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.

Black lays Stark comically bare for Iron Man 3

You have to hand it to Shane Black, he’s got me torn in a good and bad way. There’s no questioning his screenplay skills, the man can write.

Past work includes Lethal Weapon 1-4, The Long Kiss Goodnight and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, the latter being his directorial debut. Yet I feel this latest instalment in the mandarinbenkingsleyIron Man franchise, whilst generally good, may have missed a trick or two.

Plot wise, this picks up soon after the events of Avengers. Tony is in a bad way suffering from post traumatic stress disorder; nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks and the like.

Then, to kick him whilst he’s down, The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) appears on the scene; a shadowy, terrorist-type figure, taking credit for a series of bombings, issuing death threats to the President – that sort of thing.

One bombing results in the injury of Tony’s former bodyguard Happy (Jon Favreau), which is the last straw. With a ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’, Tony tells The Mandarin to pay him a visit, which he duly does with attack helicopters and missiles.

Iron-Man-3-PepperWith his house in ruins and precious iron suit out of power, Tony is stripped back to his wits and surroundings to fight back – much in the way he was in the original. Although this time in snowy Tennessee in winter, as opposed to a sandy cave in the Middle East.

Throw the suave and sophisticated Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and former flame Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) in the mix, as a pair trying to convince Stark Enterprises to buy into their ‘extremis’ product  (an experimental regenerative treatment) and you’ve got the basis for a rip-roaring film. Let’s face it, anything would be an improvement on Iron Man 2 at this point.

Happily, Black largely delivers. He’s known for sharp, witty one-liners – not only from the main cast, but minor characters too – so iron-man-3-review Stark should suit him down to the ground. I say should, as there’s a few minor quibbles that stop this being a truly great superhero flick.

First off, what’s with everything being a back-to-basics origin story these days? Batman and Bond ‘went dark’, with Thor: The Dark World and Man of Steel appearing to follow suit. Seems hero characters are all being stripped back with Hollywood saying ‘We must have an origin story or people won’t buy into it!’ Not true.

Luckily it’s not all darkness, Black is a dab hand at a quick, witty lines to lift the tone. However, to nit pick somewhat, you could argue he uses this skill a bit too much. Yes, play to your strengths, but there were times when dramatic tone was needed mayahansento build tension and Black retreated to his comfort zone with an amusing line and the moment was lost.

This was clear to see when Tony suffered from anxiety attacks frequently early on, but these were often dismissed or trivialised by other characters and the scene quickly moved on. Surely there was more mileage in exploring his mental state more thoroughly? It would have added depth to Stark’s character.

Rebecca Hall as Maya Hansen was an intriguing character and got me thinking maybe she’d add depth to Stark’s journey, yet Black shied away from exploring this too. Kingsley’s Mandarin was similarly short-changed on the dramatic front. Most surprising, given the calibre of these actors the director had at his disposal.

That aside, Black more than delivers on action and humour – perfect for this character – yet perhaps falls short when it comes to dramatic depth. As a result we’re left with the funniest Iron Man to date – the extra comedy putting it on par with the original – but you’re left feeling that, instead of another gag, more substance at times would have been more refreshing.

Let’s leave you with classic Black, ‘This isn’t good cop bad cop, this is fag and New Yorker.’

[Interesting links]
Crash, bang, wallop – Shane Black action movie masterclass
Iron Man – behind the scenes