The five best movies for your holiday grief

Grief, they say, has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Since “they” is Wikipedia, and since I just watched a lineup of five Christmas movies that managed to mirror that psychological construct, I would like to take you on a journey. A journey through five lighter-than-Hallmark holiday films (which you must watch in order or it won’t work!) that will induce a state of festive despondency and then completely eradicate it, leaving you gleeful and giddy.

You can do this any time of the year. 2020 has been a spiral of cosmic horror out of a Junji Ito manga; who can say what the future holds? Enjoy this watchlist whenever!

(This will be fun, I promise!)

Stage 1: Denial

Hollywood Elevator Pitch: Basic woman and Jewish dude must teach each other their holiday traditions for Reasons. Then they fall in love!

My inner monologue: This will be fine. It’ll be cute! It’s, like, multicultural. If I watch this, I’ll learn something. Not like that basic woman, though. She’s definitely not the audience stand-in for me … right?

Flawed premise of the movie: Because our protagonist, whom we shall call Basic, wears a red blazer like a Realtor, a major client at the toy company where she works in the marketing department assumes two things. One is correct. The other is not.

Assumption #1: She is “an expert in the holidays,” whatever that means. This is correct. She is obsessed with “the holidays,” which Basic Folks know means Christmas (but not the overtly religious version! That’s for Kirk Cameron movies.)

Assumption #2. She’s Jewish. Or possibly, that if you’re an expert in “the holidays,” that naturally includes Hanukkah. This is incorrect. She knows not of the Festival of Lights. She is Basic. All she knows is fruitcake and wreaths and aesthetic crap like that.

What I learned: How to pronounce sufganiyot. Except … not really. The Love Interest and Basic both mumbled the name of this delectable Hanukkah delight through mouthfuls of the same. Click the sufganiyot link above, by the way. You’ll get a recipe for these jelly donuts from the most basic of basic shiksas!

Legitimately funny parts: The Love Interest gave Basic advice. She was offended. She stormed out. Alone, he gazed at the Christmas tree she had taught him all about. “Why did I say that?” he sighed at the tree. Then he added, “I’m talking to a tree.”

Basic cooked awful-looking latkes for the first time. She offered them to her basic boyfriend (the villain of the movie, of course) saying, “You can be my guinea pig!” He uneasily replied, “They look like guinea pigs.” It’s true! That’s exactly what they looked like.

The Love Interest maneuvered Basic to stand beneath a suggestive sprig of greenery hanging from his ceiling. They stared meaningfully into each other’s eyes. With utter solemnity, she informed him, “That’s parsley.” They did not kiss.

Most horrifying moment: The reveal of the prototype of a toy that Basic created to pitch to the major client at his Hanukkah party. It was literally a naked Ken doll with a scrap of fabric wound around his … stocking stuffers. It was a success. That was the moment my denial was shattered and I realized nobody involved in this movie — not the screenwriter, director, prop designer, actors, nobody — had done any research outside of googling the “ Baruch Atah Adonai” blessing, which is far less effort than I put into my similarly themed book, The Drowned Town (free to you; my holiday gift to everyone year-round!)

Where the Black folks are: Dressed as Dickensian paupers, caroling for rich white folks outside their McMansion.

Shot in Canada level: 10 out of 10.

Level of chemistry between leading man and woman: Zero. The Love Interest reads as gay (and vaguely Canadian). He’s pleasant enough, but as presented on screen, he seems to have no romantic interest in Basic. If this had been framed as a “falling in friendship” movie, I’d have been there for it all the way. But it wasn’t. Even their obligatory kiss at the end of the movie, occasioned by real mistletoe, read more like a gay best buddy kissing his lady friend in a lighthearted, obliging, dry, not entirely grossed out but REALLY not feeling it way.

Denial stage worked through: I hope those two crazy kids remain friends for many years, and that both meet the man of their dreams.

Stage 2: Anger

Hollywood elevator pitch: The Hatfields and the McCoys, but make ’em Christmas tree farmers. Then they fall in love!

My inner monologue: God, I hate this movie! I hate all the characters! I hate them so much! I just wanna punch them all in their stupid punchable faces!

Flawed premise of the movie: That it’s outlandishly odd that two Christmas tree farms would exist next door to one another out in rural farm country dominated by monoculture agriculture. Hey, The Spruces and The Pines, I’d like to invite you to come visit me. We’ll hop in my car and drive just a few miles from my house. What do you see? EIGHT Christmas tree farms next door to each other. This is normal, not an automatic trigger for a Montague-Capulet rivalry scenario. It actually benefits the farmers because the location is known to consumers to have That Thing they’re looking for, so none of them have to advertise.

