By Todd Knaak

December 13, 2014

I hate to be one the one that brings bad news, but I guess it’s best you find out this way: Christmas is almost here. That terrible time of year – where the life-saving mid-month paycheck doesn’t exist, so you have to cash a $12.27 check from your grandma who has no idea who you are and keeps closing her eyes and asking if she’s dead yet, and you realize your fake surprised face is the one face you don’t want photographed – has finally come. On top of that, you have to watch A Christmas Story play on loop on TBS for the umpteenth Christmas in a row while everyone argues that It’s a Wonderful Life is the best holiday movie – which it is, we know.

Or who knows, maybe you like Christmas and giving worship to a glass Coca-Cola bottle. Either way, I’ve prepared a list of Best Christmas Movies that should satisfy both the Scrooges and Buddy Hobbs of the world. Needless to say, pretty much none of these movies are actually good and have nothing to do with Christmas, but everyone already knows It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Home Alone, and The Santa Clause are the best Christmas movies. You don’t need to be told again. In fact, I probably won’t mention any Christmas aspects of these movies. So what follows is a list of holiday films that stay off the beaten path, but not far enough to get lost. I’m also going to start with the lesser-known Christmas movies to trick hipsters into reading the whole list.

So while your uncle’s girlfriend is covering you with alcohol-soaked sentences about her sexually dwindling relationship while you try to avoid her fingers touching you again, you have a pretty solid list to go home and unwind to. Besides, she’ll probably drink herself into a coma pretty soon anyways. I love the holidays.


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale may just be one of the best Christmas horror movies of all time, and I say that with another one still coming up on the list. It’s the simple Finnish story of a small child (Onni Tommila) being raised on the Finnish-Russian border with no mother and a father who works too hard. That’s when a mining company discovers what may be Santa Claus himself, frozen in a mountain, so they obviously are going to blow him out. Enter bloodthirsty Santa Claus. First time feature director Jamalri Helander, with the help of his brother Juuso and a few other writers, manages to take the good parts of Christmas horror and avoid the dreadful parts. Even with something as hilarious as a murdering Santa, Rare Exports still achieves some of the most anxiety-inducing scenes. How? There’s plenty of reasons like the score, pacing, when to hold on shots, the reveal of Santa, blah, blah, and blah. But to me, what made the movie strangely horrifying was its color and cinematography. The movie is uniquely beautiful and, essentially, got minor flack for becoming too “Hollywoodized,” since apparently it’s taboo for independent foreign filmmakers to actually shoot the shit out of a movie without hiring a DP who forgot his tripod and has Parkinson’s. Handheld is not “realistic” or “so artistic” anymore – it’s just cheaper, easier, and has been overused because good directors used it frugally to enhance tension in scenes. It doesn’t cause tension if it’s going the whole damn time. I got off track. It’s the contrast of the wonderful colors against a desolate Finnish wasteland that really gives Rare Exports it’s own little flare. My boss told me to keep these shorter so I’ll stop here, but it’s killing me on the inside.

What it is: 87/100 (B+)

What it really is: 94/100 (A)

What it really, really is: Santa Claus killing people/100 (A+++++)


In Bruges

This movie is packed with Irish people, and when is the last time you didn’t enjoy a movie where everyone was Irish? In Bruges is a tragicomedy starring Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes giving the most underrated performances of all time. It’s basically about Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who are hit men, being sent to lay low “in Bruges” during Christmas by mob boss Ralph Fiennes – but Colin Farrell holds a deep, troubling secret about his last job. The only thing it’s missing is James McAvoy. Director and writer, Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths) – who, by the way, writes plays and you should immediately read all of them starting with The Lieutenant of Inishmore – takes the reins and proves he knows how to handle that delicate line of comedy and tragedy with finesse; even better than Guy Ritchie in Snatch. In Bruges proves Martin McDonagh, when given a pen and a paper, is a force to be reckoned with, earning himself an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay. And good lord can the man write his ass off, there’s a scene that sums up his clever scripting capabilities, but it contains the second biggest SPOILER of the movie. You’ve been warned.

