Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Hub Review guide to sex, death, and the Christmas movie

Looking for a Christmas movie, but you've already had your annual helpings of It's A Wonderful Life,  A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

Don't worry - there IS hope. In the spirit of the Hub Review's popular Guide to a Highbrow Halloween, here are several great movies that, while perhaps not "Christmas movies," are nevertheless all set on Christmas, and seem to have something to say about the holiday season. So what's not to like? Enjoy!

Brazil - How, in 1985, did Terry Gilliam manage to predict the millennium - terrorists, Bush administration, and all?  I'm not sure, but Brazil probably remains somewhat apropos to the age of Obama, alas, with its drones and school shootings.  And yes, it's set at Christmas time - indeed, poor Mr. Buttle is ripped from his home by a black ops team just as his family finishes reading A Christmas Carol (above).

The Miracle of Morgan's Creek - Betty Hutton parties down with some soldiers and comes home pregnant in perhaps the most daring of Preston Sturges's comedies.  If you think that premise sounds crude, think again: as usual, Sturges teases from the hard facts of life a sweet, rueful delight.  Betty Hutton, and the wonderful Eddie Bracken, are both terrific (see above), and William Demarest is reliably furious throughout.  And yes, it all wraps up on Christmas.

 The Apartment - What's more Christmassy than pimping for the boss and attempting suicide?  Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and especially Fred MacMurray - all in perhaps their best roles ever - still rock Billy Wilder's dark romance.  Above, the cynically rendered office Christmas party, as Jack Lemmon tries on a clownish "Junior Executive Model."

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - A Christmas present by any reckoning, this durably charming movie is deeply romantic in a very Gallic way, which means that after long stretches of wild artifice (the singing! the color schemes!) it closes with a heartbreakingly bittersweet scene on - you guessed it, Christmas Eve.  PLUS it stars Catherine Deneuve (and the now forgotten, but utterly adorable, Nino Castelnuovo).  The scene above climaxes with Michel Legrand's famous theme - and the tryst by which love eventually undoes itself. Merry Christmas.

Decalogue III - Krzysztof Kieślowski's ten-part television drama The Decalogue remains one of the greatest achievements of late-20th-century film.  (And it may be the most profound spiritual achievement in film, period.)  Each episode ponders, or perhaps questions, one of the ten commandments, in vignettes loosely linked by the repeated appearance of a single, silent character, played by Artur Barciś.  The third installment is one of the more obscure, but also one of the most poignant.

The Hudsucker Proxy - Okay, technically this movie is set on New Year's Eve, but that's close enough to Christmas to make it on the list!  I admit that, like most Coen Bros. movies, Hudsucker begins to feel like a loose assortment of mannerisms mixed with brilliant set pieces rather than a coherent story, but several sequences are riveting nonetheless, the whole thing has a strange, post-Capra-esque romantic appeal, and the production design is at the highest level the brothers ever achieved.  The stunning suicide of Mr. Hudsucker (the great Charles Durning, who just passed away himself) is above.

Eyes Wide Shut - Stanley Kubrick put the XXX in Xmas with this haunting meditation on sex, marriage, and - yes - death, all set at Christmas!  The first half is far better than the second (the orgy sequence, set in the house that would later serve as Downton Abbey, remains amazing; uncensored version here, if you must), but be sure not to miss Alan Cumming in a bizarrely fey performance near the finale - and the ending itself, set while Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise Christmas shop (and encounter most of the symbols from the movie along the way) is superb.  Misunderstood and pilloried on its first release, EWS has slowly earned props as the damaged masterpiece it really is.


  1. I'ld also include Fanny and Alexander by Bergman


  2. An excellent addition! The long Christmas party at the opening is one of the most magical sequences Bergman ever filmed (and that's saying something).