Though our humble blog tends to focus on the classics (which we generally categorize as pre-1970s movies, with a few notable exceptions), this does not mean we thumb our nose at so-called “modern” film. Quite the opposite, in fact. Well, except for crap like Transformers. Or The A-Team. Or Jackass 3-D. And so on. I, for one, don’t see explosions, fast cars, and crotch shots as the height of cinematic sophistication. Does that make me a snob?
Getting back to the point … among our favorite Christmas films are quite a few from the post-70s period, movies that have brought us joy from our childhood days and beyond. A couple of our modern favorites, in no particular order …
Love Actually (2003)
Almost every British actor of note has been in the Harry Potter films since 2001. And if they haven’t been in Harry Potter, they were in this film. American filmmakers have tried to recapture the magic of this ensemble piece since it was released six years ago (Valentine’s Day, anyone?), but for some reason, it eludes them. The interwoven stories in this romantic opus connect each of the characters in love, friendship, and family bonds, and though some of the situations are overly sentimental, the film neatly avoids delving into the overly maudlin. Of particular note are the performances of Colin Firth as a cuckolded writer, Hugh Grant as the Prime Minister, Emma Thompson as Grant’s sister, and Alan Rickman as Thompson’s straying husband.
Die Hard (1988)
Speaking of Alan Rickman … I don’t care what anyone says, it’s just not Christmas without the original Die Hard. Rickman’s Hans Gruber is a perfect mixture of charisma and evil, and I’d argue that Bruce Willis has never been better than in his first go-round as New York cop John McClane. Yes, it serves up a little (okay–a lot) of blood with its yuletide cheer, but this is one kick-ass action movie. And I don’t say that about many action movies, to be honest. Plus, it’s funny as hell.
So yippee-kay-ay, mother … you know.
Okay, so out of the True Classics crew, I think I’m the only cotton-headed ninny muggins who actually likes this movie. And this is coming from a woman who heartily dislikes Will Ferrell in every movie he’s ever done except this one and 2006’s Stranger than Fiction. But thankfully, Elf features a sweetened Ferrell doing a toned-down version of his usual schtick as Buddy, a human raised by elves. The film also includes great performances from Bob Newhart as Ferrell’s adoptive father, James Caan as his “naughty” biological dad, Ed Asner as Santa, and Zooey Deschanel as Buddy’s bemused love interest. Despite an influx of sentimentality at the end, there’s a true sense of love at the heart of this movie, and I guess that’s why it strikes such a chord with me.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Tim Burton’s unique take on the holiday is a keeper. This stop-motion animated film tells the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King who is fascinated by Christmas, and his ill-conceived bid to take over as Santa Claus, to disastrous results. A little creepy, true, but strangely heartwarming at the same time. Who else but Burton could accomplish that feat? The voice talent in this film features Burton stalwarts Catherine O’Hara, Paul “Peewee Herman” Reubens, and the recently-deceased Glenn Shadix as well as Chris Sarandon as the voice of Jack.
While You Were Sleeping (1995)
I don’t know if many people consider this Sandra Bullock film to be a Christmas film, per se, but as the bulk of the movie takes place over the holidays, it’s one that I always like to break out at Christmastime. Sleeping is utterly charming from start to finish, and the first indication that Bullock had immense comedic talent beneath the sarcastic veneer that marks her performance in the previous year’s Speed. Her Lucy is a winning protagonist, funny and winsome and heartrendingly sincere. Plus, the film features Bill Pullman in one of his best roles as Jack, Lucy’s supposed future brother-in-law, as well as the late, great Peter Boyle as Jack’s father, Ox.
Bill Murray is as synonymous with the 1980s as Members Only jackets and legwarmers, so it’s only fitting that he embody that decade’s version of Ebeneezer Scrooge. As Frank Cross, Murray is an unrepentant slimeball who finally sees the error of his ways when confronted by the three Christmas ghosts. This version injects elements of dark humor into Charles Dickens’ classic parable to great effect–it’s far from the traditional Scrooge tale, but an enjoyable adaptation nonetheless. Of note for classic film fans, Scrooged marks one of the final big-screen roles for Robert Mitchum, who would only make a handful of subsequent films before passing away in 1997.
Home Alone (1990)
Macaulay Culkin gives one of the better kid performances in “modern” film in Home Alone, as he matches wits with a pair of bumbling home invaders Marv and Harry (Daniel Stern and Joe Pesci). Some people are fonder of the 1992 sequel, in which Kevin ends up in New York City, with Marv and Harry once more at Kevin’s mercy as they plot holiday misdeeds. For me, the original is the better film, though I do enjoy Tim Curry’s performance as the smarmy concierge in the second one.
A Christmas Story (1983)
Cable’s TBS has almost ruined this movie for me. I say “almost” because if I manage to avoid TBS for the 24 hours surrounding Christmas Day, I don’t get over-saturated on it. And that’s a good thing, because this film, more than any other, is representative of my childhood, and each viewing brings with it some good holiday memories from days gone by. Not because my childhood was anything like Ralphie’s (although I was kinda envious of my brother when he got a BB gun for Christmas one year), but because this is one of my parents’ favorites. Even before its prevalence on television every year, this movie had a heavy rotation in our household. Not for nothing is this a modern classic–there are too many memorable moments to list, but I truly believe this movie has gained such a beloved following because there’s something for everyone here, whether you grew up in writer Jean Shepherd’s time or not.
Now that we’ve had our say–what’s your favorite “modern” Christmas classic?