Back in Time: 2019

As I noted in the previous Back in Time article, it seems kind of silly that we put out a “best of the year” list at the end of each year and then just walk away, as if we never watch another movie from that time period again. I watch older movies all the time. Just a few days ago I watched a movie from 1929 that makes me totally re-evaluate that list (as there are now two films on it). So why don’t we ever step back, look at a year again, and amend our best of the year lists? That’s what I’m doing here, going back a year at a time. In this second installment, I’ll talk about my favorite films of 2019, pointing out as I go which ones wouldn’t have made my list at the end of that year because I hadn’t seen them yet.

12. Point Blank. Joe Lynch’s remake of this French thriller was really strong – energetic, exciting, with strong characters and just the right amount of comic relief. It’s a blast to watch.

11. Zombieland: Double Tap (watched in February 2020). While not quite as strong as the original, the second Zombieland film extends the universe in a logical way (at least from a character standpoint – there’s some handwaving going on about how the universe functions from a technical standpoint, but that’s acceptable in a comedy of this type). It’s funny, and it’s fun to watch.

10. Yesterday (watched in February 2020). Richard Curtis has gone in an interesting direction with these sorts of magic realism romcoms. A movie about a man in a world that has somehow forgotten the Beatles is really high concept, but the likable characters and good direction by Danny Boyle carry this forward and make it a winner for me.

9. Klaus. There are a lot of Santa Claus movies out there, including a lot of origin stories, but I never knew that what I really needed was the one that linked old St. Nick to the postal service. This animated film is one of the most charming Santa movies I’ve ever seen.

8. Tread (watched in May 2020). Paul Solet’s bizarre little film is half documentary, half reenactment, and all totally bonkers. The true story of a man who got fed up with his small town and decided to build a tank to flatten it is totally gripping and utterly engrossing.

7. It Chapter Two (watched in March 2020). I know that a lot of people didn’t think the conclusion of this two-film saga was as good as the first part, but I was pulled in and moved by the whole thing. It is my favorite Stephen King novel, and I really felt like this film did it justice.

6. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (watched in June 2021). I never thought that Quentin Tarantino would make a fairy tale, but that’s kind of what this is. As he did with Inglorious Basterds, he created some amazing and moving characters, dropped them into real historical events, and then let things go completely off the rails in a highly satisfying way. In fact, this is now my second favorite Tarantino film, after the aforementioned Basterds.

5. Spider-Man: Far From Home. It almost feels quaint writing about this movie, having seen No Way Home, but this remains one of my favorite Marvel movies. Tom Holland is my favorite Spider-Man, and I thought this film was a fine epilogue to the Infinity Saga that ended in Avengers: Endgame.

4. Joker (watched in Jan. 2020). Batman villain by way of gritty crime drama, Joaquin Phoenix absolutely nails his performance in this movie about a man whose own weakness and the crushing weight of his life ultimately leads to an explosive self-destruction. If they never make a sequel to the film, I think it stands just fine on its own. 

3. Shazam! Outside of Superman, the original Captain Marvel is my favorite DC hero, and I had high hopes that this film would be a lighthearted adventure worthy of the premise of a boy who transforms into the world’s mightiest mortal. What I did not anticipate was a film with a profound message about the power of a found family, and a finale that left me giddy, as it introduced beloved characters that I never would have guessed I would see in a feature film.

2. Knives Out (watched in February 2021). Of all the films on this list, this is the one I’m most angry with myself for sleeping on. The trailers looked like it would deliver a quirky little murder mystery. I was unprepared for how layered, complicated, and altogether satisfying the movie would be – to say nothing of how much fun it was to watch this phenomenal cast tear up the scenery. I couldn’t be happier that there are more Benoit Blanc mysteries in the works.

1. Avengers: Endgame. This topped my list the moment I saw it, and I sincerely doubt there is anything that can possibly topple it. The grand finale of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe up until that point was epic, moving, heartbreaking, triumphant, and contains perhaps the single greatest moment in any superhero movie ever made. Yeah, you know what moment I’m talking about. That one. Magnificent. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. In 2019, he thought that the last couple of years had been lousy, but they were bound to get better, right? 

