Alternative Xmas Movies
Is The Golden Compass a Christmas movie? Novelist Philip Pullman would probably be appalled at the idea. Despite quisling spin from the movie's stars, the book is very clearly an attack on religion, and (to a lesser degree) the film is too. A Church of England atheist, as he puts it, Pullman imagines a society in thrall to a powerful theological body, the Magisterium, whose pervasive influence threatens to curtail individual liberties and the great Enlightenment tradition of scientific inquiry.
Pullman probably had Catholicism uppermost in mind when he conceived the Magisterium, with its talk of inquisitions, intercessions and heresies, and in the movie the chief heavy is Fra Pavel (played by Simon McBurney), who wears the dark robes of a cleric. In the film - unlike the novel - it's this conspiratorial priest who tries to poison Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), fearful that his heretical research will undermine the Magisterium's authority. When knowledge is power, the powerful have a vested interest in fostering ignorance. As Mrs Coulter (Nicole Kidman) informs Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), "Some people don't know what's best for them."
All of this anti-clericalism makes The Golden Compass a less traditional Christmas movie, to be sure. But against that, it's a big splashy special effects film aimed at a family audience - which means teens and under, not like those wearisome summer blockbusters. And then there's the climactic crusade to the icy north - Svalbard may not be the North Pole exactly, but polar bears live there. Sadly the studio has excised Pullman's biggest bah-humbug moment, opting for a much cosier happy ending in the hopes of bankrolling the trilogy.
In the spirit of Pullman's subversive original, and because the thought of another round of It's A Wonderful Life, Scrooge and Love Actually makes us want to weep - let us commend these alternative Christmas movies for your dyspeptic viewing pleasure. A word of caution, though: Family friendly these aren't (not unless you're in the Manson Family).
Alternative Christmas Movies
Gremlins is an obvious choice, but the anarchic glee with which this Spielberg production sets about wrecking your stereotypical American yuletide homilies will not be denied. Even Phil Spector's Christmas Album gets trashed. Is nothing sacred?
Children of Men (2006)
Children of Men is the Nativity Story set in an alternate future where Britain is falling apart, the authorities are engaged in a mutually destructive war with terrorists, and all hope is lost…
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
What Tom Cruise wants for Christmas seems to be a little marital one-upmanship, perhaps a fling with an underage Lolita, or a kinky masked orgy. Just count the Christmas trees!
Die Hard (1988)
If only for the scene when a plastered Kevin Bacon is found outside the church, nearly naked in the manger - the three kings look on in disarray.
The Ref (Hostile Hostages) (1994)
The Ref (Hostile Hostages) Burglar Denis Leary picks the wrong house when he hits on Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis on Christmas Eve. Leary, Spacey and Davis all in one place: this is the true spirit of Christmas - at least it is where I live.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Writer-director Shane Black obviously has a thing for Christmas: his scripts for Lethal Weapon and The Long Kiss Goodnight. No wonder everyone seems so manic. In this one we get Robert Downey Jr stealing prezzies and Michelle Monaghan in a skimpy Santa suit; ho, ho, ho.
The Apartment (1960)
The Apartment is Billy Wilder's sour suicide-line idea festive fun, with Jack Lemmon loaning his apartment out so his boss can carry on with his girlfriends, and Shirley Maclaine as the elevator girl who gets court between floors.
The Ice Harvest (2005))
"Only morons are nice at Christmas," opines Billy Bob Thornton in this underrated yuletide noir about a couple of chancers ripping off the mob the night before Christmas. John Cusack drinks and drives while his buddy Oliver Platt ties one on big time.
The Proposition (2005)
Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1982)
Bad Santa (2003)
No way we could leave this off the list. Billy Bob again, an actor surely destined to play Scrooge at some point in his career, if only opposite the Muppets. The baddest santa on the block, no question.
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