The Christmas Movie... every family or person has a ritual and a set of films they have to watch without fail every year, it's not Christmas unless you do.
In the main, they tend to "get a pass" from critics in that people will watch anyway, and many don't want to be the miser who gives it a low grade.
MY top Christmas movie was a rare exception, it was slated on it's release by critics including Roger Ebert who called it "one of the most disquieting, unsettling films to come along in quite some time".
Yet it has over time become one of the most popular Christmas movies and the one that resonates most with many mid-late thirty-somethings. The movie is Scrooged.
A lot of the critics ire was raised towards the star, Bill Murray as Frank Cross - the movies version of Ebenezer Scrooge. Much critic hate seemed to come from the conceit that the movie tells A Christmas Carol without the original characters, but archetypes based on them but they are clearly missing the point.
While the movie follows the basic premise, it shows a world where Ebenezer Scrooge's tale has become a sideshow and in the late 80's corporate/television world where Cross reigns supreme, misanthropy, a cut throat attitude and an mantra of "bah humbug" when confronted with anything that didn't help achieve goals or bottom lines was an essential quality to have on your CV.
This isn't the tale of Ebenezer, Bob Cratchitt, Tiny Tim - but an interesting 'what if?' scenario, Scrooged is set in a world where Dickens himself may actually have been visited by the ghosts and his book was his way of yelling from the rooftops that it's never too late to change but had become a cheap novelty trotted out once a year.
Scrooged is often compared unfavourably to Muppets Christmas Carol in that they both take on the iconic tale with a slightly more modern slant - for the Muppets of course, they retain the setting but a lot of the humor is more modern. With Scrooged, it's a thoroughly modern take - Christmas Past is a creepy-ass taxi driver played brilliantly by former punk icon David Johansen, Future uses TV's to show the faces of fear and Present is, well, an embodiment of what most people who HATE christmas and these type of tales see them as...all about fairies and silly things - till she hits you with a right hook. Carol Kane was at the top of her game here, she made a career off this small role!
The best character in this is probably Bobcat Goldthwaites, Elliot, instead of begging for a lump of coal for the fire, he raises valid concerns about what Cross is asking for and is put through hell for it.
He of course can't see that Frank's day is getting worse than his by the second, and the only time the movie seems truly mean spirited is to him so by the time they meet again - there is a real chance that the lessons won't get learned and he will kill Frank before he can properly repent and change anything. It's a great moment when the two 'team up' to spread good cheer, even if it is at gunpoint!
There was criticism of the ending being very stagey and yes, the movie does lose it a little - but is saved by Murray's final rant which has shades of Peter Finch in Network.
If the whole Carol thing was real, and we could be visited... we'd be derided and called lunatics when we tried to spread that word about what we learned in our modern world.
Murray's speech gets that over, and in that world he IS crazy, but he's gonna use what he's learned to try and do some good for himself and the world in the future... the confession about the antlers and the dormice today would see him lynched, but he'd have been lynched knowing he'd done the right, but crazy thing.
Today, where people are jaded by endless wars and horrific news 24/7, it might just take a crazy guy like Frank Cross ranting at you, and a kid talking who never did to make a difference, not another charity record by Band Aid or a syrupy Christmas cartoon.
If anything Scrooged is a little ahead of it's time in it's message and is a great partner film to Elf - the two are my essential viewing and balance each other out as the two sides of Christmas, but with real similarities.
Murray and James Caan in Elf would probably have been buddies back in the day. When Frank finds his new 'friend' Herman dead on Christmas and then pleads for people to take blankets to the homeless that is now the norm, no one did it in the early 80's, now it happens every year. How many people started singing Christmas Carols again after they saw Elf?
Frank's evangelical rant and carol singing to lift a sleigh are the same, just done differently. People like Elf cos it's fluffier, funnier but the "Christmas is dead" spirit is in both films at the start, and gets brought back by the hardest heart learning.
So this Christmas, give Scrooged another go, in the words of it's lead character..."Your life might just depend on it".... only kidding.