Back in Time: 2020

I’m going to have a little fun with something here: last week, as the year was ending, everyone shared their lists of their favorite movies of 2021. I did it myself. But the thing that’s occurred to me is that these lists aren’t immutable, are they? It’s not like I’m never going to watch another movie from 2021. It’s not even like I’ll never watch a movie I like more than one of the ones on the list. In fact, the list I shared on New Year’s Eve would already be different today because I try to spend January watching movies I missed in the previous year, and I’ve found one that would have made the list. 

So what I’m going to do is start stepping back in time, one year per installment, and revisit the movies made in that frame that would now make that “best of the year” list, with an emphasis on what movies I didn’t actually see during the year in question. 

I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I’m not presenting this list as any sort of objective level of artistry. I’m not saying these should all be Academy Award winners or anything (although some of them, I think, should), I’m just saying that these are the ones I personally enjoyed the most.

12. The Last Blockbuster (watched in 2021): Wonderful documentary that tells the story of the last Blockbuster video store in America, intercut with the story of the rise and fall of the one-time juggernaut. Lots of stuff in here I didn’t know, with a far more intricate and enlightening view of the topic than “Netflix killed it.” And there’s a hell of a nostalgia factor as well.

11. Bill and Ted Face the Music: Speaking of nostalgia, there have been plenty of movie and TV shows that have proven that nostalgia isn’t enough to fuel a movie. This one used nostalgia as the launch point, but it had a lot of heart and told a story about how, as we grow older, our dreams tend to change… and why that’s not a bad thing.

10. The Invisible Man: After two disastrous attempts to kick off a shared universe of Universal Monsters (those being Dracula Untold and the 2017 The Mummy), it seems that Universal decided to change gears and go for smaller, self-contained films revitalizing their classic monsters. While I can’t deny I would still love to see the Universal Monster-verse become huge again (just bring back Brendan Fraser, dammit), I really enjoyed this more quiet, claustrophobic take on the classic villain.

9. Freaky (watched in 2021): Another new take on an old idea – the Freaky Friday body swap formula applied not to a parent and child, but to a slasher movie killer and his victim. Vince Vaughan is fantastic as both the killer and the teenage girl who gets trapped in his body, and overall the movie treads the line between comedy and horror very well. Not as well as another movie I’ll get to later, though.

8. Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn: Awful title notwithstanding, this film was a great showcase for Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, and drew in several other characters from DC Comics in exciting ways that felt fairly true to most of them, with the notable exception of Cassandra Cain, who was really that character in name only. Never thought Rosie Perez would work so well as an action heroine, but she really steps up.

7. Onward: Pixar has rarely missed, and they succeeded twice in 2020, starting with this film about a pair of brothers trying to find peace with the loss of their father, all couched in a world of monsters and magic. Family stuff, and particularly stuff about parents and children, have really hit a chord with me these last few years, for obvious reasons.

6. Soul (Watched in 2021, but only by a day): The second of Pixar’s 2020 one-two punch treads a theme that Pixar likes to do, that getting what you want is not the same as getting what you need. Lovely story, beautiful animation… and damn, I do like jazz.

5. Archive (Watched in 2021): Fantastic low-key sci-fi movie about a man trying to make an artificial intelligence less artificial. I don’t want to say too much because I think it’s best if you go in not knowing much, but it’s well worth watching.

4. Palm Springs: The time loop movie has been done a LOT, but I always enjoy a new twist on it. Wedding guest Lizzie Caplan falls into a time loop only to find that fellow guest Andy Samberg has been there for quite some time. It’s funny, it’s clever, and it’s original. 

3. Tenet: Christopher Nolan is at his most Christopher Nolan in this movie, an action film built around the premise of a technology that can reverse time. Like a lot of Nolan’s movies, you’ve really got to pay attention, but once you wrap your head around exactly what the rules are, it works really well.

2. A Quiet Place Part II (Watched in 2021): The sequel to one of the best sleeper horror films in years delivered just as well, if not more. Continuing the story right where the first ended, this second film explores the world much more and continues peeling back the layers of the family. It’s a fantastic movie and I really hope Part III is in the works.

1. Scare Me (Watched in 2021): Josh Ruben writes, directs, and stars in this phenomenal horror comedy about two writers (himself and Aya Cash) stuck together when a storm knocks out their power. How better to pass the time than by trying to scare one another? Seventy-five percent of the film is literally just the two of them telling stories to each other, and it’s wonderful. For a film to be this thrilling without relying on special effects, jump scares, or buckets of blood is amazing. For it to be legitimately funny is even better. If you haven’t seen this one and you like horror/comedies, get thee to Shudder right now and check it out. 

