TEN MOVIES TO CELEBRATE THE HOLIDAYS WITH
John Michael Decker
To me, holidays have always been a double-edged sword. I mean, sure, you get the day off to spend time with your family, BUT that means you have to spend time with your family on your day off! Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but we are the most divergent, opinionated group of misfits ever to break bread together, and it doesn’t take much provocation for a pleasant family dinner to devolve into a proper European soccer riot. I’m sure many of you know just exactly what I mean.
But not to worry, friends! I have the perfect balm for your holiday woes! Movies! Yes, nothing encourages unity more than plopping down in front of the ol’ boob tube with the fam and collectively plugging into your favorite film-viewing technology.
To help you out I have compiled a list of the ten most celebrated holidays in the United States, and then offered a flick for each date, which I feel best exemplifies said holiday. All the movies I chose are eminently re-watchable and contain boatloads of entertainment value, which should unify even the most combative households. No Schlindler’s List or Passion of the Christ here. These flicks are fun!
Warning! There may some very minor spoilers in my film descriptions. Nothing serious, but if you haven’t seen the movies I’m talking about and you want to go in clean, proceed with caution.
1) NEW YEAR’S EVE (December the 31st):
Alright, this one isn’t necessarily appropriate for the whole family and it definitely wouldn’t be something you would want to show small children, but then again, out of all the holidays I’m covering here, New Year’s Eve is less about getting together with the family and more about partying with your best chums. So my suggestion is to break up your New Year’s Eve gathering with a mandatory viewing of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). At a brisk running time of about an hour and a half, you could start this little gem just after 9pm and finish in time to pop the cork on some champagne, watch the ball drop in Times Square, and kiss your best guy or gal full on the mouth.
This early Carpenter effort concerns a nearly empty police station on the verge of closing that ends up getting attacked on New Year’s Eve by an almost supernaturally relentless gang of street punks who are out for revenge. It’s got a real pulpy, exploitationy, grind house kind of vibe that will go real well with whatever adult libation you and your friends happen to be imbibing. It’s an efficient little thriller, rough and sloppy at times, but then again, so are the best New Year’s Eve parties.
2) VALENTINE’S DAY (February the 14th):
This can be a lovely holiday if you’re in a happy romantic relationship. If you’re single however, Valentine’s Day can suck rocks. In either case, a good film to watch on the night in question is The Terminator (1984). Now some could argue that this is an inappropriate choice for what is purportedly the most romantic night of the year. Why pick a science fiction/action movie with horror elements sprinkled in to commemorate Cupid’s busiest day? Because stripped down, Jim Cameron’s original killer-cyborg-from-the-future flick is a love story.
Sure, Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s portrayal of the cybernetic assassin, the T-800, is pretty badass, and there are some amazing action set pieces that still hold up today. But I contend that that the T-800 is nothing more than a mechanical MacGuffin, in service to the real story, the love that develops between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor. Think about it. Reese volunteers for what is almost certainly going to be a suicide mission. He agrees to travel back in time and protect a woman whom he only knows through the stories her son has told about her and from staring for hours at an old Polaroid of her face. Throughout the night Sarah goes from fearing Kyle, to counting on him, and then ultimately to returning his love and through their mutual love they are able to create something that will eventually save the future. If there is anything more romantic than that, I don’t know what it is. And hey, if you are feeling cynical about romance, you can still enjoy it for all of the car chases, explosions and the huge body count that the Terminator racks up.
3) ST. PATRICK’S DAY (March the 17th):
To me St. Patty’s Day has always been an excuse for Americans to pretend they are Irish and get drunk. And hey, if that’s how you want to spend the day, Mozel Tov. But while you are chugging down six packs of your favorite green brew, why not throw a copy of The Quiet Man (1952) into the ol’ DVD player. This movie is more Irish than a leprechaun with a shillelagh in one fist and a parcel of four leaf clovers in the other kissing the blarney stone. Faith and Begorrah!
The story focuses on American boxer, Sean Thornton, played by the great John Wayne, who travels to Ireland to escape his past and falls for fiery lass, Mary Kate Danaher, played by the resplendent Maureen O’Hara. The lass’s brother, Red, played by Victor McLaglen, doesn’t like the cut of the Duke’s jib and shenanigans ensue. There’s even a proper Irish Donnybrook that breaks out between Sean and Red, which is broken up by a trip to the pub for a wee drink before the boys get back to their fisticuffs. Nothing could be more appropriate than this American view of the Emerald Isle.
4) EASTER (First Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon or soonest after March 21st):
I almost picked Richard Donner’s Superman for this holiday, but then I thought about it and came up with an even more appropriate film choice. Putting aside the giant, anthropomorphized rabbit and his basket of type-two diabetes, Easter celebrates the story of the death and resurrection of a man who came to earth to teach us a better way. What movie better exemplifies this idea than Steven Spielberg’s wonderful E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)?
