All other Alternative Christmas Film lists throw up the usual films that aren’t really that alternative – Gremlins, Die Hard, Trading Places. Those are pretty common Christmas films. Now into its sixth year, my list of alternative Christmas films digs deeper than any other list. These are the real alternative Christmas films that don’t get mentioned. So, here we are again – 10 real alternative Christmas movies...
Once Upon A Time At Christmas
Who is the one person you would think doesn’t hate Christmas? Santa Claus of course. Yet, in this film Santa and Mrs Claus go on a killing spree as an onscreen clock ticks down to Christmas Day. Blood on snow is always splatteringly fun to watch, but this film is too reliant on CGI blood and gore instead of practical effects. Some of the dialogue is vastly underwritten too. However, rampaging Mr Claus and his Harley Quinn-style wife are maniacally entertaining to watch. There is a good Christmas slasher trying to break out here.
To All A Goodnight
More killer Santa here, this time from 1980. Mr Claus has a lot of fun dispatching his victims in very different ways and considering this was filmed nearly 40 years ago, it is still an entertaining low-budget slash flick that benefits from keeping the audience guessing as to who is underneath the Santa suit.
The Bishop’s Wife
Adapted from the 1928 book by Robert Nathan and starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. Bishop Henry Broughman is struggling to find funding to build a new cathedral. He prays for a miracle and suddenly a sharply dressed angel called Dudley arrives. But Dudley isn’t here to help with the cathedral. He has a much more important mission – to guide Henry and those around him. Director Henry Koster replaced William A Seiter after producer Samuel Goldwyn fired the original director after seeing the rushes of the film and not liking what he saw. Billy Wilder also did an uncredited rewrite during filming. The film struggled at the box office because audiences thought it was a religious film. Goldwyn decided to rename the film Cary and the Bishop’s Wife in the hope of drawing in those who stayed away. Apparently, adding Grant’s name to the title up ticked ticket sales by 25%. From the golden era of Hollywood, The Bishop’s Wife hits all the sweet spots you expect it to.
The Preacher’s Wife
A heartwarming tale about a struggling Baptist minister who gets help from an angel when his life seems to be failing. The Preacher’s Wife is a remake of the 1947 film The Bishop’s Wife that switches it up by changing several elements of the original story including the religion involved and the colour of the cast. This all-black cast has Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington leading the charge on a spiritual experience that will leave even the most hardened of cynics reaching for the tissues. Also, we get to hear Houston belt out a tune or two as well – that voice truly was a gift from God. Director Penny Marshall keeps the tone the right side of schmaltzy, giving it a sweet yet solemn vibe.
Chilean director Sebastien Lelio (he of A Fantastic Woman, Gloria and Disobedience fame) made Navidad in 2009. It's a bare-bones, scrubby story of a young couple who find a runaway in their abandoned rural home. During their night together they start to come to terms with their lots in life. This sort of coming of age drama is a raw and uncompromising watch as the three characters slowly discover their alienation from the outside world. Lelio uses long flowing shots that double as thoughts/dreams of each of the characters. This is not an upbeat Christmas movie yet it is as real as they come.
Domesticity is shaken up in Joe Swanberg’s dramedy about an irresponsible 20-something female who goes to live with her brother and his wife. Chaos ensues. This low-budget ($70k) movie has a small yet formidable cast including Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Lena Dunham and Swanberg himself. Arriving off the back of appearing at Sundance in 2014, Happy Christmas didn’t really find an audience, sadly. The trailers don’t really do it justice as they make the film look cold and melancholic, and on one level it is. Yet it has a warmth running all the way through it and a slightly rebellious streak. It is more charming that it appears to be. This slight yet loveable comedy is well worth seeking out.
Patrick Stewart leads this ensemble comedy from 2015. A group of New Yorkers become trapped in a lift on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve is teeth-clenchingly bad. From its eye-rolling premise to its cliched characters and even down to the inauthentic look of New York (it was actually shot in Bulgaria). It's difficult to care about any of the characters when they are so dull and as such the film’s depth is little more than a small puddle of crocodile tears. You hope and pray that the lift’s mechanisms break and every single character drops to their death.
The Christmas Tree
Sally Field’s directorial debut saw her take the reigns of this made-for-television Christmas drama that she also co-wrote. A Christmas Tree is the subject of the film as New York’s Rockefeller Center’s gardener wants to fell a tree for their display but the problem is that the tree has been being tended to by an elderly nun for years. Julie Harris plays the nun in such a delightfully earnest way that it would be very easy to see Field actually playing that role herself. Andrew McCarthy’s Richard Reilly performance is one that has a slow build to it. He isn’t instantly likeable or hateable. Yet as time goes on his performance starts to open up and out comes a tender character that benefits from the double-hander with Harris opposite. Back in 1996, made-for-television movies were very rarely a good thing. This is one of those times where a film breaks free of those shackles. Sadly, this film seems to have drifted out of all recognition.
John Waters reteams with Divine for another appalling yet riotously funny comedy. This time Divine plays delinquent high-school student Dawn Davenport who, after being told by her parents she won’t be getting the shoes she wants, proceeds to wreck Christmas and then flees the house. She is raped by a lecherous man and months later gives birth to a bratty child Taffy. Together they embark on a life of crime. If you thought Pink Flamingos was grotesque then you ain’t seen nothing until watching Female Trouble. Rougher, dirtier and funnier than most of Waters/Divine’s collaborations. Christmas has never been so shocking.
Before Deadpool and even before Green Lantern, Ryan Reynolds made a film where he dressed in a latex suit. Only this time it was a fat latex suit. He plays Chris Brander, an ex-fatty, who returns home for Christmas and comes face-to-face with his old high school crush. This is actually one of Reynold’s best performances as he plays Brander as a lecherous womaniser who suddenly sees the error of his ways. The interplay between Reynolds and Anna Faris’ Samantha is hilarious throughout and Amy Smart, as Jamie, gets in on the act as well. This “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” film has plenty of slapstick comedy and a few gross-out moments too to ensure that the path to true love can be painful.