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.

My favourite films from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s

Recently I got into a conversation with my partner about old films. Classic films. And it turns out I’ve not seen that many, so I can’t really call myself a cinephile. Because – and here’s where I ‘fess up – I’ve seen ALMOST NOTHING from before 1950. It’s an issue I’m – very slowly – trying to address.

But it did get me thinking about what I HAVE seen, and how the bulk of my cinematic knowledge starts in the 1970s.

So, here are some of my favourites from those three decades. What would you make your list?

1950s
Some Like It Hot (1959)
North by Northwest (1959)

1960s
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Mary Poppins (1964)
The Great Escape (1963)
Dr No (1962)
Barbarella (1968)

1970s
Star Wars (1977)
Alien (1979)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather: part two (1974)
Animal House (1978)
Serpico (1973)

Five unexpected song and dance moments in film

Now the obvious answer to this is something like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Flashdance. But those are lazy choices. And those films were some time ago. So with that in mind, here are my more contemporary offerings.

‘Dancing in the dark’
The Place Beyond the Pines

Here, Ryan Gosling’s tattooed motorcyclist bank robber celebrates his first heist by dancing around in a shack with his mentor, played by the ever shabby Ben Mendelsohn. Memorably, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the dark’ plays as they both jig around with the dog. Weirdly, it’s impossibly cool.


‘Tear up the dance floor’
Ex Machina

Reclusive genius coder Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac) ups the weird factor in a scene loaded with creepy intensity. One where he launches into an unannounced dance routine with his assistant, unnerving the already suspicious Caleb (Dohmnall Gleeson).


‘What do tigers dream of?’
The Hangover

You’re hungover with a tiger in your bathroom. You’ve drugged the beast and now you’re killing time till it passes out. So what do you do? Sing a little song, of course. A tune made all the more inspired by the fact actor Ed Helm came up with it inbetween takes, and director Todd Philips liked it so much he stuck it in the movie.


‘TeKillYah’
Baby Driver 

Perhaps an easy one, as Edgar Wright’s – possibly best – film has music baked into its very fabric. From the opening scene to the closing credits, it’s such a well executed treat. As close to a musical as you’ll see in an action film. I couldn’t find the ‘tequila’ track from the film, so have put the trailer up. Just go see it, and you’ll see the scene I mean.


‘Just can’t get enough’
Son of Rambow

Set in the summer of the ’80s, this delightfully cute and quirky film was littered with wonderful moments. One was a little dance routine where the cool French exchange kid starts dancing to electro, and everyone copies him.

My favourite movies that deal with… Time

Here’s a thing. I recently watched Midnight In Paris and noticed that time travel drove the story along at a gentle pace. Which got me thinking; filmmakers use time as a plot device like, a lot. And why not? It shapes our existence, it may as well shape our storytelling mediums too.

This made me wonder, which time-based movies are ones that have struck a chord with me over the years?

Obviously there’s loads not included in the list below, like Groundhog Day and Time Bandits. Because whilst they’re great films, I don’t really remember them well. So I’ve got to go with what’s shaped me and made me, well, me.

So here they mine. What are yours?

Back To The Future (1985)
The daddy of time travel films. With tracks by Huey Lewis, score by Alan Silvestri, leading pair in Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd and Bob Zemeckis at the helm, it was bottled movie magic.

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Let’s not forget, before Keanu got serious he started his career with stuff like this. It’s such a quotable film and spawned a trilogy which wasn’t half bad either. Remember, be excellent to each other.

Looper (2012)
Bruce Willis, an older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt? Not likely. But they made it work in this underrated modern sci-fi directed by Rian Johnson. In Emily Blunt, Paul Dano and others it had a great supporting cast too.

Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)
Time travel and comedy. The best combination, right? And whilst the sequel was below par, the original came with added John Cusack, so it was a bit of a treat. Sleeper hit too. One no one saw coming.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)
Funny choice for this list? In that there’s pretty much no time travel until the end. Well it’s such an odd and sweet film I feel it’s earned its place. Go see it. It’s also probably Aubrey Plaza’s best performance to date.

