For the Semi-Finals of the Holiday Movie Tournament we'll be focusing on two questions and they are different from the first round.
Question 1: What makes this movie a Christmas classic?
Question 2: Why is this movie more of a classic 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!
There are three movies that are synonymous with Christmas. A Christmas Story, Christmas Vacation, and Home Alone. You’ll note the latter is the only one without the benefit of the holiday in its name. Yet the familiarity that Home Alone provides from its set designs to the McCallister family dynamics still manage to make this movie feel like Christmas in every way while still remaining genuine. The McCallisters are not the stereotypical cookie cutter family often portrayed in holiday movies and that quality is what endears them to the viewers, no one’s family is perfect. The humor that drives Home Alone is full of the heart and innocence that embody the season, except for the slapstick finale which is simply hilarity incarnate. For generations now families have cherished this film, specifically during the holiday season, elevating it to the best holiday movie of all time. Home Alone has essentially become a cultural milestone, required viewing, in America at least. References from this movie are littered throughout pop culture in a volume very few other works can claim. It would not be surprising to learn that there are as many references to the Kevin aftershave scene as are there are to “I am your father.” Very rare are the movies that seem to transcend the medium and become almost a part of us, Home Alone is one of those movies. What family gathering would be complete without someone sarcastically reciting Uncle Frank’s classic “look what you did you little jerk?” These lines we share with each other during our intimate family moments are our language and in that way Home Alone has impacted us in ways we aren’t even conscious of. That is why Home Alone is THE Christmas Classic
Gremlins has gift giving, caroling, Christmas lights, Christmas trees, gifts, going to the movies on Christmas day, and going to the bar to catch up with buds. As far as nailing things that people do on Christmas, Gremlins checks off a lot of boxes. What Gremlins does that resonates as a classic, though, is show the connection of family. I live in Austin, Tx; but I grew up in El Paso, Tx. Every year, I travel long distances to visit with my parents. It is something that I have done. It isn’t done out of habit, pressure, or guilt. It is done because being giving with family is at the core what the holiday spirit is about. 2017 has been rough for my folks. Their other son is having trouble with the law, their health is steadily declining, and the dog of 13 years passed away. Despite all that negativity and bad turns, they stick by each other; unwavering in their resolve to get past the current ugliness of their situation. Every family faces these obstacles in one shape or another. In an extension of this fact into metaphor writ large, every family has a few gremlins that they have to contend with. But it is in the holidays that families can come together and celebrate the moment. Gremlins reminds us that it is ok for a family face adversity and hardship. It is ok to be scared about the things we can’t control or even understand. As long as we stick together and be there for another, though, the gremlins of our lives can be managed.
This movie is Home Alone, little else should need to be said to be quite honest but for the sake of decorum I will humor the unfortunate film that is being sized up against it. First of all, Gremlins is from the 1980s and it is primarily centered around puppets, however the foolish creatives did not see it wise to involve the only legendary puppeteer, Jim Henson. Is that even legal? Gremlins likes to pretend it’s a horror/comedy movie but trying to sit on that fence is a hard science and Gremlins’ unwillingness to commit to either leaves it merely a mediocre movie in both categories. Examples like Beetlejuice or Shaun of the Dead lean more on the comedy aspect and Tremors or American Werewolf in London tend more toward horror and all show that this hybrid can work well. However the level of focus required for success in this genre seems to be outside of Gremlins’ filmmakers skillset. It fails to fully achieve horror from the start when they choose to spare cute, lovable, little Gizmo and did not mutate him into the evil Gremlin as originally intended. Had they stuck to that plan, audiences would know fear as the cute creature they just spent the last 30 minutes falling in love with was ripped away from them. A big reason for this is likely merchandising, which would seem a bit hypocritical for a film that fancies itself a critique on holiday consumption. It’s humorous to this day I have never seen a real Turbo Man toy but the surplus of Gizmo plushes I’ve been subjected to remind me of days when franchises were built around toy lines. Gremlins’ attempts at comedy hold up even worse than it’s half hearted “boos” in the name of fear and at times venture closer to racist than they do funny. Any brief moments of “comedy” in this movie are at the expense of others which is an awful message to portray during the season of perpetual hope. From soundtrack to cast, director to sequels inspired Home Alone is in every way a superior motion picture and is lasting cultural experience. Gremlins has evil puppets. Gremlins is good cult classic, a movie that is enjoyable to watch and rewatch but when it comes to holiday classics it is not even playing the same sport as Home Alone much less in the same league.
Home Alone is a lot like Macaulay Culkin himself; initially cute and charming, but as it aged it became this weird grotesquerie that is hard to look at nowadays. Sure, on its face, Home Alone is a holiday movie in that it takes place in the holiday and features holiday decorations. The thing of it is, though, the holidayness of the film is undercut by the problematic class dynamics – something that is a bit of a hallmark of the film’s writer, John Hughes. Every film Hughes has either written or directed champions the perspective of people who are upper-middle class, or at the very least fetishizes it as the default. In The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Beethoven, Hughes centers the film on people who are white, upper-middle class, privileged, or all three. In Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwall’s character is poor and has a blue-collar dad who tries his best to provide – but the thematics of the film reinforce that her only way out of her poverty is to fall in love with a rich white guy. Hughes’ films depict an America where people of color or other classes are window dressing for the lives of the affluent- and Home Alone is not the exception. Every member of the McCallister family is awful. They are selfish, rude, and dismissive of each other; and Kevin is just as bad. Kevin’s point of view, and in turn John Hughes', has an aggressive white upper-middle class paranoia that poor people are coming for them to take their belongings. This can be seen a bit with the Wet Bandits, but it is patently obvious in Kevin’s perspective on his neighbor, Old Man Marley. In the film, Marley is portrayed as being poor. His clothes are greyed out and dotted with holes, his eyes are sunken into his face, and his beard looks like it's wild and frayed. Even though Marley lives on the same street as Kevin, Marley is still portrayed as a filthy and dangerous outsider. It is only at the climax of the film does Kevin realize that Marley is in fact NOT a serial killer; but even then, it's given a mere minute for that realization to actually have time to breathe. Kevin's personal growth in perceiving people other than himself as human is an afterthought.
To contrast, the best analogue to Kevin is the Grinch. Dr. Seuss’ famous character was selfish and rude - all the things that define the McCallister family. The difference, though, is that the Grinch does actionable positive things for the community around him. The Grinch takes an active role in trying to apply the things he learned to better the lives of others. Kevin never does that. Kevin is never imbued with the power of the holiday spirit in the way that holiday movies tend to do. In fact, the state of the McCallister household is considerably worse off since Kevin took control - and its made worse as he fails to even attempt to make his family’s life better once they come back. The holiday spirit is of giving, but Kevin only takes, takes, takes. In contrast, Gremlins’ core family take care of each other. They risk their lives and confront their fears in attempts to keep their family safe. The blue collar Peltzer family begin close knit, and through the fantastic events of a gremlin outbreak, it brings them closer; not just with each other, but with their community as well. Unlike Home Alone, there is not one person in Gremlins who is shitty to another people. Not once does a member of the Peltzer family look down on another person, or make negative assumptions about others. The negative hedonistic tendencies of people are personified in the gremlins; leaving the people who oppose them be an example what of the best in people. The Peltzer family, then, are an embodiment of how we should be to each other. We should be brave. We should be supportive. We should be caring.