Necessary backstory: Our protagonist is a basic girl home for the holidays from the University of College. We shall again call her Basic. Her last name is either Spruce or Pine. I don’t remember. I don’t care! It’s stupid. She is incapable of smiling with her mouth open. That tight-lipped, smug, sarcastic smirk grew more and more infuriating as the film dragged on. The love interest is a big-toothed Texan cousin of the other family, on hand to help for the holidays. He is 100% a spree-killer. He’s Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde fame. In contrast to Basic, he constantly flashed toothy, shit-eating grins at the most inappropriate moments. He proudly boasted that he worked as a used car salesman back in the Lone Star state. Now you understand his wickedness.

There’s also an unexplained bear of a man called Bear that might be Basic’s brother or cousin. He’s the only good thing in this movie.

What I learned:

How to tie a Christmas tree to the top of a car.

That pine needle tea is a real thing, not something made up for the cavemen to drink in The Clan of the Cave Bear.

Legitimately funny part: Tex Whitechompers finds an anonymous gift on his doorstep. It contains two batteries taped to a card reading, “Gift not included.” The best part? It turns out that this is not a flirty maneuver by Basic, but a bit of trolling from Bear! I would watch an entire movie about Bear.

Most horrifying moment: Basic’s dead mother had a glamour headshot of herself in her own bedroom. Who does that? And her from-beyond-the-grave voiceover as Basic’s grandpa-dad read her sentimental letters sounded as prim and emotionless as a corporate lawyer giving a deposition. Also, it turns out she’s the reason for the blood feud between the Spruces and Pines, who were once inseparably close families. Dead mom was clearly a monster. Yet only I, and I alone, realized it. This was frustrating as hell.

Where the Black folks are: Rolling up to Grinny McHouston’s cash register, dressed in full army fatigues immediately after landing from whatever war zone he’d been deployed to. This is just so Tooths O’Buckteeth could shake his hand and intone a tediously jingoistic, “Thank you for your service, support the troops” bit of U.S. Army recruitment propaganda. It was gross.

Shot in Canada level: 8.5 out of 10

Level of chemistry between leading man and woman: 2 out of 10. But only because they were equally matched in loathsomeness.

Anger stage worked through: Every actor in this movie, except the guy playing Bear, had one facial expression. Only one! For every single scene in the entire movie. Just one. One! It’s infuriating! It’s a cast of Backpfeifengesichts!

Stage 3: Bargaining

Hollywood elevator pitch: An ambitious career woman must open a hotel in her hometown in just three weeks; her childhood sweetheart doesn’t want that damned hotel in his town. Then they fall in love!

My inner monologue: This is going to be about an unlikable couple struggling to run some tiresomely quaint hotel during Christmas, with a bunch of insipid romantic entanglements related to the guests, or some such garbage. Please, oh please, prove me wrong, Christmas Hotel!

Flawed premise of the movie: The premise is … flawless! A small town that makes its money as a Christmas destination doesn’t want a big chain hotel to open because it’ll run the local B&Bs and restaurants out of business. But the protagonist must open it because it’s her ticket to her dream job in Rome. High stakes, realistic character motivations, a solid plot. Color me pleasantly shocked!

What I learned: Absolutely nothing! It was wonderful.

Legitimately funny parts: Too many to count. Here are the top five:

1. Our protagonist, who is not even close to basic, has confided in her father that she and the love interest just can’t seem to connect. Her dad replies, “Like two ships passing in the wind.” The protagonist and I simultaneously frowned in puzzlement. Then she quipped, “It’s night, Dad.”

2. The protagonist is learning Italian to prepare for her dream job in Rome. Her boss is one of the few white folks in the movie. The boss’ name is Bianca, which is Italian for “white.” This was never pointed out, I just suddenly realized it. Nice touch, Christmas Hotel. Very sly.

3. The local newspaper runs a story about the big chain hotel coming to town, which is weirdly spelled “Wyndsor.” The newspaper is called the “Tymes” Another sly touch, Christmas Hotel … or should I say, Chrystmas Hotel?

4. When the love interest quasi-romantically cooks dinner for the protagonist, she enthuses, “This is amazing,” and he replies, “I know.” She gives him a look and he amends, “I mean, thank you.”

5. The love interest puts on a pair of inflatable reindeer horns for Reasons. The protagonist says, “You look ridiculous.” I heard him quip, “I’m horny,” but upon relistening, it turns out he actually said, “That’s the point.” I don’t care — I’ll give that to ‘em! It was hilarious.

Most horrifying moment: Butterscotch eggnog cookies. That sounds revolting.

Where the Black folks are: On the movie poster! Starring as the protagonist! Starring as the love interest! In positions of power for major hotel groups! Owning small businesses! Learning Italian in their spare time so they can take a dream job in Rome! Leading anti-capitalist protests! Living normal lives instead of serving as carolers for suburban jerks or object-lesson Army action figures for Texan assholes. Huzzah!

Shot in Canada level: 5 out of 10. The overall vibe was more small-town California than the Great White (emphasis on white) North of the Denial and Anger films.

