x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Santas with attitude: the anti-Christmas film guide

Instead of watching The Santa Clause for the nth time, consider our anti-Christmas film list - movies set during the festive season, but not exactly filled with tidings of joy.

Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Courtesy 20th Century Fox

Bah humbug! It may be the season to be jolly, but it is also the season when television channels trot out all the same old movie chestnuts to get us in the yuletide mood. Just how many times can we sit through Jim Carrey's facial contortions in The Grinch, or, for that matter, his computer-animated facial contortions in the motion-capture A Christmas Carol? Speaking of which, did you know there are more than 20 TV and movie versions of A Christmas Carol to choose from (or avoid), including versions with Barbie, the Smurfs, the Flintstones and the Muppets (actually that one's a treat, with Michael Caine a hoot as Scrooge and the Great Gonzo as Charles Dickens)? It's enough to make you choke on a mince pie.

Then there are all those well-meaning classic Christmas films such as Holiday Inn and Miracle on 34th Street - which depicts December as a time when people come together and discover the true meaning of giving - and, of course, that ultimate Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life. Let's just remember that this much-loved seasonal movie is the story of a man who is contemplating suicide, and it's not until the very end that anyone feels remotely like spreading goodwill to all men (and that includes anyone watching).

So this year, instead of watching The Santa Clause for the seventh time, why not pick a movie from our anti-Christmas list? These films may all be set at Christmas, but they're not exactly filled with tidings of comfort and joy.

Die Hard; Lethal Weapon

When John McClane (Bruce Willis) goes to Los Angeles to visit his estranged wife in Die Hard (1988), she's at her office Christmas party and, as we all know, it's just been taken over by party pooper Hans (Alan Rickman) and his henchmen. When our vest-wearing hero single-handedly takes the baddies on, he does so with some yuletide humour - dispatching one thug, popping a Santa hat on him and writing "ho ho ho" on his chest. Not to be outdone, Lethal Weapon (1987) has detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) contemplating suicide while watching the Bugs Bunny Christmas Special, and later beating bad guy Joshua (Gary Busey) to a bloody pulp, illuminated by twinkling neighbourhood fairy lights. It just gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn't it?

Gremlins; Home Alone

Mistakenly considered a kids film, Gremlins (1984) actually has a 15 certificate, perhaps because younger viewers might be traumatised at the sight of Christmas being destroyed by the little monsters from hell (they even electrocute an elderly woman in her stairlift). But the worst bit is not the rapidly multiplying critters, but Kate's (Phoebe Cates) remembrance of her worst Christmas ever - when her father, dressed as Santa, was found dead in the chimney. So if you have younger Scrooges in the house, try Home Alone (1990) instead, in which Macaulay Culkin's little Kevin sees off bungling burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) with everything from fake snow to glass ornaments when his family flies to Paris, accidentally leaving him behind.

Enemy of the State

This 1998 film provides the perfect excuse for any man reluctant to buy his missus lingerie - it is while Clayton (Will Smith) is buying frillies for his wife's Christmas present that an old pal secretly passes him a computer disk of evidence that sets bad guys from the NSA on his trail. Led by a corrupt politician (Jon Voight), these baddies mess up Clayton's life so badly it's not long before he's running down the street dodging bullets in his dressing gown, so he has to turn to a grumpy old man (Gene Hackman), who happens to be a former NSA agent, for help. Maybe Clayton should have bought his wife perfume instead.

Batman Returns

Arguably the best - and certainly the most gruesome - of the 1990s Batman movies, this is the one from 1992 with Michelle Pfeiffer in PVC as Catwoman, Michael Keaton as the conflicted Bruce Wayne/Batman, and Danny DeVito at his best as the Penguin. It's businessman Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) who makes it an extra special Christmas in Gotham, however, when he captures the local beauty queen who is due to light the town Christmas tree, and with Penguin's help, makes it look like Batman's fault when she plummets from a building to her death. Don't worry, she does get the job done, as she lands on the switch that turns the tree lights on.

LA Confidential

Based on James Ellroy's novel, the excellent LA Confidential (1997) kicks off with a crime based on the real Bloody Christmas incident of 1951, in which a group of drunken police officers brutally beat up six prisoners on Christmas Day. In the movie, Exley (Guy Pearce) testifies against fellow officers who committed such a crime, earning him the disgust of plainclothes detective Bud White (Russell Crowe), who is investigating the Nite Owl murders. There are betrayal, prostitution, drugs, murder and corruption to be uncovered and lives to be wasted before the movie's over.

Trading Places

Poor Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) finds himself homeless and penniless at Christmas, thanks to a bet between commodities brokers Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer (Don Ameche). They decide secretly to switch the lives of two very opposite people and watch what happens, so formerly privileged Louis ends up being taken in by a prostitute (Jamie Lee Curtis), while street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) is given Winthorpe's old job and wealthy lifestyle. Daft fact: when new regulations were being devised for financial markets last year, one rule was dubbed "the Eddie Murphy rule", referring to a plot twist in this 1983 movie.

The Ice Harvest

It is Christmas Eve, and mob lawyer Charlie (John Cusack) and crook Vic (Billy Bob Thornton) are counting the $2 million they have stolen from mob boss Bill Guerrard (Randy Quaid) in this black comedy drama. It's time for them to make their getaway, but the roads are too icy to escape on, so instead Charlie heads to a local strip club - as you do at this family time of year. Forget tinsel, holly and mistletoe, this 2005 Harold Ramis movie has betrayal, greed and two very inept criminals at its heart.


Former Monty Python Terry Gilliam delivered a jaw-dropping visual feast in 1985, but merry it is not. Ironically set during the festive season in an imaginary time and place, the film's protagonist is Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), who works as a midlevel bureaucrat when his imagination is not indulging in flights of fancy. He is drawn into much more serious stuff, however, when a fly landing on a printer causes the wrong person to be arrested in the place of terrorist heating engineer Tuttle (Robert De Niro). After that, things start to get really strange.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

James Bond's sixth cinematic outing in 1969 is usually best remembered as either a) the one with George Lazenby as 007, or b) the one in which Bond gets married (to Diana Rigg, no less). It's also the secret agent's most Christmassy adventure, as he tries to foil SPECTRE chief Blofeld (Telly Savalas) during the yuletide season, an assignment set against a beautiful Swiss backdrop (Blofeld's lair is at the top of Piz Gloria in the Alps). Watch out for former children's TV presenter Jenny Hanley and actress Joanna Lumley as two of Blofeld's Angels of Death - definitely not the sort of angels you find on Christmas trees.