Critics' Corner: Hooray for Santy Claus!

Critics' Corner: Hooray for Santy Claus!

Dec 20, 2010

Jen and Dave talk groovy murder-Santas, holiday-sweater wearing Brits, Ziggy Stardust, and more about the holiday movies they love.

Jen: I want your Christmas list.

Dave: A pony, a cashmere blanket and five pound box of money.

Jen: I mean I want your Christmas movie list. The freaky holiday movies I should put on my “hide under the Christmas Snuggie and watch” list.

Dave: The original Black Christmas. Also Christmas Evil.

Jen: I sense a trend here…

Dave: And the 1959 Mexican children’s film Santa Claus. And Desk Set, with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn in a Manhattan office in the 1950s bantering back and forth and one of those cool old lascivious Mad Men-like office Christmas parties. And White Christmas because Rosemary Clooney is perfect.

Jen: Those are your Top 5 Christmas films?

Dave: One more. Remember how last month I went off on a rant about how much I like French movies? There’s a really nice one that hardly anyone saw called Dans Paris, about these two brothers. One is suicidal and the other tries to get him to see how awesome life is. Takes place on Christmas Eve.

Jen: What about Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence?

Dave: What about it?

Jen: It’s not an obvious choice. Unconventional. From Japanese auteur Nagisa Oshima. About a harsh Japanese prison camp turned upside down by the arrival of David Bowie. There’s a little Christmas spirit involved as well, but it’s mostly about Bowie-worship.

Dave: If anyone’s going to turn your prison camp upside down it’s Ziggy Stardust. I saw it forever ago in the ‘80s and not since. Remind me, does anyone actually say “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” in the movie?

Jen: You always want the weirdest detail. Yes indeed, the line is uttered by none other than Beat Takeshi, who plays the stern prison camp warden who relents on Christmas Eve and offers his prisoners an Act of Kindness. Because in the movies, as you know, Christmas is when people are motivated to behave uncharacteristically kind. Every other time of the year? Forget it.

Dave: Okay, your list then…

Jen: Christmas Vacation is a modern classic. Hilarious because of how much you can relate to the nightmarish familial hijinks but also touching at times, like when Clark Griswold gets stuck in the attic and goes sentimental over Christmases past. I also get teary over An Affair to Remember, in which a Christmas gift plays a pivotal role.

Dave: Both of those are good. We agree on a new one, too: Rare Exports

Jen: Ooh yes, the Finnish Santa movie where Santa is a weird, deranged, frozen, reindeer-slaughtering mountain man. Very strange mix of horror and fantasy. Everyone who prefers the Krampus to holiday warmth should see it. I love the way the holiday is presented in other countries. That’s really why people should dig into the subtitled films. They’re these little sociology lessons, a way to travel and observe without the hassle of getting a passport. Plus, you learn that people everywhere go through the holidays like you do. By daydreaming about killer Santas.

Dave: You’re a hundred percent right about that. You’re not a citizen of the world if you’re not watching movies from Finland or Thailand or Argentina or wherever. It really does help you “get” the rest of a planet’s population a little better.

Jen: Having said that, I think Gremlins is one of the great Christmas movies. A Mogwai may be the best present a kid could ever get. And on the flip side, I like Love Actually.

Dave: I confess to a weird soft spot for that one, too. It’s indefensible. But I like watching sentimental British people with money. And have you noticed how British people are really secular but they’re also really into partying down at Christmas? Like the culture war of “Happy Holidays” and “Happy Christmas” seems not to exist there. I don’t know why.

Jen: That ties into my two holiday theories. The first is that British people enjoy wearing holiday sweaters.

Dave: And the second?

Jen: That no one ever has to defend themselves in December. Your viewing habits in December are your own business. You can be sentimental and revel in comfort-food cinema. Whatever dumb thing gives you pleasure is fine.

Dave: With your signed permission slip in hand, then, I’m about to bust my cred forever among dudes.


Dave: It’s not a Christmas movie.

Jen: Say it.

Dave: I love The Sound of Music. To me that is a Christmas movie. Even though it’s not. But it’s what I want to watch. And I can only do it on TV because if you go see it in a theater somewhere everyone wants to sing along now. Hate that. Hate people who do that.

Jen: Ah, the hater who loves Julie Andrews! I love it. And when you watch it at home you can drink cocoa, which they do not serve at theaters, even the ones with the chicken wings and bizarre pizzas and pot-roast-filled pretzels. You’d think they’d serve cocoa.

Dave: You’re right again. And anybody who harshes on me about The Sound of Music will get a visit from Finland Murder-Santa. So you better watch out.

What's your favorite holiday movie? Tell us.

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