Think about it. You have the lonely little boy, Elliott, who encounter’s a being from the sky who is gentler and wiser than most of the human beings he finds himself surrounded by and who has seemingly supernatural powers. Through this being’s patience and love, Elliott’s life, and that of his family, is changed for the better. Throw in the death and resurrection of the alien and this Easter metaphor really starts to snap, crackle and pop. And yes, there’s even the scene with the Reese’s Pieces for those of you who are into the holiday for the delicious, delicious candy. Mmmmm… Delicious candy…
5) MOTHER’S DAY (Second Sunday of May):
It could certainly be argued that motherhood is the toughest job in the world, so what better movie to celebrate all Moms everywhere than James Cameron’s science fiction/action masterpiece, Aliens (1986). James Cameron excels at writing well rounded, action heroin’s (check out Sarah Connor from the Terminator) and there is none more ass-kicking than Ellen Ripley, as portrayed by the amazing Sigourney Weaver.
And the major thing that makes Ripley so freaking cool is fact that she’s a mother. In the extended version of the movie it’s revealed that in Ripley’s fifty-seven years in suspended animation, her biological daughter has grown old and died. So the movie begins with Ripley not only traumatized by her experiences with the alien xenomorph from the first flick, but from the fact that she lost her child. And Ripley pretty much remains traumatized until she returns to the colony on LV-426 and encounters the orphan, Newt. By becoming Newt’s surrogate mother, Ripley is able access her inner action hero and fight hoards of the aliens, which she fears so much. This movie also introduces the Alien Queen (another mother) and culminates in a battle between the two baddest mothers in the galaxy.
6) FATHER’S DAY (Third Sunday in June):
On this day when we celebrate fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of the Dads in our lives, why not treat the old man to a classic flick. Some of the best memories I have of my pop are when he would take me, my brothers, and our gang of friends to the movies. My Dad would have us all sit in the back of the theatre and then let out his impressive Bigfoot scream during the most intense moments of the film, so we could watch everyone in front of us enjoy a good jump scare.
Many people I know consider Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) to be the best Indy film of the bunch. I think that one of the main reasons this flick stands out is that the major relationship explored isn’t between Harrison Ford’s Indiana Jones and some ingenue, but between Indy and his old man, Henry Jones Sr. And let’s face it, who among us wouldn’t want Sean Connery to play our Dad? I mean, come on! The dude was the original James Bond! JAMES BOND! Now that guy had to have seeded a bunch of vodka-martini-loving kids all over the most exotic corners of the planet, am I right? But I digress. The strained but loving relationship between the two Jones’ echoes many real father/son relationship’s I know, and the film culminating in the older man’s acceptance of his son when he finally calls him “Indiana” and not “Junior” always brings a tear to my eye.
7) INDEPENDENCE DAY (July the 4th):
The Fourth of July is a time for picnics, fireworks, and a celebration of the birth of our nation. It’s also often a time of rampant jingoism. There are many great, jingoistic, flicks I could have chosen to honor the good ol’ US of A, but to my mind, none are as much fun as Rocky IV (1985).
This absolutely isn’t the best film of the Rocky franchise by any stretch of the imagination. The adult cartoon that is Rocky IV is really just a series of training montages broken up by the occasional fight scene. But by God, it is the most relentlessly patriotic Rocky flick of the lot! The films main antagonist, Dolph Lundgren’s Ivan Drago, represent’s pretty much everything we feared about the U.S.S.R. in the Regan era. He’s a gigantic, steroid-fueled automaton, whose sole purpose seems to be to prove that Soviets are superior to puny Americans. But through the power of pure stubborn determination and pluck, our hero Rocky not only manages to defeat the Soviet Superman in the ring, but to single handedly put an end to the cold war with a speech so passionately inarticulate, yet humbly earnest, that it manages to change the hearts and minds of the Russian people. Preposterous? Sure. But you won’t notice because you’ll be too busy wiping the tears out of your eyes and pumping your fist in the air.
8) HALLOWEEN (October the 31st):
Out of all the holidays I chose to tackle in this article, Halloween was the toughest to pair a film with because there are literally hundreds of great Halloween-centric flicks I could have chosen. I thought about John Carpenter’s classic 1978 masterpiece named for the holiday itself, but that was a little on the nose. Then I considered the Nightmare before Christmas, but it’s debatable weather that one is more of a Christmas or an All Hollow’s Eve flick. Ultimately I ended up going with Michael Dougherty’s criminally under-seen Trick ‘r Treat (2007).
