Every year (since I don’t remember when) a small ritual takes place in the Kaisson household which not even COVID can disrupt. Depending upon who’s present, we watch one of three movies on Christmas Eve. For me, this is as important as any other traditions we associate with the silly season: the food, the drink, the cutthroat Scrabble tournaments which my mother-in-law Carole always seems happy to lose. Which is good, because somebody has to come last, and it isn’t going to be me!
If the party is composed mainly of females — as in Carole, my wife and daughter — then I’m probably stuck watching ‘Love Actually‘ (2003) for the 223rd effing time. Hugh Grant’s dancing Prime Minister is a scene (which I’m reliably informed he loathed) that still makes me wince. While the 2003 romance-comedy hasn’t dated too badly, only one of the multiple intersecting stories holds my interest for more than a New York minute, and that’s Bill Nighy’s, and only because he gets the best lines, and only because he seems to have shitload of fun delivering them.
If the party is mixed, then the odds-on favourite is ‘National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation‘ (1989). This is a movie I unreservedly love, and watch repeatedly for the performances of Chevy Chase and Randy Quaid alone. Cousin Eddie’s ‘shitter’s full’ scene never ever gets old. As a bonus, there’s something totally big-hair and shoulder-paddy 80’s sexy about Beverly D’Angelo which I can’t quite put my finger on. Even the backseat bickering of the Griswold children is spot-on. My most watched Christmas movie ever, it’s the Chevy Chase I will take to my grave, not the fat bald grey angry drunken loser he became.
If for some unforeseen reason Christmas Eve becomes a party of one, then the only movie I’d want to watch alone on my couch is ‘Die Hard‘ (2007). The best Christmas movie of all time, full-stop. I tried showing to my mother-in-law once and we didn’t get past yippee-ki-yay motherfucker! before it was back to ‘Love Is All Around Us’ and me feeling a bit nauseous. Alan Rickman (Hans Gruber) versus Bruce Willis (John McClane) is a match made in heaven. I still make fists with my toes after flying because of this movie.
So, what do you watch? According to rottentomatoes.com it’s the 1946 classic ‘It’s A Wonderful Life‘ starring James Stewart, which just goes to prove that rottentomatos.com has no clue what people watch. An ‘eclectic’ list, ‘Edward Scissorhands‘ comes in at #19 so that’s prima facie wrong. No ‘Home Alone‘? No ‘Scrooged‘? While I’d be happy never to see/hear a Muppet Christmas Carol ever again, how about something that captures the mood of the day.
To wit, Rare Exports (2010), a Finnish Christmas tale so strange and dark that it re-writes the jolly Santa mythos completely. Unlike anything you’ve ever seen, it redefines Christmas in a way that appeals to the dark knot at the core of my writerly soul. Watch it alone with the lights out. You’ll be wishing for the silly first-world problems of the Griswolds (“Oh no! No Christmas bonus to pay for our gigantic swimming pool!”) and instead your dreams will be filled with awful, sharp-toothed elves.