Source Code (2011)
You wake up on a train set to explode. You’re meant to save it. You fail and go back to the start. Duncan Jones’ execution of this story was masterful and had me gripped throughout. Strong Jake Gyllenhaal performance too.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Like Tom Cruise? Well he’s in this. Don’t like him? No problem, he gets killed over and over again. Bit like Source Code in a way. Our hero keeps reliving the same loop until he can figure a way not to die and save mankind from aliens at the same time.

Interstellar (2014)
Got your thinking caps on? Because this one gets heavy. Maybe in space no one can hear you scream but at the cinema many probably did. Because Chris Nolan’s sci-fi tale got rather ‘out there’ in the final third.

Flight Of The Navigator (1986)
I would have been roughly the same age as the lead character when it came out so had that connection. It was a fun buddy movie too, in that the ship had its own zany personality and learnt about humanity from the boy. So like Terminator, but sweeter.

Top 5 ‘crotch related’ movie scenes

Ok, I haven’t lost the plot… not entirely. But bear with me. There’s a good number of funny movie scenes related to the crotch area that I want to share. Mostly because I thought of a few and it got me thinking of others that rose up from the dim recesses of my warped psyche.

So, here they are. What would yours be? (Assuming you’re as weird as me and want to play along.)

‘What you been feeding this thing?’ Total Recall
Arnie’s character walks into a sleazy bar where we’re introduced to his love interest – a brunette – who grabs his crotch and says the line, to which our hero responds, ‘blondes’.

‘Simon wets himself’ True Lies
Arnie again, this time in this James Cameron action flick as a spy taunting Bill Paxton’s used car salesman; who breaks down under questioning and promptly wets himself.

‘We got a bleeder’ There’s Something About Mary
We start with Stiller’s uber geek stuck in the bathroom. Then various characters slowly join him and all attempt to help, until a policeman decides to roll his sleeves up.

‘Begbie gets a surprise’ Trainspotting
Robert Carlyle’s Begbie was one of the scariest characters in ’90s cinema. Here he gets a scare of his own in a fondling session that goes awry. Carlyle makes Begbie’s reaction priceless; in that he’s horrified, but at a loss as to what to do.

‘Dallas teaches The Kid’ Magic Mike
Well into his McConaissance, a Texan by the name of Matthew teaches a green around the edges Alex Pettyfer – aka The Kid – how to take his clothes off properly. Oh, and the thrust.

Top 10 elevator scenes in movies

Is your screenplay complete without a good elevator scene? Probably not. As a director can you forgive yourself for not including one? No.

So there’s the argument, an open-and-shut case. Any film worth its salt has an elevator scene, so here are a few I’ve picked out I rather like.

What would make your list?

Drive
Oddly tender yet completely brutal, here Ryan Gosling’s character gently holds Carey Mulligan’s character back before he viciously stomps a guy to death.
The Untouchables
In a touching scene Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness and Sean Connery’s Jimmy Malone find the mob got the drop on a member of their team in the elevator.
A Cabin In The Woods
Guards with guns race to face whatever comes out the lifts. And what emerges is holy hell – an explosion of monsters, blood and death.
The Departed
Showing no respect for big name actors – and in a genuinely shocking moment – a key character gets shot as soon as the lift doors open.
Terminator 2
The T-1000 chases Arnie and the gang into a lift as they flee the mental asylum. In such close quarters with a killer who has swords for arms it’s frighteningly tense.
Lost In Translation
Murray and Johansson’s characters say goodnight exchanging kisses. Wonderfully played. Murray also has another lift scene, standing a foot taller than the locals.
The Losers
Chris Evans’ character gets into a lift whilst singing Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing with gusto. Needless to say, no one gets in with him.
Hunger Games: Catching Fire
In a rare lighter moment, Jena Malone’s Johanna Mason strips off in a lift in front of Katniss, Peeta and Haymitch. Some are more pleased than others.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Steve Rodgers starts in the lift with a few guys. A door opens, more get on. Then more. He asks if any want out before they get started. He then gets started.
Inception
Ellen Page’s Ariadne descends in an elevator, sneaking into Cobb’s memories to find Marion Cotillard’s Mal, gorgeous and deadly.