Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The 12 Nights of Christmas-Not Flims



Now then, this is the time of year I look forward to the most! No, not so much because of the holidays, although those are nice. No, the real cause for my excitement is the fact that I usually take the last two weeks off from work, thus commencing a long stretch of doing absolutely NOTHING! Call it a harken back to the days when I was just a school kid and we used to get 3-week recesses, I suppose. My brain is just hard-wired to taking half the month of December off after having done it for most of my life. You know how it is.

For the most part I tend to use this time off to relax. In addition to shunning the office job, I also take a break from my daily workouts and refrain from the pursuit of any task or situation that will cause me stress. So in other words, I basically watch a lot of tv, play a lot of video games, eat a lot of (bad) food I don't normally allow myself to eat during the rest of the year -- and devise movie marathons. 

Oh yeah!!!

This is probably what I associate most with this time of year, watching movies. And not just movies that are out in theaters at the end of the year, although I do make it a point to catch all the Oscar-bait films currently out. I'm talking about home theater viewing, you see? One year I had a Lord of the Rings marathon that took all day and into the wee hours of morning to slog through. But it was so much fun! Another staycation, I binged on Spaghetti Westerns. See what I mean? Oh what fun!

This year, however, I had a different idea for the season's movie marathon. This year I decided to screen, every night of Christmas, a single movie which was released in theaters on or near the holidays. More accurately, these would be movies that I personally saw during the holidays in past years. I stress this part because, as with some of the movies on the list I'm about to provide below, a few titles were released back in October or November of their associated years, but which I didn't get around to catching in theaters until--yup, you guessed it!--my annual end-of-year staycation. In addition to said criteria, these are also movies that were considered really big box office draws at the time. Some of them were even the holiday centerpieces of the year, if you will. The biggest grossing movies ever! And, then, some were only modest successes, but which played big in both my memory and in my heart. Regardless, they all had a hand in capturing the holiday season for me, resonating with me in a major way, and representing some of the best carefree movie "escape" experiences of the season. And for that, I am forever beholden to them.

Yes, yes . . . perhaps I take movies a little too seriously, I guess. But that's me!

And for the record, all of these movies are presented in my living room, on Blu-ray disc, via my PlayStation 3's blu-ray player, and played on my 50-inch Panasonic LCD tv set. In full Dolby Digital or DTS surround sound! It may annoy my neighbors, sure, but I only do this once a year.

And so then, on to the list. I have included the dates each movie debuted in U.S. theaters, as well as their relevant trailers at the end of each description:


The Bimillennial Man's 12 Nights of "Christmas" Films


NIGHT 1 -- 47 Ronin   (Dec. 25, 2013).
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This is a movie that was not very well received by critics at all, but I enjoyed it immensely. Sure, it takes a true Japanese accounting of the now legendary 47 ronin and turns it into a fantasy tale replete with demon witches, giants, and magic--but so are many quintessential Western stories given the same embellishments via Hollywood. And I like Keanu Reeves; he's cool! And he does a very admirable job making his Kai--a "half-breed" outsider adopted by a noble Samurai clan--sympathetic and heroic, as well as romantic. Ever since watching this movie in theaters last year, I haven't been able to get it out of my head. Oh, and did I mention the visuals are absolutely GORGEOUS as well? Take a look from the trailer below:






NIGHT 2 -- Casino Royale   (Nov. 17, 2006).
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Much ado was made about starting up the iconic Bond franchise once more after Pierce Brosnan hung up his remote control car and exited the series several years prior to 2006, but I for one was ready for a change! This movie quickly rose to the top as one of my favorite James Bond outings of them all--third only behind Goldeneye and From Russia With Love. Although, it's probably the one I have the most fun watching, if only for its stunning choreography, breathtaking stunts ... and one very fetching Eva Green as the film's femme fatale, Vesper Lynd. Oh, and that Daniel Craig fellow didn't do such a bad job, either.





NIGHT 3 -- Avatar   (Dec. 18, 2009).
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I'm quite certain this is my favorite film on this list! Aside from the fact that I'm a huge sci-fi film fanatic, at the time this gem was also one of those perfect meldings of director, writing, special effects, and movie-making technology that all came together at the same time to produce something that was a true capital "e" holiday movie-going Event! It has received a lot of criticism for its use of the "White Knight Savior" and "Noble Savage" tropes--as well as ignominiously being dubbed "Dances With Smurfs"--and rightly so, I should add. But at the same time, the story-telling is just so well done from the point of view of this aspiring writer, that I can't help but sit back and be AMAZED! I will always think of the holidays whenever I see this movie playing on tv.




