Everybody loves a good Christmas movie, especially Joe Grace and Jakob Bilinski. They love Christmas movies so much, they decided a back-and-forth discussion about the good, the bad and the ugly of Christmas movies had to be held. And thus began the great Christmas movie email chain debate. Enjoy!
GRACE: It's almost Christmas, Jakob! And you know what that means: Christmas movies! Oh, so many Christmas movies. Confession time. I saw National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation for the first time ever the other day. My reaction: Meh. Sure, the exploding cat was funny, but an exploding cat does not a 90-minute movie make. Take out Randy Quaid and the exploding cat and I would have had no use for Christmas Vacation.
Yet, I've had people who watched it growing up tell me it's one of the best Christmas movies ever. I think that's a general problem with 1980s and early 1990s Christmas movies and even maybe those movies in general. If you didn't see them near when they were released or as you were growing up, they just don't resonate as well. One of my personal favorite Christmas movies is Home Alone, but had I not seen it growing up, maybe now I would just think it was a stupid movie about a somewhat resourceful kid.
Could it be that a lot of the classic Christmas movies we grew up with are terrible movies masked by our holiday-infused memories of them? I hope I'm wrong here. Am I wrong? Please tell me I'm wrong. I don't want to live in a world where Home Alone is a terrible movie.
BILINSKI: You are a wise soul, Joe. For the true meaning of Christmas is, indeed, Christmas-themed cinematic experiences, however tangentially related they might be to said day-o-yuletide. As for your confession. What the elf?!?! How did you manage to go this long in life without experiencing the glory that is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation?! I am not sure what you did on Christmas break growing up as a young lad in Indiana now. The cat bit was funny, yes, but something bad happened to a cat and so screw that noise (cats > people). Randy Quaid was clearly one of the standouts ("Shitter was full!"), but the scene with the squirrel in the tree is the centerpiece of that flick for me. And the Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) profanity-laden tirade about his boss. I agree it's one of the best Christmas movies ever. Not THE best, but definitely upper-echelon material.
I can see the argument of 80s/90s Christmas movies not being as effective if you didn't see them around their initial release. Home Alone sprung to mind when you mentioned that, too. I loved that as a kid, and it holds up well to this day. But I wonder if I hadn't seen it back then whether it would carry as much clout for me now. You should breathe easy though because I do actually think you're wrong. There are a lot of classics that we grew up with that are genuinely GOOD movies. There are always turds in every era. But not all Christmas films only work through the prism of nostalgia. Home Alone is not a terrible movie. The sequels – totally. But the original is as good as you want it to actually be, dude.
We had good stuff in our childhood. At least we didn't have Christmas With The Kranks, Four Christmases, Fred Claus and the like. I don't know about you, but I really enjoy the sort of unconventional (and arguably traditionally inappropriate) Christmas films. I watch Bad Santa every year (one of my favorite comedies). The Nightmare Before Christmas is another regular entry for me. I usually program both versions of Black Christmas (original and remake). And Steven C. Miller's recent remake, Silent Night, is quickly becoming a favorite of mine. But we all know that the best movie to watch during Christmas is Die Hard. Which I believe I am responsible for exposing you to, initially, so, you're welcome.
How about you? Do you enjoy watching anything that could be labeled unconventional (from the traditional holiday spirit, anyway) around Christmastime? And I'm still shaking my head over you not liking Christmas Vacation more "Hallelujah! Holy shit! Where's the Tylenol???"
GRACE: I agree with you that Christmas tree squirrel does beat exploding cat. But the first half of Christmas Vacation is borderline unwatchable until Randy Quaid shows up. I just don't see how it became a classic. And I consider myself a fellow fan of unconventional Christmas movies.One of my favorites is Love Actually, a classic Christmas tale that includes a nude Bilbo Baggins, a nude Bill Nighy, Billy Bob Thornton as the president of the United States and Mr. Bean. I think most of the best Christmas movies of late are unconventional with other examples including Elf, A Christmas Story and I'll even throw in The Santa Clause because I personally love it.
We simply don't get good Christmas movies in the vein of It's A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street anymore. The movie that probably comes closest is The Polar Express and that ultimately was a letdown. You either have quirky movies like the ones I just mentioned or actiony movies that happen to take place around the holidays such as Die Hard and Gremlins or animated Christmas movies, most of which are wretched if made after the 1960s and not directed by Tim Burton.
In fact, you could argue that almost all of the great Christmas movies were "unconventional" when they were released. It's a Wonderful Life is about a drunk guy trying to commit suicide and Miracle on 34th Street puts Santa in a mental hospital. We as a viewing public have always loved unconventional Christmas stories more than conventional ones. Our most beloved Christmas characters are a green guy that steals from children, a reindeer with a Christmas bulb for a nose and a snowman that can't figure out the difference between a birthday and Christmas.
We delight in oddity for Christmas. And speaking of oddity, have you ever seen Santa Claus Conquers the Martians? I didn't even know it existed until today, but now I feel compelled to watch it. What Christmas movie do you still really want to see that you haven't seen yet?
