Me, I love Christmas movies—It's A Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Scrooge (both the 1951 and 1970 versions), Miracle On 34th Street (1947 only), How The Grinch Stole Christmas. And I could watch little Ralphie Parker's quest for an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle (with a compass in the stock!) twenty-four hours a day if only some cable channel would think of it.
But a lot of people don't like Christmas or its movies, and that's okay with me. Here are some alternatives which will allow you to acknowledge the season without succumbing to it:
The Thin Man (1934)
Nick and Nora celebrate the holidays in the company of gangsters, thieves and murderers. It was either that or another Christmas at the in-laws'.
"I'm a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune."
"I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids."
"It's not true. He didn't come anywhere near my tabloids."
Most people think of this as a New Year's Eve movie, and rightly so, but if you do the math, the entire first act takes place on Christmas day. And what a Christmas it is—no tree, no egg nog, no mistletoe, no nothing. No presents, either, unless you care to unwrap a tousle-haired Cary Grant. A romantic comedy as wistful as the season itself, Holiday is my favorite Katharine Hepburn movie.
"When I find myself in a position like this, I ask myself what would General Motors do? And then I do the opposite."
Stalag 17 (1953)
Christmas 1944: Grown men in longjohns dancing with other grown men in longjohns while William Holden searches for the Nazi spy hiding out among American prisoners of war. Sounds like the one miserable semester I spent as a student at an all-boys school.
"All right then, gentlemen, we are all friends again. And with Christmas coming on I have a special treat for you—I'll have you all deloused for the holidays."
An Affair To Remember (1957)
Cary Grant is afraid Deborah Kerr is mad at him, but it turns out she's only paralyzed. Whew!
"My mother told me never to enter a man's room in months ending in 'R.'"
The Apartment (1960)
Suicide, adultery, the boss from hell—what man wouldn't gladly suffer it all to spend Christmas in bed with the young Shirley MacLaine. One of the greatest movies of all time, a not-to-be-missed comedy/drama from director Billy Wilder.
"T'was the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring ... nothin' ... no action ... Dullsville!"
Kings and castles notwithstanding, this is what Christmas is like for millions of people—bickering, recrimination and endless disappointment. Peter O'Toole and Katharine Hepburn at their snarling best.
"What would you have me do? Give out? Give up? Give in?"
"Give me a little peace."
"A little? Why so modest? How about eternal peace? Now there's a thought."
On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
Sure, it stars George Lazenby as James Bond, but it also boasts Diana Rigg, the best Bond girl ever. Holiday connection? Telly Savalas doles out the all-time worst Christmas present—a bio-weapon designed to destroy the world's food supply. What, Best Buy was all out of Wii Bowling?
"This never happened to the other fellow!"
Life Of Brian (1979)
We came oh so close to celebrating Brianmas every 25th of December, until the three wise men realized Jesus was one manger over.
"He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!"
Trading Places (1983)
Ah, Dan Aykroyd as a drunk, pistol-packing Santa Claus. And he's only, like, the fifth funniest guy in the movie. I don't know about you, but I get hungry for salmon and dirt-matted Santa beard every time I see this movie. Yummy.
"I'll bet you thought I'd forgotten your Christmas bonus. There you are."
"Five dollars. Maybe I'll go to the movies—by myself."
Die Hard (1988)
Man, that's some Christmas party—Bruce Willis shoots a dozen men, drops another out a 40th floor window and blows up a building. Good thing he's a cop!
"Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho."
L.A. Confidential (1997)
Ironically, the "Bloody Christmas" incident that sets this labyrinthine mystery in motion is the least bloody scene in the entire movie. My pick as the best picture of 1997.
"You're like Santa Claus with that list, Bud, except everyone on it's been naughty."
Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Tom Cruise's colossal ego threatens his marriage to Nicole Kidman. Thank God it's only a movie! Stanley Kubrick's last film, Eyes Wide Shut begins at a Christmas party, ends at an orgy. Hmpf. My parties just end in a hangover.
"If you men only knew ..."
The Matador (2005)
What do you do when a hitman shows up at your door on Christmas Eve? Why, invite him in for pie and whiskey, of course! Starring Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis, The Matador was one of the most sadly-underrated comedies of the last decade.
"Come on! It'll be a good time!"
"Oh, so now killing people is a good time?"