For those interested, a complete ranked list of every 2020 movie I’ve seen is on Letterboxd. Next time I’ll step back a year further to 2019. Eventually I’ll loop back and look at 2021 again.

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. He spent entirely too much of 2020 at home, like everybody else did, and watching YouTube videos, like everybody else with a toddler did.

Spider-Man: No Way Home – A review

At this point, movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have sort of a unique task. They not only have to work as standalone movies, or installments in their individual franchise, but they also need to feel as though they contribute to the greater narrative of the MCU. They’ve struggled with that a bit this year. Black Widow wasn’t a bad movie, but it felt like an extended deleted scene with backstory they forgot to include to set up what’s coming next. Shang-Chi was a great standalone adventure film, but the elements that connected it to the larger MCU felt somewhat forced. Eternals… well, I haven’t actually seen Eternals yet. 

But then there was Spider-Man: No Way Home, a film that had the unenviable task of advancing the MCU, closing off the first Tom Holland Spider-Man trilogy, and providing a sense of closure for the entire Spider-Man movie franchise to date. It sounds almost impossible. But it succeeded almost flawlessly. 

First, the MCU stuff, since that’s quickest. Since WandaVision, Loki and What If? worked to solidify the concept of the Multiverse, and since we know that’s where the next MCU movie (Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness) is going, this film feels like a crucial element. It shows us the consequences of messing around with this stuff, shows us how dangerous it can be, and that’s necessary for what we know is coming, especially since the show that previously drove this point home the most (What If?) is probably the one that was viewed by the fewest people, as some snobs would dismiss it as “just a cartoon.” 

I’ve been a fan of Tom Holland’s Spider-Man from his first appearance in Captain America: Civil War. He’s got a youthful energy that perfectly fits the character in his early days, and after the way the previous two iterations of the character both fizzled out, I was ready for a new take. And we got it – this was a novice Spider-Man in a world of seasoned superheroes, something we hadn’t seen before. We got Tony Stark to serve as a mentor, which made a logical sense, but also positioned Spider-man in a place unlike any other version of the character. And we got new versions of characters we’ve known for years that fit this new version. I was really glad, back then, that they did not see the need to start with yet another origin story. (We all know how it happens, people. There are three things I never need to see again: Krypton exploding, Thomas and Martha Wayne getting gunned down, and Peter Parker getting bitten by a spider.) With this installment though, I realize that we have gotten an origin story. Everything we’ve seen from this character so far has been about shaping and assembling the Spider-Man of the MCU into the person he truly must be. 

Homecoming was about learning to be a hero. Peter had to accept who he was and learn that tools and powers are secondary to the person inside, that it’s the person who must be the hero and not the suit. Far From Home was about learning to be your own kind of hero. With Tony Stark dead, Peter struggled with this urge the universe seemed to have to use him as a replacement, before ultimately rejecting it and realizing he needed to be his own man.

No Way Home is about the cost of being a hero.

Spoilers begin here.If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want it to be spoiled, stop reading secure in the knowledge that I thought this movie kicked ass. 

After the events of Far From Home, Peter’s identity has been revealed to the world. In an effort to get that genie back into the bottle, he turns to Dr. Strange for help. Strange attempts to cast a spell to wipe the knowledge of Peter’s double identity from the world, but when Peter starts trying to pick and choose who gets to remember him, the spell is mangled and disrupted, allowing incursions from the multiverse of other people who knew Peter Parker is Spider-Man. It starts with villains who faced other versions of the hero in the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield films, and it’s here that the film really starts to shine.

I won’t get super detailed here, since if you kept reading past the spoiler warning I’m going to assume you already saw this movie and know what I’m talking about. The best thing with the villains was Alfred Molina’s Dr. Octopus. Back in Spider-Man 2, he was painted as a tragic villain, a good person corrupted by technology gone wrong. In this film, Peter not only repairs the damage, but allows the good man that was Otto Octavius to return and redeem himself. Jamie Foxx’s Electro similarly gets an arc – not exactly one of redemption, but of realization that he sorely needed. Sandman and Lizard don’t get as much development, but each is at least afforded an opportunity to go home as normal humans and potentially live normal lives.

