- Derek Carlisle
What did Andy Williams croon? "Everyone['s] telling you be of good cheer?" Well, elf your good cheer, man. Before being assigned this piece, I loved the holiday season. Now, my already-cold critic's heart is frozen, and I'm afraid the only thing that will melt it is the pact I made with Satan many years ago. (But that's another story for another time.)
With the advent of streaming services, the depth and breadth of Xmas flicks featuring Kris Kringle and stories of his season is legion. The Hallmark Channel alone is responsible for 78 percent of Christmas movies, and all of them star Candace Cameron-Bure (I made that up, but I'm probably not far off).
There are so many choices out there you could just crawl into a nice TV-adjacent pine box and stare at the screen until your eyes explode and you bleed to death. The following 12 truly rotten Christmas films will hasten your demise, but they're probably still more fun than midnight Mass. Some you've heard of and some you haven't, but they all have the following in common: They wounded my soul—and that's an achievement, because I'm soulless. And if you're the kind of wimp who cares about spoilers from years-old movies, let me extend a "bah humbug" and "get bent" to you during this most wonderful time of the year.
- 1492 Pictures
The Christmas Chronicles
Netflix is pushing this original flick like a drug dealer pushes smack at in-patient rehab. This "new holiday classic" (ugh) is the first thing I see each time I open the Netflix app, so I bit, and lemme tell ya: This movie bites. Two douchey siblings accidentally prevent Santa from making his Christmas Eve deliveries and team with him to smooth things over. The one saving grace here is that St. Nick is played by Kurt Russell at his Kurt Russelliest, which is just what a story this frenetic but strangely dramatically inert needs—Santa with a touch of F.U. Ugly touches: Russell makes a timely but tasteless joke about Chicago violence, and the story is sparked by a firefighter dad's death, cuz nuthin' says Christmas like a dead parent.
- Halestorm Entertainment
A Christmas Wish
Thirtysomething mom Martha Evans (Kristy Swanson) is abandoned before Christmas by her deadbeat husband who leaves her with their kid, her daughter from a previous marriage and a stepson. Martha finds temporary housing and employment in Mapleton, Utah (coincidentally where the movie was filmed!). But life continues to suck: The stepson shouts "YOU'RE NOT MY MOM!" each time Martha has the audacity to try to feed and clothe him, work pays dick, and when Dad finally shows up, he's a total assbag who taunts the kid over his speech impediment. Out of desperation, Martha prays for help at what looks like the Mapleton City Park Gazebo, and the townsfolk bend over backward to help her because God likes helping poor attractive white families in need. I understand how Swanson got involved in this nonsense—it's been all downhill since Buffy the Vampire Slayer—but how did old pro Tess Harper land here? (Tender mercies, my ass.)
- Broad Green Pictures
Bad Santa 2
Bad Santa is a near-great film (I said it). Then again, I have a soft spot for movies in which the main character—Billy Bob Thornton as a drunk-ass mall Santa—hates himself and finds redemption, all while revelling in the three B's: Booze, bullshit and buttfucking. Bad Santa 2 pisses all over its predecessor's goodwill by making the jokes cheaper, dumber and cruder (yes, cruder than buttfucking) but with ice in its heart instead of hard-won Christmas cheer. Thornton and Kathy Bates look bored and at times downright embarrassed. Bad Santa 2 is a textbook example of how not to do a sequel.
- Tristar Pictures
Silent Night, Deadly Night and Silent Night, Deadly Night 2
While Bad Santa 2 is the near-nadir of holiday sequels, Silent Night, Deadly Night 2 takes the fruitcake. It's so incompetently made that about half its runtime is flashbacks of its predecessor, and Silent Night, Deadly Night is something of a miracle in terms of incompetence. (I don't have the space to explain it, but shell out the $2.99 to see for yourself.) The first SNDN's notoriety comes from the outrage it triggered upon its 1984 release because the public was led to believe Santa himself was an axe murderer (it's really just some chump in a Santa suit). It's also shockingly misogynistic, and it takes special talent to stand out for misogyny among 1980s horror movies. But there is one good thing that came from these two bananas flicks: Part Two gave the internet the "Garbage day!" meme, which almost cancels out all the other horrible things these movies wrought, including three subsequent sequels.
- Universal Pictures
I had high hopes for Krampus because I dig co-writer/director Michael Dougherty's Halloween flick Trick 'r Treat. Unfortunately, Dougherty squandered his holiday movie-making skills on Trick, because Krampus ain't no treat. It's so mean-spirited that when it's revealed the characters are trapped inside a snow globe for eternity by the demon Krampus, it made me want to kick puppies. And believe it or not, I'm no puppy kicker. Krampus matriarch Toni Collette got a much better horror flick under her belt with Hereditary.
