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January 21, 2017

10 Holiday Films Which Won’t Make You Cringe

It is difficult to say that that the holidays are an uplifting time for everyone. Packed toy stores, clusters of relatives and flight delays due to inclement weather all manage to form what for some is the pinnacle of stress for their year.

Consequently, more and more people are taking issue with the maudlin tone that tends to be taken in holiday-themed films. For those of you who want to take a baseball bat to the television every time “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is re-run, here are: 10 Holiday Films Which Won’t Make You Cringe.

10. A Christmas Story – Let’s pretend that it isn’t shown for 24 hours a day on Christmas every year. If one manages to look past the TBS marathon, it’s difficult to deny that what we have here may in fact be the epitome of American Christmas, in the best possible way. While it never feels over-cynical, it manages to avoid the easy outs of hyper-sentimentality favored by many holiday-themed films.

9. Black Christmas – It is only fitting for Bob Clarke to have two movies on this list, especially with the previous film being a family classic. On the other side of the coin, several years earlier he made this horror staple starring Margot Kidder, set in a sorority house. While you may remember the title from the horrific remake released several years ago, the original more than delivers in terms of thrills and chills. With one of the creepiest ambiguous endings this side of “He’s still out there somewhere…waiting…,” “Black Christmas” is a classic horror film for the Scrooge in all of us.

8. Fanny & Alexander – For the art-house fans out there, this Ingmar Bergman masterwork was originally produced for Swedish television in 1982. Consisting of four episodes, the first of which takes place on Christmas Eve, this Scandinavian tale contains more Dickensian elements than you can shake a stick at. We have evil stepfathers, an endless list of lovable characters, and ghosts. This may be the most plot-heavy film Bergman ever made, and the fact that he pulled it off as his final theatrical piece stands as a testament to his incredible film-making abilities. And with a five-hour plus run time, it is the perfect way to spend those endless snowed-in days.

7. A Charlie Brown Christmas – It is difficult to deny the timelessness of this one. Even non-holiday celebrators (like this writer) understand the elegant beauty contained in the images of the skating children combined with the classic Vince Guaraldi Trio score. The storyline ends up as almost secondary to the effect generated by the isolated snowy setting. This is one worth revisiting every year.

6. The “A Christmas Carol” adaptation of your choice – There’s a reason that this story has been retold so many times, folks. Dickens’ ghostly tale of redemption continues to resonate, and thus far it has been fairly difficult to screw up in film form. Even the Muppets somehow managed to get it right.

5. The Apartment – Although not technically a Christmas film (the holiday in itself has little to do with the storyline), Billy Wilder’s 1960 corporate satire starring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon has a melancholy wintertime setting which certainly captures some of the gloomier emotions of the holiday season. Although “The Apartment” certainly has an “Up” ending, it feels hard-won and honest. All this is not to say, however, that the film is all doom and gloom. On the contrary, it carries with it a sharply-written script and pitch-perfect performances from its lead actors.

4. Brazil – Terry Gilliam ironically enough chose to set this dystopian classic at Christmastime. Although this film contains little holiday joy, it provides plenty of fodder for cynicism for the grump in all of us. With its trademark unhappy ending and endlessly engaging plot machinations, this razor-sharp satire is the best post-Monty Python work any of them did, according to some (While this writer wishes to stand by “Fawlty Towers”, the issue can rest).

3. Gremlins – For many, this film has already become an anti-Christmas classic. Joe Dante’s evil imp-like villains have managed to become staples of both the horror and holiday world. Be sure to listen for Kate Beringer’s deliciously dark monologue about why she hates Christmas.

2. The Ice Harvest – Harold Ramis has had an unfortunate couple of years. With the flop of his artistically-bankrupt “Year One,” the time has come to view what in the long run deserves to be remembered as one as his greats, ranking with his comedic peaks in the ‘80s with “Vacation” and “Caddyshack.” We follow John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton on Christmas Eve, as they attempt to pull off a financial caper. The results are so blackly comic, that this film may in fact be too much for some. It’s no wonder that this film was a financial failure.

1. Elves – If you manage to find it, you may be disappointed to discover that this straight-to-video piece of late-80s trash in fact only contains one elf. Despite this discrepancy between title and content, “Elves” is an endlessly enjoyable “horror-comedy,” although one could argue that it is in fact neither of those, with an incredibly low budget and bargain-basement acting. Joe Haggerty – who you may remember better as Grizzly Adams – stars as a chain-smoking homeless detective who becomes involved in a plot involving everything from Nazi grandfathers to incestuous evil stepmothers. It all is triggered by a cocaine-using department store Santa Clause being stabbed in the groin to death by the titular elf. This is a horrible, horrible film. It can’t be recommended enough.

Mark Schiffer can be reached at mschiffe@student.umass.edu.

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