classic holiday figure in battle with an evil demon intent on making all children do evil. Truthfully, this is a film only for the very cynical, turning everything light and happy about the holiday season into a queasy, nightmare situation. As long as everyone’s happy….
Distant Voices, Still Lives
Not a Christmas film per se, Terrence Davies’ semi-autobiographical film contains a short but entirely accurate portrayal of a real family Christmas. Set in 1940s Liverpool, the film shows Davies’ own childhood memories, fictionalised and reduced to a feature length film. Despite the overwhelming bleakness of his rocky childhood, the moment in question is surprisingly warm. There is nothing exceptional about the scene and perhaps that’s why it works so well; as the community sings carols together and smoke cigarettes, you are reminded of your own unexceptional but equally unforgettable Christmases. Unlike traditional Christmas films which push the holiday to its extremes, presenting flawlessly produced family scenes of the day, Distant Voices, Still Lives quietly shows the day for what it is: Brief, slightly strained and loving. And there’s nothing wrong with that.