- Lucky CoffeePproductions
I think director Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies isn't just a great film, but one of the best films ever made about relationships. But then I saw Happy Christmas and realized Drinking Buddies must be a fluke. Happy Christmas was largely improvised and it shows (badly—just watch the cast flounder). Plus, when Lena Dunham is your most likeable cast member, you're in trouble. At least Melanie Lynskey acts in her native Kiwi accent (a small bonus) and this is one of Anna Kendrick's first no-wait-I-can-play-a-fuck-up characters. Even at 82 minutes, Happy Christmas is too long.
- Universal Pictures
People love this film, but people are dumb. What's to love? Alan Rickman cheating on Emma Thompson? Or The Walking Dead guy stalking Keira Knightley? Or Hugh Grant sexually harassing his subordinate? Or Liam Neeson instantly getting over his wife's death in order to help her creepy son woo some kid-singer who performs a ghastly version of "All I Want for Christmas is You" (a tie for worst Christmas song ever, along with "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and "Mele Kalikimaka")? Jesus, this movie sucks. At least Bill Nighy is good for some yuks and Laura Linney's storyline—in which her poor sap ends up alone by choice—has a ring of truth to it. The rest is Grade-Z junk with a Grade-A cast.
- Paramount Pictures
While not a direct remake of Holiday Inn, you're better off watching that better film (except for the blackface scene ... yeesh). Put it this way: Holiday Inn is John Lennon's "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" and White Christmas is Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime." Which would you rather listen to? Plus, Holiday Inn has Fred Astaire and White Christmas has Danny Kaye. Who's the better dancer? Fred Astaire or Danny fuckin' Kaye? And would you rather be kicked in the groin or eat anything you want and never gain a pound? There are easy answers to these questions, people.
- Touchstone Pictures
The Preacher's Wife
Speaking of ill conceived remakes, The Preacher's Wife is an update of the superior The Bishop's Wife, the lighthearted tale of an angel who comes to Earth to guide a bishop but instead falls for his spouse. Oh ho! WWJD? While it's not fair to compare Bishop lead Cary Grant to Preacher lead Denzel Washington—these are two wonderful but very different actors—it is safe to say Grant does whimsy in a way Washington can't (or won't). Courtney B. Vance is fine in his thankless role, but it's easy to see why Whitney Houston's film career took a dump after The Preacher's Wife. She's the worst.
- Liberty Films
It's a Wonderful Life
Although "Two fighters against a star destroyer?" from The Empire Strikes Back is a strong contender for worst line reading in movie history, I think "Look daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings" is the grand prize winner. Ugh, I really wish George Bailey had drowned. Does that make me a jerk? I know I'm the only person who dislikes this movie, but try to watch it objectively and you'll understand why it was a box office disappointment in its initial 1946 release.
- Motion Picture Corp. of America
A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding
This is a family movie (and another Netflix oinker making the rounds) so I'm willing to forgive some of the corny stuff, but I'm not willing to forgive the stupid stuff, like this movie's idea of what a reporter's job is, or how a woman who's about to be queen of a nation walks around in T-shirts and cardigans. The story's couple, played by the otherwise lovely Rose McIver and the bland and blandly attractive Ben Lamb, has all the chemistry of a brother and sister. And McIver's father, who's used for comic relief, is the kind of person that if you knew in real life, the police would be picking you up on a homicide charge.
- Bonneville Productions
Mr. Krueger's Christmas
Glory be to YouTube! That's where you'll find this gem, which tells a tale as old as time: White Christians being indignant that you don't believe the same things they do. I mean, of course no one stops and smiles when you say "Merry Christmas" to them on the street, Mr. Krueger. Old men chatting up strangers is weird. And that kid you randomly assault with a dopey question? Be glad his mother isn't packin' heat. Also of note: If you don't open a window, MOTHERFUCKERS YOU'RE SHOUTING AT CAN'T HEAR YOU. In 1980, this might have been charming, but Mr. Krueger's Christmas comes off as the opening shot fired in the imaginary war on Christmas that right-wingers have been waging for decades. Jimmy Stewart plays Krueger, the lonely widower who imagines himself back in time to talk with Christ at His birth. We have a word for that kind of imagination, Mr. Krueger: dementia. Even the admittedly wonderful performances of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir can't save this one. The pits.
After all this hate, I feel obligated to report that I set out to watch A Holiday Engagement with evil in my heart but became entranced by Bonnie Somerville's sweet performance and the movie's refusal to take itself too seriously. It's a Hallmark flick, and it's free on just about every app. So there's your (bonus) 13th! Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa, and happy all-the-other-holidays-this-time-of-year-that-escape-me. If you find coal in your stocking, may you also find mud in your eye. Cheers!
- ITC Entertainment
Deck the Newsroom!
