The movies I’m about to talk about are the movies that take place mostly during the Christmas season but it’s incidental. They don’t surround a family gathering or hectic gift buying, some barely reference their Christmassy setting but it’s there. It’s in the background, in the music and for some of us, in our hearts.
First let’s address the elephant in the room. His name is Shane Black. Seriously, what’s up with that guy and Christmas? Lethal Weapon, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight and even Iron Man 3 all take place over Christmas seemingly for no reason at all. His newest movie The Nice Guys is also inexplicably set at Christmas. Tonally they’re humorous but dark and usually fairly action packed with a side of mystery. So why Christmas?
In a recent interview for The Nice Guys, Black explains what it is about Christmas as a backdrop that fascinates him so much: “It tends to be a touchstone for me. Christmas represents a little stutter in the march of days, a hush in which we have a chance to assess and retrospect our lives. I tend to think also that it just informs as a backdrop. The first time I noticed it was Three Days of the Condor, the Sydney Pollack film, where Christmas in the background adds this really odd, chilling counterpoint to the espionage plot…”
He goes on to also wax poetic of the beauty of Christmas as a backdrop, especially in places like LA because the season isn’t as obvious there as other places. I have a tendency to agree with this sentiment. Growing up my love for Christmas was rooted in the pretty light and songs, but juxtaposed with more nefarious plots it takes on a new meaning.
I smell a segue…
And what of other movies that take place at Christmas? My lovely partner in crime Kimbit would have loved to have used this theme to concisely explain why she considers Die Hard to be a Christmas movie. I will do a sub-par attempt, but I shall try.
In an interview with Dan Frazier in 2015, Die Hard writer Steven E. de Souza references how he wrote Die Hard in answer to a question about writers block. He says, “Who’s the protagonist of Die Hard? It’s Hans Gruber who plans the robbery. If he had not planned the robbery and put it together, Bruce Willis would have just gone to the party and reconciled or not with his wife. You should sometimes think about looking at your movie through the point of view of the villain who is really driving the narrative.”
I think that sums it up nicely…by saying something I don’t agree with. While I like the advice in terms of writing, no one is watching Die Hard considering Hans Gruber as the protagonist. Yes he drives the narrative, but he’s not who we root for, he’s not who we’re following, and his existence (or inevitable lack of existence) before and after his presence does not produce a lack of interest in the audience, or a constant question of ‘why are we watching this?’ While considering the motives of our villain is important (who is wonderfully portrayed by the late Alan Rickman as his first feature role), the driving narrative comes from the person who came to have a Christmas movie and happened upon an action comedy.
Action, Comedy and Christmas are starting to seem like an unlikely trio akin to that of Aragorn, Gimli and Legolas. Could this be it?
In Bruges, Batman Returns, Ghostbuster 2, The Ice Harvest, and more can fit all three categories. You can also find the dark and surreal Eyes Wide Shut, horror comedy Gremlins and the crime thriller L.A. Confidential utilizing the bright nature of Christmas to pepper their backdrop. More than one also taking place in LA. Shane Black may be on to something.
There are countless more out there, but I will leave you with this little trivia question. How many of the above mentioned 14 movies do you think were actually released during the Christmas season (November – December) and not just set then?
Maybe the better question is ‘do you care?’
Two. The answer is only two. The Ice Harvest was released November 23rd, 2005 and The Last Boy Scout was released December 13 1991.
Any non-Christmas, Christmas favourites out there I didn’t mention? What is your favourite movie to watch to ease yourself into the spirit? Leave a comment and let us know!