NIGHT 4 -- True Grit   (Dec. 22, 2010).
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I do so love a good, gritty Western. I thought the art had died out with the 90s, however. Not so! The Coen Brothers took a stab at the genre and infused the undertaking with that certain magical, genius touch as only they can pull off. With outstanding performances from Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Matt Damon, and, of course, the immensely talented Hailee Steinfeld as the young and stubborn Mattie Ross, this was a movie almost destined to be a hit. When I saw it in theaters the first time, I practically squirmed in my seat because of how gosh dang-it good it was! Everybody brought their 'A' game and, really, you can't help but enjoy a movie when those involved in it are so earnest and eager to make this something to remember. And I did. It's now one of my favorite Westerns behind Unforgiven and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. And that's saying a lot!




NIGHT 5 -- TLotR: The Fellowship of the Ring   (Dec. 19, 2001).
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I swear I can no longer think of the holiday movie season without now associating it primarily with Middle Earth. Peter Jackson has done this to me! I mean, honestly, I can put every one of these movies on this list--including the recent 3 Hobbit films. But if I'm being really honest here, it all comes back to the first movie. Fellowship was and always will be my favorite of the Lord of the Rings films. To explain to you the excitement I felt when Cate Blanchett's voice as Galadriel opens the movie with a brief narrative history of the Rings of Power . . . well, let's just say I came close to uttering "my preciousssss" aloud there in my seat! This one is something special, to be sure. It introduces you to a world of such vast wonder and magic, and sets you up for one of the most epic adventure tales of all time. Those are some pretty tall accolades for a movie involving plenty of little people with big, hairy feet! But no less well deserved.




NIGHT 6 -- Bram Stoker's Dracula   (Nov. 13, 1992).
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Back when I only knew Keanu Reeves as the most excellent Ted Theodore Logan, there was no way you were about to tell me that he could star in such a seminal horror tale as this, and in period British accent no less! But he did. And although teenaged me went into the theater that December of '92 expecting to have been wasting my time (and hard-earned allowance money), I was not prepared for the visual spectacle and epic story telling I was about to witness. To this day I still use this movie as a cautionary tale for assuming something is going to suck (please excuse the pun) simply because of my preconceived notions concerning the actors involved. I wasn't too sure about Winona Ryder being in it, either, see -- and I actually had a huge crush on her at the time! Of course, the true star of the film is Gary Oldman. Isn't he always? He did double duty playing the heavy make-up laden Count Dracula, as well as his younger, spry persona Prince Vlad Tepes . . . and it was a performance to behold. Damn, I love this dude! And I love this movie. While some may consider it a Halloween film to watch, I'll only screen this one when the days are at their shortest, and the nights at their dreadfully longest. Which makes it the best movie to watch in late December while curled up beneath a blanket on a warm, comfy couch. Try it sometime, trust me.




NIGHT 7 -- I Am Legend   (Dec. 14, 2007).
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As with Dracula above, this movie might seem like something more at home to watch during the spooky month of October. But as you can see from the release date, this one was marketed big for the holiday season. I consider this one of Will Smith's best performances. Heck, he had to carry the majority of the film completely alone as the last man alive on the isle of Manhattan. That's some heavy duty acting right there! I don't know why, but post-apocalyptic movies always resonate so deeply with me. I know: what does that say about me, right? Whether it's the pathos of it all, or just the thought of being alone in such a dangerously hostile environment, I was on the edge of my seat practically the whole way through. To this day I still remember the emotional impact this movie had on me with its bleak landscape and even bleaker outlook on the survival of humanity. And yet, even at the darkest hour there is that one gleam of hope . . .





NIGHT 8 -- Skyfall   (Nov. 9, 2012).
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Yes, another James Bond film. So sue me. But I wouldn't have placed this on the list if, like its predecessor, it didn't have such a strong impact on me. I was going through a very tough time in my life when this came out; coming to grips with some ground shaking realizations about my marriage. Although I was hardly in the mood to watch a movie of all things, I nonetheless found myself at the theater--uncharacteristically alone!--and just begging for some sort of release, albeit temporarily. This movie gave me that escape by virtue of being so damn good. Not only does Daniel Craig give the tour de force performance of his career (his Bond goes through a remarkable range of ups and downs throughout this movie, remember), but we even get to see that hard, enigmatic exterior of the character break as we glean clues to his childhood and family. Something one would have thought unheard of back in the heyday of the Bond franchise. And after the movie was over and I was leaving the theater, I couldn't shake that Adele song out of my head. "This is the end . . ." it began, and because of what I was going through at the time, I couldn't help but feel a profound sense of the prophetic in that echoing refrain. Still, the impact was so great that every Christmas now I remember this movie and the crossroads I had come to in my life when it was released.