Willem DaFoe’s Green Goblin remains the nastiest, bloodthirstiest villain in any Spider-Man movie, and is responsible for the most sincerely shocking moment of the film: the death of May Parker. While presumably this universe still had a Ben Parker (there are moments in the previous films that allude to a tragedy that we have to assume was his death), it is May who grounds Peter and gives him that famous lesson that Stan Lee first wrote back in 1962. (You know which one, I’m not gonna repeat it here… but it’s worth pointing out that this is the first time that they actually got the wording right). It’s May’s heart and compassion that fuels Peter Parker. And it is May’s death at the hands of the Goblin that sets up the magnificent ending of this film and this trilogy.

We’ll come back to Tom Holland, but let’s not forget our other two heroes: Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. Maguire’s series ended relatively peacefully: he and Mary Jane were together and the villains were defeated. This film blessedly chooses not to hit the reset button on this: although things haven’t always been easy, Tobey/Peter tells us that they’ve managed to make it work. His moment of redemption comes when he saves his younger counterpart, Tom/Peter, from killing Norman Osborn. Tobey/Peter has failed twice to save someone from dying on the point of that damned Goblin Glider, and in preventing Norman’s death this time, he gets the closure he needs.

Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man, however, ended at a point of anguish, trying to get back in the saddle after the death of Gwen Stacy, a death he blames himself for. Since his last film he’s grown darker, he tells us he “stopped pulling punches” and doesn’t have time for “Peter Parker stuff” anymore. In the scenes where the three Peters interact (which, by the way, are some of the most wonderfully comedic, heartfelt, and sincere scenes in the entire film) it’s Andrew/Peter who is the most self-deprecating, but in a way that feels like he’s truly torturing himself instead of just cracking wise like he did in his own films. 

But he, too, is saved by this movie. When the MCU MJ topples from the Statue of Liberty and the Goblin stops Tom/Peter from saving her, it’s almost exactly the same thing that killed Gwen, it’s the death he caused, it was all his fault… but where before Andrew/Peter suffered the most tragic moment of his life, this time he saves the day. The look on his face when he lands holding a living, breathing MJ instead of a dangling corpse says everything – the pain, the anguish, the self-hatred is finally being released. It’s magnificent, it’s a moment where you break down with joy because finally, finally, he can forgive himself.

Then there’s Tom Holland. His Peter Parker started all this because he was trying to have everything, trying to make his life perfect, and that’s not possible. After suffering the most tragic loss of his life, he accepts his mistake and makes the greatest sacrifice – wiping the knowledge of Peter Parker from everybody. MJ, Ned, Happy Hogan, Nick Fury, the Avengers, even Dr. Strange who is casting the spell now has no memory of Peter Parker. He is utterly, completely alone, There is literally “no way home.” And he knows this before he makes the call, because it’s the only way to save everyone.

“Because that’s what we do.”

This movie hits almost every beat. The performances are great, the dialogue is witty, the themes are strong and the construction is magnificent. And somehow, despite the tragedy, it ends on a point of hope, with Peter making his own suit – not one whipped up by Stark Tech or upgraded by Otto Octavius – but a simple suit that takes cues from his “brothers” and, consequently, is the single most comic book-accurate Spider-Man costume ever used in a live action film, finally showing us who he is. No more apprenticeship, no more Stark tech, no more relying on other people. He may be all alone now, but his adventure is just beginning.

And my goodness, we can’t wait to see where it goes. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. He is not, strictly speaking, capable of doing “whatever a spider can,” but he DID learn how to reheat french fries in his air fryer.

Bye-Bye, Box Office

Movies are changing, and I’m not sure how to feel about it.

Box office numbers don’t mean what they used to mean. Take the Steven Spielberg remake of West Side Story, a movie that is getting massive acclaim both from critics and audiences, but is struggling to sell tickets. In its first weekend, the film made a little more than $10 million domestically. Now to a lot of us, ten million dollars is a fortune, a life-changing amount of money. But for a movie directed by the most popular director in the world with a beloved and recognizable IP and released in the lucrative December frame by a studio that is now owned wholly by the Walt Disney Corporation, Shadow Government, and Dairy-Free Frozen Dessert Emporium, it seems like a disaster.

But how much does the box office actually matter anymore?

