Despite my love-hate relationship with Christmas it was decided amongst the FilmsFilmsFilms movie marathoners that the final event of the year should be festive themed. The rules for our marathons had evolved over the last twelve months, the first being that to qualify as a marathon the run of films had to be four movies or more long; no trilogies allowed (unless split into extended parts – think LOTR). What then could qualify for our Xmas marathon?
Home Alone; two movies. The Santa Clause; three movies. Die Hard; four movies but only two of them Christmas themed. It was second-in-command marathoner Rachel that suggested, in the spirit of the season, everyone attending should bring their favourite Christmas movie along. So with a smorgasbord of festive food to hand and our finest Xmas togs dusted down we decked the halls with six of the best yuletide movies.
Our first cinematic snowflake was Jingle All The Way (1996). The best thing about a Schwarzenegger comedy is that it doesn’t need to be that funny to make you laugh. Arnie could read the phonebook and induce the giggles on the style of his delivery alone. And there’s plenty of classics in Brian Levant’s film, "Put the cookie down, now!”. Future Darth Vader Jake Lloyd gives another toe curlingly bad performance and the sickly sweet ending still makes my teeth hurt, but co-star Phil Hartman (you might remember him from such films as Coneheads (1993) and Sgt. Bilko (1996)) ensures the Arnie free scenes are just as entertaining.
Gremlins (1984) was next up. This Joe Dante classic is possibly the best horror Xmas movie of all time (though the competition is pretty thin). There’s laughs to temper the scares, outstanding special effects, and a movie monster for the ages. As with all good scary movies, the frights still manage to launch a bowl of popcorn in the air even though we’ve all seen the film numerous times before. More traditional fare follows with Ron Howard’s The Grinch (2000). There was barely enough material in Dr Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas for a full length film, and at times the The Grinch feels stretched with barely enough plot to keep things moving. At its best when driven by Anthony Hopkins’ voiceover from the original text, the film is saved from the already brimming crap Christmas movie bin by two standout performances from Jim Carrey and Taylor Momsen. World class clowning from Carrey ensures him a place alongside the likes of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin as one of the all time great physical comedians, while Momsen provides an even rarer gem, a child performance that is wholly believable and likeable.
The halfway point is marked by the champion of Christmas comedies National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989). Based on a short story from National Lampoon magazine entitled Christmas ’59, the film reminds you why Chevy Chase was such a massive star of eighties cinema. His naturalistic style works wonder as he plays Clark Griswold, a middle age businessman trying to survive the usual Xmas pitfalls of fighting in-laws, unwanted guests and knackered Christmas lights. Belly laughs are consistent throughout and are propped up by a great supporting cast that includes Randy Quaid, Juliette Lewis and future Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki.
My choice followed, which as is the case every year, is my personal Christmas favourite Die Hard (1988). I fight off the usual grumbles that this action classic is not a proper Christmas movie by pointing out every festive link I can find throughout the film and even I’m surprised at how many there are. Our final film is Arthur Christmas (2011), a movie that’s bound for future Christmas classic status. This animated tale of the Santa Claus family and their mission to deliver presents to every child on Christmas Eve has some of the most inspired writing of any festive film. The jokes are smart, the animation is beautiful and the concluding message manages that nigh-on impossible task of capturing the spirit of Christmas without being too sappy. A great voice cast, including Hugh Laurie, James McAvoy, Jim Broadbent and Bill Nighy, is the frosting on the cake.
Despite being a six film haul, our Xmas movie marathon flew by in a wonderful whirlwind of tinsel, cheese ‘n’ pineapple sticks, and mulled cider. It was so much fun we decided to make it an annual pre-Christmas event. As we downed our last mince pie, we were already debating next year’s choices. Die Hard 2 (1990) anyone?