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12 days of the greatest, not-so-obvious Christmas movies

Seeing as it’s the season to be jolly, I thought I would give you a rather offbeat holiday treat. Here are 12 movies, one for each day of the season, that may not be as closely associated with Christmas as others, but which deserve a look. So if you’re bored with endless reruns of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, check out these gems…

12. The Bishop’s Wife

Cary Grant and David Niven star in this entertanining fantasy comedy about an angel helping out us mortals that plays fast and loose with religion.

11. Rare Exports

Has to be seen to be believed. Finnish production where Santa is in fact a demonic being who punishes children. What’s more bizarre is that it’s a really good movie!

10. One Magic Christmas

Mary Steenbergen has a terrible, terrible Christmas, loses her faith, and is helped out by guardian angel Harry Dean Stanton. Undoubtedly features the coolest angel in the movies, ever.

9. Trancers

Tongue-in-cheek sci-fi actioner that is most definitely set at Christmas in L.A. Tim Thomerson plays Jack Deth, a cop from the future intent on hunting down the murderous zombie slaves of his time-travelling opponent!

8. Lethal Weapon

The daddy of modern action films still packs a punch. Slick and fast-paced with enough laughs and thrills to keep anyone entertained at Christmas.

7. Black Christmas

Margo Kidder stars in this excellent and genuinely unsettling 70s slasher movie set in a girl’s sorority house. Somebody is making crank calls. The twist is that the calls are coming from inside the house!

6. An Affair to Remember

Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are the star-crossed lovers who wait a little too long. Famously became the central plot idea in “Sleepless in Seattle”. Guaranteed to bring a tear to even the grumpiest grandparent’s eye.

5. Batman Returns

Tim Burton does Christmas in Gotham with Christopher Walken, evil clowns, and Michelle Pfeiffer in latex. What’s not to like?

gremlins

4. Gremlins

This was stupidly given a “15” rating in the UK, so a generation of kids never got to experience “Gremlin Mega-Madness” until it came out on VHS. The final shot of a snow-covered town is just gorgeous.

3. Trading Places

Superb comic caper starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Ackroyd at the peak of their talents. Co-starring Jamie Lee Curtis, in a rather memorable scene involving a curly wig and little else. How can you not like a movie that has not one, but two gorillas?

places

2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

I had to include this all-time funniest Christmas movie. Worth watching time after time just for the “squirrel attack” scene.

1. Stalag 17

Only Billy Wilder could pull off a comedy set in a German POW camp in WWII. William Holden is fantastic in a movie that never sacrifices realism for laughs, but still manages to be funny.

So there you have it, a few non-traditional Christmas movies to spend the season with. Happy Holidays!

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The Death of Cinema?

At Cinemacon recently, studio heads tried to wrap their minds around why theater ticket sales are declining. Various factors were blamed, from DVD sales to online channels and ticket prices. The answer? A new “delivery method”. A way to get movies streamed instantly into peole’s homes, via the Internet.

After all, the Internet will solve everything.

In my opinion, this view fails to understand the fundamental reason why ticket sales are declining. I can only speak for myself and the people I know. But when asked why they don’t go to the movies, they invariably say “because there’s nothing worth watching”.

I would submit that this is the fundamental issue. It’s a simple cost/reward ratio. People don’t want to shell out a hefty £8 or $8 to sit in a  theater and be bored for 2 hours by a mediocre movie.

The real culprit, folks, is “Tentpole fever”. This can be traced back to the 1970s and the rise of the summer blockbuster. Spielberg’s “Jaws”, “Close Encounters” and Lucas’s “Star Wars” were both phenomenal successes. Together the pair created another franchise: the Indiana Jones films. And Hollywood has been chasing that golden ticket ever since.

It’s no surprise that Disney studios (Remember when they used to make charming family animation films?) has announced they plan to release a new “Star Wars” movie every year.

“Star Wars” was released in 1977. Yes, it was a global cultural phenomenon. But that was then. Thirty-six years ago. Since then we’ve had two sequels and three pretty poor (and universally panned) prequels. Do we really need more?

Recently some huge tentpole movies have bombed.  “John Carter” and “Jack the Giant Slayer” for instance. Why?

Let’s contrast these movies to the far more successful, “Tron Legacy”.

“Tron Legacy” does a good job of updating the original which was Disney’s way of tapping into the home computer revolution of the early 1980s. The light cyces are cooler, the world bigger, the SFX more polished. The acting is solid in most places. And it has a great atmospheric score by Daft Punk. But it also has something else… soul. At its heart, this is a father/son story about estranged parent/offspring reuniting, bonding, and letting go.

However while “John Carter” may be a love story, there is no real sense of the romance between the two leads, and any sense of reality is blown away by the ever-escalating and frankly ridiculous plot devices (wait, it’s aliens, Martians, more aliens, different Martians AND magic?) which destroy our sense of disbelief early on.

The point to all this ?

These are STORY issues.

Yes, Hollwyood is still capable of making great movies. 2012’s “Avengers Assemble” and “The Hobbit” to name a few.

But by focusing on STORY and less on SFX, Hollywood could reach more people, deliver more satsfying stories, spend less cash per picture, and make more money.

Nowadays, studios make only about a dozen films a year tops themselves. Each one is stuffed with SFX. It’s an all-your-eggs-in-one-basket strategy. And if a film flops, the results can be disastrous. Disney lost $160 million on “John Carter” alone. But in the golden age of Hollywood, studios churned out hundreds of movies.

You do the math.

My take? The Internet will not solve the problem of why fewer people are watching films. I would argue that the demand is still there. People will always want an evening of magic, living vicariously through 40 foot high technicolor  images on a silver screen. The real question is one of supply.