Okay, ladies—admit it: over the past few weeks, you’ve developed a newfound, if grudging, admiration for the man in your life. Like a loyal cocker spaniel, night after night he’s sat with you through the traditional televised movie fare of the Yuletide season –the omnipresent re-runs of It’s A Great Life, the disturbingly cheerful optimism of Miracle On 34th Street, even the undeniably chick-flick, two-hanky fare on the Lifetime channel (which is taking its annual hiatus from its signature “the man in your life wants to kill you” –lineup).
By now, even the most Christmas In Connecticut -addicted of you are likely thinking that it’s time to give the poor guy a break—or, at minimum, a chance to replenish his sorely depleted testosterone levels before Santa delivers the goods on Christmas morning.
To that end, we offer a Murderer’s Row of Christmas films designed to reinvigorate the testicular fortitude of your Significant Other, guaranteed to work no many how many traumatic reruns of Love, Actually he’s recently experienced.
Remember: nothing says “I love you” like cuddling on the sofa with your man, smiling bravely while enduring a video that you otherwise wouldn’t be caught dead watching.
1) 1) Heading our list of male-oriented Christmas-themed movies is Santa’s Slay, a 2005 release that posits a somewhat …uh… different twist on the origins of its namesake character. In this gloriously violent tale of St. Nick-gone-bad, Santa is actually the son of Satan (a clever anagram, one must admit) who was cursed to spend a tortuous thousand years being the Jolly Ol’ Elf to mankind. His Gulag at the North Pole ended this year, and Santa –outrageously played by scenery-chewing WWE pro wrestling legend Bill Goldberg-- has ten centuries of pent-up rage to vent.
Don’t miss the opening vignette, featuring James Caan, Rebecca Gayheart, Saturday Night Live alum Chris Kattan and a post-Nanny Fran Drescher, whose Christmas dinner sets the table for the first of what Santa’s Slay fans insist is the film’s impressive body-count (35, says Wikipedia; I’ll accept that, but having recently re-screened the film, it seems like a low-ball figure).
As a bonus, this week Comcast is offering Santa’s Slay to its cable customers as part of its On Demand “free movies;” happily, Comcast subscribers don’t risk having the Netflix computer flag you to the authorities for ordering it.
2) 2) If the thought of Santa-From-Hell seems a bit extreme even as a compensatory gift to your guy, another sure male-movie bet is Bad Santa (2003), where Billy Bob Thornton is the mall-Santa your parents warned you about (or should have). In it, Thornton’s Willie Stokes/Santa isn’t from hell—he’s just on his way there, as the sullenly unrepentant product of the American criminal class.
It’s a simple plot, at least for a film from the Cohen brothers: each Christmas, Willie and Marcus, his diminutive Merry Elf and cohort in crime –here, played with sinister glee by Tony Cox—take employment at a different shopping mall; this year it’s Phoenix. It’s only seasonal work, but the annual take from disabling the mall’s alarm system after-hours and looting the empty stores covers their living costs for the following year.
Complicating the plan is Willie himself: madly alcoholic, chronically ill-tempered, and prone to a encyclopedic range of decidedly non-Santa vices. These traits attract the attention of the mall’s corrupt Head of Security –played with a deliciously venomous merriment by the late Bernie Mac—who deduces Santa’s plan and sees the opportunity for a little something extra under his own Christmas tree. Meanwhile, Marcus is pondering the advantages of a solo career, a double-crossing plan encouraged by Lois, his Yoko Ono-doppelganger of a wife (Lauren Tom).
There’s no shortage of talent, both in the starring roles and in cameo appearances: the cast, for instance, includes a Santa-obsessed bartender (Lauren Graham, who slips off with Willie for a car-bouncing tryst in the mall parking lot, engaging in the type of behavior –and language-- one doesn’t expect from Rory Gilmore’s mother). Other name-players in this dark comedy include Cloris Leachman, John Ritter and Alex Bornstein (who looks nothinglike Lois Griffin, the character she voices on TV’s Family Guy.)
Like many Christmas-oriented films, there are moments of warmth and goodwill. But fortunately, in Bad Santa these moments turn hilariously twisted and perverse—and even the “happy ending” constitutes a fine antidote for any male overdosed on such cinematic taglines as “God bless us, every one!”
A note: there’s a “director’s cut” of the film entitled Badder Santa; if you really want to thank your special guy, we recommend opting for this version.
