The final days of Christmas: The sentimental and the savage

It's a Wonderful LifeAs Christmas arrives, you might have noticed that we never quite made it to writing a related article for each of the twelve days of Christmas (although I think that eight pieces is impressive enough). But to wrap up Christmas for 2013, I thought I’d republish a piece I wrote in 2012, in which I attempted to briefly capture the cinematic essence of Christmas at its most savage and sentimental. There is a little overlap with some of the films discussed in this year’s other Christmas pieces, but I hope that there is enough here to keep your attention. Merry Christmas!

 

Christmas is here and the mighty interweb has brought forth the inevitable tidal wave of ‘Best Xmas Movies’ lists (including several here on CURNBLOG). While pondering how I might obnoxiously subvert this tendency for my own piece (I momentarily considered writing a list of the ‘Worst Easter Movies’), it occurred to me that I was being torn in two directions by the season’s two distinct sub-genres: the traditional Christmas film deeply embedded in sentiment, and the counter-cultural films that seek to undermine this sentiment.

As a result, here is a list of five traditional Christmas classics that you simply shouldn’t miss, and five corresponding films that will serve to inoculate viewers from the cinematic uber-naffness of said classics.

 

Santa Claus (1986) and Rare Exports (2010)

Santa Claus is the definitive Santa movie. Beginning with a fascinating origins story, the film sees the old boy in red take on the oppressive powers of corporate capitalism. If this childish fantasy sounds eye-rollingly tedious to my more jaded readers, check out Rare Exports. This very disturbing Finnish film sees Santa Claus unearthed in an archaeological dig. Unfortunately, the Santa myth got scrambled somewhere along the way, and he turns out to be a soul-eating beast. Soon enough, Santa’s entirely naked helpers (they all look like skinny Santas) start stealing the locals.

 

White Christmas (1954) and Black Christmas (1974)

We’re all familiar with White Christmas, probably the single most recognised of all Christmas movies. While your main recollection of the film will most likely be the cosy vocals of Bing Cosby singing the universally loved title song, where I live we don’t get a lot of snow. That’s why we’ll be watching Black Christmas this year, the underappreciated and touching tale of a group of sorority girls who are visited by somebody special at Christmas time. Nope, not that guy.

 

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and Bad Santa (2003)

Frank Capra’s masterpiece is an unforgettable work of art, even if its status as a Christmas film is questionable when viewed solely in the context of its narrative. But let’s face it, the title (and message) feels a little naïve in these more cynical times. That’s why I’d recommend taking a look at Bad Santa, which could quite comfortably be retitled It’s Not Always a Wonderful Life. This fantastic Billy Bob Thornton vehicle details the adventures of a drunken burglar who takes a job as an apartment store Santa in order to assist with a heist. This irreverent (offensive) film will abhor and amuse you at every turn, but in the end it will make the same point as Capra’s film (without the schmaltz).

 

Jack Frost (1979) and Jack Frost (1997)

Jack Frost, the immortal Christmas sprite, really changes between 1979 and 1997. Back in the old days he sacrificed his own happiness to ensure that the woman he loved married prince charming. I watch this every year and I’ll admit my eyes get a little red every time. But by 1997 the guy has well and truly gone off the rails – he’s turned into an angry snowman and has a tendency to do bad things. Poor little guy.

 

Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer (1964) and Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

Rudolph deals with being the odd one out in this classic children’s television special about the little reindeer who couldn’t take part in any reindeer games. But at least he gets a happy ending. In Silent Night, Deadly Night poor Billy sees Santa do something horrible as a child. And it affects him. A lot.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

6 thoughts on “The final days of Christmas: The sentimental and the savage

  1. GASP! Rare Exports looks brilliant (hope it’s not one of those films that only works as a trailer) and good to know I can actually see it (thanks Pete). Love Scandinavian film! So thank you very much for the heads up! I usually avoid X-mas films.

    Have you seen Hansel and Gretel (2007), it’s a South Korean film, not about Christmas, but it has some of the elements associated with Christmas in it, snow, children, toys and family. It’s a horror film.

  2. Please for the love of bunnies write the Worst Easter Movies list.

    I wrapped my Rare Exports review a couple of days ago–it’s going to be the New review on Christmas Day. (Spoiler alert: the last sentence is “if it’s not the best Christmas movie ever made, it’s in the top three.”) The only other movie I saw that month that made me laugh even close to that much was American Mary.

    [side note: am I the only one who does not see Like buttons on Curnblog posts? I want to like them, I do, I do!]

    • Hi Robert,

      We used to have ‘Like’ buttons, but lost all of our ‘Likes’ when we moved from the WordPress.com to the WordPress.org platforms. Heartbreaking… but we might bring them back in 2014.

  3. Good news for UK readers James, ‘Rare Exports ‘ is on TV here this Christmas, so they don’t have to go far to see another of your excellent recommendations. Also Bad Santa’, another modern classic, in bad taste heaven, likewise on TV.
    Thanks for a great year of a great film blog. It is probably already Christmas where you live, but have a good one!
    Regards from England, Pete.

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