Have Yourself a Celluloid Little Christmas


I don't know about you, but this year I'm too bummed about bills and four more years of W to be in any mood for Yuletide celebration. Can we just fastforward to New Year's Eve already, so at least I'll have a good excuse to get drunk? If you're in a similarly bleak state this holiday season, you'll need some Christmas movies that speak to your inner Scrooge—except Scrooge would undoubtedly be feeling pretty good these days, having voted for W and looking forward to another upper-class tax cut. Oh, and he'd be vice president.

. . . God, things are bad.

Anyway, here are a few flicks to reinforce whatever lousy mood you're in.

Giddily nihilistic: If life has lost all meaning for you, make a beeline for the infamous Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. This movie is simply a masterpiece of awfulness. The chirpy little girl in the film, by the way, is played by a very young Pia Zadora, for the 2 percent of you out there who remember what a Pia Zadora is.

Snarky: Go get yourself Scrooged. Yes, it's yet another variation on A Christmas Carol, but it's a frantic, bilious satire with just a little bit of limp Christmas cheer grudgingly tacked on at the end. If by the 11th day of Christmas, you're about ready to ram those five golden rings down somebody's throat, this is the flick for you.

Anxious/misanthropic: Beware, My Lovely is the perfect movie for those holiday evenings when you just want to be left alone. It's Christmas Eve when a lonesome widow (Ida Lupino) hires a new handyman (Robert Ryan); unfortunately, the handyman turns out to be an escapee from the loony bin, and he takes her hostage as the cops close in. See what happens when you reach out to people? See?

Disgusted: If the crass overcommercialization of Christmas makes you want to puke, check out “Christmas in Heaven,” the musical number that closes out Monty Python's uneven but sometimes brilliant 1983 satire The Meaning of Life. The film imagines the average American's idea of the afterlife as a Hilton hotel featuring a grand stage show in which Tony Bennett performs against a backdrop of topless chorus girls in Santa hats. Sounds about right.

Pissed off: If you're ready to bust a cap in Santa's ass, The Ref is the flick that could do the trick. Denis Leary is a hood who takes a feuding couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) hostage on Christmas Eve, only to find that even with a gun, he's no match for this spectacularly dysfunctional family. Much angst, much yelling, much bitchiness all 'round. It'll make your family's Christmas dinner seem like paradise in comparison.

Oppressed: Life in these bitterly divided United States got you down? Check out Terry Gilliam's 1985 masterpiece Brazil, with its scenes of government-sanctioned torture and crowded stores getting blasted by terrorist attacks. It's every lefty's nightmare world, except gorgeously art-directed. Although the film is set “somewhere in the 20th Century,” it couldn't be more contemporary. It's even got some very Extreme Makeover scenes featuring plastic-surgery disasters!

Really fucking hopeless: I'd suggest It's a Wonderful Life, except what you do is you watch the entire movie up to just before the ending . . . and then you turn off the TV. That hateful old toad Mr. Potter wins, and George Bailey is going to jail! Christ, man. What a world, huh? What a world.

Deranged: Rent the extremely nasty Christmas slasher flick Silent Night, Deadly Nightand stay home on Christmas Day, muttering to yourself about roasting those idiot carolers in their own holiday pudding. Then please do us all a favor and call your therapist at 9 a.m. on Dec. 26. Somebody needs to up their prescription.

Just plain nasty: Bad Santa. Well, duh. (Greg Stacy)


Sure, you could gift your friends and lovers DVDs of Hollywood blockbusters, but where's the fun in that? Surely they've seen them already, if not in the cineplexes then in their expose-everything, TV-trailer form. No, this holiday we're going to get indie on your ass. These just-released titles—each of which has generated award nominations after major buzz at Cannes, Sundance, Toronto and even festivals not controlled by Miramax—are matched with specific archetypes on your shopping list.

For those seeking meaning and/or who think Natalie Portman is so hot her overacting can be overlooked . . . get Garden State, which TV's Scrubs star Zach Braff wrote, directed and starred in—without embarrassing himself! Sure, the Vanity Project Alert sounds when you see the likes of Portman, Ian Holm and Peter Sarsgaard attached to such a dinky picture, but an infectious sweetness permeates the proceedings as a Hollywood actor (Braff) best known for playing a retarded quarterback learns to “feel” again after returning to his New Jersey home to bury his mother.

For the biggest geekazoids on campus and/or all those who love beating the shit outta them . . . snag Napoleon Dynamite, which, like Garden State,hung around several OC movie houses right up until its DVD release, a sign there must be something special about the flick. There is: Jon Heder's amazing performance as the title nerd. This is a comedy with lines and scenes people will be reciting for years (a la Airplane!), but be forewarned: no matter how many times you play it forward and backward in your machine, you won't find a plot.

For those who think THEY had the crappiest childhood ever and/or want to see the best documentary of the year . . . plop in Tarnation, Jonathan Caouette's video diary of the only life he knows, a life so funny and tragic and harrowing and fucked-up all at once that no review I've read (including this one) does the piece justice; you just gotta see it. Since age eight—and shortly after witnessing his mentally impaired beauty-queen mother raped by a stranger—lonely and damaged Caouette has shot miles of video of himself, his dysfunctional Texas family and his same-sex lovers. His dramatic monologue where he plays—at age 11!!!—a battered wife is worth the price of the DVD.

For those who routinely disagree with critics and/or want to watch Blue Velvet, The Wizard of Oz and Elvis Presley movies at the same time . . . good news! David Lynch and MGM finally had a meeting of the diseased minds, and the violent/erotic/revolting/laugh-out-loud-funny Wild at Heart is finally on DVD. Before he headed casts of really awful major Hollywood blockbusters such as National Treasure, Nicolas Cage was known for weird, borderline-insane, over-the-top turns in odd flicks like this 1990 Palme d'Or winner. Here, he's Sailor, an Elvis-obsessed bad boy with a heart of gold on the run with trailer-trash princess Lula (Laura Dern, in all her sexy-as-hell glory; okay, it's an acquired taste). As they drive through it, the Heartland becomes a Heart of Darkness, with carnage littering the sides of the road not just in one scene, but several. Scary monsters on their tails include Willem Dafoe; Crispin Glover; and Dern's real-life mommy dearest, Diane Ladd. This version has been remastered under Lynch's supervision, and special features include the new documentary Love, Death, Elvis N Oz: The Making of Wild at Heart and new, extended interviews with Lynch; Cage; Dern; Dafoe; Ladd; and Miss Laura Palmer herself, Sheryl Lee. (Matt Coker)

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