BILINSKI: Well, we're two disagreements in at this point. I hate Love Actually. I don't for one moment understand why anyone likes it (and everyone I freaking know looooooooves it). I haven't seen it since it first was released (once was more than enough for me), but I found it to be a muddled, borderline schizophrenic mess of overlapping, underdeveloped character arcs, lackadaisical storytelling and bland comedy presented with D.O.A. delivery from what should have been a brilliant (and often nude, as you point out) cast. It's like a homogenized and paltry, holiday-themed incarnation of the Short Cuts/Magnolia construct (intersecting lives, circumstantial twists of fate, et al). A construct which I love, actually (pun intended). But in this particular flick, well, I just was bored to tears. But yes, I'm aware I'm in the minority here.
I'll back you on Elf, though ("Not now, Arctic Puffin!"). It's A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are absolute classics, and I agree we don't get anything quite akin to them anymore. I didn't see The Polar Express. Animated Robert Zemeckis films haven't exactly intrigued me. I never fully understood the motivation to not make that a live action film. Gremlins is a classic; good call on that one. And are you referring to those stop motion animated Christmas cartoons from when we were kids? You mean the creepy Frosty the Snowman and whatnot ones that feel like they're animated by Satan himself? No. No thank you. Those can die in a fire.
You have a good point about breaking down It's A Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street being about suicidal alcoholics and psycho ward shenanigans at their core. Those are fairly unconventional in those aspects. As far as we as a society vying towards the unconventional, yeah, we sort of all have a soft spot for the underdog. The outcast. The weirdie. Not unlike sympathizing with the villain – sometimes the not-so-straight-and-narrow approach is the more charismatic tale. As for Christmas oddities, I did in fact discover the trailer for Santa Claus Conquers the Martians recently, too. I have not seen it. But it needs to happen in front of my face. With the quickness.
I also discovered Santa With Muscles, starring Hulk Hogan. So, that exists in the world. And a Christmas movie I haven't seen but really want to? Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. It's a Finnish horror-fantasy film about, from what I can gather, a violent and psychotic feral Santa. It's more or less the epitome of what I look for in this blessed season.
How about you? Any holiday flick you've always wanted to check out? And please explain to me why we never got a sequel to Jingle All the Way. Where Schwarzenegger has to race to get the perfect gift for his granddaughter now. And in doing so he blows a lot of things up. In space. Also: ninjas happen. I think this should happen in theaters Christmas 2014. Or am I alone here?
GRACE: You are not alone. I would totally be down for Jingle All The Way 2: Space Ninjas. And I've never even seen the first Jingle All The Way. But, as you well know, you had me at ninjas happen.
As for Christmas movies still on my list, I'd still really like to watch Joyeux Noel, the 2005 French film about the Christmas Truce during World War I. I've always been fascinated by the story behind the movie and from what I've read the film is fantastic. That's probably No. 1 on my list.
As for Santa With Muscles starring Hulk Hogan, I think I'll pass. Hulk Hogan movies began and ended with Mr. Nanny for me. No more were required.
But as bad as Santa With Muscles sounds, it can't be as bad as Reindeer Games, which has my vote for worst Christmas movie ever, beating out both Batman Returns and the Jack Frost with Michael Keaton. (I'm too much of a chicken to watch the scary Jack Frost.) Nobody could have watched Ben Affleck in Reindeer Games and predicted that this was the man that was going to give us The Town and Argo. Nobody. It was awful. Simply awful. I would rather watch Prancer on repeat for 12 hours. (OK. That's going too far. Maybe Prancer twice.)
How about you? What do you think are worst Christmas movies out there?
BILINSKI: Never heard of Joyeux Noel; I'm going to have to look that up. And to clarify, I was in no way suggesting that you WATCH Santa With Muscles. Just making you aware that you live in a world where that happened.
And I love that you brought Reindeer Games up, actually. I'm embarrassed to admit that when I initially saw it in theaters, I actually dug it. In sort of a guilty pleasure sort of way, but still -- I enjoyed it. Which is just a terribly wrong thing to do. I watched it again many years later in a scenario where the Christmas-themed movie we would be watching was my pick. I said, "Hey, this one is fun!" I proceeded to sit for the next two hours in complete and utter confusion. How the hell did I think that was GOOD?!? Only then could I see it for the absolute and abysmally soul-sucking trainwreck that it is. Which is a shame because I dig John Frankenheimer as a director. And that cast is great (Gary Sinise, Dennis Farina, Danny Trejo, Donal Logue and a very easy-on-the-eyes, not often clothed Charlize Theron). They're all stuck working with a script that's about as bright as my ass in the dark, though. And it packs more dumb twists than Miley Cyrus's hair. Affleck, yeah, this was a low point for him. Dude slummed through some crap work before pulling the Phoenix rising scenario he initiated with Gone Baby Gone. Who knew the guy who liked to try and hook up with underage girls in the back of a Volkswagen in Mallrats would grow to become one of our finest American filmmakers working today? Because yes, The Town and Argo are incredible. And acting-wise, I agree, he's at the top of his game, currently. Which gives me at least some hope for Batman vs. Superman ... I think.
You totes need to see the horror version of Jack Frost, though. If for no other reason than it is the only movie where a killer snowman does terrible things to Nadia from American Pie with his carrot nose in the shower. As for the worst Christmas movies, to me? We've actually already pinpointed a lot of the awful in our discussion. But I'll go ahead and toss some obscurities into the mix: The Ice Harvest, a terrible crime caper with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, and Battle Royale 2: Requiem, the abysmal sequel to the original masterpiece. It ties into a Christmas Day terrorist attack, and completely lacks the energy, sociopolitical commentary or intelligent and visceral charisma of the first film.
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