Yippie Ki-Eggnog: Five unconventional Christmas movies

So you’re stuck spending some “quality time” with the family around the holidays, when you’d rather be at the bar around the corner with your friends, or even in jail, as long as no one from your family is in jail with you. Someone wants to watch a Christmas movie. Everybody starts chirping like newborn chicks. You reach for the knitting needles, praying that they’ll hit something vital in your skull before you’ve experienced any pain.

Put the needles down, friend. There are other options that are more enjoyable and less permanent than death’s sweet, sweet kiss. Here are five movies that get us through the holidays with murderous impulses held firmly in check. Merry Christmas, everyone. Pass the bourbon.

Die Hard

Admit it: you secretly fantasize about a gang of white-collar criminals hijacking your holiday party and killing the fast-talking weasel in sales who won’t shut the hell up. You’ve read the praise about “Die Hard” serving as the blueprint for every action movie made since – and it’s true, as the most popular studio sales pitch between 1989 and 1997 was “Die Hard on a ____” – but it is grossly overlooked as a holiday classic, and that is just wrong. It’s funnier than “Home Alone,” more heartwarming than “The Santa Clause,” and it has what all Christmas movies lack but some real-life families have: a body count. Bruce Willis has rarely been better, and Alan Rickman completely rewrote the rules on action movie villains. If you feel like going for camp value, watch the sequel, “Die Harder,” with the TV dub track. Yippie-ki-yay, Mister Falcon.

The Ref

The definitive dysfunctional family (which is really just a polite way of saying normal family these days) holiday movie. A cat burglar (Denis Leary) trying to lie low reluctantly kidnaps a couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) on the verge of divorce, just before the in-laws come over for Christmas dinner. Armed to the teeth with a before-they-were-stars cast (it also includes Christine Baranski, J.K. Simmons, and the great Raymond Barry) and directed by the gone-too-soon Ted Demme, “The Ref” is caustically funny, and one of the more quotable movies you’ll ever see. (The marriage counseling scene alone has a good dozen zingers.) Why did this movie fare so poorly at the box office? We’re guessing the release date may have played a part in it. Yep, they released it in March, just when the snow is thawing for good. Well played, Touchstone.

Better Off Dead

Up there with “Heathers” in the teenage suicide canon, “Better Off Dead” is one of the most diverse teen comedies of its time, combining clueless parents (love the scene where Kim Darby nearly kills John Cusack while vacuuming), animation, claymation, ski racing, exploding neighbors, the awkward first date, and a Japanese Howard Cosell impressionist. And it all takes place at Christmas, setting up the painful call when Cusack calls his ex-girlfriend Beth and learns that her new boyfriend bought her “a giant stuffed teddy bear, bigger than you.” Yes, Beth was a hottie, which explains why everyone from the mailman to Barney Rubble wanted to date her, but as longtime fans of “The Last American Virgin,” Cusack did well to bag the lovely Diane Franklin as a so-called consolation prize. Just make sure and pay that paper boy on time.

Go

Drug deals gone wrong. Actors forced into being informants. Cops selling Amway. (“It’s Confederate Products, it’s completely different.”) Threesomes. Vegas hotel rooms on fire. Strip clubs. A hit and run. Monologues about “Family Circus.” And tantra, baby! Whatever crazy things you’ve done in your life, chances are you’ve never had a night like the characters in “Go,” and if you did, it sure as hell didn’t happen on Christmas Eve. Even funnier, the characters don’t even think about the day’s events in terms of being something out of this world. Indeed, a few of them – including the one who just pawned over-the-counter drugs as ecstasy in a club in order to pay her rent – immediately starts planning ahead, wondering what they will do for New Year’s Eve. Whatever it is, it won’t be as wild as what takes place here. Doug Liman has gone on to make some big, successful movies, but this one remains his best, as far as we’re concerned. It has a hell of a soundtrack, too.

Night Shift

Hookers and Christmas, together at last. Hey, what better way to come up with a little extra scratch around the holidays than to serve as the pimp for the girl down the hall? (We readily admit, though, that the idea of Shelley Long as a prostitute is even funnier now than it was then.) The movie may have served as a springboard for director Ron Howard and Michael Keaton (not to mention a comeback vehicle for Henry Winkler), but take a closer look at the supporting cast. Shannen Doherty as a Bluebell (“Mugger!”), the late Vincent Schiavelli as a surly delivery guy, and don’t blink during the party scene or you’ll miss Kevin Costner walking behind Keaton when he balances a beer bottle on his forehead. It may seem tame by today’s standards, but hey, it’s Christmas; not a bad time to show a little propriety.

Other holiday faves

Gremlins
Arguably the meanest movie here. It’s not often that you get to kill an old person for laughs.
Click here to view Mrs. Deagle’s death scene (embedding disabled)

Planes, Trains and Automobiles
For doing what we have all secretly wanted to do to rental car employees, or anyone else who fucks us at the drive-thru.

Trading Places
Jamie Lee Curtis is in this movie. You may have heard about that. Sadly, YouTube hasn’t, so you’ll have to settle for this.

Batman Returns
All we want for Christmas is Selina Kyle. Me-ow!

The Long Kiss Goodnight
After extensive research, we have concluded that chefs most definitely do not do that.

  

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