For Round 1 of the Holiday Movie Tournament we'll be focusing on two questions.
Question 1: Why is this movie a good movie?
Question 2: Why is this movie better than the one it's up against?
Keep these two questions in mind as you read the arguments set forth by our two contestants and please remember to vote at the end.
Please remember to vote based on the argument presented and not just on which movie you like more!
Listen, I know the cool thing to say about holiday movies is that Die Hard is a low key holiday movie or that Jingle All The Way is a Black Mirror-like prediction of Black Friday culture. Choosing any of those films, though, ignores the one and true holiday movie: Gremlins. Truly the GOAT of holiday movies, Joe Dante's 1984 film is a brutal critique of holiday gift giving and an amazing display of practical effects to boot. Hear me out; Randal, the father of our hero, is looking for a perfect gift for his son. Not satisfied with can be found in department stores, Randal seeks his gift in a store that is more mystical in nature. While at the store, Randall comes across a cuddly creature that seems perfect as a gift. The store clerk is hesitant, but is willing to sell - with a warning to go with it. Sure the characterization of the Chinese store clerk is crazy problematic, but the themes at work serve to be a criticism of the lengths we go to buy, acquire, and consume. Quite literally, an American seeks to buy Chinese products but is set back when the product is potentially hazardous to their health. For every good intention there is in buying a knockoff hoverboard or an off brand action figure, there are exploding batteries and poisonous lead paint. The gremlins themselves are among the best in practical effects from the 80s. It isn't just a few dozen gremlin creatures that are on screen. Rather, there are hundred of unique creatures - each with their own personality. That kind of attention to detail in its creature design is a lost art form, and it is incredible to see onscreen. The film ends where Randall did not want to go to begin with: a department store. If the gremlins are byproducts and reflections of our rampant holiday consumption, the fact that the film kills the alpha gremlin in a department store tries to make the case that the only way to beat the ugly side of consumerism is to consume again. Cynical as that may be, it fits the season. In an era where Black Fridays are littered with examples of actual people trampling others to get a sweet deal on a 4K TV, small green gremlins are not so scary in retrospect.
When it comes to Christmas movies, there isn’t another that epitomizes the season as well as A Christmas Story. It never quite feels like Christmas time until I get my viewing of this movie in. Like most people, I tend to love the same things in my Christmas movies: family, comedy, and the lighthearted kind of magic that comes with the time of year. It’s hard to argue that there’s a more classic Christmas movie than this one, too. To this day, people search high and low to find their very own kitchy “leg lamp” and quote the film year-round. Just say, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” to any friend and they’ll catch your reference immediately. One of the best things about this movie is the humor. I laughed hard as a kid at the antics of Ralphie and his friends, and as I grew up, I realized how many jokes I could now appreciate as an adult, like a swear-mumbling father and the real depth of Ralphie’s “fudge” slip. The film is totally timeless and will definitely keep its place as a classic.
First off, lets be real. Ralphie sucks. No one like Ralphie. No one in the film likes Ralphie. The audience doesn't like Ralphie. Ralphie is the Ken Bone of movie characters. He is the kid who would smell like pee all the time but who would insist on sitting next to you. Upon re-watch, there isn't much to like about Ralphie. He isn't particularly smart or witty. His whole charm is if you are all in on doughy white kids. Perhaps having likable kids films is hard to pull off, but Home Alone managed to launch a career off a small child's charisma. A Christmas Story, though, is void of that personality. Ralphie's comedy of misfortunes is less cute and endearing than they are tedious. Because Ralphie sucks, I tend not to care that he got his tongue stuck on a ice cold metal pole. Instead, it's just another example of him being a complete dweeb. Overall, the film feels like a Coen Brothers movie with none of their characters. Gremlins, on the other hand, pits their principal characters against incredible odds and allows the viewers to root for them - even though the gremlins are so fun to watch. Gremlins rides that line of allowing us to like everyone: bad guys and good.
You may be shocked to hear that I’ve never seen Gremlins all the way through. Yes, I know I’m committing Spielberg heresy by saying so, but it’s true. I got only a quarter of the way through this movie and quickly lost interest. Sure, the little gremlin introduced at first was cute, but the entire introduction to the concept of how this kid ended up with this creature was so vague and overly mystical that I couldn’t care less how the story progressed. The fact that there were strict rules to follow in the keeping of the gremlin totally predicted how the movie would progress from there as well. It also seems entirely strange to me to argue that a movie like this is the best Christmas movie. Sure, Gizmo is a Christmas gift, but other than that, the movie is totally focused on these creatures creating havoc and insanity (at least according to Wikipedia). If I’m going to watch a Christmas movie, give me something that will make me laugh and that I can put on without worrying it will give my kids nightmares. A “comedy horror” genre film filled with violence and demon creatures doesn’t fit that bill for me.