11 Unconventional Christmas Films, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Listicles

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Here we are again, the holidays. As the temperatures dip, lights go up, and minimum wage workers are exploited by their corporate masters, there are those of us who like to use the movies as a way to channel our holiday cheer. There are the time-honored Christmas classics, like It’s a Wonderful Life, or the modern classics, like Gremlins or Die Hard (It IS a Christmas movie. Deal with it.), and then there are the films where cold weather and Christmas provide the film its setting. These movies aren’t about the reason for the season. Compiled below is a list of various films that may be overlooked during the holiday season. They’re not all holly. They’re not all jolly. But they’re damn good anyways.

Stalag 17

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When thinking of Christmas movies, I’m sure a prisoner of war film set during World War II wasn’t exactly what comes to mind. Not only is Stalag 17 an all-time classic war film, it’s also one hell of a comedy. Directed by Billy Wilder, Stalag 17 features a subdued Christmas celebration for the American prisoners of the Nazis. For material that could be a downer, Wilder’s film is full of life and humor, as well as a well-stated hatred towards the Nazis. William Holden took home the Academy Award for his performance as Sergeant Sefton. Having always felt that he should’ve won for Sunset Boulevard, Holden’s speech, one of the briefest ever, was simply, “Thank you, thank you.”

Female Trouble

 

I wouldn’t exactly term John Waters’ masterpiece Female Trouble as a Christmas movie, however, it does contain my favorite Christmas scenes of any movie ever. The snotty delinquent Dawn Davenport, played by the incomparable Divine, wants a pair of cha-cha heels for Christmas. When she doesn’t receive the cha-cha heels she wants, because “nice girls don’t wear cha-cha heels,” she throws a violent tantrum and runs away from home. Sadly, Waters had planned to make a Christmas movie called Fruitcake, but its funding fell through right before the film was scheduled to go into production. Even in one scene, Female Trouble can make the case to be a Christmas classic.

The Gold Rush

 

One of many masterpieces by Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush has the little tramp travelling to Alaska in order to find his fortune. Of course, not much goes as planned for the little fellow. Having to fight for survival in his frigid surroundings, Charlie eventually finds his way into a mining town. There the little fellow becomes infatuated with a dance hall girl played by Virginia Hale. The film features spectacular special effects, plenty of laughs, plenty of heart, and, of course, the great dinner role dance. Whether watching the 1925 silent original or the 1942 reedited version narrated by Chaplin, The Gold Rush is a shining example of why people still talk about the genius of Charlie Chaplin to this day.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

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Once the highest paid screenwriter in the business, Shane Black slipped away for almost a decade after some high profile flops. But when he did return to the movies, Black came back as a writer-director. For his directorial debut, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Black adapted the novel by Brett Halliday and made a smart neo-noir film. Not only did Kiss Kiss Bang Bang resurrect Black’s career, it’s what started the resurgence of Robert Downey, Jr.’s career after a number of scandals. The film also features a wonderful performance from the extremely underrated Michelle Monaghan. Filled to the brim with homages to Raymond Chandler, Black’s film is as funny as it is engaging.

Trading Places

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Prior to decades of decline and coasting by on the goodwill of prior glory, Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, and John Landis were titans in comedy. With the world seemingly ahead of them, the trio would collaborate on a raucous comedy about class and race, the legendary Trading Places. Set in Philadelphia during the Christmas season, Trading Places feels like a socially conscious Three Stooges short. While the film does start to falter towards the end, there’s no arguing that Trading Places is the only movie in which a future senator is raped by gorilla.

The Apartment

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Appearing for the second time on this list is a film by Billy Wilder. Another Oscar-winning classic, 1960’s The Apartment is one of my all-time favorite films. The hard-working, enterprising C.C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) lends out his apartment to his superiors so that they can carry out their extra-marital affairs. Things get complicated when his boss, Mr. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), finds out about the key that gets passed around the office. Of course, things are even furthered complicated when Fran (Shirley MacLaine), an elevator girl, enters the picture. With the right mix of sentiment and cynicism, The Apartment is Wilder at his best.

Brazil

 

Brazil is the rare film that becomes more relevant as time passes. Terry Gilliam’s dystopic tale set “Somewhere in the 20th Century” around Christmas time transcends political affiliation, culminating in a nightmarish collage of consumerism, the surveillance state, plastic surgery, and systematic injustice. If Orwell and Fellini ever collaborated, it might look something like Brazil.

The Shop Around the Corner

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In what may be the quintessential example of the Lubitsch Touch, The Shop Around the Corner is one of the most charming pictures ever made. Starring Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as a pair of co-workers in a small shop in Budapest. In the confines of the store, the two can’t stand each other. Through an anonymous correspondence, the two have been exchanging letters for months, unaware they actually love each other. The Shop Around the Corner balances its humor, romance, and genuine human drama so perfectly that nobody other than Ernst Lubitsch could pull it off.

Eyes Wide Shut

 

The final film of the reclusive filmmaker, Eyes Wide Shut was coldly greeted upon its release. It had been 12 years before Stanley Kubrick’s previous film, Full Metal Jacket, and then shortly after finishing his edit, Kubrick died of a heart attack. Anticipation gave way to disappointment, but the film has gone under a reevaluation over the intervening years. Distanced from the tabloid hype that surrounded its starring couple, Eyes Wide Shut proved to be a cold drama about the disintegration of a marriage. It’s not exactly a quintessential Kubrick film (You know, everyone watched The Shining over Halloween.), Eyes Wide Shut is a cold, bitter winter of a movie. Some people love winter, others hate it.

Fargo

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Based on a true story except for the fact it isn’t, Fargo is one of many Coen Brothers masterpieces. The winner of two Oscars – losing Best Picture to The English PatientFargo has the Coen Brothers weaving another yarn about a criminal element in over their head. It’s also a film where every aspect is firing on all cylinders. Running at 98 minutes, the Coens cram so many memorable moments into such a short window. Like every other Coens film, Fargo is a clinic in cinematic efficiency.

Batman Returns

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Arguably the best Batman film ever, Batman Returns is Michael Keaton’s second and final go-round as the Caped Crusader. A masterful showcase of make-up and costume design, Batman Returns has an even more exaggerated impressionist feel than first film. With Michael Keaton winning raves for his role in Birdman, which has its own parallels to his own career, now is a perfect time to revisit Tim Burton’s take on Batman, which holds up better than Christopher Nolan’s take on the character.

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