Writing by Juliette Salom
‘Tis the damn season for holiday movies. December is rolling right on by and the tail end of the year slaps us across the buttocks, and the only way to get through this splendidly joyous and equally horrific time of year is chucking on a few of the movies to distract ourselves from family dysfunction and overcooked ham.
And in that holiday spirit, here are three holiday movies that aren’t necessarily about the holidays. No Christmas trees shoved down your throat nor ugly jingle bell sweaters worn like strait jackets (not too many anyway); these films are perfect for a silly season that needs no more than a twist of holiday zest in that otherwise too-strong martini to help you get through awkward family lunches.
Whether it’s New Years’ Eve under the disco ball of New York City in When Harry Met Sally, or New Years’ Day spent yet again sad and alone at your mothers’ turkey curry buffet in Bridget Jones’ Diary, or perhaps Christmas Eve spent barefooted and in war with an evil German mastermind that looks a lot like a young Alan Rickman in Die Hard , these films are sure to remind you that the holidays aren’t so bad. So, grab the popcorn, the bottle of red, and turn the volume right up so to drown out your uncle and sister fighting over global warming, and enjoy these three favourite holiday movies.
Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)
Opening on the annual New Years’ Day turkey curry buffet her mother forces her to attended in the hope of fixing her up with some “bushy-haired middle-aged boar”, Bridget Jones begins her 32nd year of being single. This 2001 British romantic comedy, based on the 1996 novel of the same name, is a relic of a time where the supposedly overweight single girl was allowed to be the butt of any joke. As problematic as Bridget Jones’ Diary is when we watch it through the lens of 2021, the film nonetheless speaks to issues, dilemmas and goddam hilarious wit that many people will relate to as we roll into yet another daunting new year.
Armed with a cast of British rom-com dreams and an abundance of jokes to make you giggle consistently for ninety-sixty minutes straight, Bridget Jones’ Diary is a holiday film as iconic (and arguably, better) than that of the famous Love Actually. Based on Jane Austen’s classic love story Pride and Prejudice, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant battle it out in the arena of dorky British men for the heart of the even more dorky Bridget Jones, played by the fantastic Rene Zellweger.
Bridget Jones is a holiday movie for every holiday mood. Has the weird uncle that normally limits his Christmas lunch table talk to climate change conspiracies now moved onto anti-vax nonsense? Put on Bridget Jones’ Diary. Have you woken up on New Years’ Day spooning nothing but a horrid hangover and last nights’ kebab? Put on Bridget Jones’ Diary. Do you refuse to do any work or socialising during that awkward week in between Christmas and New Years’ and instead just want to curl up on the couch with a bottle of red and the greasiest Meat Lovers slice? Three words: Bridget. Jones’. Diary.
When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Harry and Sally move through the years in accordance with the seasons. From the frizzy-haired summer of their youth to falls spent walking Central Park, right through to the winter of the film’s climatic New Years’ Eve party. Twelve years after their first meeting, Harry and Sally are friends, and then they’re not, and then they are, and then they fall in love. Written by beloved screenwriter of American romcoms, Nora Ephron, When Harry Met Sally attempts to ask a question as old as time itself: can men and women ever be just friends?
Made in 1989, an era of shoulder-padded blazers and perms as big as the Empire State, When Harry Met Sally may have carry the crumbs of a bygone era (the heteronormativity of the entire film’s premise blatantly dated), but much of what the film has to say, and how it attempts to do so, is as apt as ever. That, and the carefully considered addition of holiday spirit whilst resisting to be overbearing. The silly season in New York is exciting enough to envelop a film with nothing other than turkeys and ice skates, but Ephron’s story of love lost and love found allows only the most appropriate dose of holiday spirit.
The film ends on New Years’ Eve, an apt place to leave us in the hands of Harry and Sally. Because although we’ve seen them through all the seasons, seen them be friends and not be friends and then be friends again, we’re seeing them at the start again. The clock strikes midnight and an old song is sung and the two heroes find themselves where it is they belong, with old friends. It’s here, at the end of the film, that leaves us on a new beginning.
Die Hard (1988)
Yippee ki yay motherfuckers. Christmas isn’t Christmas without some classic 1980s-style Hollywood action. Like the gravy recipe that gets passed around every Christmas Eve, Die Hard passes around a good dose of money-hungry German terrorists, iconic one-liners, heroes crawling through air conditioning vents (whilst muttering “now I know what a TV dinner feels like”), and, of course, familial dysfunction; the latter prevailing as always.
Taking place on Christmas Eve at the Nakatomi Plaza in Los Angeles, New York police officer John McClane, aka Bruce Willis, finds himself in the middle of a corporate heist whilst visiting his soon-to-be ex-wife at her work Christmas party. The leader of the terrorist pack, the very German Hans Gruber played by the very English Alan Rickman (only a paper-thin accent separating the two), is determined not to let some tank-top wearing barefooted cop from New York steal his thunder. Having taken McClane’s wife and all the other employees of the Nakatomi Plaza staff Christmas party hostage, Gruber ain’t afraid to show McClane -and the growing number of law enforcement officers that surround the building- who’s boss.
Gun fights and needless death, you ask? What does any of this have to do with Christmas? Well, that’s just it. Die Hard is the Christmas movie to end all Christmas movies because it’s doing everything in its power to not be a Christmas movie, whilst being a Christmas movie. All John McClane wants is to spend Christmas Day with his wife and kids, and if fighting off some machine gun-wielding blood-thirsty terrorists is what it will take to be with his family, then so be it. Die Hard works so well as a Christmas movie because it relies less on ugly holiday sweaters and tinsel-gagged pine trees; rather, Die Hard triumphs with the idea that Christmas is truly all about, spending time with family and friends, however dysfunctional or hostage-stricken they may be.