Brendan Gleeson’s character receives a phone call from his boss, Ralph Fiennes, while in the hotel room pretending that Colin Farrell is in the bathroom. He lies to Ralph and says that Colin Farrell loves his time in Bruges (he literally complains how much he hates it the whole movie) and that Colin said, “Ken, I know I’m awake, but I feel like I’m in a dream.” Brendan tries to conceal his laughter at Ralph Fiennes’ excitement, until Ralph explains that he sent them there so Brendan could kill his new best friend, Colin, after he enjoys his last holiday in Bruges. The conversation ends with Ralph saying, “I’d like to go see Bruges again before I die. What was it [Colin] said again?” Brendan repeats, “I know I’m awake, but I feel like I’m in a dream.” The conversation starts and ends with the same line, but they both carry 110% opposite emotions and connotation, he flips the whole movie with one line. The man’s good, real good. Plus the whole scene is done in a single 6-minute take because Martin knows how to bring out the best in his own writing while enhancing the movie as a whole and the performers. Also, there’s a scene where Brendan stops Colin from shooting himself in the head while he was on the way to shoot him in the head. How do you believably get there in a script? See this one.

What it is: 95/100 (A)

What it really is: 99/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: Hilarious fast-talking Irish people/100


Die Hard

Die Hard is the actual best Christmas movie of all time. It may be slightly cliché to put this on a Christmas list, but I don’t dare leave this out, that’s blasphemy. I’m not even going to give you a brief summary, because if you didn’t already mumble yippee ki yay under your breath, you shouldn’t be reading this. Die Hard comes from what my friend Jay deemed as that beautiful “Terminator Era” when they had to blow up an actual helicopter if they wanted it to explode – and Bruce Willis still had hair. No one’s looking at a green screen and pretending it’s hot here. But the real reason Die Hard is great is its simplicity. Bruce Willis isn’t flying all over the world to shoot Random Suited Henchman A, he’s in a single 40 story building the whole time. Action stars always get a bit scuffled by the end of a flick, but only in the third act and never enough to damage their pretty cheekbones. Not Bruce Willis, by the end of Die Hard, he’s crawling through the building with his skin barely hanging onto his bones, covered in enough blood to get Takashi Miike hard as his cigarette pack gets emptier and emptier. Hell, Bruce is barefoot from the moment shit goes down until the moment the credits roll, pulling glass out of his feet, limping, doing whatever it is he has to. Never has a movie made you feel like the hero has done so much in such little scope, and you’re just as exhausted watching him as he is doing it. Plus, this is one of Alan Rickman’s first performances off the stage and before he was forever Professor Snape; he kills it. And their first meeting narrowly avoids falling into the most overused moment in action history because, unlike most action movies, this one only has brawn because of its brain.

What it is: 94/100 (A)

What it really is: 100/100

What it really, really is: Alan Rickman vs. Bruce Willis/100 (A+++++++++++++++++++)


Jingle all the Way

I’m fully aware this could rank in top 10 worst movies of all time – its uncomfortable title choice alone is enough to show that. But I’d be lying to your face if I said I didn’t wake up every Christmas hoping to god I finally get a Turbo Man. Director Brian Levant (Are We There Yet?, The Flintstones) begins his career of creating a hell for actors’ careers to melt into and die – we’re looking at you Sinbad, Jackie Chan, Rick Moranis. And he surely doesn’t waste time doing just that by directing Arnold Schwarzenegger as a man trying to get a sparse action toy, Turbo Man, for his son for Christmas. The movie’s packed with innocence-corrupting themes about buying love and, of course, quickly tries to dispel an hour and a half of that by having the kid say something about how all he wanted was his dad to care. (And probably stop passing out with the steroid needle still in his arm every night. Cue the Arnold Schwarzenegger closed-eye smile nod of understanding.) I love this movie so much. The cover has Arnold in a Santa outfit, which literally never happens in the movie – I think – I don’t know I haven’t seen this in like 12 years. All I know is I love this movie because I have no problem liking things that I know are terrible. And if you think everything you like is good, you’re only making yourself totally unbearable as a human. Also, Hook is just as bad and you know you love that. It comes in a disc, has opening credits, is an hour and a halfish, and has outro credits, so I love it.

