Well, it’s that time of year again – Christmas. Regardless whether you’re the type of person who obnoxiously loves Crimbo or obnoxiously hates it (I, for all my sins, fall in with the later squad), we all have our Yuletide traditions and rituals, be it with the family or on your ones.
Mine, to the surprise of no one, revolves around cinema. Here’s a select few of the flicks I tend to find myself revisiting or begrudgingly sitting through over the Christmas period, in the order I typically watch them.
This may be the closest you and I come to sharing a glass of eggnog over some kino, dear reader…
WHIT STILLMAN – METROPOLITAN, 1990
First proverbial choccy out of the cinematic advent calender is Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan.
Metropolitan is the stuffy tale of well-to-do New York socialites during something called ‘debutante season’, which takes place in the run-up to Crimbo. Over the course of the film, philosophy is discussed, attachments are formed and exorbitant amounts of daddy’s money is spent.
If that sarcastic plot description wasn’t blindingly obvious, I don’t much care for this film, which makes it all the more odd considering I revisit it every year, usually on the 22nd or the 23rd, the days before I make the perilous trip back to my parents’ domicile.
Perhaps the reason Metropolitan, with its witty one-liners and egregious displays of unhinged wealth, is so appealing to me around this time of year is the sobering thought of spending the next few days mediating screaming matches (with extreme diplomacy and tact, I might add) and dwelling in the laundry zone formerly known as my childhood bedroom.
‘Tis the season alright.
TERRY ZWIGOFF, BAD SANTA – 2003
Listen, no one’s infallible, okay?
Weak justifications aside, Bad Santa is the blackly-comic tale of Willie, a foul-mouthed, alcoholic safe-cracker who robs shopping malls blind while disguised as Saint Nick.
Usually stick this one on after returning from the pub Christmas eve. Alcohol intake notwithstanding, this doozy consistently hits the mark. Not only does it appeal to my ‘bah humbug’ sensibilities with its brutal take-downs of the rampant consumerism promoted by the festive period and decidedly anti-merry spirit (how many other Christmas films are brave enough to acknowledge that the Yuletide season is the loneliest, bleakest time of year?), but it features, for my money at least, one of the funniest dialogue exchanges in modern film history.
Simply put, make getting shitfaced and watching this belter a part of your Christmas time routine.
FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT, JULES AND JIM – 1961
After the Christmas present reverie has fizzled out, I normally seek out the aching-romantic flavour of François Truffaut’s splendid Jules and Jim, alongside an ice-cold glass of fizzy pop to clear my head and settle my stomach.
A ’100 Best Films of World Cinema’ list perennial, Jules and Jim chronicles the 20 year ménage à trois between the introverted Jules, ladies’ man Jim and the beguiling Catherine. Things go about as smoothly as they usually do in black-and-white French dramas.
This one’s perfect for the Christmas morning/Christmas meal interim where no one knows what to do and everyone’s tripping over each other. I’ll sneak off upstairs, unearth this one from a dusty box containing pre-nest-leaving ephemera and kill exactly one hour and forty-five minutes of Xmas dead time otherwise spent watching trash TV or helping my beleaguered mother tidy up.
And by the time the credits roll around, it’ll be an acceptable time to start boozing again. Talk about efficiency…
ANDREW STANTON, WALL-E – 2008
Next up we’ve got WALL-E, a true post-Crimbo meal cinematic mainstay and one of the few Disney/Pixar films that isn’t soul-crushing garbage.
WALL-E follows the titular robot, a waste-disposal bot tasked with cleaning up an uninhabitable, litter-strewn planet Earth, until his Sisyphean ordeal is interrupted by EVE, a sleeker-looking robot in search of plant life. The two fall in love… somehow, and set off on a quest to bring human life back to Earth.
Always admired this one, as even though it’s designed for children, there’s some pretty heady subtext bubbling under the surface – the environmental and anthropological effects of rampant consumerism… corporatocracy… being so fat machines have to look after you… all things that get uncle Harry’s blood boiling.
Although I will say WALL-E’s satirical switch-blade is dulled a great deal considering it was produced by… you know, Disney, one of the most nefarious corporations going.
That being said, if there’s any Disney execs reading this I didn’t mean that last sentence and I’m totally all-for the Disneyification of every facet of popular culture please don’t sue me.
ANDREW DOMINIK, THE ASSASINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD – 2007
Last one on this list is Andrew Dominik’s top-tier The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, an absolutely superlative picture that deserves a seat at the ‘Best Dead on Arrival Westerns’ table, alongside Heaven’s Gate and McCabe & Mrs. Miller.
The Assasination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford dramatises the real-life relationship between notorious train robber Jesse James and Robert Ford, the yellow-bellied dweeb who ended up filling him in.
While I don’t watch this every year (even though it’s mint and I definitely should), it’s a spot-on placeholder for the type of film I’m hankering for on Boxing Day – long, contemplative and bleak. My dad won’t moan if I put something like this on either, which is a big plus. Other titles that could fill this spot are Zodiac (2007), Serpico (1973), The Deer Hunter (1978), or perhaps even Seven Samurai (1954), if the day calls for something a bit more upbeat.
That should just about do it. Hope you all have the merriest Christmas possible – one that’s filled to the brim with good cinema, cheap booze and pointless arguments.