Four Christmases (2008)
Written by Matt R. Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, and Scott Moore
Directed by Seth Gordon
I hardly ever enjoy disparaging another fellow Seth, but for Mr. Gordon, I will make an exception. He made quite an entertaining pop documentary in The King of Kong, giving us one of the great villains of the 2000s, in video game veteran Billy Mitchell. And to be fair, I don’t place the blame for this movie squarely on the director’s shoulders. Watching Four Christmases, something was happening in the background that most viewers likely didn’t notice. Even with my attention to detail, it took me a few days after watching the picture for all the pieces to come together. It was a Christmas movie starring Jon Favreau and Mary Steenburgen, and the cartoon level slapstick and the proliferation of cameo performances by well-known faces and…is that Peter Billingsley (A Christmas Story) as a ticket agent? When I saw New Line Cinema distributed the picture, it all suddenly made sense. Four Christmases was an attempt (as ridiculous as this sounds) to squeeze more money from the audience that loved Elf.
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Deck the Halls (2006)
Written by Matt Corman, Chris Ord, and Don Rhymer
Directed by John Whitesell
Surviving Christmas is objectively the worst holiday film I have ever seen. However, Deck the Halls does not lag far behind. What redeems it only the slightest is Danny Devito. Without him, the movie would have been unwatchable. I try not to shit on directors too much; just like actors, movie-making is a job for them, and you often take work you aren’t excited about because it affords you opportunities down the road. However, John Whitesell has just cultivated a career of utter shit. Before directing this Christmas flick, Whitesell gave us such gems as Jamie Kennedy’s Malibu’s Most Wanted and Big Momma’s House 2. You’ll be happy to know that Whitesell was able to keep cranking ’em out and went on to direct Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son. Unfortunately, we face this pedigree when sitting down to watch Deck the Halls.
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The Holiday (2006)
Written & Directed by Nancy Meyers
I don’t really enjoy much of Nora Ephron’s work. It’s just not my taste, but I acknowledge there are things I like. Despite knowing it is such a flawed picture, I have a soft spot for My Blue Heaven. Ephron’s closest contemporary is Nancy Meyers. Both women were gaining steam during the same period, and they made films targeted at women…well, white women. Where Ephron can be playful & inventive, even if it doesn’t always work (see Bewitched), Meyers consistently wallows in indulgent upper-middle-class fluff. I actually went into The Holiday with a moderate amount of open-mindedness. For years, I heard people defend the movie citing the Kate Winslet/Jack Black half of the picture as worthwhile. I like both those performers and decided to include this in my A Very 2000s Christmas series and was looking forward to them.
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The Family Stone (2005)
Written & Directed by Thomas Bezucha
To say The Family Stone is the least bad movie out of the seven I have watched for this series would be accurate, but also not a sign that I enjoyed watching it. I just suffered the least amount during this one. Everything about the story would work better as part of a television series. You have a family dynamic with one person coming from outside, conflict arises, and we get a maudlin sitcom-ish happy ending. The movie is confusing in who this is trying to appeal to as it features incredibly unlikable characters (even the ones we are supposed to like) but then is also wall-to-wall unfunny when it attempts comedy yet also poor at its attempts for pathos.
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Christmas With The Kranks (2004)
Written by Chris Columbus
Directed by Joe Roth
There is an air of nastiness, spitefulness & meanness in the Christmas films of this era. It wasn’t just in the holiday pictures, but if you looked at comedies and action flicks of the period, you find the same simmering hatred of humanity just oozing out of every pore. It could be argued that Chris Columbus is one of the chief architects of this trend. His duology of Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York seeded American holiday cinema with an air of cruelty. But cruelty has always been present in America, especially in our stories. Look at the deluge of racism, misogyny, homophobia, etc., et al., ad infinitum. Americans (and I am one of them) are mean people because of social conditioning under capitalism. Competition supersedes cooperation. Cruelty outweighs kindness.
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Surviving Christmas (2004)
Written by Harry Elfont, Deborah Kaplan, Jennifer Ventimilia, and Joshua Sternin
Directed by Mike Mitchell
It began in 2000. Sony Pictures wanted to develop a film for actress/comedian/director Betty Thomas. By this time, she’d directed films like The Brady Bunch Movie, Howard Stern’s Private Parts, and Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Doolittle. These weren’t ground-breaking movies, but people out there feel compelled to watch at least one of these if they come across it on television. The Brady Bunch Movie is mine. The more the film developed, the more Sony became hesitant to make it and eventually washed its hands of the project. So, Surviving Christmas found its way to Dreamworks. Ms. Buckley also smartly walked away from the movie.
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How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Written by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman
Directed by Ron Howard
Why? This is a question I often ask when going back and looking at older films, especially those adapted from popular IPs. These days it’s surprising when a film playing in the theater isn’t a cash grab on a well-known character or a single piece of an endlessly sprawling cinematic universe. In 2000, we were by no means in a golden age of cinema, but at least you could see something and be surprised by it. For years, Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, had refused to sell the film rights to his children’s books. He’d okayed some cartoon shorts but held fast that he didn’t want movie theaters to be showing bloated versions of his simplistic texts. Then he died in 1991. “Take that, you book-writing bitch!” Hollywood seemed to cackle. By 1998, the boys in LA had convinced Geisel’s widow to sign over the film rights of The Grinch. She stipulated in a letter that whoever plays the Grinch must be of the stature of “Jack Nicholson, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and Dustin Hoffman.” All this makes me want is a Nicholson-led Grinch. Can you imagine?!
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A Madea Christmas (2013)
Written & Directed by Tyler Perry
There are three distinct phases to the Madeaverse that I’ve noticed. From Diary of a Mad Black Woman through Madea’s Big Happy Family, these are mostly stage adaptations featuring predominantly Black casts. Beyond Tyler Perry, there may be one or two “major” Black actors in the production. For instance, Blair Underwood in Madea’s Family Reunion or Angela Bassett in Meet the Browns. Previous to this film was Madea’s Witness Protection, one of the series’s three most financially successful pictures; a budget of $20 million turned into $67 million in box office returns. That film incorporated more white actors (Eugene Levy, Denise Richards, Doris Roberts), which led to the following strange & short era with A Madea Christmas. This was when Perry tried to make movies that would also appeal to white people.
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How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
Written by Dr. Seuss
Directed by Chuck Jones & Ben Washam
This is my favorite of the classic Christmas animated specials. When I was in the middle of my childhood, in 1988, I think that TNT bought the rights to the Grinch and aired it exclusively on their network. As stated before, I grew up without cable television, and so I’m not sure how I saw this special and remember it so well. I’d like to attribute that to how well animated and written the story is, and so it ingrained itself firmly in my memories. The special came back to broadcast in 2000 on The WB and has floated around networks like ABC and its current home NBC.
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Frosty the Snowman (1969)
Written by Romeo Muller
Directed by Arthur Rankin Jr. & Jules Bass
By the end of the 1960s, Rankin-Bass had solidified themselves as one of the major animation companies in North America. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer began their ascent, and in 1969 they had eleven films & animated specials under their belt. This was going to continue into the 1970s but would steadily decline in the early 1980s. When Frosty hit the air, we saw Rankin-Bass at their prime. I would also say this is by far my least favorite of the popular re-aired Christmas specials, but I’ll get more into that later.
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