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5 Christmas Movies for Christmas Haters

Bad Santa
Dimension

For me, the first 11 months of the year are merely a prelude to the Christmas season, but I get that not everyone shares my jones for Yuletide. What’s great about the wide and wonderful world of holiday films (which I explore in my book ‘Have Yourself a Movie Little Christmas‘) is that for every ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ and ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ there are plenty of flicks out there for all the Grinches who can’t wait for the plastic Santa and the inflatable snowmen to go back into the attic.

(Check out this Christmas movie montage for highlights from all your favorite—or least favorite—holiday films.)

‘The Ref’

Kevin Spacey (in that wonderful portion of his career before he wanted audiences to love him) and Judy Davis play a married couple whose epic arguments would feel right at home in ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ On Christmas, jewel thief Denis Leary takes these two hostage and finds himself having to act as their de facto marriage counselor to keep them from blowing his cover in front of Spacey’s awful visiting relatives. Apart from a slightly gooey ending, this one’s hilariously acrid.

‘A Christmas Tale’

In this intimate, art-house piece by Arnaud Desplechin, it’s not just the holidays that reunite the contentious members of a French family. Mom (Catherine Deneuve) needs a bone-marrow transplant, and she has no qualms about amassing as many potential donors as possible, even if it means bringing exiled son Mathieu Amalric (‘Quantum of Solace’) back into the fold. Ferociously unsentimental and darkly funny, this movie’s so intelligently written that you’ll find your allegiances changing from character to character upon repeated viewings. (Another great unhappy-French-family comedy is the deliciously dysfunctional ‘La Bûche.’)

‘Bad Santa’

Mall Santas were never the same after Billy Bob Thornton’s indelible turn as a drunken, petty, kid-hating Father Christmas who’s really there to rob the store safe on December 24. Lauren Graham’s horny, holiday-fetishist bartender leads a brilliant supporting cast (including Bernie Mac, John Ritter and Cloris Leachman), but it’s Thornton’s show all the way. He never makes an effort to create sympathy for his messed-up character, and of the three DVD versions floating around, the director’s cut is the shortest, and the one in which Thornton has the least redeemable moments. But whichever one you watch, this is one of the most crudely riotous Christmas movies ever.

‘The Silent Partner’

Christopher Plummer’s Santa is as scary as Thornton’s is drunk. The former Captain von Trapp’s not a bell-ringing collector for charity, mind you, he’s really there to rob a bank. Teller Elliot Gould figures out what’s up and devises a way to steal most of the money himself while making Plummer take the fall for just a handful of bills. Thus begins a chilling game of cat and mouse between a violent criminal and a nerdy white-collar worker. This gripping thriller (written by Curtis Hanson, who would go on to direct ‘L.A. Confidential’) makes an exciting antidote to too much comfort and joy.

‘Christmas Evil’

In John Waters’ favorite Christmas movie, Brandon Maggart (Tony-winning actor, father of Fiona Apple) stars as a Santa-obsessed man who works in a toy factory, spies on the neighborhood kids to make his own naughty-and-nice list, and paints a sleigh on the side of his creepy white van. Then he really goes around the bend and starts killing people who he thinks are lacking in Christmas spirit. Wonderfully warped and disturbing (the film’s original title was ‘You Better Watch Out’), this one stands out among an ever-more-crowded field of Yule-themed horror movies. It’s about as far from Frank Capra as you can get this Christmas.

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