Bargaining stage worked through: It’s all gonna be great from here on out. Right, holiday movies?

Stage 4: Depression

Hollywood elevator pitch: Jesus, but sexy. Nobody falls in love.

My inner monologue: Oh hey, a random DVD that I bought on sale after Easter years ago! Why did I buy this? Oh, right — it stars Jeremy Sisto of “Law & Order.” I was heavy into “ Law & Order “ back then. Why not watch this now: this is Jesus’ birthday, after all! It’ll be a festive holiday experience. Plus Jeremy Sisto is handsome.

Flawed premise of the movie: This is not a Christmas movie. I accept that the flawed premise was my own. Shit was dark in 1st century Judea. I don’t have a holly jolly feeling after watching this. I feel glum.

What I learned: Is that Gary Oldman as Pontius Pilate? That guy can play anyone!

Legitimately funny parts: Nada. This movie is solemn and cheerless.

Most horrifying moment: I cut and run before that.

Where the Black folks are: Good question.

Shot in Canada level: 1 out of 10. All is dry and sandy and bleak. O Canada, my neighbor and native-adjacent land, I miss your perky, optimistic Christmas movies so much ….

Depression stage worked through: What is the point of this? Why am I watching holiday movies? What is Christmas? Nietzsche was right. God is dead — they killed Jeremy Sisto. I saw it.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Hollywood elevator pitch: Remember that low-budget horror movie from fifteen years ago, The Gingerdead Man? No, that’s not a typo — it’s ginger dead man. Because he’s dead. But he’s also a cookie. Gary Busey was in it. Gary Busey. He’s … to hell with it. Just watch this.

My inner monologue: Intrepid YouTuber Mista GG made it through the first Gingerdead Man movie. This one’s got the word “passion” in the subtitle. None of the other films in this godforsaken holiday movie playlist had anything resembling passion. Maybe this’ll be hot. Like a gingerdead man fresh from the oven.

Flawed premise of the movie: This movie is without flaws. It is glorious.

Necessary backstory: Gingerdead Man 2: The Passion of the Crust is the sequel to a truly stupid movie by the producer of such B-movies as Puppet Master, Retro Puppet Master (starring s own Greg Sestero), and Laserblast of MST3K fame. Rather than roll out a crusty (heh) follow-up to the original Gingerdead Man, director Silvia St. Croix went all meta on the source material and on producer Charles Band’s own B-movie studio, Full Moon Features.

It’s a lot like Bride of Chucky in that the director, cast and crew seem to have accepted from the start that this was a doomed project with an idiotic premise, and the only thing to do was embrace the stupidity of it so hard that inanity flipped into sheer awesomeness.

The script is way better than it has any right to be. Every lampshaded plot point has a payoff later. Quick edits and quality camera work make the comedy sharper than most satiric sequels. The acting is well above competent. And the directing is shockingly good, carried out by what is clearly an experienced director using a pseudonym (if the barren IMDb page for “ Silvia St. Croix “ doesn’t clue you in, the subplot about skilled Hollywood pros grudgingly donating their time to a struggling producer and his crappy film projects will).

What I learned: A sentient cookie can and should be crucified if it is evil.

Legitimately funny parts: Every part of this movie is funny. Every line, every acting choice, every prop, every weird puppet. It’s hilarious.

The gingerdead man shows up with zero explanation as to how he got in a box of baked goods destined for the craft services table of a B-movie studio. Or who he is. Or why he wants to murder everyone. He’s just … there. Cursing like a sailor and dropping puns as hideous as his crinkly cookie face.

A dying little boy visits the movie studio on a sort of Make-A-Wish outing. He looks like he’s 29 years old. Nobody acknowledges this, they simply treat him like a small child, which only gets funnier as the movie progresses.

The most earnest line delivery I’ve ever heard in my life came when a secondary villain scolded the studio head, in a clear riff on the Puppet Master series, “You can’t kill a possessed imp with an AK-47! You need an exorcist for anything as powerful as a haunted dildo!” It was a jaw-dropping, goofy line delivered with ridiculous sincerity.

But my favorite line came after many, many terrible puns when a character delivered a clever plot twist wrapped in a threat that took the form of an exceptionally lame pun. He then bellowed at the studio head, “You like the bad pun? You should! Coz your movies are filled with them! Seriously!” This was the most meta moment of a film built from meta moments, and it was great.

Most horrifying moment: What the gingerdead man did to that poor stylist … oof.

Where the Black folks are: Hiding out in Christmas Movie, alas.

Shot in Canada level: This thing is way above Canada’s paygrade. It has the bonkers Bosnian fingerprints of The Crows Have Eyes 3: The Crowening all over it.

Acceptance stage achieved: I love the holidays! This really is the most wonderful time of the year!

Originally published at http://the-delve.com on December 25, 2020.

Novelist, journalist, coffee addictist. Books at amazon.com/author/katherineluck

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