Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Movies: Top Christmas Movies That Aren't Remembered as Christmas Movies

All this month, Shangrila Towers will be serving up various Christmas-themed posts. Today, we'll be looking at films that feature the Yuletide season prominently, but aren't generally known as holiday movies. When you're sick of seeing "A Christmas Story" for the 34th time, try out one of these stealth Christmas classics:

Batman Returns

Tim Burton has mixed his brand of dark, off-kilter quirkiness with Christmas on more than a few occasions. From the witty fun of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" to the fable-like surrealism of "Edward Scissorhands," Burton has proven to be a dab hand at mixing snow and shadow:

In addition to being a full part of the Batman cinema canon, "Batman Returns" also delivered theatre-goers a very Burton Christmas experience. Like all of the movies in the list, the holiday season is a big part of the plot; nefarious business mogul Max Shreck runs a chain of department stores and hands out presents to win over the people of Gotham, and the Penguin kidnaps an Ice Princess to frame Batman.


Terry Gilliam packed a whole lot of stuff into "Brazil," but perhaps the most ingenious addition was the full commingling of a traditional Christmas into Sam Lowry's paranoid bureaucratic dystopia:

Critics have picked up the anti-consumerism strains in "Brazil," but the holiday elements do more than that - they help to humanize the "antagonists" in the movie, thus making the film's milieu all the more tragic and believable. Orwell's "1984" portrayed a world where the only religion was worshipping the state; in "Brazil," the stromtroopers sing carols and the guy in charge of the government torture program is a kindly old man dressed up in a Santa suit. Somehow it becomes more horrible when real people commit horror rather than mindless abstractions - didn't Hitler celebrate Christmas, too?

Die Hard

People have attempted to clone "Die Hard" numerous times, but very few ever picked up on director John McTiernan's remarkable cocktail of balls-to-the-wall action and holiday cheer:

From "Now I Have a Machinegun - Ho Ho Ho" to the use of Christmas music in the film's soundtrack, "Die Hard" actually has more holiday elements in it than many full-blown Christmas movies, making this one summer blockbuster that's perfectly at home in December. Unfortunately, the more recent sequels ("Die Hard with a Vengeance" and "Live Free or Die Hard") abandoned the Christmas connection to their detriment.


Christmas-themed horror is a niche genre, filled with so-so offerings like "Black Christmas" and "Silent Night, Deadly Night." It's worth a bunch of forgettable slashers, though, if the reward is "Gremlins," a great holiday movie directed by Joe Dante:

It's one of the ultimate schizoid movies - equal parts comedy and horror, Christmas cheer and icky gore. There are also standout performances from Howie Mandell (as Gizmo) and Phoebe Cates, who delivers the most awkward Christmas story ever:


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