What it is: 68/100 (D+)

What it really is: 100/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: Better than Kindergarten Cop/100


Black Christmas (1974)

You may think I’m just putting Black Christmas on here so I can be that guy that put Black Christmas on his movie list – but I hate that guy. Black Christmas actually has a tremendous amount of merit and importance in the film world. You may notice (probably didn’t notice) that this came out the same year as the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is my favorite horror movie, and predates Halloween. That’s right, the slasher genre started four years before Halloween. Legend has it that Black Christmas actually inspired Halloween: They both have that epic POV oner that kicks off the movie, Michael Myers is the polar opposite of Billy – where Billy is loud and largely unseen, Michael is silent and constantly seen, and the police mistakenly think they caught Billy so he escapes, while the authorities mistakenly think they killed Michael so he escapes. Sure, Halloween was better because of the Scream Queen, Jamie Lee Curtis, absolutely setting the standard for future “Survivor Girls,” but that’s only because it didn’t have to start from scratch. Overall, Black Christmas is more important than actually good. It truly laid the foundation for future slashers without really showing that much gore, it’s remained a cult classic, and it’s important enough to get a shitty remake. Plus, those ‘70s horror movie taglines on the posters are always so delightful, “If this picture doesn’t make your skin crawl... it’s on TOO TIGHT.”

What it is: 83/100 (B-)

What it really is: 90/100 (A-)

What it really, really is: Genuine ‘70s horror/100


How the Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas won an Oscar while your half-assed indie drama about a dysfunctional family coming to terms with each other still hasn’t even made it to a theater. Sure, it’s the same Oscar that Bad Grandpa won, but it’s still an Oscar. In 2000, Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13) had a brilliant idea. Turn a beloved Dr. Seuss short and stretch it into a feature film while distinguishing all haters’ torches by throwing Jim Carrey in there. What he didn’t mean to do (probably) is to take a child’s story and turn it into the secret ultimate stoner comedy that still managed to be a hit with children. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched The Grinch and The Cat in the Hat back-to-back with a joint in hand, it’ll literally change those movies forever. But the real reason it’s on the list, other than the fact that I watch it every time it’s on TBS, is Jim Carrey. Say what you want about Jim Carrey, but he’s the only one that can pull off that dated ‘90s slapstick animated humor and combine it with the mumblecore humor of today. Jim wore contacts that nearly blinded him every time he was in front of that lens, but he still gives it all he has. While most wouldn’t take this role seriously, lazily read the lines, and cashed that paycheck, Jim Carrey fucking disappears and comes back as the actual Grinch. Every single line the man gives has the most insane amount of subtle passion behind it; he’s really going for gold in this movie. He gives it his all and that’s what makes the film. He approaches it like a professional actor doing his absolute best at his job and you can’t help but respect that. He nails it and helps create one of those movies where you find something new and hilarious every time you watch. If you can make it past the way he delivers his schedule without erupting into laughter, then you’re not stoned enough.

“The nerve of those Whos. Inviting me down there – on such short notice! Even if I wanted to go my schedule wouldn’t allow it. 4:00, wallow in self pity; 4:30, stare into the abyss; 5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one; 5:30, jazzercize; 6:30, dinner with me – I can’t cancel that again; 7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing… I’m booked. Of course, if I bump the loathing to 9, I could still be done in time to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling, and slip slowly into madness. But what would I wear?”

What it is: 80/100 (B-)

What it really is: 95/100 (A)

