5 Days of Christmas Movies: Bad Santa (2003)

#5: Because blogging about It’s A Wonderful Life right before Christmas is overdone.

I realized something last night: The drunk Santa Claus in Miracle on 34th Street is Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa. Can you imagine Kris Kringle’s reaction if he met this unlawful drunk and his “motherf***ing dwarf” cohort? Kris Kringle would have a stroke. Or, worse, he would shave his whiskers.

Bad Santa counterbalances every overly cheery Christmas movie that has ever existed, especially Miracle on 34th Street. My inner grinch (admit it, you have one too) appreciates it immensely.

Billy Bob Thornton was born to play the role a drunken mall Santa Claus who terrorizes children and shocks their parents. Except one impressionable boy who desperately wants Santa Claus to be his father figur. The Kid is no Susan. His naive nature is charming, cute, and kind of heartbreaking. Susan’s precociousness was gratingly annoying.

As much as I enjoy the timeless classic holiday movies,  Bad Santa is like the necessary evil of Christmas movies.

I can only imagine what will happen in the sequel.

5 Days of Christmas Movies: Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

4. A Movie About Cynical Jerks Who Try To Ruin Christmas

Like many children, the first holiday movie I remember watching is Miracle on 34th Street. It is one the best ways to introduce classic, black and white films to kids. But it has been years since last saw this movie and aside from Natalie Wood’s adorable precociousness (she’s the 1947 version of Suri’s Burn Book), I couldn’t recall what actually happened. I somehow missed that Miracle on 34th Street is in fact a commentary on how crabby white men ruin everything with their pesky trials.

On that note, here are some other things to take away from Miracle on 34th Street. You know, aside from spreading holiday cheer, why you should be generous and that Santa Claus really does exist.

1. Always trust elderly men with whiskers who tells you they are Santa Claus. Kris Kringle is not crazy. He’s sweet, charming and just wants kids to be kids. What’s wrong with that?

If you listen to Kris Kringle, you'll also get an elementary introduction to the concept of nation-states.

2. If your mother works for a major department store, it may be best to ignore her sometimes. She doesn’t want you to have any curiosity because she once believed in love. And now she’s a bitter divorcee. So good luck hashing those issues out with your therapist in 30 years.

"Listen Susan, I divorced your dad and now I'm bitter. So you also can't enjoy anything."

3. Hey Susan. See that bachelor lawyer in the apartment across the hall? Use your precocious ways to get him to hook up with your mom. He’ll also be useful when the District Attorney decides to crush the dreams of children and tell them there is no Santa Claus.

Now you have a shot at being a normal kid.

4. The government has always wasted the public’s time. Also lawyers and psychologists are jerks.

To think of all the other events that were ignored because of this trial...

5. The U.S. Postal Service saves the day! It’s hilarious that an endless number of letters to Santa Claus save Kris Kringle from being legally declared a crazy person. Nowadays, so many people knock the postal service but they shouldn’t. Because the postal service saved Christmas.

In just a few years, the presence of letters and the post office will confuse the young children watching this movie.

5 Days of Christmas Movies: A Christmas Tale (2008)

3. The Family Drama

When it comes to Christmas movies, they are overwhelmingly cheery (Love Actually) or a classic story that has be retold countless times (A Christmas Carol). Then there are holiday movies that are dark, complex, family dramas. These are usually the best holiday films. Probably because they’re more than a little realistic.

A Christmas Tale, directed by Arnaud Desplechin, follows the Vuillard family during the days before Christmas. The matriarch Junon (Catherine Deneuve) needs a bone marrow transplant, which brings her alcoholic son, Henri (Mathieu Almaric) to the family’s festivities. Five years earlier, Elizabeth (Anne Consigny), the oldest Vuillard child and a depressed playwright, banished Henri from the family. The youngest child Ivan (Melvil Poupaud) watches as his siblings argue and as his marriage develop its own set of problems. The more the film delves into this family’s problems and secrets, it becomes clear that the Vuillards are the most dysfunctional family conceivable.

Despite this obvious dysfunction, the Vuillards are an entertaining group. Catherine Deneuve and Mathieu Almaric are two actors worth watching is anything they appear in. Jean-Paul Roussillon, a French character actor, shines in his supporting turn as the Vuillard patriarch Abel, who stands by as his wife and children address their many problems.

A Christmas Tale is endlessly enjoyable look at a family’s longstanding issues and how their problems just happen to coincide with the holidays.

5 Days of Christmas Movies: A Christmas Carol (1951)

2. The Classic Of Christmas Classics

There are countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. A different version shows up almost every decade and attempts to rehash the timeless story without making it dull. Some, like the 2009 adaptation that used performance capture, show off new technologies. Several versions are animated. Others play up the fantasy elements or place an immensely popular actor in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge. One of these versions is bound to have your favorite.

And despite all of these versions, no adaptation comes close to the 1951 version, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge.

I love a good curmudgeon.

This version of A Christmas Carol (known as Scrooge in the UK) stays faithful to the source material, strays from making the film too family friendly, and feels wonderfully vivid because of Alastair Sim’s performance as Scrooge.

The cast of this film consists entirely of character actors. Sim made his mark on the stage and in bit parts in several films. A Christmas Carol is arguably his most well known film performance today.

Sim’s Scrooge is a real crank. He is angry, resentful, and just an all around unpleasant man. He doesn’t give his one employee Bob Cratchit a bonus or want to visit his nephew to celebrate the holiday.Yet after the visits from the ghosts of Jacob Marley, Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future, Scrooge instantly changes. Scrooge becomes giddy with joy and excitement, causing his housemaid to think he’s gone mad. (Sim’s laugh in this scene is infectious.) He makes amends with his family and Cratchit.

No matter how many more adaptations of A Christmas Carol there will be (you know a 3D live-action version is somewhere in the works), it is unlikely that any actor could top Alastair Sim as the best Scrooge.

5 Days of Christmas Movies: Love Actually (2003)

1. The Overly Cheery Romantic Comedy

I don’t watch many Christmas movies this time of year but Love Actually happens to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures. It is always the first Christmas movie I watch and it sets the mood for the rest of the holiday season.

Love Actually follows ten intertwining stories and many characters during the weeks leading up to Christmas. The cast is stacked with the likes of Bill Nighy, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Colin Firth and Laura Linney. Compared to the cats of other rom-coms centered around a holiday (ugh, Valentine’s Day), this ensemble is overwhelmingly talented.

But a talented cast doesn’t make Love Actually is the greatest romantic comedy/holiday movie of the aughts. In fact, it is far from that.

Love Actually is overloaded with characters and story lines. Some I really don’t care for, like Keira Knightley as the newlywed or Chiwetel Ejiofor as her husband. (Would you even know it? Ejiofor barely has a line.) And I cannot stand Liam Neeson’s widowed father act.

Writer-director Richard Curtis basically went nuts when he made this film. Can you imagine how sloppy and tedious the director’s cut with 40 additional minutes would be? (Hint: Very painful.) And yet, I still adore Love Actually. I’d rather watch it, flaws and all, than miss out on the wonder that is Billy Mack, Rowan Atkinson’s gift wrapping, or Hugh Grant’s dancing.

And because Valentine’s Day really is so goddamn terrible.