The most wonderful time of the year? That’s debatable. What cannot be debated is that it’s the best time of the year for watching movies. Of course, there are the perennial favorites: White Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story. And while tradition is good, sometimes it’s nice to shake things up a bit and try something new.
This year, for your cinematic pleasure, we offer you these offbeat alternatives to add some variety to the usual holiday fare.
12. Star Wars Holiday Special (Steve Binder, 1978)
This may be the worst film ever made not only on Earth but also on Alderaan, Tatooine, Hoth, and every planet in every galaxy, ever. But watching wookies prepare for their version of Christmas, Life Day, is hard to beat on the cute meter. Will Chewbacca make it home in time to celebrate the day with his family? Is that Jefferson Airplane or Jefferson Starship performing in a music video to distract the storm troopers? Will George Lucas ever endorse this ugly stepchild of the Stars Wars franchise? (Answer key: yes, Starship, and no.)
11. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Nicholas Webster, 1964)
In this cult film, martian leaders kidnap Santa Claus (John Call) and take him to the red planet in order to bring fun to the children of Mars. To the delight of the martian children, the ever-obliging Kris Kringle sets up a toy factory and goes to work. But one disagreeable martian plots to kill Santa. Don’t miss the sing-along at the end.
10. Christmas Holiday (Robert Siodmak, 1944)
Gene Kelly may be dashing, but he spells danger in this little-seen noir film. His wife (Deanna Durbin) flees to New Orleans after he is sentenced to prison for murder, but he breaks out and catches up with her on Christmas Eve, making this one holiday she won’t forget.
9. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (Peter Hunt, 1969)
The only Bond film to feature George Lazenby is also the only one in the franchise to feature a Christmas theme. The snowy Swiss Alps provide a majestic setting for this darkest and most personal of the 007 films (until Casino Royale). Lazenby brings brute strength and emotional angst to the heretofore-suave spy. He’s pretty easy on the eyes, too.
8. Funny Farm (George Roy Hill, 1988)
One year before Chevy Chase secured an annual place in our hearts with Christmas Vacation, he starred in the hilarious Funny Farm. Tired of the hustle and bustle of city life, a writer and his wife move to a Vermont farmhouse for a quaint escape, only to discover that rural life is far from idyllic. It’s the charm of Christmas in the country that finally convinces the couple to put down roots.
7. Ocean’s Eleven (Lewis Milestone, 1960)
Eleven WWII veterans, disillusioned with the failed promise of postwar prosperity, reunite at Christmas time with a plan: rob the five biggest casinos in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve. The 2001 remake may be fun, but the Rat Pack version packs a lot more punch, not the least of which is its cynical attitude toward the American Dream. Ain’t that a kick in the head?
6. The Thin Man (W.S. Van Dyke, 1934)
Like a little mystery with your eggnog? The delightful and witty Nick and Nora Charles (Walter Powell and Myrna Loy) make this Christmastime whodunit a barrel of laughs, but make no mistake — Nick always gets his man. Asta, their adorable fox terrier, holds his own as the cutest and most sober member of the stylish family.
5. Road to Utopia (Hal Walker, 1946)
If bromance is your cup of tea, look to the fathers of the genre. In this “road to” caper, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, the ultimate buddy pair, discover a map to a goldmine and head to Alaska, but the local heavies aren’t about to let these two yokels strike it rich. One of the buddies gets the gold, one gets the girl, but both offend Santa and miss out on Christmas presents, much to their chagrin.
4. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)
Still controversial to this day, Monty Python’s ridiculous romp through the life of Brian remains the king of religious satire. Born in a stable next door to the manger where Jesus is born, Brian, through a series of misadventures, is repeatedly mistaken for the Messiah from the moment of his birth until his death by crucifixion. Wait until Biggus Dickus hears of this.
3. The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)
“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man,” Vito Corleone warns his wayward son Santino in the first of the critically acclaimed gangster trilogy. Although Christmas plays a small part in the story, its presence draws attention to the contrast between the “the family” and “the business,” eventually revealing the two as interchangeable and deadly. P.S. Don’t ask Michael about his business.
2. Better Off Dead (Savage Steve Holland, 1985)
After his girlfriend breaks up with him, Lane Meyer (John Cusack) is suicidal, but every attempt to kill himself fails. As if that isn’t enough, a demonic paperboy stalks him (“I want my two dollars!”), two Japanese drag-racing brothers challenge him at every turn, and his little brother scores trashy women nightly while Lane can’t get a date. Cusack is at his best in this sidesplitting Christmastime comedy that captures the angst of young love and the insanity of family life.
1. The Apartment (Billy Wilder, 1960)
Determined to climb to the top of the company ladder, Jack Lemmon lets the senior executives at the firm use his apartment for their illicit trysts, but when he finds out the woman he adores (Shirley MacLaine) has been in his apartment, all bets are off. The corporate machine can suck your soul dry, but Lemmon and MacLaine prove to be each other’s saviors in this Oscar-winning comedy about two lost souls in the big city.