Look, I get it, you don’t want to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life again. You’re too alternative for Christmas now that you’re in university and learning big words like ‘hegemony’ and ‘postmodernism.’
Join the club. Be a ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie watcher. Sip that eggnog and feel smug. Make a comment on your Instagram and Twitter that you, too, are resisting the commodification of Christmas.
So what is a ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie? It’s a movie set during Christmas which goes against normative assumptions of Christmas. While a movie like It’s a Wonderful Life might not have anything to do explicitly with Christmas lore, it still captures the spirit of Christmas.
The following movies are the antitheses to our preconceived notions of what a Christmas movie should be. Here are the candidates for ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movies for this holiday season:
1. Instead of thinking about world peace, get your dose of unnecessary violence and action with Die Hard, 1988.
This one is the original ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas movie. There’s something so cheeky about watching Bruce Willis blow things up when your neighbours are singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” around the Christmas tree.
2. Instead of holding hands around the Christmas tree and singing songs, explore the deepest trenches of alienation and loneliness in Dekalog: Three, 1989.
Poland has never been so lonely in the third episode of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s masterpiece Dekalog. Driving around the streets at night in a taxi, Dekalog: Three places us in the world outside of the brightly lit homes of the suburbs. Here, the inability to connect with other human beings runs rampant. Holiday depression is real, and Dekalog: Three sleigh rides deep in its depths.
3. Instead of enforcing heteronormativity, delve into the psychological tensions of a boy learning about his sexuality in The Long Day Closes, 1992.
Showcasing the pure poetry of subdued queer cinema, 11-year-old Bud (Leigh McCormack) sits alone on the stairs as his entire family eats a meal around the Christmas tree. His two brothers have recently gotten married, but Bud knows he does not fit in. He is becoming increasingly intertwined in a world of ambivalence and ambiguity as he discovers his sexuality in 1950s Liverpool.
4. Instead of romanticizing idyllic Christmas childhoods, dive deep into childhood trauma with Fanny and Alexander, 1982.
In lieu of the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebration of the Ingmar Bergman Centennial, I present to you Fanny and Alexander. This five-hour film — the theatrical cut is only three — is about the life of two siblings as they grow up in 1900s Sweden. Its colourful proclivity to red might appear in line with the Christmas spirit, but the way the film ruthlessly explores the inner traumas so often tucked away when representing childhood is what makes it so ‘not-Christmas.’ Seeing mommy kiss Santa Claus is the least of these kids’ troubles.
5. Instead of wholesome family fun, enjoy sex cults and spooky conspiracies with Eyes Wide Shut, 1999.
Stanley Kubrick’s last feature is so drenched in paranoia and weird sex things that it will make any family have a case of the fantods. But the film isn’t just purely decadent: deep down, it’s an authentic meditation on marriage that dares to go into the obsessional and unsettling elements of love.
6. Instead of going to your church’s yearly rendition of the nativity story, explore the most controversial telling of that story in Jean-Luc Godard’s Hail Mary, 1985.
This film is set in 1980s France and was criticized after its release for telling such an untraditional narrative of Mary’s life. In fact, it was condemned by Pope John Paul II and banned in Argentina and Brazil. Hail Mary dares to offend. It features several nude shots of the virgin Mary — albeit stripped of sexual content — and forces us to rethink discourses of the holy by integrating the divine into everyday life. Hail Mary presents such radical claims of the body, virtue, miracles, and God that it transcends any simple understanding of the ‘Christ’ category of Christmas.
7. Instead of engaging in sprees of consumerism, embrace an ironic attitude to the dystopia of modern culture in Brazil, 1985.
You didn’t know Terry Gilliam’s Brazil was set during Christmas? Surprise! It even features a scene of a drunk Santa in a wheelchair. This masterwork in satirizing office life, authoritarianism, and late-stage consumerism is a hilarious political dystopia that becomes more relevant every day.
8. Instead of resting at home, venture into the cold, outside world of rural Québec in Mon Oncle Antoine, 1971.
Claude Jutra sets this revered film in the Canadian canon on December 24. While you’re snug at home with hot chocolate and all, watch as 15-year-old Benoît (Jacques Gagnon) and his uncle Antoine (Jean Duceppe) wander around in the snow on a dead-body delivery. The movie is chilly and methodical. It’s a slow — or perhaps ‘snow’ — burner that gives you a picture of the delights and challenges of a world outside the comfy, heated city life that Torontonians associate with Christmas.
9. Instead of going on a holiday and taking time off work, climb the corporate ladder and achieve a state of late-capitalist loneliness in The Apartment, 1960.
Closing our ‘not-Christmas’ Christmas list is Billy Wilder’s romantic comedy The Apartment. Taking place during the holiday season, Jack Lemmon plays CC Baxter, a lonely office worker who loans out his apartment to his superiors so they can have adulterous affairs. Baxter is determined to get to the top of the corporate ladder, but that all changes when he meets Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine).
Wilder understands that love shatters our expected course in life. He crafts a film where every line of witty dialogue is perfect in its place. The way Wilder plays with the corporate wishlist of success and the world-shattering gift of love perhaps, more than anything, captures the contradictory nature of Christmas. The Apartment is both one of the greatest ‘not-Christmas’ movies and also one the greatest Christmas movies.