3) 3) By now, you’re probably wondering where we’re going to list Die Hard; after all, every Trivial Pursuit aficionado knows that two of the four-film series are set at Christmas, right?
While we bow to no man (or, more rarely, woman) in our admiration for these Bruce Willis epics, at heart they’re too much like the movies for which we’re trying to compensate; the Christmas films here –Die Hard 1 and 2, for all you Trivia Pursuit phobics—are essentially the story of a lonely man trying to reunite with his estranged family. A wealth of machine guns and assorted snazzy Eurotrash criminal gangs can’t change that woeful fact.
For that reason, Number 3 on our list is L.A. Confidential, which almost nobody remembers was set at Christmas—not surprising, since Christmas in Los Angeles is meteorologically indistinguishable from… from… well, from the rest of the year.
But it makes up for that blandness with some gratifying Christmas-themed subplots—most notably, Russell Crowe demolishing a wife-abuser’s outdoor display, shortly before demolishing the abuser himself.
Unlike some of our other finalist-movies, you’ll have to intentionally hunt for the Christmas elements in L.A. Confidential; but the acting and storyline, which centers on the real-life police corruption in 1950s Los Angeles, makes it the thinking-man’s choice for a macho Christmas film. Kim Basinger as a hooker in the City of Angels doesn’t hurt, either.
4) 4) No man’s list of Christmas movies is complete without a comedy. Scrooged (1988), with Bill Murray in the title role, is certainly an adequate choice here; so too is Trading Places (1983), starring a still-young Dan Ackroyd and a still-funny, pre-Adventures of Pluto Nash Eddie Murphy.
But for the purist, the nod must go to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, with Chevy Chase and family once again in hapless pursuit of a little holiday “me time.”
It’s the same role he played in all the Lampoon vacation flicks, to be sure; it’s not unlike the chili at our favorite sports bar in either predictability or palatability. In the Vacation series, Chevy found his strength –singular noun—and he was sticking with it thereafter, come high water or hell. (Vacation In Hell was, by the way, the working title of a subsequently unmade National Lampoon project. Or so film-industry rumors say.)
Notwithstanding the solid performance of Chase and the other Vacation regulars, what places NL’s Christmas Vacation on a higher ethereal plane, man-movie speaking, is the eerily prescient debut of Randy Quaid’s “Cousin Eddie” character. This quirky-eccentric role presaged Quaid’s current real-life reincarnation as reality-challenged, socially misfit, and perpetually clueless. In hindsight, given Randy’s current career as tabloid-fodder wacko, we should have seen it coming. In Christmas Vacation, we can—and no male can resist watching that particular variety of car-wreck.
5) 5) So many movies, so little time (or space, here, to list them). So Number 5 on our compilation is a dealer’s-choice, a veritable cornucopia of options. Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas vies with any entry in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series. The Ice Harvest, a mildly violent crime caper (starring, in a two-for-one bonus, both the aforementioned Billy Bob Thornton and the afore-lamented Randy Quaid) scores nicely in the “bet you haven’t see this one” -surprise feature. American Psycho (a serial-killer yuppie classic, also memorably set during Yuletime) strives manfully against, say, Less Than Zero (ditto, though without the serial-killer thing) in the ever-popular Bret Easton Ellis-based specialty subcategory. If –somehow-- Australian cinema is your man’s cup of tea, The Proposition (2005) may fill his Down-Under Christmas Eve cravings.
The also-ran list is overwhelming, in fact: for every Gremlins (1984), there is a Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005); for every Brazil (1985), a Batman Returns (1992), or an Eyes Wide Shut (1999), or a Lethal Weapon (the original, released in 1987).
This excess of riches is evident even when one discounts the Christmas-themed XXX offerings. Without risking a rundown of specific titles, suffice it to say there’s no shortage of available videos wherein at least one of the main characters wears a Santa hat (if little else). A tip: to avoid potential disappointment, check for suggested titles and availability first, with a phone call to your local adult-movie outlet. Remember, however, to block your number first.
With a modicum of consideration and forethought, these cinematic suggestions may help both you and your partner to have a male-enhancing and mutually rewarding Christmas. It may even become a treasured tradition for you.
What are your male-oriented movie suggestions? Comment below and let us know.
EARL MERKEL is a novelist, freelance journalist, talk-radio host and News Contributor. He lives in Chicago.