City Weekly staffers reflect on their holiday guilty pleasures.
For me, the holy trinity starts with Rankin/Bass' 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, the animated special that showed us that even a miracle needs a hand, and that mousy intellectuals with a penchant for clockwork should just mind their own damn business. The sleigh ride continues with the classic "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" from Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, featuring the legendary crooner and David Bowie—the oddest of holiday pairings since "fruit cake" and "delicious." You can sense Bing's impending fear of a dandy home invasion when Bowie walks through the manor and asks to use his piano. Then there's the Muppets' timeless rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas" from John Denver and the Muppets: A Christmas Together. The gusto from Miss Piggy belting "Five goooold rings!" always gets me in the mood for the season—and for Christmas ham.
Christmas is always such a frantic season for movie-watching for me—packing in all the stuff to be considered for year-end awards—that I almost never have time for stuff I've seen 100 times and actually like. Probably the closest I get to something like this is Robert Zemeckis' The Polar Express, which I often have a hard time turning away from when I'm channel surfing during the holidays. It gets even more fascinating as the years go by, and its primitive "uncanny valley" motion-capture computer-animated characters look ever creepier. Sure, it's cheesy, schmaltzy spectacle, but it also feels more nightmarish than anyone involved could ever have intended.
For several years there in the '70s, I refused to watch the World War II epic Patton after I'd read somewhere it was Richard Nixon's favorite film. My pettiness waned, and the 1970 film starring George C. Scott became a favorite. The sole holiday connection is when elements "Ol' Blood and Guts'" 3rd Army relieved Yanks in the French town of Bastogne on Christmas Day. Patton pivots on quotes—which he actually uttered. A war correspondent asks him about his pistol grips. "They're ivory," snaps the general. "Only a pimp from a cheap New Orleans whorehouse would carry a pearl-handled pistol." In another scene, a chaplain remarks, "I was interested to see a Bible by your bed. You actually find time to read it?" Responds Patton: "I sure do. Every goddamn day." He tells troops: "Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country." But, of course, the most-famous quote comes after he loses command of the 7th Army after slapping a shell-shocked soldier in a Sicily field hospital. "Ah, George," he laments to his orderly, "I wish I'd kissed the son-of-a-bitch!" And in this spirit of good-will-toward-all, that's my sentiment exactly.
Come December, I try to stay far away from seemingly everyone's favorite Christmas flick, Elf. Instead, I find myself more fascinated with mid-1990s holiday nostalgia. This is clearly because those were the years I still believed in Santa and everything seemed magical. Now, if I'm flipping through channels and come across Jingle All The Way, you can sure as hell bet I'm not going anywhere else. Between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad's buffoonery trying to track down the virtually sold-out Turbo Man action figure and the cheesy lines throughout (I'm going to deck your halls, bub!), I can't help but smile. Bonus: I first saw this film during a birthday party at the small theater inside Jolley's Pharmacy and Top Hat Video on 1300 South and 1700 East—you know, back when video rental stores were still a thing. Ah, the '90s.
I'm not much of one for movies generally, much less Christmas movies, which might be the kitschiest of the kitsch. Sentimentality is not my style, or at least that's what I like to tell myself, despite a long-running flirtation with the serial TV drama Grey's Anatomy. But if I've got to watch one, I return to the holiday movies of my youth—and my grandparents' youth. Each year, we opened the holiday season with a post-Thanksgiving-dinner viewing of It's a Wonderful Life. This 1940s classic follows George Bailey, a poor fella beset by accidental money woes who contemplates suicide, only to be saved by—that's right—his guardian angel. Fun fact: it was decried in an FBI memo as too communist. But don't worry, it's basically a paean to good ol' American capitalism. And then there's White Christmas, the 1950s song-and-dance romance featuring Bing Crosby. I mean, they're really good at harmonizing. These films have all the tropes necessary for a 1950s American (white) Christmas—but look, I'm still going to be humming Christmas songs for a day after viewing, before resuming my usual Grinch-like state.
I've never been a fan of holiday movies. The moralizing, the mind-numbingly catchy music and the one-dimensional themes—I get it, holidays are a time for family, and giving, not receiving, gifts is what's important—all make me reflexively gag. I suppose that makes The Grinch my favorite Christmas movie, and of all the films in Grinchdom, I'd have to choose 2000's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, starring Jim Carrey, as my favorite. Carrey's Grinch has pizzazz as he breaks down his booked holiday schedule ("4:30, stare into the abyss; 5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one") and ruminates on universal quandaries ("Am I just eating because I'm bored?") before the inevitable Christmas Spirit inspires him to save the town's Christmas swag from falling off the side of a mountain. It's funny and gently mocking before it relents to the holiday's power, a series of emotions similar to my own feelings each December.