10 Alternative Christmas Films
We're pretty open about our love for cheesy Christmas jumpers here at Beyond Retro, but our film taste is a little more unconventional. If you're unmoved by Love Actually, sick of the obnoxious Home Alone and can't take the frankly HARROWING It's A Wonderful Life, we've got some lesser seen suggestions for you.
1. Black Christmas (1974)
A slasher movie made before slasher movies were a thing, Black Christmas established some of the tropes of the genre, notably the call that's 'coming from inside the house'. Unlike a lot of later examples, the female characters are complex and the horror is genuinely uncanny but not at all gory. The inhabitants of a sorority house receive mysterious obscene phone calls and then begin to disappear one by one in the chaos of the festive season. Watch it for the spiky, sassy, perpetually drunk Barb played by Margot Kidder, who died earlier this year.
2. Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990)
At this point, we've all agreed that Die Hard is a Christmas film, with the exception of its star, who thinks 'a G*****n Bruce Willis movie' is a genre. Its sequel, however, qualifies even more thanks to its airport setting, a nod to the classic festive plot of people trying to get home to their families. Its Washington location is also a far more wintry one that the original's balmy LA.
3. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
More than any other film in this selection, Eyes Wide Shut is definitely one for the grown-ups and only the grown-ups. Nonetheless, it's most definitely a Christmas film. With every scene save one completely saturated with fairy lights and tinsel, the consumerist settings - opulent Christmas party, an improbably expensive cab ride, an F.A.O Schwartz toy store - highlight the film's message about the dark side of wealth. Some not so fun facts about this film; leads Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were kept on set for 400 days of shooting, and the whole thing was completed only 100 hours before director Stanley Kubrick's death!
4. Batman Returns (1992)
Tim Burton loves a Gothic subversion of Christmas, and his most successful is also in our opinion the best Batman film. Michelle Pfeiffer's unforgettable Catwoman is the main reason to watch. But the film's festive set pieces - villains exploding from a giant Christmas present, a corrupt white-haired millionaire throwing presents from a sack and that mistletoe line make Batman Returns the weirdest Christmas movie ever made.
5. The Conversation (1974)
For the true Scrooges, The Conversation is barely a Christmas film. There are two fleeting Christmas trees in it, and an exchange where a young Harrison Ford offers Gene Hackman a Christmas cookie, but otherwise it's a gripping 70s paranoia thriller. A surveillance expert played by Hackman, worries that his latest job may result in murder. There's an incredible jazz soundtrack and the best and scariest bathroom scene since Psycho.
6. Carol (2015)
For romance lovers, Carol is the story of the forbidden relationship that emerges between shy shopgirl Therese and divorcing mother Carol in 1950s Manhattan. The pair, played by Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett meet in a department store, where Therese sells Carol a train set as a Christmas present for her daughter, and Carol artfully leaves her gloves behind on the counter. The film is visually beautiful but quiet and held back, hinting at the repression and isolation that lay beneath the facade of 1950s society.
7. Metropolitan (1990)
Years before director Whit Stillman shot to fame with The Last Days of Disco, he made his first film on a tiny budget, in borrowed apartments and with a book about how to direct a movie on hand at all times. Metropolitan is an idiosyncratic comedy of manners about a college student who gets in with a group of upper middle-class Manhattan debutantes over the Christmas break. While Stillman's obsession with a dying breed of moneyed socialites isn't exactly relatable, there's a charm to the 80s formalwear and quotable dialogue. Sample: "The cha cha is no more ridiculous than life itself".
8. The Ice Storm (1997)
This one is technically a Thanksgiving film, but it's still festive and more importantly, it's really good. With an ensemble cast that includes Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, Tobey Maguire and Katie Holmes, The Ice Storm tells the story of two 1970s suburban middle-class families and their disconnection and dysfunction. As nihilistic as it sounds, there's plenty of light relief - Katie Holmes' rich girl character is inexplicably named 'Libbets', and Sigourney Weaver's adulterous wife has some refreshingly harsh one-liners: "Ben, you're boring me. I already have a husband, I have no desire for another one."
9. Morvern Callar (2002)
One Christmas morning a supermarket worker discovers her boyfriend has committed suicide, leaving the tree lights flashing slowly on and off, a stack of presents addressed to her, his bank details and the unpublished manuscript of a novel. It's what Morvern, played by Samantha Morton, does next that makes the film so surprising. There's nothing quite like Morvern Callar and everyone should see it.
10. Dr Zhivago (1965)
If you can't get through Christmas without a costume drama, David Lean's epic, technicolour Dr Zhivago is for you. The story tracks two star-crossed lovers (Omar Sharif and Julie Christie) over a number of years during the Russian Revolution, but there's a dramatic scene at a Christmas party, and a ton of snow and Russian winter fashion. Most Christmassy is an unbelievable scene in an abandoned house where the elements have made their way inside and created an opulent ice palace.
For a more traditional viewing experience, head over to our list of true Christmas films.
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