Like many of the best cult classics, this little gem had a limited and unsuccessful theatrical release before it found its audience in the home media market. This is an anthology weaving together five stories, which take place on the same Halloween night. The major unifying factor in all the stories is the appearance of Sam, who seems to be a child in shabby orange PJs with a burlap sack over his head. Sam acts as an avatar for the holiday, and every time the “rules of Halloween” are broken, he appears to see that justice is done. The reason I chose this flick over others is that through the course of the story it covers many of the different subgenres or horror that I love. From slasher, to supernatural, to monster, there’s something for everyone here, so in between handing out candy to cosplaying kiddies, and bobbing for apples, why not watch Trick ‘r Treat with your best ghoul, but don’t forget to obey the rules of the day… Or else!
9) THANKSGIVING (Fourth Thursday of November):
I’ve always thought that Thanksgiving isn’t as much a time to be thankful for the good things in our lives, as it a worship of food (although it is good to stop and be thankful once in a while). I can’t think of the holiday without imagining a giant roasted turkey surrounded by mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, corn bread, apple pie, oh sweet lord, that apple pie, heated with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Heaven. And then you get to feast on Thanksgiving sandwiches for the rest of the week… Sorry, losing focus here. Anywho, on that Holy Thursday before Black Friday when the world goes insane for a month, it’s common to fight off the tryptophan induced fatigue by plopping on the couch and watching sports-ball. But I say, why not watch a movie that also pays tribute to food wonderful food. I’m speaking, of course, about Jon Favreau’s Chef (2014).
This quirky little indy dramedy has Favreau not only sitting in the director’s chair but staring as Carl Casper, the head chef of a fancy California restaurant. Feeling creatively boxed in, and totally dissatisfied with his place at the restaurant, Carl has a twitter tantrum after a bad review, which blows up his life. In order to find his center, he returns to his roots in Miami, FL, where he buys a food truck and then travels cross-country with his best friend Martin and his estranged son Percy. The three bond, sell Cuban sandwiches, and visit famous foodie hot spots in New Orleans and Austin. I know this doesn’t sound like much of a plot, but this is a really great character piece about finding that thing you were meant to do and then doing it, while extolling the virtues of great cuisine and family. Also, it will make you want to add Cuban sandwiches and yucca fries to your menu on your next Turkey Day.
10) CHRISTMAS (December the 25th):
Like Halloween, Christmas offers an excess of movie choices, which would go well with the day. But unlike Halloween, for me anyway, the choice was easy. So after opening your presents, eating your Christmas ham, and drinking your spiked eggnog, sit the family down and watch the Richard Donner classic Lethal Weapon (1987). Yeah, this movie is more than an 80s cop buddy action flick with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover.
First of all, this is written by Shane Black, who seems to weave a Christmas motif into all the pictures he works on. Here are just some of the Christmas themes that are woven into the story. The film opens to the sound of “Jingle Bell Rock” as a coked-up hooker takes a nosedive off a high-rise in LA. Sure, it’s not going to snow outside in the City of Angels, but that prostitute sure was snorting some snow, the very definition of an LA Christmas. One of the first times we see Gibson’s unhinged detective, Martin Riggs, he’s busting a bunch of drug dealers at a Christmas tree lot. And let’s not forget the even more unhinged Mr. Joshua, played by the motorcycle-helmet hating Gary Busey, driving his car through the side of Detective Roger Murtaugh’s home, which is all bedecked in Yuletide splendor. A Christmas Carol is playing on the television, and when Alastair Sim asked the question, “What day is it?” Joshua responds by blasting the TV and screaming, “It’s Goddamn Christmas!” Then there is a recurring theme of redemption as the formerly suicidal Riggs finds new reasons to live through his friendship and exposure to Murtaugh and his family.
Well, that ought to get you through the major holidays, but I think I’ll leave you with a special BONUS…
ARBOR DAY (Which will fall on April the 28th, 2017 in Nebraska this year according to the inter-webs):
“What?” I hear you thinking. “Arbor Day? That’s not a proper holiday!” Listen bub, if it got a Charlie Brown special it’s good enough for me! That’s why this year on Arbor Day you should take some time away from hugging trees to watch Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). “Why Guardians?” You may inquire. Three words. “I… Am… Groot.”
That’s right, folks, inarguably the heart and soul of this awesome little super hero/science fiction hybrid is a giant, sentient, tree with a three word vocabulary. So on the day when you should be focused on saving the trees, take a little time to watch the flick where the tree saves the humans.
John Michael Decker is an actor living in Brooklyn who loves movies, comic books, and wearing hats. He lives with his understanding girlfriend, Tessa, who is a hell of an editor.
Copyright 2017 John Michael Decker. No reprints without written permission.