Christmastime can often bring out the saps in us, something that can be downright overwhelming if you pay too much attention to the season’s radio broadcasts, TV, and cinema. Those looking to indulge in the sentimentality certainly have plenty to choose from. Love the Coopers is the only traditional Christmas movie from this year that his the theaters (that I can think of, anyway), but there’s plenty of made-for-TV movies (seemingly all on the Hallmark Channel) & Christmas-themed TV episodes waiting to fill that void. Thankfully, 2015 has also offered plenty of Christmastime counterprogramming, consciously non-traditional works that sidestep the more maudlin aspects of the genre. The following films were my favorite non-Christmasy Christmas films of the year, each with links to their respective reviews from this site & their corresponding trailers. I hope it breaks up the routine seasonal monotony of A Christmas Stories & It’s a Wonderful Lifes for you this Yuletide season.
Just in case you don’t want to watch Kevin McAllister try on his dad’s aftershave for the 1,000th time, why not watch a gun-weilding Selma Hayek rock a bloody negligee for a couple action-packed hours instead? Everly is a yakuza-style shootout film featuring themes of revenge, prostitution, human-trafficking, and – you guessed it – families struggling to make it home for Christmas. It’s also quite funny, considering its endless sequences of bloodsoaked violence.
4. Patch Town
The Nutcracker is a classic Christmas ballet in which magical toys come to life when no one’s looking to dance adorably & act all magic-like or some such. Patch Town is a horror comedy Christmas musical in which an evil toy factory freezes forest-grown babies in their infantile state & sells them as Cabbage Patch Dolls until their adoptive owners outgrow & discard them, when they’re promptly unfrozen & forced to work in the very factory that extracted them from the cabbage patch in the first place. They’re about the same if you think about it, but at least Patch Town is new.
Scrooged is my all-time favorite Christmas movie. In some ways, though, its cynical drunk of a protagonist didn’t push Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol far enough into unexpected territory. Thankfully, The Night Before is here to update the narrative to include not one, but three cynical protagonists who are visited by a mystical weed dealer instead of the ghost of a cabbie AND The Grinch AND instead of sticking to just alcohol they indulge in “every single drug in the whole world.” It’s honestly the most sentimental film on this list, but it’s also one of the most excessive, so I’m willing to let it slide.
Bonus Selection: If you need an alternative to that alternative due to the seasonally appropriate sentimentality, ghosts & Christmas also mix in the very, merry un-Dickens Paranormal Activity VI: The Ghost Dimension.
Tim Allen is a notorious reformed-cokehead comedian, so I guess in some ways the hokey Santa Clause franchise is already a subversive Christmas narrative. If you’re looking for an even-more non-traditional Santa surrogate, though, try Krampus: a soul-stealing demon who acts as “St. Nicholas’ shadow” whenever bad little girls & boys lose faith in the holiday. Director Michel Dougherty’s first film, Trick ‘r Treat, was entirely faithful to the traditions of Halloweens & thankfully he kept the October vibes rolling into December traditions in a time where so many people do it the other way around, celebrating Christmas before Halloween even gets rolling. All hail Krampus for bucking the trend.
Some of the best Christmas movies are the ones where the holiday is mere background noise, barely getting in the way of the narrative. Any rebel sticking around long enough becomes part of the establishment, though, so titles like Batman Returns & Gremlins don’t work quite as well as counterprogramming as they did 20 or 30 years ago. Mercifully, Tangerine is willing to fill that void in the here & now. Following a trans sex worker as she drags her bestie along on a revenge plot to confront her fiancée/former pimp is worlds away from the traditional Christmas narrative. It’s so committed to outdoing Gremlins’/Batman Returns’/Die Hard’s/Eyes Wide Shut‘s counterprogramming that it even forgoes those film’s snowscapes for a brightly lit/sunshiney Los Angeles that should feel mighty familiar to how New Orleans most often spends Christmas. It, of course, also helps that it’s one of the best films of the year, Christmas counterprogramming or not.