Feature: The Twelve Films of Christmas.


In an ill-conceived attempt to inject myself with Christmas cheer I recently forced myself to sit through a dozen festive films. The hope was that the yuletide gaiety would somehow rub-off on me, helping me forget about the 30-plus degree heat of South Australia and spirit me away to a snowy, winter paradise.
And so I sat to enjoy a list of a dozen Christmas crackers as suggested by my fondest of friends, family members and anyone who bothered to take an interest in my panicky Facebook plea for help. The order was to be determined by a draw from Santa’s hat; sadly I couldn’t find one at such short notice, and so resourcefully made do with a Christmas fez.
Incidentally the name for this venture is wholeheartedly and unashamedly thieved from the timeless Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (the one with the partridge and the drummers and the geese). That’s where the similarities end; this venture has none of the song’s wit, invention or enduring seasonal magic. But it does have Gremlins.
First out of the hat was a genuine turkey; Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Despite featuring a lovely version of “Carol of the Bells”, this fiasco didn’t fill me with a great deal of Christmas cheer. After about an hour of Kevin McAllister’s smug goading, I found myself actively rooting for the Sticky Bandits. Despite my support, however, the hapless criminals were foiled AGAIN, and the film came to its inevitable, laugh-less conclusion.

This was followed by the hand-crafted, stop-motion loveliness of Henry Selick’s Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas. I will routinely drop this film into any conversation regarding the greatest ever Christmas movies but, despite, or perhaps because of its delightful spookiness, it actually invokes very little in the way of Christmas cheer; it always feels much more of a Halloween film rather than a Christmas one.

Third in the dirty dozen is a bona-fide Christmas classic: It’s a Wonderful Life. An inspirational tale of a man who: loses his hearing in one ear, loses his father at a relatively young age, inherits a struggling business, loses his client’s money, shouts at his kids, lies to his kids, upsets his kids, scares his wife, insults a teacher, gets drunk, gets in a fight, crashes his car and attempts to kill himself. Heart-warming stuff.

Fourth and fifth, a difficult-to-take double-bill of Jingle All the Way and Miracle on 34th Street (the 1994 remake) practically drained me of all merriment. Arnold Schwarzenegger running round in red lycra, struggling to fight his way through a violent, baying mob in a film that’s NOT The Running Man? I doubt Jingle All the Way would have been seriously worsened by the inclusion of a young, possibly drunk, fighting-mad Jesse Ventura; attacking panicking shoppers, stamping on their recent purchases and hoiking them bodily onto barbed-wire fences topped with tinsel and holly. I did manage to glean some small joy, while watching Miracle on 34th Street, from the sight of roaringly drunk Santa struggling to handle his whip. Sadly even this moment of cheeriness was rapidly quashed when the judge starting waving his Christmas card and dollar bill around his courtroom. This vomit-inducingly saccharine stunt only served to highlight to preposterousness of inviting a reindeer into a courtroom-setting to debate the validity, or lack thereof, of a possibly fraudulent department-store employee.

My foul mood was, thankfully, lightened by the sixth film to materialise from Santa’s fez, In Bruges; a film that’s only very slightly Christmassy but does feature the best Hieronymus Bosch reference since Volcano.

Bill Murray’s nasty TV executive from Scrooged then filled the screen with a healthy dose of bitterness that was tempered by the tidal-wave of ghastly, seasonal cheerfulness that immediately followed in the frightening form of Santa Claus: The Movie. A film so perpetually cheerful and full of disgusting goodwill, it’s akin to having six pounds of Christmas pudding piped down your throat, directly into your liver.

Not to worry though, as Black Christmas swiftly followed; a film that teaches us that a pervert who harasses a group of girls in a boarding house can be infinitely more jolly than one in which a rosy-cheeked elf forces radioactive lollies into the mouths of a million children.

And then Gremlins, Joe Dante’s magnum opus; featuring easily the worst fake snow ever used in any film, Christmas or otherwise. Kate’s dead-dad-in-the-chimney speech is both tragic and amusing; but despite its depressing tone actually feels pretty palatable after hours of feel-good claptrap. Bear in mind I’m still finding it hard to expunge the image of Dudley Moore flying around in a spotted-shirt, looking like he’s constantly fighting the urge to sneeze.

A mysterious missing song turned what should have been a faultless two hours watching The Muppet Christmas Carol into an exercise in paranoia and frustration. I have seen this movie approximately fifty times, but not once in the last five years. So when a half-remembered scene came, and went without its appropriate song, (the one where Scrooge’s fiancé laments his budding miserliness) I found myself shrugging my shoulders and uselessly pointing at the screen in a feeble attempt to conjure up the missing musical number, wondering whether or not the song was just a figment of my already questionable imagination. A Muppets film shorn of its songs is not something I want any involvement in, and threatened to de-rail the entire Christmas dozen. Thankfully my not inconsiderate panic was pacified by the festive magnificence of my final film.

Some facts about Christmas include: The tradition of giving holly as a seasonal gift dates back to Roman times, the world’s largest snowman was 113 feet tall and Die Hard is the greatest Christmas movie of all time. A fine film to end my Xmas movie marathon: Bruce Willis losing his shoes, Alan Rickman worrying about his detonators, Hart Bochner having teeth, drinking Coke and getting shot. The past-ugliness of Santa Claus, Jingle All the Way and Home Alone 2 have been long forgotten as, with accompaniment from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Theo and Hans get their long-awaited Christmas miracle, and with it, access to Mr Takagi’s safe.

With the final film over, Christmas done and dusted for another year, what have I learnt? To VERY roughly paraphrase Patrick Bateman: There are no more barriers to cross, no new knowledge can be extracted from my telling, this confession has meant nothing. Except that I must prepare far more thoroughly for the twelve films of Ramadan.

Chris Banks

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