Like so much in our lives, the pandemic has caused a massive, seismic shift in movies, and like so much in our lives, I don’t think it’s going to go back to what it was. Let’s look at 2019, the last pre-pandemic year. What were the highest-grossing domestic movies? According to Box Office Mojo, and rounded to the nearest million, they were:

  1. Avengers: Endgame ($858 million)
  2. The Lion King ($564 million)
  3. Toy Story 4 ($464 million)
  4. Frozen II ($430 million)
  5. Captain Marvel ($426 million)
  6. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker ($390.7 million)
  7. Spider-Man: Far From Home ($390.5 million)
  8. Aladdin ($356 million)
  9. Joker ($334 million)
  10. It Chapter Two ($212 million)

(Side note: Anyone else notice that the top eight movies that year were all Disney or, in the case of Spider-Man, a Disney co-production? That’s crazy.)

Again, these numbers are domestic, not worldwide, as my point is mostly about the American movie business. If someone wants to examine global numbers and add to the discussion, I welcome their input, but I’m doing one thing at a time. Anyway, 2019 is a little bit of an outlier, as Endgame was the culmination of a decade-long storyline and resolved the threads of 23 movies, so it was a sort of once-in-a-lifetime event. However, it’s still part of the blockbuster machine that studios (especially Disney) were pushing so heavily at the time. By contrast, the highest grossing movie of 2021 so far is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings at $225 million. It was never going to make Avengers numbers, of course, as it’s a fairly obscure Marvel character and doesn’t have any huge stars in the cast, but the fact that this year’s number ONE would be NUMBER TEN on the 2019 list is pretty astonishing. 

Obviously, the major factor here is the pandemic. A lot of people are still reluctant to go to movie theaters. A lot of theaters are still limiting attendance to prevent crowds. A lot of theaters never reopened at all. So it was inevitable that the box office was going to be down this year. But it’s not that people aren’t watching movies anymore, it’s that the way we watch movies has changed. When the pandemic hit, moviegoing shifted to a streaming model in a huge way. Studios had movies that cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make sitting on the shelf with no way to recoup their investment, so something had to change. That change, for many companies, was making major releases day-and-date on video on demand or on streaming services, and while that factor is evolving now that theaters are back, it is not returning to what it was. 

The practice of putting a film out on VOD or streaming instead of theaters has been around for a while, particularly with smaller companies or studios. For the likes of Disney and Warner Brothers to do it, though, was a major shift. A few different things were tried. Disney had their “premiere access,” where you could pay an extra thirty bucks to watch a new release on Disney+ before the movie was available to those peasant subscribers who were only paying the studio’s regular monthly charge for the service. Warner Brothers took the bold choice to put every major release for the year on its HBO Max service for a month starting the same day it hit theaters. Both Paramount  and Universal also experimented with putting theatrical releases on their streaming services (Paramount+ and Peacock, respectively) on the same day they went to theaters. That’s not going to stay exactly the same next year, but it won’t be what it used to be either. Disney, Warner Brothers and Universal have all announced that in 2022, theatrical films will hit their streaming services 45 days after their theatrical release (another format experimented with this year). For those of us who used to wait six to twelve months for a VHS tape to come out after a movie left the theaters, this is enormous. Waiting an entire year to watch a movie… that’s too much. Grab the kids, Sondra, we’re going to the theater. But waiting just a month and a half? In a lot of cases, people consider that doable. 

I don’t think that movie theaters are ever going to go away. Studios still make too much money from them, plus it still carries a degree of prestige that you don’t get by going straight to VOD. But the box office numbers don’t mean what they used to anymore either. Earlier today, I heard one of my students ask another if she had seen Disney’s newest animated movie, Encanto, and she replied that she was waiting for it to hit Disney+ (which it is scheduled to do on Christmas Eve). How can we measure exactly what that mindset did to Encanto’s box office? Similarly, there’s no way of telling how many people have actually seen Shang-Chi, because it hit Disney+ 45 days after it was in theaters, and a lot of people (myself included) waited and watched it then. And to bring things back to West Side Story, which is where you may remember I actually started, how many people figured that it would be on Disney+ soon enough, so why rush to the theater?

We can look at ticket sales and DVD sales, but the streaming services notoriously refuse to release their numbers, except for rare occasions where you get a braggadocious and often vague announcement like “More people have watched Generic Christmas Movie #12 in the first 19.6 hours than any other generic Christmas movie in Netflix history!” Obviously somebody is watching these things, because otherwise the studios wouldn’t keep making them, but how many? Who? How is the investment recouped? It’s a mystery. But however it’s working, it’s working, and it’s cutting the box office charts off at the knees.