What it really, really is: How Jim Carrey Stole the Grinch Movie/100


Batman Returns

If there’s a Batman movie that can even loosely relate to whatever movie post I’m doing, I’m going to put it in there. Why? Because Batman is in it. Giving a logline for a pre-Nolan Batman completely pointless, you only need to know the villains, and this time it’s Penguin and Catwoman, and who played Batman: Michael Keaton. I’ll still argue Michael Keaton was the best Batman because he made the most interesting Bruce Wayne – he was skittish but still had game, short, and had a receding hairline. It took the boastful, playboy billionaire, Bruce Wayne, and turned it into a brooding, disturbed billionaire, Bruce Wayne. But the film did that without succumbing to the hyper-realism that superhero movies abide by nowadays, which tends to ruin them. Which is what Tim Burton (need I say what he directed) nailed perfectly. It was more realistic and darker than the Batman movies that followed with Val Kilmer and George Clooney and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it kept its toonish atmosphere that the Dark Knight trilogy completely cut off. Besides, I don’t care what you said, Tim Burton created the best Gotham that has and ever will be put on screen. I think of those contrapposto gargoyles and dim, yet colorful, lights that painted the fog that engulfed these massive gothic towers just right. And this time he treated us to that plus a little bit of snow. He also created the quintessential Batman soundtrack, no disrespect to Hans Zimmer. But the first two Batman movies have the most fucking Batman soundtracks that I’ve ever heard. But for real, I don’t think you remember how good Michelle Pfeiffer was in this movie. She could’ve carried the Catwoman spin-off movie like no other.

What it is: 83/100 (B-)

What it really is: 100/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: Batman/Batman (Batman+)


Rocky IV

The Rocky vs. Drago fight is to take place on Christmas day in Moscow. That’s enough for me, this is a Christmas movie. Screw the synopsis and backstory, let me tell you why this is on the list: Sylvester Stallone, Rocky, badass Russian fighter beats Apollo Creed to death in front of thousands WITH HIS HANDS, his name is fucking Ivan Drago, Rocky trains in the damn snow, it’s not Rocky V, Paulie gets a robot (I know that’s awful, but come on), Drago literally wears Russian boxing pants, Rocky wears an American Flag pair of shorts that were also Apollo’s, “I must break you,” “If he dies, he dies,” unsanctioned 15 rounds, James Brown is in it, it’s a book now (?), grossed higher than any other Rocky movie, critics hate it, still has that theme song, and you can almost understand Sylvester Stallone. That is an inarguable list of reasons why Rocky IV is one of the best Christmas movies. Short, simple, and sweet. If you disagree, I’m now pumped enough to settle this in the ring.

What it is: 79/100 (C+)

What it really is: 83/100 (B-)

What it really, really is: Better than Rocky V/100


Rules of Attraction

If, for Christmas, you want to watch James Van Der Beek punch Jessica Biel in the nose (because someone had to), then I just indirectly got you a present. Roger Avary (helped write Pulp Fiction) adapts Bret Easton Ellis’s (American Psycho) novel about, basically, a drug-fueled, college love-triangle during winter break in the ‘80s. James Van Der Beek (yes, from Dawson’s Creek) plays Sean Bateman, Patrick Bateman’s (Christian Bale from American Psycho) little brother, a drug dealer that falls in questionably genuine love with Lauren Hynde (Shannyn Sossamon), while she waits for her bisexual love to return from his European vacation. That vacation montage is the best part of this horrific movie. This movie packs as many split screens, pictures in pictures, and other dizzying camera techniques to make the audience feel as coked out as possible. And while that’s a major complaint from most critics, I say it keep it coming as long as you keep it consistent, which they do. But back to James – this came out right before he realized his only career move left was to satirize himself, and he actually doesn’t really do that bad. You get to watch him parade around and execute decisions based on good intentions in the most misguided ways possible. So if you want to watch James Van Der Beek quickly destroy everything around him, Jessica Biel in a bra for about an hour, the most disgusting yet interesting characters, and some of the craziest and inventive screen effects out there, this one’s for you. It’s not very good, but it’s certainly a guilty pleasure that you’ll watch all the way through. Confession: I only put this on the list for the off chance that Shannyn Sossamon might see it and I can finally get my celebrity crush. Well, she’s my obscure celebrity crush that I name when hipsters ask so they’ll like me enough to give me their prescriptions.

