It’s December, now, and that means it’s finally socially acceptable to start celebrating the holiday season (here’s a secret: my Christmas tree has been up for over a week). Along with lights, trees, and various other decorations you’ll tire of almost immediately, one of the most enjoyable parts of celebration is all the fun Christmas movies everyone watches every year; these are movies like: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Frosty the Snowman, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, and the list goes on and on for an insane amount of time. This year, I thought I’d compile yet another list of some lesser-recognized Christmas films that you may have either overlooked before or never thought were even worth your time. Well, it turns out they are worth your time, jerk, and will make your holidays even happier.
The Ice Harvest
Of course, we start with this 2005 dark comedy that has almost nothing to do with Christmas. The Ice Harvest is directed by Harold Ramis and stars John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton as thieves trying to escape Wichita, Kansas, with their loot. This all happens to take place on Christmas Eve (there’s the Christmas part). What’s so fun about this movie is that it feels like an amalgam of several other Christmas films. Billy Bob Thornton, of course, starred in Bad Santa (a sequel to which is supposedly set to finally film next year), the pairing of Cusack and Thornton feels a bit like the Wet Bandits (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) from Home Alone, and there’s a few scenes set around a family which is reminiscent of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Randy Quaid even shows up, for good measure). This is a great movie to begin with, if you’re just looking to ease into the Christmas spirit with something that’s different… but not all that different.
Christmas Do-Over and 12 Dates of Christmas
Yes, it’s two movies, but they’re basically the same movie, so they’re listed together. Both Christmas Do-Over and 12 Dates of Christmas are ABC Family original films that blatantly “borrow” the Groundhog Day premise of being stuck in a time loop until you get your shit together. A lot–and I mean a lot–of made-for-television Christmas films are overbearingly sugar-sweet. These two… well, they kind of fit that mold, but they’re a hell of a lot of fun, too. Christmas Do-Over stars Jay Mohr and Daphne Zuniga; Mohr’s the character trapped in the loop, this time. 12 Dates of Christmas stars Amy Smart and Mark-Paul Gosselaar; Amy Smart takes the timey-wimey saddle, there, as she has to do the whole “love triangle” thing, until she figures herself out. These are the ones you go with, if you’re looking for the unabashedly schlocky holiday warm-and-fuzzies.
Call Me Claus
Call Me Claus is another made-for-television film; it has much of the similar holiday charm as the previously mentioned ABC Family products, and there’s a lot of familiar tropes (Santa needs a replacement, nobody has the Christmas spirit anymore, “Scrooge” enjoys Christmas again, etc). It stars Whoopi Goldberg in the lead role as Santa’s replacement. I do like her, but the reason this movie is on this list–and why I enjoy rewatching it–is the one and only Garth Brooks. I’m a huge fan of Garth Brooks, and I have been for as long as I can remember (side note, the fact that he’s finally coming out of retirement has me giddier than when I was a little schoolgirl). What does he have to do with this movie, though? Well, Brooks not only served as an executive producer on Call Me Claus, but he also recorded new music for the film’s soundtrack. It was released as an expanded version of his album Garth Brooks and The Magic of Christmas: Songs from Call Me Claus. The point is: good, fun movie; even better music (if you’re a Garth Brooks fan).
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
As I previously established during this year’s Halloween season, I not only grew up in the ’90s but was/am a lover of the show Home Improvement. Part of my Home Improvement fandom, as a young lad, was that I was contractually obligated to think Jonathan Taylor Thomas was the coolest dude with a tubular attitude, or whatever weird thing the ’90s had me saying. I’m still a fan of the guy, just for the record. I’ll Be Home for Christmas is one of the few starring vehicles Thomas’ teenage stardom landed him in the mid-’90s. Unfortunately, the leading man thing didn’t really pan out (yet; he’s still only 32, after all), but this holiday comedy is a definite highlight. The great thing about it is that it’s ostensibly a teen road trip movie wrapped in a Christmas package… so to speak; sort of a Planes, Trains, and Automobiles meets 10 Things I Hate About You… sort of…
Olive, the Other Reindeer
I love animation, and Christmas is replete with classic animated films: from Dr. Seuss/Chuck Jones to Rankin/Bass, but this is a list about the other movies, so it wouldn’t be complete without Olive the Other Reindeer. There are several things that make this one worth checking out: first, it’s a very good movie; always the most important thing. Second, it’s unique and off-beat; largely stemming from the fact that it’s produced by The Simpsons and Futurama creator Matt Groening, so it comes complete with many things fans of Groening’s work will recognize. The incomparable Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) and Billy West (Fry, Zoidberg, Professor Farnsworth, and more) lend their voices (as does the aforementioned Jay Mohr, along with Drew Barrymore). On top of that, the music is from none other than Christopher Tyng (Futurama fans know what’s up). This is a great movie for the kids, and you won’t be bothered too much if they want to watch it a billion times from now to Christmas.
Another bit of an animated ’90s throwback, Wakko’s Wish is a direct-to-video film based on the Steven Spielberg-produced world of The Animaniacs. One of the best parts of that show was the fantastic musical numbers composed by the great Richard Stone and a 35-piece orchestra. I mean, it still makes me happy when Rob Paulsen (Yakko Warner) sings “Yakko’s World“. With that said, Wakko’s Wish centers on Wakko Warner (Jess Harnell) wishing upon a star… and it’s a musical… a CHRISTMAS MUSICAL. That’s really all you need, right? Wall-to-wall Christmas music set in the world of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot (Tress MacNeille). This is another one the kids will love (at least they should, dammit!), and you’ll love, too (or else… dammit!).