This paradigm shift causes mixed emotions in me. On the one hand, as I’ve said before, I treasure the movie theater experience, and I miss it terribly, since the circumstances of both my life and the world in general have made it a premium instead of a constant. On the other hand, the greater availability of movies is a good thing too, and I think it’s possible that this shift may even be the salvation of mid-level movies that have been dying out as studios pursue the blockbuster and shove everything that doesn’t fall into that category into a box where the budget is pennies and every minute of exposure is a bloody fight for survival against every other microbudget feature made that year. Plus, it would be great if people stopped looking at box office receipts as a measure of quality instead of what it actually is – a measure of how much money a film made. The two things are not the same. And once people finally realize THAT, we’ll start working on convincing them that stupid Rotten Tomatoes score is meaningless, too. 

I’m not trying to predict anything here. I’m not smart enough for that. But I think we can all recognize that things for the movie business are changing – in fact, that they have no choice but to change – and I think it’s going to be very interesting to see what permutations it goes through before it eventually settles down again. 

Blake M. Petit is a writer, teacher, and dad from Ama, Louisiana. His current writing project is the superhero adventure series Other People’s Heroes: Little Stars, a new episode of which is available every Wednesday on Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. The last movie he got to see in a theater was Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and he’s damn glad that he did.

What makes a Christmas movie?

The movie that launched a thousand arguments.

Over the last few years, as the Die Hard debate reached peak internet meme status, there seems to have been some degree of confusion as to what constitutes a Christmas movie. “Well if Die Hard is a Christmas movie,” says some joyless homunculus, “then so does Lethal Weapon! So does Gremlins! So does Batman Returns!”

To which I reply, “Yeah, okay.”

To my way of thinking, there are three qualifications for being a Christmas story, and any film which matches at least TWO of them can rightly be called a Christmas movie. These qualifications are:

  1. The film must primarily be set during the Christmas season. The vast majority of great Christmas movies have their climax on Christmas Eve, but any time in the stretch from post-Thanksgiving until New Year’s qualifies. The key word here is “primarily.” A film that has only one scene at the holidays, such as Toy Story or several Harry Potter movies, does not meet this qualification, no matter what the Freeform network tries to tell you. The classic It’s a Wonderful Life sneaks in because, although large parts of the movie are non-Christmas flashbacks, the framing sequence and the entirety of the film’s action take place on Christmas Eve. In a fantasy setting where Christmas would not logically exist, I will accept as substitute their local equivalent, such as Hogswatch (Hogfather) or Life Day (The Star Wars Holiday Special). 
If we don’t see Santa, does it still count?
  1. The film must include traditional Christmas figures in a prominent role. These figures include but are not limited to Jesus (remember him?), Santa Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, and Krampus. The figure does not necessarily have to be the protagonist to qualify, but they must feature in a large way. In Ernest Saves Christmas Santa is a supporting character, whereas in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street he never appears on screen, but as the story is about Big Bird’s quest to discover how Santa enters a home with no chimney, it still meets this requirement. Interestingly, this qualification can be applied to a film retroactively, if it becomes beloved as a holiday classic. Upon their original release neither the Grinch nor Jack Skellington would have been considered “traditional” Christmas characters, but nobody would dispute their status today. 
Yep. It counts.
  1. A film must feature one of the traditional Christmas themes, such as love, hope, generosity, faith, redemption, family, or fear. Yes, fear. What, did you think that line in the song about “scary ghost stories” is just a throwaway? Before Halloween grew into the holiday it is today, scary stories were a Christmas tradition. It is no coincidence that the most re-told Christmas story of all time is about four ghosts trying to scare a miser straight. This is also the reason horror movies such as Silent Night, Deadly Night are acceptable as Christmas films. (If you’re into that sort of thing. If you don’t like horror movies, there’s no requirement that you watch them.)

