The Christmas film has evolved throughout the years, from ancient classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street” to more current classics like “Gremlins” and “A Christmas Story.” Stanley Kubrick set his final film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” during the holiday season and littered the film with Christmas trees to accentuate the blues and reds.
These Christmas flicks are not to be missed
Terry Gilliam used it to make his scathing statement on consumerism that much more powerful in his brilliant “Brazil,” and even Stanley Kubrick set his final film, “Eyes Wide Shut,” during the holiday season and littered the film with Christmas trees to accentuate the blues and reds. There have been campy horror films (“Black Christmas”) and religious melodramas (“The Bishop’s Wife”), as well as pitch-black comedies (“Bad Santa”) and ensemble romance films (“Love Actually”). If you ask someone you know what their favourite Christmas movie is, you’re sure to hear one of the above or another classic (there are so many).
If you don’t truly celebrate Christmas since it isn’t a part of your culture, and your insides are a jumble of conflicting emotions at this time of year, remember Nagisa Oshima’s bizarre “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.” It pits two country music superstars against each other: David Bowie plays POW Celliers, and Ryuichi Sakamoto, an electro-musician, makes his acting debut as Japanese captain Yonoi, who becomes enamoured with POW Celliers in a way that violates his bushido code of honour. The spirit of the picture is deeply entrenched in the four-way culture clash that occurs during the Christmas season in the camp between Celliers, Yonoi, Lawrence (Tom Conti), and St. Hara (Takashi Kitano, in his first significant cinema role) when all four men’s lives irreversibly change.
When the intoxicated Hara begs for Lawrence and Celliers to come see him and declares that he is Santa Claus before ordering their release, the film’s most joyful sequence occurs. “Merry Christmas, Lawrence!” he says at the end of the sequence, his first words spoken in English. and Bowie’s response, “bonkers,” might be used to characterise the entire movie. Its acting, direction, photography, and one of the most emotional and creative climaxes to a war film you’ll likely watch make it as clever as it is amusing and magnetic. The sledgehammer of a closing scene between Kitano and Conti, which culminates in that haunting freeze frame of Kitano’s Cheshire-cat grin yelling out: “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence!” while Sakamato’s bravura soundtrack plunges in, is perhaps the most unforgettable of all. While Christmas-themed war films like “Stalag 17” and “A Midnight Clear” are nevertheless terrific in their own right, there’s something special about this supercharged festive riot of culture and passion. (As a result, the Criterion price is more than fair.)
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