Opinion | Expand your Christmas cinematic horizons

By Aaron Anastos, Columnist

Christmas cinema is insufferable.

To clarify, this doesn’t include all “holiday season” movies. This isn’t directed at you, “A Rugrats Kwanzaa,” or you, “Mistletoe and Menorahs.” You’re wonderful just the way you are. 

This is directed specifically at Christmas cinema. 

After years of repeated viewings, the usual classics — the stories of endearingly innocent man-elves, angels focused on climbing the bureaucratic ladder, and Bruce Willis spreading holiday cheer by way of a Beretta pistol — have little left to offer than the expectedly reliable creature comforts of the season. 

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but any aversion to discovering new Christmas movies is what makes the old reliables insufferable. Luckily, there is a veritable treasure trove of underrated and underappreciated Christmas movies to be discovered, and this columnist is more than happy to provide some recommendations. 

#1 

The ‘Ol Reliable: “Elf” (2003) 

The Alternative: “Christmas in Connecticut” (1945)

Sure, seeing Will Ferrell traipse around New York without any intention of hiding his true elf identity from the confused individuals who meet him is pure Christmas entertainment. But, it would be more narratively engrossing if Buddy the Elf had dabbled in more deception to hide his true identity. 

That is what “Christmas in Connecticut” has to offer, in the form of a romantic comedy starring a pre-Big Valley Barbara Stanwick and Dennis Morgan. Stanwick’s Elizabeth Lane is a famous culinary columnist a la Martha Stewart, only minus the prison sentence and plus a lavish farm and family in the beautiful Connecticut countryside. 

However, Elizabeth might just join the Stewart cell block after all, as her publisher boss invites a recently discharged war hero (Morgan) to stay at her farm for Christmas as part of a warmhearted publicity stunt. There is only one problem — Elizabeth has no farm, family or culinary skills of any kind. 

Watching Stanwick concoct a wild plan to sustain her deception by “borrowing” a farm and family in Connecticut is something that never fails to keep the festive spirit alive, especially as Morgan’s war hero starts to fall for Elizabeth — and vice versa. 

#2

The ‘Ol Reliable: “Die Hard” (1988)

The Alternative: “Die Hard 2” (1990)

Everything has been said that can be said about “Die Hard,” the quintessential alternative Christmas film. Every year, it’s a thrill to watch Bruce Willis save Nakatomi Plaza from a stellar Alan Rickman.

However, not enough has been said about the thrill of watching Bruce Willis save Dulles International Airport from a suitably campy William Sadler

New holiday game: Take a sip of that festive cinnamon-topped eggnog every time someone frantically screams the words, “Annex Skywalk!” as gunfire rings out. 

#3

The ‘Ol Reliable: “Home Alone” (1990)

The Alternative: “The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) 

“Home Alone” does not feature Michael Caine playing Ebeneezer Scrooge, taken on an emotional journey by Gonzo the Great and Rizzo the Rat, singing extremely catchy tunes with the Muppets cast all while learning the true meaning of Christmas. 

“The Muppet Christmas Carol” does. Enough said. 

#4

The ‘Ol Reliable: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946)

The Alternative: “In Bruges” (2008)

In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” arguably the greatest Christmas movie ever made, Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey dreams of leaving his hometown of Bedford Falls and traveling the world, but never does. For the viewers out there who do wish to travel the world, take a trip to Belgium in the cult-classic dark comedy “In Bruges.” 

Starring the excellent duo of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson and helmed by the acclaimed writer/director Martin McDonagh, In Bruges tells the story of two hitmen, Ray (Farrell) and Ken (Gleeson), who hide out in Bruges, Belgium after a job gone wrong at Christmastime. The duo wanders the streets of scenic Bruges and have many deep conversations and revelations as they await orders from their boss. 

With fantastic performances all around, a crackling script, and a deft balance of dark comedy with drama, In Bruges is a relentlessly entertaining salty side dish to the usual cinematic Christmas feast. 

And if “In Bruges” wets one’s whistle, then the newly released “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a perfect accompanying watch — widely regarded as a spiritual sequel to “In Bruges,” it features another fantastic collaboration between Farrell, Gleeson, and McDonagh.

With these recommendations, let the Christmas season ring in with a refreshingly greater variety of films that deliver the same warm sentiments and thrills as the all-time classics. Merry Christmas, and happy watching.

Aaron is a freshman in LAS.

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