Our first version of this list of Christmas films began with the classics, It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street—indeed holiday favorites but it was looking a little too saccharine for our taste.
Back at the drawing board we began digging a little deeper and have come up with this list of antidotes to the traditional sugarplums.
J.A. Bayona’s film based on Patrick Ness’s book is a dark fairytale—it is a repossession of fairy tales from the comforting modern day tales where everyone lives happily ever after.
In a lineup of holiday releases— this tale of a bullied boy (Lewis MacDougall) whose mother (Felicity Jones) is dying and whose best friend is a talking yew tree might look like one of the many E.T. clones. But the monster in this film has grit—voiced by Liam Neeson. The film is realistic, often grim and intense with hard lessons about death and grief—I teared up watching the trailer.
The bleak watercolor depictions of a trio of fairy tales that the monster tells young Conor are dark and sinister—complete with murders, poisonings, religious intolerance and humanity’s indifference to suffering. These tales are served up to help teach the boy about the life, death and grief and most importantly moral courage.
Joe Dante directed this low budget chiller, which was written by Chris Columbus with Steven Spielberg on board as a producer. There is a reboot of the film in production.
Gremlins is a hilarious holiday horror-comedy which also offers helpful lessons on gift giving. Don’t buy pets from unlicensed breeders. Pets make for high-maintenance gifts. Never trust your kids to follow instructions.
Billy, who was given Gizmo as a gift, proceeds to break all the rules—no water, no bright lights, and no post-midnight feeding. The result is a Christmas ruined by the hyper-reproducing creature, which spawns evil counterpart Gremlins. They hang the family dog in a string of lights and go on a holiday rampage that includes death and merry mayhem galore.
Tim Burton’s stop-motion animation film succeeds in corrupting the very essence of Christmas, thanks to main character Jack Skellington’s gruesome re-imagining of the holiday.
As much a Halloween as Christmas movie, the king of “Halloween Town” stumbles upon alternate universe “Christmas Town,” which inspires him to bring the holiday spirit back home and kidnap Santa Claus
Unfortunately, Jack’s macabre imagination is an awkward fit for Santa’s cheerful occupation, and results in unsuspecting children receiving gruesome gifts like shrunken heads under the tree, and “Sandy Claws” being gunned down from the sky.
Thankfully, Jack’s unsuccessful usurpation of Santa’s hard-to-fill shoes is forgiven, and we gifted with a delightfully creepy duet with Jack and his rag doll boo, Sally.
Stanley Kubrick’s ode to Christmas stars Doctor Bill (Tom Cruise) who embarks on a Christmas adventure that makes formerly risqué holiday movies seem underwhelmingly vanilla.
After learning his wife was fantasizing about a man in uniform, Doctor Bill pursues some of his own suppressed desires—a prostitute named Domino, masked orgies, and romps with sexy junkies. Eventually Doctor Bill confesses his misdeeds to his wife, but instead of reacting with a swift divorce, she is flattered by his misdeeds and declares a renewed desire to join him.
Mary Harron directs this modern serial killer tale which also is a wonderfully perverse Christmas story. Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) celebrates Christmas amidst a blood-soaked setting, giving into his darkest desires, including abundant cocaine-sniffing and colleague-killing to ring in the holiday season.
Bateman also partakes in more traditional modes of celebration, such as attending fiancée Evelyn’s (Reese Witherspoon) Christmas party, though he is not without ulterior motives, “Hey Hamilton, have a holly jolly Christmas. Is Allen still handing the Fisher account?” An ominous omen for Allen!
For the record, Bateman does indulge in champagne, don reindeer antlers, and share a kiss under the mistletoe before making dinner plans with Allen…
Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian satire opens on an idyllic Christmas scene – a mother telling her child about Santa’s visit down the chimney. “But Father Christmas can’t come if we don’t have a chimney,” says the child. At which point paramilitary police descend through the ceiling, grab the kid’s father and haul him off for questioning.
Later scenes savage the consumerist excesses of Christmas before Gilliam wheels out a drunk Santa who advises the unfortunate Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce) to give in to his torture at the hands of Brazil’s faceless bureaucrats.