The Best Christmas Movies Aren't About christmas
It's time for TV networks to haul out holiday standards. But what if you want to celebrate the season with something a little less filled with cheer, something set during the season but not really of the season. Here are nine Christmas-adjacent films that might help you get in the holiday spirit ... but not too much. http://bit.ly/1YqePax
- •The ApartmentWriter/director Billy Wilder's classic comedy about a man who finds himself embroiled in something awful in order to get ahead at work is a wonderful look at early 1960s gender politics that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Jack Lemmon is terrific in the lead, and Shirley MacLaine is a wonderfully winsome romantic interest. Plus, the movie's plot intersects with both Christmas and New Year's, so you get two holidays for the price of one.
- •Batman ReturnsDirector Tim Burton often sets his films at Christmastime. (See also: Edward Scissorhands.) But this slice of baroque genius, the follow-up to 1989's megahit Batman, is positively the perfect film for anyone who wants to examine something a bit more macabre as the season settles in. Plus, its dark, wintry atmosphere is just about perfect for those getting in the seasonal mood.
- •Die HardWeirdly, a lot of action movies are set at Christmas, no matter how incongruous that might seem. Blame action screenwriter and director Shane Black, who loves to set his films at Christmastime. That influence spread to other filmmakers, including those who made Die Hard. This classic action romp, in which John McClane (Bruce Willis) takes down a bunch of terrorists to protect his family, all on Christmas Eve, proves why gunfire and Christmas go together so very well.
- •Fanny and AlexanderThis movie qualifies under the "films that aren't about the holidays but have holiday scenes in them" category. Swedish director Ingmar Bergman's very loose portrayal of his and his sister's childhood was originally a TV miniseries but retains the feel of an epic in its feature film format, along with one of the most festive, joyous Christmas scenes in all of film. The early-20th-century feast will almost certainly delight.
- •GremlinsThere have been a surprising number of horror films set at Christmastime, but this is one of the few that plays as almost gruesomely festive. Joe Dante's elaborate skewering of greeting-card-cover America unleashes a bunch of tiny monsters in the perfect small town as the holidays settle in. It's gory, goofy, and glorious, and it will ensure you never look at a fireplace quite the same way.
- •Meet Me in St. LouisThis is probably cheating, since it's the film that actually spawned the song "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." It also has a significant portion of its running time set at a Christmas Eve ball. But this is a terrific movie at capturing the slow turn of the seasons, the way that summer becomes fall becomes winter, and it has a great eye for time and place. (It's set in St. Louis in 1904.) Maybe too much of this is set at Christmas to really qualify, but it's still worth seeing anyway.
- •Morvern CallarThis is the one if you have absolutely no wish to engage in holiday cheer. A young woman arrives home on Christmas morning to find that her boyfriend has killed himself. She drifts through the rest of the film in a kind of haze that, nevertheless, makes it seem as if she's almost more alive for having been so closely touched by death. This movie isn't for everyone, but Samantha Morton's lead performance is phenomenal, and the subject matter is decidedly not the typical Christmas movie plot.
- •The Royal TenenbaumsThough the closest this film comes to actually saying it's set during the holidays is one scene featuring "Christmastime Is Here" from A Charlie Brown Christmas on the soundtrack, it's one of the most wintry films out there, thanks to its gray skies and story of a family coming together just when they need to most. Plus, Mark Mothersbaugh's score gives this a decidedly holiday feel, with its frequent sleigh bells and children's choir oohing away.
- •The Thin ManMaybe what you need this holiday season is a devilishly clever mystery with even more devilishly clever screwball dialogue. In that case, can I suggest the adventures of Nick and Nora Charles, dashingly sophisticated married sleuths? It's easy to forget this film is set at Christmastime, given how fun it is, but much of it takes place in and around a Christmas Eve party the Charleses throw, and it adds just the right mood to a mystery that's as much fun as unwrapping presents.