Welcome to my new column “Hear Me Out!” which I might as well have called “Unpopular Opinion”. Here I will write down my personal, absolutely subjective opinion on mostly unimportant, mainly pop cultural topics like movies, music etc. A small, fine, controversial fun category, where you are welcome to disagree. With “Hear Me Out!” I just want to give you some arguments that might convince you that my view of things makes sense somehow.
But enough blah blah, in keeping with the season, I’ll start right off with the first controversial topic: Christmas Movies 😲
My top 3 favorite Christmas movies of all time are “Die Hard”, “Love Actually”, and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” – in no particular order. If there isn’t something for everyone in this illustrious selection, I don’t know what is. Some of you might wonder if I shouldn’t talk to a psychologist about this crude mixture, but HEAR ME OUT! There are good reasons why I have steadfastly held this opinion for years.
At first glance, all three films have little to nothing in common except for the Christmas season in which they are set. But that, to me, is exactly the strongest, most indisputable argument as to why these three films are perfect for the Christmas season. We have good, solid end-80s action, with a fair amount of senseless violence, all in the name of love, of course. In contrast to that, we have probably one of the best unrealistic rom-com episodic films of all time, with massive star power. The perfect complement to these two gems of Christmas entertainment is the third film based on a classic children’s book with a real Christmas story, including morals and a happy ending. I’ll explain in detail why I’ve loved these three films for years, can really re-watch them every Christmas, and why the “dirty dancing overkill effect” doesn’t set in for me:
Die Hard (Part 1)
For years, there is of course the eternal controversial discussion whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie or not. At this point (Attention – Unpopular Opinion!) a very clear YES! End of discussion, end of blog post. No, of course I don’t make it that easy for myself and even if the majority of my friends (I’m looking especially at you, Kim & Flo!) are completely agree with me, there are of course also the Christmas movie purists who find a cultivated shooting on Christmas Eve terrible. But why this and John McClane belong to Christmas just like the Christmas tree, I’m happy to explain.
Nostalgia is a dangerous little piggy, because in retrospect you often glorify things and situations and remember them way too positive. Like “everything was better in the old days!” (Spoiler: NO, it wasn’t!). It’s human, we all do it, but we should just be aware that you can’t repeat many great experiences and some places, movies and experiences don’t stand the test of time when you transfer them to the present. Fortunately, that’s only partially true of “Die Hard” and the other two films, and that’s why I can watch them over and over again.
In fact, “Die Hard” also makes me a bit nostalgic, as a local TV station invoked the spirit of Christmas in the early ’90s by torching action fireworks for weeks before and during the holidays starting at 10 p.m., which is unmatched today. The three main protagonists were always Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, the immensely productive Sylvester Stallone, and – the older ones remember – Jean-Claude Van Damme. Legendary, his impressive, completely useless splits across the kitchen counter. The plot was always the same (muscle-bound, very masculine hero has to save the world/ the girl/ his honor) and is certainly not keeping up with the times. But compared to other serious genres and protagonists of that era, action heroes were much less toxic and problematic than their “serious” acting colleagues and never took themselves too seriously. And let’s face it – you didn’t expect any depth or progressive message from these films. People just wanted to have a good time.
The action genre has changed a lot within the last 30 years and became an extremely expensive CGI battle with already really big Hollywood stars in it. Especially Netflix floods you during the last months with new action movies, all of which are pretty much a yawn or unintentionally funny. Mass instead of class. Likewise, starting in November, Netflix’s algorithm mercilessly compels you to PLEASE!!! finally watch one of the trashy Christmas rom-coms. Again, there are just way too many of them, and unfortunately, way too many bad ones.
Basically, however, I welcome the vocational reintegration measure that Netflix has offered Lindsay Lohan. And even if the plot is absolutely predictable and the movie probably really, really bad, this would still be the only new Christmas trash I would watch for said nostalgia-trap reasons and of course, with a very low expectation. So the chances of a new classic like my three favorites being released in the next few years are unfortunately very small. The only movies that are produced these days is something that appeals to the supposed mass taste of the audience, which leads to Hollywood constantly repeating itself, reissuing old films or producing 25 sequels to a successful movie. Sad and a real pity… but now back to movie no. 1, “Die Hard”.
Christmas is not at all the feast of love for many families, at least not all the time. For most of them, the good old Christmas fight is predestined, which is actually unavoidable and hardly surprising given the extraordinary circumstances. One sits 1-3 days continuously on each other and meets also the one or other person of the family, with which one only shares the same DNA and would actually never mingle with in real life. Different worlds and opinions collide and soberly considered Christmas is actually a gigantic, global psycho-social experiment with an extra portion of drama. That’s why the argument that “Die Hard” disturbs Christmas peace and that you’d rather have love, peace and harmony at Christmas doesn’t count for me one bit. I have rarely laughed so much. From my own experience, I can say that the good action movies tended to keep me even closer to my family. After dinner, we always made ourselves comfortable in the living room and had two hours of blissful silence – except for gunshots and explosions. No discussions about the hardly existing plot during this time, at most a sarcastic comment, how unrealistic this or that scene was. Common smart-assing, how ridiculous but unbelievably entertaining and great 80% of these movies are. Therefore, I associate with “Die Hard” forever a beautiful childhood/ youth memory and absurdly the peaceful part of Christmas. In that case, irony-free, thank you, local TV station.
