Each year at Christmas time, we tend to watch the same holiday movies – whether it’s Elf, Home Alone or It’s A Wonderful Life. Or we stick to the TV specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Raindeer or The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. For many of us, watching these classic movies is a holiday tradition. But, let’s be honest, it can get a bit boring year-after-year. If you can recite every line from Scrooged or Miracle on 34th Street, chances are you need to shake things up. To help, we have assembled a list of ten unconventional Christmas movies that, while different, are still worth watching over the holiday period. Many of the movies on this list are classics in their own right. If you’re tired of the same old Christmas movie fare, you may want to consider watching one of the following films instead:
10. Eight Crazy Nights (2002)
Adam Sandler nailed it on Saturday Night Live with his infamous “Hanukkah Song,” and he took his love of the Jewish holiday to its logical conclusion in 2002 with the animated film Eight Crazy Nights, which obviously focuses more on the Jewish celebration rather than the traditional Christian holiday that most movies use. Take that Polar Express! Yet despite being an animated movie, Eight Crazy Nights is definitely adult oriented, and features lots of typical Adam Sandler humor, as well as topics ranging from alcoholism to depression. It concerns an alcoholic punk named Davey Stone (Sandler) who is facing ten years in prison unless he performs community service and helps to referee several youth basketball games. The charm of this movie comes from the eventual evolution of Adam Sandler’s character into a decent guy. But it takes a while. And along the way we are treated to some funny and raunchy animated scenes. A new version of the “Hanukkah Song” is featured at the end of the film.
9. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
If you’re in the mood for a more cerebral thriller, or looking to spice up your love life, consider watching Eyes Wide Shut over the holidays. The last film directed by famed director Stanley Kubrick, it takes place in New York City during the Christmas holidays, and the tension between the main characters (played by then-real life husband and wife Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman) begins at a Christmas party. Kubrick is a master of lighting and he uses it to full effect in this movie – especially as he employs Christmas lights on the dark, dank streets of Manhattan. Of course, this movie is really about sex and obsession, not Christmas. But it nevertheless takes place at Christmas time and the deterioration of the marriage in the film is made more poignant and sad by the fact that it is happening during the holidays. We did say unconvetional, after all.
8. Trading Places (1983)
For a straight up comedy, they don’t come much funnier than Trading Places. The movie cemented the star status of both Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. But, in addition to being seriously funny, this film is also a great Christmas movie. Set over the holidays, it shows what happens when a rich, spoiled stockbroker (Aykroyd) switches fortunes and places with a low level street hustler (Murphy). The scene where Dan Aykroyd is reduced to a drunken Salvation Army Santa Claus is one of the funniest in the film, and the whole reversal of fortune situation is made more acute by the fact that it takes place over the holidays – with poor Dan Aykroyd literally left out in the cold and forced to look in at the privileged life he used to enjoy and took for granted. A comedy classic that should also be considered a Christmas classic.
7. Batman Returns (1992)
If you’re hankering for some superhero nostalgia during Christmas, you may want to check out Batman Returns, the 1992 sequel directed by Tim Burton. Set in Gotham City during Christmas time, Burton takes full license with the holiday season and creates elaborate sets featuring all manner of wondrous and, in some cases, grotesque characters, scenes, and settings. In the movie, Batman (Michael Keaton) battles both the Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). They too are grotesque, over-the-top characters. But the whole movie and setting is made hyper surreal by the Christmas time theme. Interestingly, Christmas has played a big part in many of Tim Burton’s most personal projects – from Edward Scissorhands to The Nightmare Before Christmas. It’s not the best Batman movie ever made, of course, but it’s the only one set at Christmas.
