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Five non-traditional holiday films
Die Hard (1988) In the kickoff film of the franchise (Die Hard 5: A Good Day to Die Hard lands in February), New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) arrives in L.A. to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and kids, but first drops into her office party on the 30th floor of the Nakatomi Tower. Crashing the party is nasty Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his thugs. The ensuing cat-and-mouse game between rogue cop and Eurotrash terrorists steadily escalates and Beethoven’s soaring Ode to Joy has never been put to better cinematic use.
Trading Places (1983) Has there ever been a sadder Santa Claus than Dan Aykroyd? As the smug yuppie stockbroker Louis Winthorpe III, he’s framed by his wealthy masters, spurned by his fiancée and displaced in his job and his posh New York brownstone by the common street hustler Billy Ray (Eddie Murphy), and all a few days before Christmas. Winthorpe’s lowest moment comes when he dons a dingy Santa suit to sneak into his former workplace’s holiday party, where he steals a slab of smoked salmon for the bus ride home.
Gremlins (1984) While shopping in Chinatown, an old coot named Rand (Hoyt Axton) purchases an adorable tiny creature called a Mogwai, with the proviso that he never allow it to get wet, be exposed to sunlight or be fed after midnight. Rand makes a Christmas gift of the little furball to his irresponsible son Billy (Zach Galligan), who names it Gizmo and promptly allows it to get soaked, spawning hundreds of ferocious reptilian beasties that overrun the town and people. The lesson here: Always get a gift receipt.
Brazil (1985) Terry Gilliam’s dystopian tale of a society soured by technology opens with a scenario worthy of Currier and Ives: A family gathers around the Christmas tree as the mother tells her children the story of Santa coming down the chimney to deliver presents to good boys and girls. Suddenly, a faceless paratrooper team bursts through a hole in the ceiling, whisking Daddy away to face sabotage charges. Ho-ho-ho!
Goin’ Down the Road (1970) Director Don Shebib’s seminal Canadian film isn’t a holiday story per se, but it does deliver a powerful message of Christmas redemption. After failing to build a new life in Toronto, sad-sack Maritimers Pete (Doug McGrath) and Joey (Paul Bradley) decide to rip off a grocery store on Christmas Eve. When a sharp-eyed bag boy pounds Pete in the store parking lot, Joey comes to the rescue with a tire iron. The Christmas miracle: Before the pair hightail it out of town, Pete stops at a pay phone to inform police that the kid is hurt. God bless us every one.