If you’re still not convinced that “Die Hard” is a perfect Christmas movie, I’ll supply a few more solid, convincing arguments here.
Let’s start with Hans Gruber. He’s one of the best action villains of all time. One reason for this is that the good man meticulously plans and organizes his crimes in advance with Prussian discipline. I like good preparation, even in fictional major crimes. In addition to that, Alan Rickman was simply an incredibly good actor who played even such supposedly undemanding roles with so much fun and passion that you really loved and hated Hans Gruber in a good way. Alan Rickman was one of those extremely versatile actors who was in, what felt like, every other movie of my youth, but I didn’t realize for a long time that he embodied all these different characters. I was stunned to find out that he was the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood,” as well as Professor Snape in “Harry Potter,” among many other roles. If that’s not awesome and a great argument FOR “Die Hard”. I mean hello!!! Snape and Hans Gruber are the same person – mindblowing!!!
To all of this you can add a nice Fun Fact that I too didn’t catch until years later. In the American original, the criminals are mostly German terrorists, of the fictional group “Radical West-German Volksfrei Movement” (what a hilarious name 😂!). However, since they didn’t want to scare away the German audience, and since all films are dubbed here anyway, the troupe was spontaneously turned into a European, possibly radical Irish group of criminals. It doesn’t take long for good old Hans to turn into Jack in Germany…
This is my closing statement, as well as a few more strong arguments summarizing why “Die Hard” is an excellent Christmas movie for me:
- because it is set at Christmas
- because it is, of course, about love and family
- because Holly Gennaro-McClane is one of the first progressive, tough female characters with a career of her own and a lot of guts in an action movie, who always has her shit together – apart from the rescue from the Nakatomi Tower – without John McClane (well, later in the series we know that she gets divorced… so she really gets her stuff done on her own)
- because Hans aka Jack Gruber is a great and very smart villain with excellent preparation (of course we are still glad that he fails at the end)
- because the good old action movie childhood memory triggers a pleasant warm feeling in me
One can rightly accuse the makers of the series of having definitely overdone it over the years in terms of the number of films. After part 2 (which is basically identical to part 1, also set at Christmas, but on a plane instead of in the Nakatomi Tower) would have been enough. Still, I hope you now understand why the first part of Die Hard is clearly a Christmas movie.
To create a smooth transition from “Die Hard” to “Love Actually”: Our esteemed Hans Gruber, or Alan Rickman, stars in this one as well. His story, as well as the stories and relationships of the other characters are cleverly interwoven, making “Love Actually” a really good episodic film with lots of surprises.
For me, “Love Actually” falls under the category of “Christmas kitsch for the heart”, when you do need a bit of heartbreak and schmaltz in between. In addition, the film transports the Christmas atmosphere in (pre-) Christmas London, with all the (corporate) Christmas parties, Christmas performances and people being stressed because of the preparations, very well.
We don’t need to discuss, especially based on the recent history of the UK that it is absolutely unrealistic that the British ever had or will have such a charming, handsome, sophisticated, kind-hearted and altruistic single- Prime Minister (PM), as Hugh Grant. Decades before #MeToo and the body positivity movement, good Hugh aka PM David, whose moral compass, unlike the Borises, Lizes and Rishis of this world, worked flawlessly. He stood up for his staffer Natalie, who was being harassed by the sleazy U.S. President and also had to listen to constant assaultive comments about her allegedly too big thighs.
Yes, you can debate whether you think the “knight in shiny armor” thing is still up-to-date. Likewise, that the two end up together, even though there’s obviously a power imbalance and a workplace relationship can be quite problematic. But honestly, isn’t it refreshing to see the boss protectively stand up for his employees when they are assaulted, instead of being the problem himself, as is unfortunately so often the case? That’s why I like this plot, because it sadly rarely corresponds to reality and I’m sure that 95% of the women who work in the administrative sector have already been through a comparably bad situation. How one would have liked to have had a David as a boss at one’s side…. I could list more positive aspects of this plot, but that would really become too much and too long.