6. D.O.A. (1988)
For the arthouse crowd, you may enjoy the 1988 film noir D.O.A., which was a remake of a 1950 movie of the same name. The remake starring Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan is better than the original and worth seeing. Set on the campus of a Texas college, the movie is about a professor (Quaid) who is poisoned and has 36 hours to discover who murdered him before he dies. Meg Ryan plays a college co-ed who helps Dennis Quaid discover who wanted him dead. Set during the Christmas holidays, D.O.A. uses a mix of colour and black-and-white shots to harken back to its film noir roots. The movie also has a great opening scene where Dennis Quaid staggers into a police station to report a murder. When the desk sergeant asks who was murdered, he answers: “I was.” With plenty of Christmas parties in the background and even a few dirty Christmas jokes included, D.O.A. is an underrated movie that deserves a viewing.
5. Gremlins (1984)
Not only is Gremlins set during Christmas (the main character Billy is given cute little Gizmo as a Christmas gift), but the movie, directed by Joe Dante, contains several sly references to the Christmas classic It’s A Wonderful Life. Even the name of the town in Gremlins, which is Bedford Falls, is the same name as the town Jimmy Stewart inhabits in It’s A Wonderful Life. The script for Gremlins was penned by Chris Columbus, who would go on to future Christmas movie success with Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Billed as a “black comedy,” Gremlins is funny, at times scary, and quite gross in several scenes. It is also decorated to the hilt with Christmas decorations and lights, and will make viewers appreciate the calm and tranquility of their home after watching the mayhem that occurs in this movie. Not a good choice for very young children, though.
4. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
Like his other great buddy flick, Lethal Weapon, writer and director Shane Black sets Kiss Kiss Bang Bang at Christmas time in Los Angeles. The film, which is a take on hardboiled pulp thrillers of the 1940s and 1950s, stars Robert Downey Jr. as a petty theif who hooks up with a private eye played by Val Kilmer after accidentally nailing an acting audition while fleeing from the police. The plot is a little convoluted and is essentially a “whodunnit” murder mystery. But the movie also features great dialogue and is very funny at times. There’s also plenty of action, reminiscent of Lethal Weapon. Definitely one of the best movies ever done by Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer, or Shane Black.
3. The Family Man (2000)
This is pretty obviously a Christmas movie and meant to be a modern take on the traditional holiday movies of director Frank Capra, who made It’s A Wonderful Life. Yet The Family Man rarely gets mentioned in the same breathe as other major Christmas films. About a selfish investment banker (played by actor Nicolas Cage) who gets to see what his life would have been like if he’d married his college sweetheart and settled down to raise kids and sell tires in suburban New Jersey, The Family Man takes place over Christmas time. Cage’s character gets to see what his life would be like celebrating the holidays with a wife and kids, as well as neighbourhood friends and co-workers, rather than alone in a penthouse suite. More of a touchy-feely movie than an outright comedy, The Family Man nevertheless is a great family film to be enjoyed over the holidays. It’s about family at Christmas time, which makes it the most conventional of the unconventional films on this list.
2. The Ref (1994)
While most people will point to Bad Santa as an example of a black comedy Christmas movie, we like an earlier film from 1994 called The Ref. The movie opens with an unhappily married couple (played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) attending a marriage counseling session on Christmas Eve. Through a series of funny happenstance, a cat burglar who is out robbing empty houses at Christmas time (played by Dennis Leary) ends up trapped in the house with Spacey and Davis. And although he holds a gun on the unhappy couple, he cannot get them to stop arguing and bickering with each other. It gets to the point where Leary’s cat burglar ends up mediating, or refereeing, the arguments between them – hence the name of the movie. This film is like Home Alone for adults. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in need of watching something new this Christmas.
1. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (1979)
About as unconventional a Christmas movie as you can find, The Life of Brian skewers organized religion and it’s biggest holiday mercilessly. It’s also a retelling of the very first Christmas, when a character named Brian (played by Graham Chapman) is mistaken for the Messiah. Irreverent, funny as hell, and totally politically incorrect, this is arguably the best movie ever made by the Monty Python crew (or perhaps right behind The Holy Grail). It is also extremely smart satirical take on religion and fanatics, and features some hilarious music too. A final scene featuring several people singing “Always Look on the Brightside of Life” while being crucified is the icing on the proverbial cake. If you want to laugh this holiday season, be sure and watch this classic comedy.