Unconventional Christmas Movies

Home for the Holidays

Christmas time evokes a special kind of mood. This feeling is usually attributed to nostalgic memories, warm meals, and cozy hangouts with family and friends. The familiarity of being home and spending time with loved ones may also involve certain seasonal traditions such as stocking stuffing, playing board games, and watching classics holiday movies. The usual suspects include It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and Home Alone, among others. But what about the forgotten Christmas movies? The ones whose stories take place on or around the end of December that don’t get any love this time of year. In my opinion, they deserve to be enjoyed by the fireplace and mused under the mistletoe just as much as the usual lineup of festive films. So with Christmas fast approaching, here are five titles (in chronological order) that don’t typically come to mind when you think “Christmas movie.”

1. Edward Scissorhands (1990) – dir. Tim Burton

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Johnny Depp as “Edward”

One of the most fruitful actor/director pairings in modern cinema history, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton fashioned the quintessential oddball character study with their first collaboration, Edward Scissorhands. Unusually sweet despite his ghastly exterior, Depp plays the titular Edward – a man-sized boy created in a lab by an old inventor who died before he could attach proper hands to his creation. Edward is eventually taken in by a suburban family and teaches them to appreciate, among other things, the joy that’s hidden within their hearts. In one memorable sequence, Edward helps the neighborhood set up Christmas decorations and he even crafts a large ice angel sculpture. His fervent carving of the ice gives the effect of falling snow to the typically sunny-bright town.  This film has big heart.

2. 12 Monkeys (1995) – dir. Terry Gilliam

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Bruce Willis as “James Cole” and Brad Pitt as “Jeffrey Goines”

12 Monkeys is not a traditional holiday movie. In fact it’s not traditional anything movie. Covering themes of time travel, global mass extinction, technology, memory, and time, 12 Monkeys is not exactly the feel-good movie you normally associate with Christmas. Bruce Willis plays a time-traveler sent back in time to prevent the spread of a deadly virus launched by a radical group called the “Army of the Twelve Monkeys.” December 12, 1996 is the fateful day the epidemic was released. Against the backdrop of Santa Clauses and Christmas shoppers, the virus nearly wipes out all of humanity. The holiday iconography is unmistakable and all too blatant to be unintended. Terry Gilliam has always filled his sets with lush, extravagant decorations and symbolism as colorful as it is meaningful.

3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) – dir. Stanley Kubrick

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Tom Cruise as “Dr. William Harford”

New York City. Secret societies. Sexual orgies. Yes, indeed this is a Stanley Kubrick film. Sadly it was his last one before his sudden passing from a fatal heart attack. In adapting the novel to the big screen, Kubrick made several distinct changes to the source material including shifting the time period and setting from 1900s Vienna during Mardi Gras to 1990s New York City during Christmas. Eyes Wide Shut is not only memorable for being Kubrick’s final contribution to film, but for its two leads played by then real-life couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. The chemistry (and tension) between these two is extremely palpable and helps lend to the sense of dread throughout the run time. Also heightening the eerie mood is the production design. A frequent fan of using natural light, Kubrick draped his city streets with Christmas lights and trees, creating an other-worldly atmosphere to an otherwise easily recognizable holiday tradition. With Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick couldn’t help but go out with a bang, pun intended. Unwholesome fun for the whole family.

4. Cast Away (2000) – dir. Robert Zemeckis

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Tom Hanks as “Chuck Noland”

We leave the gloomy streets of New York and enter the wilderness of an uninhabited island. In their follow up collaboration to 1994’s Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis gave us another tale of hope and inspiration with Cast Away. Whereas …Gump told its story through a sprawling timeline and multi-layered character interactions, Cast Away tackles similar themes through the examination of one man’s struggle to survive in complete isolation. Hanks plays a systems engineer who travels the world solving problems for FedEx. This is noteworthy to our list because he’s called away to Malaysia for a work related issue during a family Christmas party. A violent storm causes his plane to crash over the Pacific Ocean and suffice it to say, he never makes it to his intended destination. Stranded all alone, he is forced to find food and shelter, with his only source of companionship taking the form of a volleyball named Wilson. Hanks is a once in a generation talent; nobody plays the common man with more likability  than he does. Teetering between suspenseful thriller, comedy, and survival drama, Cast Away is movie that will reinvigorate your spirits just in time for the holidays.

5. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005) – dir. Shane Black

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From left to right: Robert Downey Jr, Michelle Monaghan, and Val Kilmer

Finally we have Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. This should come as no surprise given the man behind the camera. Shane Black is no stranger to setting his movies during Christmas and often incorporates holiday scenery in his work (e.g. Lethal Weapon, Iron Man 3). Kiss Kiss… is no exception. Robert Downey, Jr. plays a small time crook who backwardly stumbles his way into an audition room and is subsequently partnered with a private investigator (Val Kilmer) after getting the part. The story proceeds to take various twists and turns filled with unreliable narration, ironic humor, and even a breaking of the fourth wall. A buddy cop film of the strangest order, this movie is unpredictable and hilarious.

Hope you enjoyed the list. What are your favorite non-traditional Christmas movies? Leave a comment below.

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