Top ten alternative Christmas movies

Now’s the time of year when a lot of people become insufferable, spouting their Christmas cheer all over the place. I bet there’s a chance that was your reaction reading my opening line, right? Something like, ‘Don’t be a scrooge! Cheer up, it’s chriiiissstmaaas!’ This is exactly the kind of thing that drives me mad. I mean, to be honest, I’d be fine with Christmas if it didn’t seem like everyone was forcing you to be merry all the time.

Which brings me onto movies. Most Christmas offerings are awful, tragically soppy and saccharine affairs (although I have a soft spot for Santa Claus: the movie, mostly because of John Lithgow). So when it comes to settling down with loved ones to get in the Christmas spirit, it’s either watch one of those or have an argument about whether Die Hard is or isn’t allowed Christmas movie status. And if it does get the ok, what else could be considered a Christmas movie?

So I did a little list. My alternative Christmas movies, if you will. See what you think.

1. Gremlins (1984)

This is such a fun film. There are rules: don’t get your mogwai wet, don’t feed it after midnight or it’ll turn into an evil gremlin with a mohawk, that sort of thing. I also found out, years later, that they used the exact same small town set for this film as they did for Back to the Future.

2. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Highest Shane Black film on my list (there are quite a few more below) and this one is significant because it marked the return from the wilderness for Robert Downey Jr (he went on to do some kind of superhero film or something). It also had fantastic performances from rising star (at the time) Michelle Monaghan and also a return, in hilarious fashion, for Val Kilmer.

3. Batman Returns (1992)

Arguably, whisper it, the best Batman film of the Keaton era? Actually, I am torn. Batman was truly great but Batman Returns gave us Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Danny DeVito as the Pengiun and Christopher Walken as, er, evil business dude. Max something.

4. Go (1999)

Written by legendary screenwriter John August, this is essentially the screenplay that put him on the map. It has a soft spot in my heart, being one I watched a lot growing up – it just seemed so cool. The story starts by introducing a group of characters, we follow one of them. The story then returns to the same place to follow another character. Eventually, they intertwine.

5. Trading Places (1983)

Dan Akroyd, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Lee Curtis team up to take down a couple of corrupt, rich old white guys. You could say this film feels intensely relevant in 2019, or ten years ago, or that it’s basically timeless. Either way, it’s a funny film with a bunch of ’80s actors at the top of their game. And Akroyd, dressed as Santa, eats salmon through his beard.

6. The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

My second Shane Black film on this list. Before Angelina Jolie, Kate Beckinsale and others took up the mantle as the action women of Hollywood, we had the bad ass momma Gina Gershon. Here as an assassin that’s lost her memory and living life as a contented housewife. Then things happen and she starts to remember who she was, teaming up with Samuel L. Jackson to take down some bad guys.

7. In Bruges (2008)

A job goes wrong for two hit man, so they head to Bruges to lay low. One (Brendan Gleeson) loves the city, the other (Colin Farrell) hates it. Trouble is their somewhat unhinged boss (Ralph Fiennes) has ordered them to stay put. He then heads out to join them in a ridiculous showdown. This remains darkly comic genius from writer-director Martin McDonagh. Highly rewatchable.

8. Lethal Weapon (1987)

The film that put Mel Gibson on the map as a Hollywood leading man. This is also the film that got writer (and now director) Shane Black in the door, kickstarting his career. It’s also kind of interesting, in that this first film had live wire cop Riggs (Gibson) really struggle with his demons. The sequels were funnier but this first film actually had some fairly dark moments.


9. Iron Man 3 (2013)

After helping revive Downey Jr’s career with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Downey returned the favour by having his friend Shane Black direct him in this third instalment of Iron Man’s story in the MCU. A good decision, some might say, as this film went on to be one of the highest grossing movies for Marvel.


10. American Psycho (2000)

The film that put Christian Bale on the map as an intense character actor. And also a leading man, in a weird sort of way. He’s since gone onto an incredibly varied career as one of the best actors working today. But for a long time, he was known as ‘the guy that played Patrick Bateman’.

Honourable mentions also go to:

Filth, Bad Santa, Home Alone, About a Boy, Brazil, Edward Scissorhands.

Who are the top 20 most intense actors of recent times?

charlie bronson

I do like an intense character and performance when I’m watching a film. Someone who literally rivets and welds you to the screen, look away at your peril. Some people probably like their films bright and breezy. I don’t mind those too, but there’s something about intensity that leaves a lasting impression. You remember those performances.

As such I thought I’d offer a couple of lists of actors and actresses that have had me mesmerised, entranced and – at times – a little frightened. I’ve most likely left off a lot of vintage performances and characters, but this is MY list so I’m allowed. Let me know your thoughts. Who would you have liked to have seen included?

In these lists I’ve put links to clips from some performances you might not have seen before, or maybe just want to revisit. Remember though, best not watch alone though, these lot are intense!

The guys

  1. charlie bronsonDaniel Day Lewis (Bill ‘the Butcher’ Cutting, Gangs of New York; Daniel Plainview, There will be Blood)
  2. Heath Ledger (The Joker, The Dark Knight)
  3. Tom Hardy (Charles Bronson, Bronson)
  4. Christian Bale (Patrick Bateman, American Psycho; Batman, The Batman Trilogy)
  5. Kevin Spacey (John Doe, Seven)
  6. Christopher Walken (Vicenzo Carcotti, True Romance; Frank White, King of New York)
  7. Javier Bardem (Anton Chigurh, No Country for Old Men)
  8. Christopher Waltz (Col. Hans Landa, Inglourious Basterds)
  9. Vincent Cassel (Jacques Mesrine, Mesrine)
  10. Liam Neeson (Bryan Mills, Taken)
  11. Jeremy Renner (Sergeant William James, The Hurt Locker; Jem Coughlin, The Town)
  12. Gary Oldman (Drexel, True Romance)

The gals

  1. helena bonham carter harry potterHelena Bonham Carter (Red Queen, Alice in Wonderland; Bellatrix Lestrange, Harry Potter)
  2. Cate Blanchett (Galadriel, Lord of the Rings)
  3. Marion Cotillard (Mal, Inception)
  4. Angelina Jolie (Lisa Rowe, Girl, Interrupted)
  5. Melanie Laurent (Shosanna Dreyfus, Inglourious Basterds)
  6. Charlize Theron (Aileen Wuornos, Monster)
  7. Famke Janssen (Xena Onotopp, Goldeneye; Jean Grey, Xmen: The Last Stand)
  8. Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth Salander, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo)

So, there’s my list. You’ll notice there’s more men than women, I’m not sure why. I think, perhaps, there’s a tendency – particularly in Hollywood – for studios to shy away from films with intense, female leads. I wonder if they are more of a risk commercially? I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s more to do with a lack of decent scripts for women, ones that don’t play to stereotypes.

One thing I’ve noticed is how top actors portray intensity – for me – it’s in the eyes. I think it’s what separates great actors and actresses from the rest. If you allow yourself to be drawn into their gaze, there’s so much depth there. Depending on the character they’re playing, it can be equally exciting, captivating and terrifying. Watch Pacino in The Godfather, making the decision to kill with his eyes. A lesson in intensity.

Right, I need to go watch some comedy now to level out. It’s all got too much. I’ll finish with artwork of Marion Cotillard, not because it’s intense, but because it’s simply beautiful – and that’s all the reason you need.

Marion Cotillard artwork