Instead, I’d rather highlight another argument for the film, from a different plot line. “Love Actually” is also well done because the film illustrates very self-deprecatingly and in a humorous way the eternal illusion of how Great Britain would like to be seen by the world and especially the USA. In the episode of Colin and Tony, who are rather less successful with the opposite sex in the UK, Colin travels to the US because he assumes that his attribute “being British” makes him immediately and unconditionally attractive to US ladies. In fact, he is absurdly successful quite quickly, but one wholeheartedly begrudges him this, since the viewer certainly knows that Colin and Tony are perceived quite differently and largely spurned by both their own countrywomen and the average continental European ladies. The “Every Jack has his Jill” theory is thus confirmed even on a transatlantic scale.
I could go on forever and write in more detail about the individual storylines and characters, but in the end it is the fine, clever, British humor mixed with a little pinch of tragedy that makes “Love Actually” so special and timeless for me. Because not all episodes have a happy ending, but rather a melancholic open ending (as with the great played characters of Emma Thompson and Laura Linney).
Besides the good storylines and interesting characters, it’s also interesting to see the amazing careers that many of the actors involved have had during the now almost 20 years that have passed since the film’s release. An extremely colorful mix that includes a zombie hunter, a pirate bride, a mentor to the King (GoT), as well as a sizable portion of the Hogwarts teaching staff, among others.
So again, our little piggy friend, nostalgia, takes hold of me every year. I hope you feel the same way, and if not, hopefully my comments have helped you change your opinion of this film to a positive one.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
The third favorite of my Christmas movies is and remains the Grinch. In fact, I’m almost of the same opinion as Barney Stinson, the hilarious character from “How I Met Your Mother,” whose favorite characters in movies have always been the villains. Fun Fact, he even mentions Hans Gruber in his argument as to why the bad guys, are the true heroes in movies. I have to agree with Barney, because most of the time “the good guys” are always very polished, perfect and boring as hell. The evil characters, on the other hand, usually have a lot of character, a tragic backstory, lots of fun being evil, really let it rip, and are often much more attractive in appearance than the angelic superheroes of the story.
Now, the visuals don’t seem to translate 1:1 to the Grinch, since not everyone is into green fur. But thanks to the Grinch’s extra dose of madness and justified social and consumer criticism, you can’t help but love this hairy misanthrope. Rubber face Jim Carrey is perfect as a cast member, firing off his entire comedic repertoire of grimaces and gestures without restraint. Some may find this too much and too over the top, but I think it suits the Grinch very well and thus takes away the creepiness and pure evilness he might otherwise unintentionally exude.
The good-hearted, pure antithesis to the Grinch is the ever-positive Cindy Lou Who, who, unlike the other Whos, very reflectively questions whether Christmas is really just about presents and not something more. These are my sentiments exactly, because I think the Christmas madness is increasing from year to year in terms of the number and value of gifts. In addition, two weeks before Christmas at the latest, everyone is stressed because everything should be done before the feast of love. This makes the tone extremely rough, everyone is easily irritable, takes out their frustration on their fellow human beings and what on earth does that have to do with Christmas? Cindy Lou realized this early on, but somehow humanity doesn’t really learn from the Grinch, even though the film has over 20 years under its belt and is repeated every year.
In summary, thanks in part to the terrific overacting of Jim Carrey, The Grinch offers a wonderful Christmas story with a genuine, deep message based on the classic U.S. children’s book by Dr. Seuss. The narrator’s rhymes, which are closely based on the book, add to the film’s charm, as does the opulent, comic-like set.
Another plus of the film is the great Christine Baranski. Just like Alan Rickman, she is one of those great stars you see in umpteen movies and series, but whose names no one knows. She has also had a remarkable, long career and has starred in many cult movies and series like “Mamma Mia” and “The Good Wife” or really gives free rein to her comedic talent as the callous mother of Leonard in Big Bang Theory. You just have to love this woman.
One last Fun Fact about the Grinch concerns the cute Cindy Lou Who, portrayed by Taylor Mommsen. Despite her young age, Taylor can already look back on an interesting resume and especially on some developments. Many people might not know that in her teenage years she played the also quite innocent and lovely Jenny Humphrey in “Gossip Girl”. In the meantime Taylor has grown up, but in contrast to many of her Disney colleagues, she has obviously coped much better with the child star thing. She is the front woman of the apparently quite decent rock band “The Pretty Reckless” and has changed her style drastically into a dark gothic direction at first (at this point I recommend a Google search). In the meantime she again changed in a less gloomy direction. I can only applaud her and say “You do you, Girl”! Both thumbs up for what little Cindy Lou has become and that she seems to have not let herself be pigeonholed and bent by Hollywood or society and has clearly emancipated herself from Cindy Lou and Jenny.
With that Fun Fact, I’ll close my argument of “Hear Me Out #1” for my Christmas movie favorites. What’s your opinion on my top 3? Do you share it, or at least after reading my post, are convinced enough by my arguments that these are three really good Christmas movies? Feel free to let me know in the comments which movies you like to watch and what you think of these three classics.