NIGHT 9 -- Stargate   (Oct 27, 1994).
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Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and experience this movie for the first time again! The story about an ancient portal to unknown worlds being discovered in the Egyptian desert. It just gets me. What more did a boy like me need to know? I was so there! But like most of the titles on this list, while the film itself may have released earlier, I didn't get around to watching it until I came home from my freshman year away at college for holiday recess. Being sci-fi, of course, and hearing all the hoopla for months from friends, I knew I just had to catch one of the last showings of it at the movies. And boy was I glad I did! This has gone on to become one of my favorite sci-fi films of all time. It was even one of the first actual movies I purchased with my own money on VHS cassette a few months later. Many were the times I watched and rewatched it, either by myself or with various college buddies, over the next few years. It just had everything going for it. Mysterious and engaging sci-fi premise; wondrous special effects at the time; a stirring and memorable score; and, last but not least, a great cast. Kurt Russell was already "the man," but now I could apply the same moniker to James Spader as well! He instantly became one of my favorite actors to watch from then on, and he hasn't disappointed since.




NIGHT 10 -- Django Unchained   (Dec. 25, 2012).
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Ah-ha, this movie. The one that most people like to pretend as if they hated, but in fact was probably the best movie of the Christmas season that year. It was definitely my favorite, as I would go on to see it a total of FIVE TIMES in theaters! Yes, you read that right. Twice by myself, and three times with three different friends. When the blu-ray came out many months later, I was the first to get it right on its release date. That's how much this movie needed to be in my life. As with Skyfall before, it came out around the same time frame that my marriage was coming to an end. In fact, I was pretty much at rock bottom when I dragged myself to the theater to escape our home and just breathe for a bit. Needless to say I had a lot on my mind, and I was sure I was just wasting my money going to see this. What mood was I to be watching, let alone enjoying, a movie? And then a miracle happened. Somehow, someway, I became so engrossed in the cinematic masterpiece unfolding up on the screen before me, that I totally forgot my worries for two hours. Yes, I know it sounds cheesy -- but that's exactly what happened! Now, I don't know about you, but that by very definition is the effect going to the movies should bring about. And if it doesn't . . . then why do you go?





NIGHT 11 -- Titanic   (Dec. 19, 1997).
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With putting this one on the list, you can just go ahead and call me a masochist. Let alone the fact that a guy should not admit to watching this movie alone of all things, but then to also liking it immensely to boot! Fact is, this is a movie that was beloved by both myself and my ex-wife (girlfriend at the time). We watched it many times together--at the theater and on home video. It used to always make me feel so grateful that we were together. That unlike Jack and Rose, our love would go on. But of course, it didn't. And you know what? That still doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the film, which is by all rights a cinematic masterpiece and a pop culture mainstay even to this day. That James Cameron fella surely knows how to craft a beautiful, enduring tale, I tell ya! And, yes, my own personal love did not "go on" as the song says, but the movie still very much reminds me of the holidays. And I choose to remember the love its message inspires, and not the tragic loss that played out on the screen. Yes, despite everything I'm still the consummate romantic. What can I say?




NIGHT 12 -- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows   (Dec. 16, 2011).
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I very much wanted to hate these movies, Guy Ritchie's take on one of my most beloved literary heroes: Sherlock Holmes. Robert Downey, Jr. was too short and downright American to be playing the brilliant private detective; Jude Law was far too tall, fair, and young to be portraying Watson. Add to that director Ritchie's penchant for modern vernacular, cliched anachronisms, and the need to add just too much visual pizzazz and flair to everything he touches--and I could not see how they would accurately bring to life the super sleuth of the Victorian Age as should only seem proper. And yet, they did! While there are certainly both more accurate and cleverly rendered portrayals of the character out there, I absolutely love RDJ's take on him. And of the two films thus far, it is the second version listed here that I think is the more deserving of the classifier: masterpiece! It never lets up from start to finish, and that now legendary final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty above Reichenbach Falls is simply the stuff of genius--both in terms of construct as well as execution! Bravo, Guy Ritchie. Bravo!!!




Now as it so happens, as of the writing of this list, I'm already moving on to the third night, having just completed watching Casino Royale mere hours ago. It's going to take me through Christmas and up until New Year's Day to get through the rest. A perfect end to the year, don't you think? Well, if you're a movie buff you probably agree.

So, tell me, do any of these movies remind you of the holidays? And if not, which other ones do? It's okay to include actual holiday movies, by the way. I didn't on this one, but that doesn't mean I don't watch 'em. And while a true love may not have given me these 12 nights of films to see, I still consider the very act of staying indoors watching movies while it's cold and blustery outside to be the highlight of the season any year, whether alone like me or with someone you care about.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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