All I Want for Christmas
Now we head back to the early ’90s, and back to the cheesiness holiday films are meant to encapsulate, with All I Want For Christmas. Here, we find a young Thora Birch starring with Lauren Bacall, Kevin Nealon, and a Santa played by Leslie Nielsen. Young Thora, along with her brother (played by a young Ethan Embry), really want their parents to get back together; in fact, that’s all they want for Christmas… see what I did there? Hey, I can be cheesy, too, if I want! You get the gist, so you can guess what happens, right? Everyone is trampled by Rudolph… okay, no; that doesn’t happen. The lack of a surprise ending isn’t important, though, because that’s what you expect from Christmas movies; what matters is the journey, or the path, or some other Hallmark card shit. Anyway, it’s a nice, little movie that I’ve personally never forgotten since first watching it with my family circa 1991.
Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas
I bet you thought the animated movies were over, didn’t you? I hope you’re not too upset by my tricking you because there may be another one coming; I told you I love animation. Anyway, as you may suspect, Bah, Humduck! A Looney Tunes Christmas is an adaptation of the classic Dickens tale A Christmas Carol. Here, Daffy Duck takes the role of the Scrooge who needs to be awakened and whatnot. As is often the case with these parodies of A Christmas Carol, it’s less about the story and more about the joy of seeing how the story is told in a different way with familiar characters. Ebenezer’s business is traded for a modern megastore, and the characters of the tale are replaced by the likes of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, and Yosemite Sam. The great Joe Alaskey stars as Daffy Duck (as he has done many times), with people like Billy West, Jim Cummings, and Maurice LaMarche rounding out the stellar cast.
Three Wise Guys
This is yet another made-for-television film, but this one is actually very different. Three Wise Guys is, basically, a modern retelling of the story of the three wise men and birth of Jesus. Now, whether you’re religious or not, there are two things you need to know: it’s not a religious movie, and it doesn’t mock religion. The story is just a setting for a surprisingly funny and inventive plot; you’ll just have to ignore the fact that it’s directed by the same guy who directed From Justin to Kelly. There are some other familiar names like Tom Arnold and Judd Nelson, but I’ll be honest; there’s only one reason I made sure to watch this on the night it premiered on USA Network in 2005: I’m a huge fan of Futurama, and Katey Sagal (Leela on Futurama) is one of the lead actors in the movie. Of course, now, Sagal is starring in yet another hit television series (like, her fourth one, after: Married with Children, Futurama, and 8 Simple Rules), Sons of Anarchy. You Sons fans will definitely want to give it a look-see; you won’t be disappointed. If anyone needs another reason to watch, I’ll just say one thing: Rowdy Roddy Piper (They Live, Body Slam, wrestling legend) in a Christmas sweater. Yeah.
If you enjoyed this year’s hit holiday film The Best Man Holiday, I think you should love This Christmas, which came out in 2007 but wasn’t quite as well-received. Both films have their positives and negatives: The Best Man Holiday feels too contrived and storybook, while This Christmas relies very heavily on several Christmas cliches. What they both do well is capture various human moments and use them to communicate the holiday spirit. For my money, though, I think This Christmas does slightly better because its more modest, family setting makes it more easily relatable. Sure, Chris Brown is one of the stars, so that’s a bummer, but it was back before he was such an openly shitty person, and the cast also includes greats like Loretta Devine, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, and Idris Elba, so they make up for it. They’re both excellent choices for some Christmastime feels, so if you don’t want to venture to your nearest movie theater for The Best Man Holiday (or if you already have done that), just sit on your couch and enjoy This Christmas.
Rise of the Guardians
This is the other animated film I told you was coming. You probably recognize the name because Rise of the Guardians was just released in 2012. However, you may not have seen it, because it wasn’t exactly the hit it really should have been. In fact, the money DreamWorks lost on this movie partially led to a lot of people losing their jobs, so you should actually feel horrible for not seeing it. Okay, you shouldn’t; stop crying. It’s sometimes difficult to pinpoint exactly why a good movie like this didn’t connect with audiences the way it should have (it did still make $300 million worldwide; it’s just that today’s monster budgets have rendered $300 million “not enough”–just ask John Carter). If I had to guess, though, I’d say one thing that kept the film from resonating with the general public is the feeling that it’s not shiny enough; it doesn’t have that gloss of a Disney film, for example. It’s in a similar boat to something like The Swan Princess; a bit darker and deals with more mature themes. The good thing is: The Swan Princess eventually developed a bit of a cult following, and they’re still making sequels, 20 years later; not $150 million sequels, but sequels. It’s very possible you’ve chosen to not check out Rise of the Guardians, yet, but I’d say, if you enjoy movies like The Swan Princess, or the films of Don Bluth (An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go To Heaven, Anastasia, etc), then I’d be certain Rise of the Guardians is right up your alley.
All is Bright
This final movie on the list is one which was just released to home media on November 19, 2013. Because All Is Bright has such a recent release date, this is the one I imagine the most of you haven’t seen. I’ll say, right off the bat, it’s definitely not for the kids, as it goes back to that familiar trope in The Ice Harvest with which we began: thieves on Christmas. Where this does differ, however, is that these thieves, played by Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd, have gone clean. They don’t steal things anymore; they do legitimate business… or at least try to. What I enjoyed the most, other than the great interplay between Giamatti and Rudd, is how the plot pretty much boils down to a redemption story for oneself. Without any spoilers, I can say All is Bright offers a refreshingly honest take on what could have been a tired, ham-handed story.