What it is: 75/100 (C)

What it really is: 84/100 (B)

What it really, really is: Addicting/100


Love Actually

I’m not ashamed to admit it: A good romantic comedy gets to me more than any kind of movie. Yeah, I paid to see About Time three or four times in theaters. And even though Love Actually might not be the best romantic comedy, it’s certainly the ultimate. First time director, Richard Curtis, went full on rom-com by taking the formula and giving it a massive baggie of meth. What do romantic comedies have? Two people falling in love. He said, fuck it, we’ll have over 12 people falling in love. Hugh Grant – Okay, we’ll get him and raise you Bill Nighy, Liam fucking Neeson, and Colin Firth. Adorably befuddled British woman – hell, we’ll make everyone British. Sure, it’s super overstuffed and, at times, a bit too cheesy for its own good, but it’ll still work its way deep down into the hopeless romantic in all of us. I mean, you know that awesome moment when two characters finally smash faces and they hilariously stumble about and knock over everything on the counter? Times 12. Its massive cast really makes it able to cover all bases, you got the hunky, lonely dad Bill Nighy playing the aging rock star, Hugh Grant as Hugh Grant, Colin Firth stumbling over his words, a constantly displeased but secretly romantic Keira Knightley, and Billy Bob Thornton as President of the United States whose stress is fixed with a pair of nice legs. The cast is massive and the story is complex and they all weave in and out of each other. You should never overlook the talent it takes to handle an ensemble cast and have no character fall flat. Every single person in this romantic epic is incredibly delightful and you’ll be begging they each get their own movie by the time the credits roll. So go ahead, no one can see you, stop pretending you don’t get way too excited when you see there’s twenty minutes left of a movie and the two leads are arguing in public right as it begins to rain. There’s no shame in pretending Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams are actually growing old together because I also turn in to a 13-year-old girl if someone mentions The Girl Next Door, Annie Hall, Crazy Stupid Love, Tangled, Magic in the Moonlight, Bridget Jones’s Diary, About a Boy, 500 Days of Summer, or The Graduate (to name a few). But not Juno, I hate Juno. But no shame! What’re they going to do – beat up a kid who likes romantic comedies? That’s practically a hate crime nowadays.

What it is: 80/100 (B-)

What it really is: 92/100 (A-)

What it really, really is: Awwwh/100


BONUS: A Christmas Story

I actually ended up putting this on here because I’m not an asshole. If you don’t like A Christmas Story, you’re either lying or probably hate children, joy, candy, and the human race. I mean human race in a legitimate way, not in the, “I hate all people,” way that people in leather jackets say right before their band goes on to the girl that he, most likely, will see naked later. But why not It’s a Wonderful Life? Simple, I was raised on A Christmas Story more – it was on every time I’d open my present, the main character was more relatable to my infant-self, and I also never got a damn BB gun. What object is more recognizable than that leg lamp? Which phrase is more iconic than, “You’ll shoot your eye out kid?” Besides Adam West, who does the best narration in a movie? How many lives has this movie saved by showing what happens when you lick an icy pole? What film captures a child brawl better? None. A Christmas Story is just that: A classic Christmas story as recognizable and warm as Rudolph’s. A little heart goes a long way; this movie is proof of that. Besides, this one always registered with me because there was no big house and tree neatly stuffed with shiny, pristine presents. The family’s house was falling apart and cluttered while the Dad slowly became distant and nearly loopy by the tedium of his life (hence his obsession with the lamp) and the Mom always had some sort of busy work in her hand, trying to fight off that middle-aged manic breakdown we all know is coming. They were the strangely realistic lower-middle class, struggling, scared family barely holding it together. But with all that going on, Ralphie paid no attention and sought after that BB gun. The movie ends, as you probably know, with him breaking his glasses and his Mom wiping his face right before rampant dogs come in and eat the entire feast in the house as the older Ralphie narrates it was the best Christmas gift he ever received. I always took that symbolically – he lost his childish outlook that Christmas, heard the catastrophe that was the place he called home, and loved it for the first time. To me, A Christmas Story has always been the best depiction of the moment you find out what Christmas is really about: Taking time to love the dysfunctional disaster you’re born into. Maybe I’m wrong. Or maybe everyone already knew that and this is pointless to say.

What it is: 100/100 (A+)

What it really is: 100/100 (A+)

What it really, really is: Christmas.

Todd Knaak