Trading Places And 4 Other Ace Alternative Xmas Films

Tell the kids to bugger off, grab a mince pie and put your feet up for the top five non-christmassy Christmas films of all time…
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Tell the kids to bugger off, grab a mince pie and put your feet up for the top five non-christmassy Christmas films of all time…

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5) It’s a Wonderful Life (1948)

This is the default ‘favourite Christmas’ film for lazy people and it’s for that reason it almost didn’t make the cut.  Yet, while it’s no Die Hard, it’s still a top class film plus the FBI thought it was pro-Communist propaganda so it gets the double thumbs up from me (anything to annoy those right-wing arseholes).  However, a proper understanding of Frank Capra’s classic will show you it’s not Communist per se but is actually about the struggle between big and small capitalism, (a warning against the forces of globalization perhaps).  James Stewart’s family-oriented, small-time money lender George Bailey battles against the efforts of evil banker Henry Potter (played by Lionel Barrymore) throughout his life, something which ultimately drives him to the brink of suicide.  In the end, everyone in the town comes to realise the threat Potter poses and joins forces to thwart him.  David Cameron and chums, take note.

4) Batman Returns (1992)

Before we had the vision of Christopher Nolan, the intensity of Christian Bale and the late Heath Ledger superbly cast as The Joker we had the vision of Tim Burton, the intensity of Michael Keaton and Danny De Vito superbly cast as The Penguin.  Set at Christmas the film is darker than Burton’s first Batman and like the director’s other festive efforts - Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas – it’s a treat to look at, filled with images which are both childlike and horrific in equal measure (villains in giant skull-head masks running haywire at a Christmas-tree lighting ceremony for example).  Yet the film itself transcends the usual festive schmaltz by providing a damning indictment of the commercialization of the holiday period by both big business and the media.  There’s even a dig at the sickly sentimental portrayal of family at this time of year as The Penguin searches for his parents.  To top the whole thing off it has Michelle Pfieffer as Selina Kyle the good-girl-turned-hot-pussy in THAT cat suit.

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3) Trading Places (1983)

Before he turned into a talking donkey (I’m thinking around 1989 and Harlem Nights) Eddie Murphy took his Saturday Night Live stand-up persona on to the big screen with huge success.  This film sees Louis Winthorpe III (played by Dan Ackroyd) become the unwitting subject of a bet between his bosses over whether education or genetics have more to do with success.  Thus they engineer Winthorpe’s downfall and replace him in their company with smart-arse petty criminal Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy in only his second cinema outing for which he bagged his second Golden Globe nomination) and of course it’s all set to the backdrop of the festive period (why else would it be on the list?).  It’s a razor-sharp film in terms of both its script and story and it has a great ensemble cast (including Denholm Elliott and Jamie Lee Curtis) all at their best.  If there’s a bum note it’s Ackroyd ‘blacking-up’ to disguise himself as a Jamaican towards the end, out of kilter with the rest of the film which so clearly exposes the flippant attitude of upper class whites to black Americans.  That said, it’s still well worth two hours of your time.

2) Scrooged (1988)

Take a classic Christmas tale, a quality script, a top director in Richard Donner and add a star at his sardonic, sarcastic best and you get this quality reboot of Charles’ Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  As Bill Murray films from the period go, this is often overlooked in favour of Groundhog Day and Ghost Busters (the first one, not the piss-poor sequel) but Scrooged is really the one that shows the man at his peak.  It sees him playing crazy-haired TV executive Frank Cross who is initially comedy cruel to all and sundry (in a way only Murray could pull off) before descending into ghost-induced paranoia and emerging on the other side a changed man.  It’s also got a psychotic, toaster-wielding fairy as the Spirit of Christmas Present; Karen Allen looking only slightly less hot than she did in that white dress in Raiders and the squeaky-voiced bloke from the Police Academy films going ape shit with a shot gun.  What’s not to like?

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1) Die Hard (1988)

Filmgoers in 1988 must have thought all their Christmases had come at once.  Not only did they get to watch Scrooged, but Die Hard as well.  OK, the latter was a summer blockbuster, but it’s set at Christmas, and what’s six months between friends?  It brought us Bruce Willis moonlighting alongside his TV career as New York cop John McClane taking on a Nakatomi Plaza full of ‘terrorists’ led by Hans Gruber, played by Alan Rickman in the first step along a line of characters which would lead him from Sherwood Forest to Hogwarts.  Not only is this the best Christmas flick but it’s also the best action movie ever (another list perhaps).  Building on the solid foundations laid by Lethal Weapon a year earlier Die Hard created a template that should have bled to death years ago but is still pumping out the cash through tired, less intelligent copies.  Check out a multiplex near you and echoes of the film still resonate from the wise-cracking, everyman-out-of-his-depth hero to the spectacular set pieces.  Gruber and McLane’s initial roof-top meeting is a classic even mimicked, to a certain extent, in this year’s Sherlock Holmes (and no, that’s not a plot spoiler, so don’t start crying like a baby).

If you see one film this holiday, make sure it’s this and, as John McClane might say: Merry Christmas, motherfuckers.

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