Ah, December. In my part of the world, it means the wind brings a chill with it. The sun only shines while I am at work indoors. And Target is four months into its Christmas sale.
In the film community, it is a time for lists and discussions centered around two themes:
1) What will win an Oscar?
2) What’s your favorite Christmas movie?
That second question is a particularly fun one for me. You ask someone their favorite movie and you can almost predict what the answer is. Favorite holiday film though? It takes thought.
For the record, my top 5 are:
- A Christmas Story – Perfectly captures childhood. I could watch that all day.
- Miracle on 34th Street – The 1947 version. A love story with a message about belief.
- Scrooged! – Maybe it’s because I saw this before I ever saw another version of Dickens’ tale, but Bill Murray’s subversive holiday comedy has to be seen each year.
- Elf – Has Will Ferrell’s man-child comedy ever been put to better use? I think not.
- The Nightmare before Christmas – Gorgeous animation, infectious tunes and a fun story that teaches an unlikely hero the true meaning of the holiday.
The question is also a sort of litmus test to me. There’s s variety of good (and not-so-good) Christmas movies. But if you ask the question enough, invariably someone gets that smart ass grin on their face. And I know exactly what answer is coming next:
Die Hard is not a Christmas movie. It’s not. Neither is Lethal Weapon. They are action films set during December. But they are not holiday films.
A couple of years ago, citing Die Hard became the know-it-all film geek answer to this question. It was fun. It was cool. We all got a chuckle out of people who didn’t realize that it was set during Christmas.
But that moment has passed. It never was a Christmas movie. It was the punchline to a question about Christmas movies. When we think about Christmas abstractly, we don’t think about Sgt. Al Powell, Bruce Willis’ bloody feet and palm trees. That was the joke, but it’s old and we’ve all heard it. It’s not funny or clever.
Now, there’s a contingent out there that is making the argument in their heads right now about why Die Hard belongs on the ABC Family 25 Days listing. Fine. Ask yourself this: can you set Die Hard in July? Could it be a retirement party that’s invaded by the terrorists? How much does the movie change? A line or two? Some set decoration?
Okay, now try the same thing with Elf. Or A Christmas Story. Or even the horrid Jingle All the Way. Remove Christmas from those stories. What changes? Is there even a movie at all?
How about this? What’s your favorite boat movie? Titanic? Poseiden Adventure? Speed 2?
Mine is The Godfather 2. What? Don’t you remember that one scene where DeNiro’s on a boat. Or that famous death scene? There are boats all over that movie. Do you really want to formulate your favorite movie on any given topic by these kinds of tenuous connections?
The worst part for me about offering Die Hard up as your favorite holiday film misses the point of the question entirely. To get sappy and sentimental for a moment, Christmas is not about a Santa hat at Nakatomi Plaza or Martin Riggs making an arrest at a Christmas tree sale. It’s about goodwill toward men, the spirit of giving, the messiness of families, and the belief that if you’re a good boy or girl, you’ll be rewarded.
Citing a film as a Christmas movie because there is snow on the ground or “Ho Ho Ho” gets used as a punchline is cynical and makes you no better than another famous holiday character. He too thought Christmas was about decorations and giftwrap until…
“And he puzzled and puzzled, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
‘Maybe Christmas,’ he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more.’”
Yes, the Grinch thought Christmas was about a day and its accoutrements, but he learned his lesson. So can we all.
Next time someone asks you for your favorite Christmas movie and you get the urge to blurt out Die Hard, bite your tongue and say A Christmas Story. I promise your small heart will grow three sizes that day.