Season's Beatings My Favorite Alternative Holiday Films2011-12-30
By Matt Sills
Turn on the TV during the holiday season, and you'll find the same old movies you see every year: It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Elf, Home Alone, and Christmas Vacation to name a few. Yeah, these are all fine movies, but year after year, these movies and a few others are played over and over and over again. After awhile, it's enough to make you want to drown yourself in eggnog. Luckily, there's a few movies that, while not Christmas films in the truest sense, actually seem to embody the holiday season of our times better than the Christmas classics above. Hey, we live in a world where people are beating each other up at Wal Mart just to get to a sale priced TV. Why shouldn't our holiday movies kick a little butt as well? Here's a few movies that take place around the holidays that are a little rougher than your normal holiday fare, and one that may be the greatest alternative Hanukkah movie ever made.
Yes, it's one of the greatest action films of all-time. It created the template for hundreds of horrible action films that came after. It made a star out of Bruce Willis and allowed him to buy half of Idaho. It featured one of my favorite smarmy actors of all time in the great William Atherton. But for a moment, let me make a case for Die Hard as the greatest Christmas movie ever made. Christmas is about being with loved ones, and the movie does start out with Willis' John McLane on his way to spend the holidays with his estranged wife. Christmas is about putting others before yourself, and McLane completely trashes his body, jumping off buildings, running through glass, and getting shot, all to save a bunch of Nakatomi employees he's never met. On Christmas, you need sparkly lights. May I remind you that in Die Hard, THE TOP OF A BUILDING EXPLODES! Most importantly, Christmas is about giving, and in the end, McLane gives the bad guy exactly what he deserves: a one way trip to his death. Is it as nice and happy as It's A Wonderful Life? No, but it's certainly more awesome, and which one would you rather watch?
My grandfather was an incredibly sweet, mild mannered guy, and the best part of visiting my grandparents over Christmas vacation. He never had a bad word to say about anyone, never cursed, always had a smile on his face. We knew he had been a fighter pilot in several wars, but couldn't imagine this man ever hurting a soul. So it was a shock when, at his 80th birthday party, a year before his death, we learned how bad ass a pilot he had been. Even now, you can Google search the man and read about how he shot down a fighter jet from a fixed wing aircraft. It added complexitity and an air of mystery to a man I thought I knew well. Russell Crowe's Bud White, one of the main characters in the great L.A. Confidential, which starts out with a jailhouse beating on Christmas, reminds me a lot of my grandfather, though with the opposite temperament. White's strength and almost brutish nature get him branded as a brainless thug, capable of putting a beat down at any time. But underneath, he's a caring man who protects those that cannot protect themselves, and a lot smarter than most of his colleagues give him credit for. To this day, I can't watch the film without being reminded of one of the greatest people I've ever known.
I hate shopping for my family. None of them every know what they want, then complain when I get them something they DON'T want. It's frustrating. What do you get for the person who doesn't want anything? How about a mogwai? Those cute guys would be awesome pets. But wait a second. Could they handle it? As the old man says, "With mogwai comes awesome responsibility." My family can't even decide what they want for the holidays, so I don't expect them to remember the three rules of owning a mogwai: "...Keep him out of the light, he hates bright light, especially sunlight, it'll kill him. Second, don't give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs, never feed him after midnight." We've also had one pet in my entire life time, and my dad made us give him to another owner after a month because he wouldn't stop pooping in the living room. If I was to give my family a mogwai, our town would probably end up a lot like the town in the movie. Stuff busted up, teachers hands being eaten, crazy mayhem, without the benefit of getting to stare at Phoebe Cates. On second thought, maybe gift cards are a good idea.
A SERIOUS MAN
My grandmother, affectionately called Nana, had a tendency to look at life in a negative way. No matter what good fortune she had, she was always waiting for bad things to happen, and if bad things happened, well, that's just the way things were supposed to be. She attributed this to the fact that we were Jewish, and it was just our fate to have to deal with bad things happening all of the time. A Serious Man, the Coen brothers overlooked masterpiece, illustrates this completely and totally. The film starts in early 20th century Poland, with a completely unrelated prologue about a possibly cursed spirit being invited in for dinner. This leads into the story of Larry Gopnik, a Jewish physics professor in 1960s Minnesota whose life is beginning to crumble. His wife leaves him, he may not be given tenure at his college, and his kids are stealing from him. It just goes downhill from there, with events seemingly conspiring against him as if he was a modern day Job. Even in the end, when it seems like some things might actually turn out OK, a literal storm tells us that no matter what happens, his lot in life is to continue suffering, and to pass that on to the next generation. A lot of people didn't get the film when it came out, calling it mean spirited and angry. Obviously, those people didn't grow up with my Nana.