So there’s our litmus test. Pick a movie and ask yourself if it fits at least two of these qualifications. If it does, it’s a Christmas movie. Some examples:

  • A Christmas Story.  About a family at Christmastime with a main character hoping for a special gift from Santa. Meets all three qualifications.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life. As mentioned before, it sneaks in on #1, and as a tale of redemption, meets #3.
  • Any traditional retelling of A Christmas Carol meets all three qualifications. It takes place on Christmas Eve, it’s the story of Scrooge’s redemption, and the story is so universally known that Scrooge and the ghosts all count as traditional characters, even if interpretations of them vary significantly. Most non-traditional versions, such as Scrooged or A Flintstones Christmas Carol also qualify.
  • Home Alone. Set at Christmas, with its major character arc being the redemption of a family (focusing on a child and his mother) with a strained relationship. Try not to think too hard about the fact that they had to re-learn the same dang lesson the next year.
  • Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. Meets #1 and 2. I will not venture to make an argument that this film has anything that counts as a “theme.”
  • The Sound of Music. While inarguably a classic film, the only qualification it meets is #3, so sorry, it’s not a Christmas movie. Please remove “My Favorite Things” from your holiday playlist immediately. 
It’s got a guy in a red suit that can fly around the world…
  • Shazam! Set at Christmastime (the climax, in fact, takes place at an actual Christmas fair), with a surprisingly strong message about the family you choose rather than the family you’re born with. It’s a dark horse candidate, but I say this superhero film counts as a Christmas movie. 
  • Die Hard. The argument that started it all, but honestly, I don’t even know why there’s a question. Set at Christmas, and features the redemption of John McClane as well as the film’s true hero, Sgt. Al Powell. Set up your gingerbread  Nakatomi Tower, it counts.
  • Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny. The film is expressly set five days before Christmas and features Santa Claus, as well as other holiday figures such as the Ice Cream Bunny, Thumbelina, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry… Finn? Look, this movie is a brain-torturing mess and watching it should never be attempted without the assistance of Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett, but it still technically qualifies.
  • Miracle on 34th Street. Goes from Thanksgiving until Christmas, it’s all about faith and family, and it stars Santa Claus. Boom, boom, boom, done.
It’s surprising how close this one is.
  • Holiday Inn. This 1942 classic almost doesn’t make it. While it is undeniably a love story, it time skips to several holidays over the course of the year. I say it meets standard #1 because it both begins and ends at Christmastime. It also gets bonus points for giving us the classic song “White Christmas,” 12 years before the movie was kinda-sorta remade with that title in a version that is more clearly a Yuletide film.
  • Any Hallmark/Lifetime/Netflix movie about a no-nonsense businesswoman who finds love with a small town boy and his adorable dog and/or child at the holidays qualifies. Go ahead and cue ’em up.
  • Avatar. This meets none of the qualifications. That was stupid, why did you ask?

So there you have it, your litmus test for Christmas movies. You’ll notice this test says nothing about the quality of any such movie (I’m lookin’ at you, Ice Cream Bunny), just whether it has enough Christmas flavor to count in your yuletide marathon. Hope this was helpful!

Feedback? Thoughts? I would love to hear from you on my Facebook Page!

What I Watched In… May 2018

Armstrong

Favorite of the Month: Armstrong (2016)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Rear Window (1998), D
  2. Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973), D-
  3. THX 1138 (1971), C+
  4. Have Rocket — Will Travel (1959), C-
  5. X-Men (2000), B-
  6. Megamind (2010), B+
  7. The Mask (1994), B-
  8. Spider-Man 2 (2004), B+
  9. Wall-E (2008), A
  10. Popeye Meets the Man Who Hated Laughter (1972), D+
  11. Superman II (1980), A-
  12. X2: X-Men United (2003), B+
  13. Peelers (2016), D+
  14. Spider-Man 3 (2007), C-
  15. Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World (2010), D+
  16. Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006), A
  17. Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel (2013), B+
  18. X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), D
  19. Armstrong (2016), B+
  20. The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), B-
  21. Superman III (1983), C+

