Working in a video store, one learns a fair bit about most peoples’ viewing habits, in addition to things like the sound of cobwebs being made and how to build an epic fort out of untouched copies of Steven Seagal movies. Around Christmas time, what one seems to be confronted with the most is that peoples’ Christmas movie choices are as stayed and unchanging as the popularity of video stores in the fantasy world I created in my head.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, The Rankin-Bass specials, Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, every year the same titles, to the point that you wonder why most people don’t just buy them. It would be easy for me to cast a disparaging eye on this, elitist dink that I am, but since childhood my preferred Christmas movies have remained just as unchanging. It’s just that I get a smug sense of satisfaction from liking the Christmas movies that don’t seem to rent as much because, well, I’m an elitist dink, try and keep up here, man.
So let’s take a look at some of the preferred holiday viewing around my house this time of year, and maybe it’ll even persuade you to try something new and add a new entry to your usual Christmas line-up.
Bill Murray was a constant presence in my cinematic upbringing and around the holidays his modern-day Christmas Carol adaptation Scrooged was usually played at least once. Murray plays Frank Cross, a heartless TV executive wrapped up in staging a lavish, live broadcast of A Christmas Carol. Oh hey, Scrooged, can you hear me over how meta you’re being, there?
But as the title indicates, Cross gets the Scrooge treatment and is shown the error of his ways by a series of ghosts and tearful looks back at his misspent childhood and lost love, played by the always welcome Karen Allen.
As always, Murray owns the movie, clearly having too much fun playing an utter bastard and cursing out supporting cast members like Bobcat Goldthwait and Alfre Woodard. This is pre-Lost in Translation/Jim Jarmusch/Wes Anderson Murray, when subdued wasn’t in his vocabulary and he had schtick other than tired old man.
But just as fun is watching Murray’s transformation from over-the-top evil to over-the-top good, which culminates in him hijacking the live broadcast to breathlessly scream out a barely coherent, but still effective message about love and happiness before leading everyone in a rousing rendition of Put a Little Love in your Heart.
Ooh, look at Thomas trotting out his anime like it’s the late 90s and that’s still cool and underground. Well y’know, enough people still turn their noses up at any anime that doesn’t involve Hayao Miyazaki that I feel the need to rub things like Akira or, around this time of year, Tokyo Godfathers in their faces right up until the time they ask me to stop and I skulk back to my cave to watch Attack on Titan.
Tokyo Godfathers, rather than the story of displaced Italian mobsters it sounds like, is the story of three homeless people who find an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve and set out to re-unite it with its parents, on the way getting into madcap chases, overcoming their personal demons and crashing a mob party just in time to witness a hit, because what says Christmas more than mob hits, after all.
The film comes via sadly departed anime director Satoshi Kon, who brought us other “No really, there’s no laser-powered schoolgirls or tentacles or anything!” works like Perfect Blue, Paprika and Paranoia Agent. This still manages to be his most “grounded” film, something that could have just as easily been filmed in live action, but is brought to vivid life by animation studio Mad House.
This is definitely the most “out there” entry on this list, but take the plunge and you’ll probably be surprised at the results.
While Scrooged was busy re-inventing the characters of A Christmas Carol for the hip, fast-paced world of 1988, Muppet Christmas Carol seemed more content with just taking the text as is and adding a few talking frogs and musical numbers, and while I do love Scrooged, Mupppet Christmas Carol is nothing if not classier.
It doesn’t hurt that the film comes with a heaping helping of nostalgia, being really the last Muppet movie before things started to go down hill and they started foisting Pepe the Prawn on us as some great new character like a used car dealer desperately trying to sell you on a Toyota Prius. This was the first Muppet movie after the death of Jim Henson, and arguably the last one that still has the old timeless Muppet magic and innocence.
Michael Caine stars as Scrooge, being just as cockney and grumpy as you want him to be, and clearly amused as all hell to be working with a troupe of felt barnyard animals doing funny voices.
Honestly though, what I love most about this one are the songs, which are implanted in my mind as being synonymous with Christmas like a more festive Manchurian Candidate bit of mental reprogramming. There hasn’t been a Christmas Eve in forever that One More Sleep Till Christmas wasn’t stuck in my head, both comforting and a little infuriating. It Feels Like Christmas usually dislodges it the next day to equal effect.
As far as invoking the warm and fuzzies go, Muppet Christmas Carol is basically a tactical nuclear strike for me, in a way Scrooged and Tokyo Godfathers can’t hope to match.
But whatever your preferred holiday viewing, watch it in good health and cheer. Unless it’s Black Christmas, in which case, watch it in blood-lust and catharsis.