Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ten Movies to Watch for the Holiday Season

Thanksgiving Day typically marks the frenzy that is the Christmas season.  Black Friday sales, eggnog, Christmas Carols, and ugly sweaters absolutely become the norm as the weather turns chilly in most parts of the country.  As a primer to help you get into that Yuletide spirit, I have put together a list of ten movies you should see over the holiday season.  This isn’t about It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, or The Santa Clause - three Christmas-centric movies you can probably find playing on a continuous loop in December, but movies that you may or may not typically associate with the holidays that have plots that can be enjoyed any time of the year. 

Connection to Christmas: Three bumbling brothers venture into a small town on Christmas Eve to rob a bank when its vault is loaded with various Christmas funds.
Why You Should See It: Because although Nic Cage is hit or miss, when he is a hit, the movies tend to be very entertaining.  While this one isn’t a shining example of cinematic excellence and its comedic sense can be campy (the presence of Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz confirm this), there is a very nice sense of sentimentality pervading this film that leaves you with a plethora of feel good moments.

9. Scrooged 

Connection to Christmas: One of the zillion pop culture takes on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this one features Bill Murray as a cantankerous television executive visited by a trio of zany ghosts intent on making him see the error of his ways.
Why You Should See It: This movie was released in 1988 when Murray was still a comedian and not the offbeat difficult-to-work-with pseudo auteur that he has morphed into in the latter stages of his celebrated acting career.  In this film, his work features wit and strong physical comedy, breathing life into a story that has been done to death.

Connection to Christmas: This movie is a hybrid of It’s a Wonderful Life and Sliding Doors set against the backdrop of Christmas in a New Jersey suburb.  Nicolas Cage plays a man who is shown a window in what his life would have been had he chosen love over career.
Why You Should See It: It is rare these days to find any positive list that has two Nicolas Cage entries on it, but this is another movie that features good Nic Cage.  Like Scrooged, this film breathes life into a plot (the whole “what could have been”) that has been retold in so many incarnations in the past.  Cage excels as a fish out of water routine and Tea Leoni is very charming as his would-have-been-wife. 

Connection to Christmas: Batman must stop the Penguin’s plot to take over Gotham City during the Christmas season.  His efforts are complicated by the appearance of Catwoman whose intentions swing like a pendulum do!
Why You Should See It: I am not a fan of director Tim Burton and I was not particularly a fan of Michael Keaton as Batman, but I think this was the best of the pre-Christopher Nolan Batman films.  Burton’s view of Gotham City during Christmas is visually stunning and Michelle Pfeifer and Danny DeVito play worth villains for Keaton’s Dark Knight.

Connection to Christmas: Macaulay Culken’s Kevin is accidentally left behind during the Christmas season while the rest of his family heads off to France for vacation.  Culken is left to his own wits in order to defend his home from two burglars intent on looting the seemingly vacant house.
Why You Should See It: This movie is a classic and features Culken who at that time was the most recognizable childhood actor.  His brand of comedy was incredibly good for his age and Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci are hilarious as the two bumbling wet bandits.  There is no doubt you will walk away from this film feeling that warm holiday cheer.

Connection to Christmas: Danny Glover’s Murtaugh is partnered with a suicidal cop in Mel Gibson’s Riggs.  Together they are charged with stopping a gang of drug smugglers against the backdrop of the holiday season.
Why You Should See It: This is the movie that started the highly lucrative franchise and really pushed Mel Gibson to the A-list back at a time when he was hitting his stride as a performer.  Gibson and Glover have great chemistry and the movie is both tense and taut, with just enough wit to keep things balanced. 

Connection to Christmas: Two wealthy businessmen decide to test their sociological theories by reversing the lives of a privileged investor and a street criminal.  As the holidays role through and the human guinea pigs discover this plot, they seek to exact revenge on their tormentors. 
Why You Should See It: The movie features a pre-Norbit, pre-Nutty Professor Eddie Murphy back when he was more than just a ridiculous laugh and a bunch of over-the-top voices.  And opposite him is an in his prime Dan Aykroyd, which means the laughs are consistent and the acting surprisingly good for this John Landis comedy.  Having Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, and Jamie Lee Curtis in supporting roles also helps the cause.

Connection to Christmas: Hugh Grant plays a man iving off the royalties of a famous Christmas song written by his father.  He fancies himself an island, cherishing the life with no personal connections until he meets a young boy and his troubled mother.  Through this new friendship, Grant grows as a person and comes to view his life through a new lens.
Why You Should See It: Nobody is better than Hugh Grant at playing that selfish character who doesn’t quite get things, but through the course of a movie figures out the error of his ways and morphs into a very likable guy.  If you look at his filmography, this paradigm describes half the roles he’s been cast in.  About a Boy is probably his best effort in this capacity.  The film has a sense of loneliness that is palpable but eventually gives way to waves of sentiment. 

2. Elf

Connection to Christmas: Will Ferrell plays Buddy, a human who was raised amongst elves.  When he discovers that he was in fact adopted, he ventures to New York City to find his biological father and spread his brand of Christmas cheer.
Why You Should See It: This movie has replaced It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story as the quintessential must see movie of the holiday season.  Favreau’s pacing as a director is spot on, Ferrell’s comedic sense is absolutely on point, and Zooey Deschanel is…well, she’s Zooey Deschanel.

Connection to Christmas: Bruce Willis plays John McLane, a New York City cop who has come out to Los Angeles for Christmas to visit his estranged wife and children.  While at her place of employment, he finds himself caught in the building as a sophisticated band of terrorists look to loot the company’s vault.
Why You Should See It: This is by far Bruce Willis’ best movie and is usually in the conversation for best action movie of all time.  It has it all - sentiment, action, memorable tag lines, more action, and dripping sarcasm.  Almost nothing could exude less traditional Christmas cheer than this movie, and yet the holidays completely pervade this narrative.  Great movie.