What I Watched In… April 2018

Avengers-Infinity War

Favorite of the Month: Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Sing (2016), B+
  2. Star Kid (1997), B-
  3. The Phantom (1996), C+
  4. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), A+
  5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), A-
  6. Gen 13 (2000), C-
  7. JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time (2014), B-
  8. Superman: the Last Son of Krypton (1996), B+
  9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), B+
  10. Ant-Man (2015), B+
  11. Captain America: Civil War (2016), A+
  12. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl (2005), D-
  13. Ready Player One (2018), A
  14. Doctor Strange (2016), B+
  15. Dinosaurus! (1960), C-
  16. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017), A-
  17. Some Like it Hot (1959), A-
  18. Forbidden Planet (1956), B+
  19. The Spirit (2008), F
  20. The Pumaman (1980), D; MST3K Riff, A-
  21. Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953), B
  22. Superman (1978), A+
  23. Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), A-
  24. Comic Book Super Heroes Unmasked (2003), B
  25. Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), A
  26. Short Circuit (1986), B
  27. Compliance (2012), B+
  28. Superargo and the Faceless Giants (1968), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  29. Avengers: Infinity War (2018), A
  30. Phantom Boy 92015), B+
  31. The Mark of Zorro (1940), B+

What I Watched In… March 2018

Thor-Ragnarok

Favorite of the Month: Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), C
  2. Mute (2018), C-
  3. Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
  4. The Incredible Hulk (2008), B-
  5. The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), B
  6. Godzilla’s Revenge (1969), F
  7. Spookers (2017), C
  8. Iron Man 2 (2010), B+
  9. Turok: Son of Stone (2008), C
  10. Thor (2011), B+
  11. Escape From L.A. (1996), C-
  12. Guardians of Oz (2015), C+
  13. Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), A
  14. The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) B
  15. Thor: Ragnarok (2017), B+
  16. A Futile and Stupid Gesture (2018), B
  17. Animal House (1978), B+
  18. The Avengers (2012), A
  19. Constantine (2005), D
  20. Lego DC Comics Super Heroes: The Flash (2018), B
  21. The Boy in the Plastic Bubble (1976), D; RiffTrax Riff, B+
  22. Lean on Me (1989), B+
  23. Iron Man 3 (2013), B+
  24. Terror Out of the Sky (1978), D-
  25. The Mad Magician (1954), C
  26. The Ritual (2018), B
  27. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), B+
  28. Thor: The Dark World (2013), C+
  29. Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), B-
  30. The Prince of Egypt (1998), A-
  31. Spider-Man (2002), B
  32. Here Comes Peter Cottontail (1971), B-

 

What I Watched In… February 2018

black panther poster

Favorite of the Month: Black Panther (2018)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Groundhog Day (1993), A+
  2. Ants (1977), D
  3. Night of the Living Dead (1969), A
  4. Thor: Tales of Asgard (2011), B-
  5. The Apple (1980), F; RiffTrax Riff, A
  6. The Lion King (1994), A
  7. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), B+
  8. The Emoji Movie (2017), F
  9. It’s an Adventure, Charlie Brown (1983), B
  10. Black Panther (2018), A-
  11. Iron Man (2008), A
  12. Much Ado About Nothing (1993), B+
  13. A Charlie Brown Celebration (1982), A-
  14. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged (2000), A-

 

What I Watched In… January 2018

split

Favorite of the Month: Split (2017)

In the interest of full disclosure (and to generate a little content here) I thought I’d present a regular tally of what movies I managed to see in the previous month. Some of them I’ve written or talked about, most of them I haven’t. This list includes movies I saw for the first time, movies I’ve seen a thousand times, movies I saw in the theater, movies I watched at home, direct-to-DVD, made-for-TV and anything else that qualifies as a movie. I also choose my favorite of the month among those movies I saw for the first time, marked in red. Feel free to discuss or ask about any of them!

  1. Batman and Harley Quinn (2017), B-
  2. Fast & Furious 6 (2013), B
  3. Lethal Weapon (1987), B+
  4. Robocop (1987), B+
  5. Dr. Cyclops (1940), C
  6. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (1956), B+
  7. Star Trek: First Contact (1996), A
  8. Hercules Unchained (1959), D; MST3K Riff, B+
  9. The Little Unicorn (2002), D-; RiffTrax Riff, B
  10. Samurai Cop (1991), F; RiffTrax Riff, A-
  11. Unbreakable (2000), A-
  12. Split (2017), B+
  13. The Howling (1981), C+
  14. Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters (2017), B
  15. Prom Night (1980), C
  16. All-Star Superman (2011), A+
  17. Merlin: The Return (2000), D; RiffTrax Riff, B
  18. Godzilla Raids Again (1955), C
  19. Scooby-Doo and Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2018), B-
  20. Mothra Vs. Godzilla (1964), B+
  21. Babylon 5: The Gathering (1993), B+