Mistletoe & Movies: Alternative yuletide stories still teach a lesson of love

Published on Saturday, 14 December 2013 22:26 - Written by By Stewart Smith ssmith@tylerpaper.com

Every year it’s the same.

Your family gathers for a viewing of “White Christmas” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Or, maybe you’ve become one of those who’ve made “Die Hard” part of your Christmas tradition. Perhaps you’ve finally gone mad from the annual 24-hour marathon of “A Christmas Story.”

And while all of those are great movies (save for “A Christmas Story” (yeah, I said it, come at me)), I think we can all agree that sometimes you want a Christmas movie that isn’t the same thing you’ve watched every year for the past several decades. There are loads of Christmas movies out there, some a little more obvious than others, and some the connection only (at first) seems superficial. This list will take a look at a few Christmas movies that you may not have necessarily always considered putting in your yuletide rotation, and some slowly becoming modern classics.

“Millions”

If you’re already arching your eyebrow, I don’t blame you. Not many people saw this sweet and good-natured drama by director Danny Boyle. There was hope that more might seek it out after audiences began hearing his name once “Slumdog Millionaire” won a wealth of Oscars (including Best Director and Best Picture), but alas. Be that as it may, it’s very much a film worth tracking down for the holiday as it both takes place around Christmas and exemplifies the Christmas spirit.

“Millions” centers on young Damian, a 7-year-old Catholic schoolboy who quite literally has a bag full of British pounds dropped in his lap when it is flung from a speeding train. While his friend is intent on keeping piles of it for himself, Damian instead wants nothing more than to help out anyone who he thinks could use a little financial boost. He does this in the way that any 7-year-old would, by buying homeless bums food from Pizza Hut and stuffing cash into the mailbox of missionaries.

The film isn’t really concerned with traditional Christmas imagery, but the spirit of the film could not speak more to the spirit of the holiday given where Damian’s heart is. If only we could all have that same desire for selfless giving, not just at Christmas, but year-round. 

“The Ref”

Dennis Leary bringing Christmas cheer? You better believe it. This is a film that’s been all but forgotten, which is a little surprising considering it stars two actors who aren’t exactly unknowns. That said, it does come off as a little bit of a minor film at first glance.

Set on Christmas Eve, Leary plays Gus, a jewel thief who, in an attempt to escape from the police, takes a husband and wife couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) hostage. Only it’s Gus who finds himself a prisoner as the couple, on the verge of getting a divorce, won’t stop bickering. Gus has to act as a veritable referee just to make it through the night with his sanity intact. “The Ref” is a black comedy, but in the end we watch as Lloyd and Caroline find a way to work through their troubles.

There can be nothing more aggravating than family during the holidays. The stress and busyness of the season can bring things to a head in any home. But as we see here, it may take tying your loved ones down to a chair, but just make some honest time to sit down and talk. You’ll probably be surprised how quickly things can get resolved if you just talk it out.

 

“Love Actually”

 This is quickly becoming a modern Christmas classic, which is both delightful and surprising considering that the film sort of came and went upon initial release. But thankfully, “Love Actually” has slowly begun its march toward getting the due it deserves.

Yes, the film is at times sappy, and yes it often is quite blatant in the way it tugs at your heartstrings with laser-guided precision, but like some of the best Christmas movies, it doesn’t really matter. It works in spite of all of the schmaltz, because it has an honest, beating heart that spreads the message that love, in all the many ways that we experience it and long for it and pursue it and express it, is all around us and is without question the most important thing in the world.

Plus, how can you not love the cast in this thing? Liam Neeson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rowan Atkinson, Alan Rickman, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Martin Freeman, Hugh Grant and Emma Thompson? Just delightful. This is a warm and fuzzy movie, but it’s warm and fuzzy done right.

“Batman Returns”

Oh this is totally a Christmas movie. Don’t look at me like that.

It can be easy to forget that fact, though, given how over-the-top the performances are in this, the second “Batman” outing that Tim Burton gave us. But the film’s main story opens at Christmastime and takes place in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the holiday.

I find that I much prefer Burton’s first “Batman” film, but there’s a lot to love about this, especially in that there’s something great in seeing a filmmaker be able to let loose their creative id so fully and have it be such a strikingly strong match for the material they’re adapting. “Batman Returns” is far from the most family friendly Bat-flick out there, but that’s OK, too.

That said, there’s still a surprising heart to this, assuming you’re willing to look for it. Burton positions Catwoman and Penguin as dark(er) reflections of who Bruce Wayne is and how he uses the persona of Batman to compensate for the damage that was done to him as a kid. Because, in the end, what Bruce really needed was for a loving family to raise and accept him (like Penguin), and for something other than vengeance to fuel his crusade against crime (like Catwoman).

And I suppose, in that way, that’s what really ties all these “Christmas” films together: The notion that what can really change a heart and/or make a difference is love, kindness and acceptance. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.