Film and TV

11 Holiday Films That Haven't Been Totally Ruined by the Holidays

Every year Hollywood cranks them out -- saccharine remakes of A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life, with minor plot tweaks and overused actors. They've ruined the dial, filling it with cinema's version of re-gifting. Meanwhile, original movies that were great the first few hundred times play on a never-ending loop until we can't be bothered to care about that leg lamp from France or what happens when that damn bell rings. It's the holidays, over saturated.

Still, there are a few that nail it. These 11 movies provide a needed alternative to the tinsel cliche of those overcooked turkeys.

11.) It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Christmas Special The gang got together a few years back and put together one of the best Christmas specials, ever. We discover why each of them harbors so much holiday angst when their childhood triggers are addressed, but the best of them all is Charlie. It takes a mall Santa to make it happen, but when he finally faces up to his mother's seasonal prostitution, the North Pole by the food court becomes a war zone.

10.) Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

If you have a weakness for trashy detective pulp, set at Christmas, this is the film for you. It debuted at Cannes in 2005, but never grew beyond a sleeper hit. That's because the very things that make it great -- like the campy inclusion of unnecessary plot twists, haphazard shootout scenes and stockpile of hidden weapons -- speaks to a niche, paperback-collecting audience.

9.) Gremlins Whether this movie was set at Christmas to contrast the darkness of its villains, (the original shape-shifting lizard people of the fourth dimension), or to market the still-cuddly Mogwais as must-have holiday gifts, is unclear. What we do know is that there hasn't been a stranger concept movie sold to children before or since, and the fact that it was successful? Well that's due to the experimental, freaky nature of our Betamax generation. You couldn't introduce this film in 2012.

8.) Love, Actually

No, it's not a chick flick. It's THE chick flick. Love, Actually has become the movie that lady gangs base their annual gift exchanges around, and that's because it doesn't go near the terrible holiday cookie cutter build-a-plot method that other rom-coms abuse. In it, every heart is vulnerable to love and loss, not just "workaholic women who need to find a man by Christmas."

We get a nice heavy hand of Richard Curtis' twisted humor in this one (he was a writer for Blackadder and Mr. Bean, and worked on the cinematic box office super hitters Notting Hill, Bridget Jones' Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral). The film's got all of the ingredients you want: a love-destined Laura Linney, romance sprung on the set of a porno and a dusted-off copy of the Troggs jam "Love is all Around," performed by a crooning Bill Nighy.

7.) The Nightmare Before Christmas

Hey, Tim Burton: You got Halloween in my Christmas. Or is it vice versa? Either way, this stop-motion masterpiece proves that children's holiday tales don't need to be caked in red and green sugar to hit their mark. Spooky and haunting and stylistically righteous, this movie proves that a little pumpkin spice can counterbalance all of that peppermint.

6.) Less Than Zero

Based on the Brett Easton Ellis novel, Less Than Zero is the black diamond of holiday films. Dark, hard, cold, angular and seductive, it holds you in the near-vomit spin of ultra-posh '80s LA. It sits alone on the Christmas video rack, like a pink, pre-lit tinsel tree surrounded by a field of natural-born Douglas firs. It's seedy, crushing and raw, and is set around a holiday reunion gone wrong.

5.) Edward Scissorhands Remember when Winona Ryder used her crazy eyes for good instead of evil? Like back in the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp/Danny Elfman heyday? This is that time, and is possibly the very best film Burton has ever brought us. Estranged from society as an unfinished project, Edward has a lot of love to give. But will he find the suburbs receptive to his desire for inclusion? It's going to take a lot of Avon products to make that happen.

4.) Planes Trains and Automobiles

No matter how many times those Hollywood execs try to remake the ol' "Gotta get home for the holidays, and I'm stuck with this slob" plot angle, it falls flat. Of course it does; it's already been done perfectly by Steve Martin and John Candy. The ultimate straightman to Candy's boorish salesman, Martin is all-consumed with making it home for Thanksgiving dinner. But as any holiday traveler knows, those best-laid plans are often coupled with explosions, burglaries and three-day adventures.

3.) Elf This movie hits that magical muppet point of humor that few others achieve. A perfect blend of hysterically funny and incredibly wholesome, Elf plays hard on both Will Farrel's physical stature and his natural lean toward innocence. Plus, we get Bob Newhart as Farrel's elf dad, which is the greatest thing to happen to Christmas since eggnog.

2.) Christmas Vacation (National Lampoon)

From the wrapped-up cat to the cousins parked outside, this movie holds true as one of the best in the National Lampoon franchise. (Suck it, Vegas Vacation.) It's an annual must-watch, mostly because Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid are amazing together, but also thanks to its amazing quotability.

1.) Die Hard My car was broken into a couple weeks ago, and while Die Hards 2 and 3 were left untouched, thieves stole the original. I can't blame them. The sequels border on unwatchable, but that first Die Hard, well damn. It's still one of the best action films and holiday movies ever made. It's an East Coast meets West Coast mash-up, a terrorist shake-down and yeah, a love story. Bring it, Bruce.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin

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