Pop Culture

Coolest Xmas movies you’ve never seen

I love “White Christmas.” It’s my all-time favorite holiday film. I love its eyeball-shredding Technicolor and go-for-the-throat sentimentality. By December 23 or so, if I haven’t watched it at least once, I scratch my arms like a junkie. But you know what? I’ve seen it 30 times. You probably have too.

That’s why I propose this alternative: “Six Weeks.” It stars Mary Tyler Moore and Dudley Moore and a 12-year-old ballerina named Katherine Healy who never appeared in another movie again. It has a similarly constructed plot. It’s Christmas and some people have a very short time to pull together a stupendously preposterous event.

In “White Christmas” it’s a benefit extravaganza for a beloved World War II general. In “Six Weeks,” MTM and Arthur have to arrange for the kid, who’s dying of cancer, a chance to dance the lead in “The Nutcracker” with the New York City Ballet. She’s healthy as a horse and dances the role to perfection until just after this momentous event. Then she drops dead. And I mean quite literally drops dead. And that’s the end. Jaw-dropping, I know. And I also know that technically it’s not a comedy. But it kind of totally is. From start to finish. As funny as Danny Kaye, if not more.

Some other substitutions for your watching list…

You’ve seen: “A Christmas Carol” (1951)
Try: “Scrooge” (1970)
The first one’s a classic. The other one is critically shrugged off as a weakling post-“Oliver!” chance for England to dominate all things grubby and musical. People say “guv-nah” way too much in it and it was made by Ronald Neame, the guy who directed “The Poseidon Adventure.” The only thing that’s saved its Ebenezer-Upside-Down reputation is that Albert Finney plays the title grump. He sings his own songs, kind of the way Julia Roberts sang her own songs in Woody Allen’s “Everyone Says I Love You”: badly, but in an endearing way all the same.

The ending of the film is an adrenaline-blasted 17-minute musical medley of most of the weird numbers that have already been sung once in the film. The entire city of London dances and belts it out in the streets and throws their hats in the air in a rapturous explosion of mandatory joy. I saw it for the first time at age six. I assumed that the story was always meant to be a musical and disregarded all other versions until much later in life. When I read Dickens’ novella as an adult I kept wondering why no one stopped to warble a Leslie Bricusse tune. This movie scarred me forever and I’m grateful for that.

You’ve seen: “Bad Santa” (2003)
Try: “The Ice Harvest” (2005)
A technically NC-17 “unrated” DVD version and multiple cable airings of the first one have obscured the pleasures of the latter, but both feature Billy Bob Thornton being very, very upset. And that’s everyone’s favorite version of Billy Bob Thornton. “Ice Harvest” is about Thornton and John Cusack trying to rob the mob on Christmas Eve. Then lots of people get shot. It’s intentionally funny but it’s also intentionally dour, a combination most movies don’t aim for without trying to inject just a touch of sweetness toward the end so the audience doesn’t feel ruined. This one forgets the injection and lets you experience what it would be like to sit in a frozen puddle of slush for 100 minutes. It will make you forget about your problems for its duration because everyone you’re watching is way more miserable than you.

You’ve seen: “The Family Stone” (2005)
Try: “Some Girls” (1988)
Dylan McDermott brings home Sarah Jessica Parker to meet his wacky family. The results are mostly a drag. And it was done before and better in 1989 by this pretty-pretty Canadian movie starring Patrick Dempsey (pre-McDreamy, here simply McDorky) and Jennifer Connelly (pre-Oscar, pre-super skinny). She takes him home for Christmas to her family in Quebec. Her mother is frightening, her always-naked father is writing a book about Pascal, her sisters are lusty temptresses, and her grandmother thinks Dempsey is her long-dead husband. It was Wacky Family before Wacky Family was cool (and got so annoying). Everything on camera is gorgeous and glowing, and it’s smart and moving in an unironic way. Translation: it’s unwise to watch it if you’re of the Christmas-Anxiety-Disorder persuasion because everything in your life will seem less incandescent by comparison.

You’ve seen: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)
Try: “La Bûche” (1999)
This French movie from 1999 opens with a man’s funeral. Then a cell phone rings. Turns out that the call is coming from inside the casket. Oops, the wife forgot to call the mistress and tell her about the death. But that’s why we love the French, because they would call the mistress under normal circumstances. They have their own version of manners over there. The rest of the movie is about Emmanuelle Beart and Charlotte Gainsbourg and the rest of their irritable, smoking family all trying to figure out how to deal with each other at Christmas. They wonder what the point of it all is, just like Jimmy Stewart. Then they muddle through. It’s blunt, unpredictable and bitterly funny. And it’s got Charlotte Gainsbourg. I mentioned that already, I know. But she can do no wrong. If she’s in a movie you should probably watch it. It’s a fairly reliable rule to live by.

You’ve seen: “A Christmas Story” (1983)
Try: “Christmas Evil”  (1980)
And if you haven’t seen “A Christmas Story” then you obviously don’t own a television. Or a pair of eyes. Or have friends. Because I think by now every single person in the world, even in countries where they don’t even celebrate Christmas, has seen “A Christmas Story.” So I want to recommend this other, similar tale of holiday toy obsession (which is sometimes also know by the title “You Better Watch Out”). It’s about a guy (Brandon Maggart) who’s so crazy for Christmas that he believes he’s Santa. And he has to deliver the toys. He has to. So he paints a sleigh on the side of his gross “Silence of The Lambs” van. And woe unto you if you get in his way. Because he’ll put your eye out.  Now, it’s not really part of the Santa-As-Murderer genre because he really is into making sure that everyone understands the true meaning of Christmas. And it turns out he really is Santa because at the end he flies off into the sky in his van. Ho ho ho. Or else.

Weird trivia: Someone involved with “E.R.” must have liked this movie too because lead actor Maggart was cast as a Santa-like patient named Stan Calaus in a 1995 episode of that show.

You’ve seen: “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” (1964)
Try: “Santa Claus” (1959)
Camp can be a dead-end road. Too many viewings of “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” becomes a study in diminishing returns. But the surreal never gets old. And this 1959 Mexican children’s movie (made briefly famous when “Mystery Science Theater 3000” got hold of it) is out of control.

Follow along: Santa lives in the clouds in a castle where he employs indentured child-servants from every land to make his toys and sing indigenous songs. A roving eyeball telescope helps him spy on the kiddies, one of whom is a tiny, impoverished child named Lupita who wants a doll so badly she might steal one rather than waste a doomed-to-failure Christmas wish on it. That’s when Santa enlists the help of Merlin the magician and he goes to battle with a somewhat gay-acting Satan to save the little girl and make Christmas come true. When he’s not busy with that Santa is also helping a rich boy win back the love of his neglectful, party-hopping parents by posing as a cocktail waiter and slipping them a Rohypnol of Heartwarmth. I am not making up one millimeter of this plot. Do yourself a favor and gather the kids around and put this one in front of their impressionable minds. You want them to grow up to be interesting, don’t you?

Dave White is the film critic for Movies.com and the author of “Exile in Guyville.” He can be found at .

TOP