As is always the case around the holidays, there are plenty of blockbuster movies coming out in theaters this month to get excited about: “West Side Story," “Spider-Man: No Way Home," “The King’s Man," “American Underdog” and more.
But if you’d rather not sit in a room with a bunch of other people, due to pandemic concerns or simple laziness, there’s a whole world of choices for movies to watch at home!
If it's even possible at this point, let’s set aside the hackneyed online debate over whether “Die Hard” is a Christmas movie and focus on what it undeniably is: a classic, pulse-pounding action film. So influential that it spawned four polarizing sequels and an entire genre of “‘Die Hard’ on an X” imitators, the original 1988 film stars Bruce Willis as John McClane, an off-duty police detective charged with rescuing a group of hostages in a skyscraper when his wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia) company Christmas party is hijacked by terrorists.
Perhaps the movie’s most remarkable component is the riveting performance of Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber, the charismatic leader of the East German terrorist group, who has really set the standard for action villains in the decades since. This is one of those movies that will seem derivative if you haven’t seen it, simply because everything else since has in fact been derived from it.
‘The Fabulous Baker Boys’
In the early stages of the pandemic, I had plenty of time to sit around on my couch and stare slack-jawed at a television — much as one frequently does during the holidays. This is one of the best movies I discovered during that period, and with one of its central musical scenes taking place at New Year’s Eve, it has the perfect vibe for a rewatch this December. Written and directed by Steve Kloves, perhaps better known for his later work on the “Harry Potter" movies, the film centers on the introduction of the captivating Susie Diamond (Michelle Pfeiffer) to the dead-end Seattle musical duo of brothers Jack and Frank Baker (real-life brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges).
Pfeiffer’s singing prowess and her romance with Jack upend the stagnant act, but will they survive their sudden rise to prominence? It’s a familiar sort of premise executed to perfection by top-of-the-line actors delivering some of the best performances of their careers.
Why do I think this is a good movie for the holidays? Well, production company A24 certainly thought so, as it got its wide release on Christmas 2019. For me, the principal holiday appeal of this movie is the central role of basketball, which has staked out Christmas as its own domain much like football has with Thanksgiving. This film is pretty much impossible to sell to anyone based on its premise alone, so you’ll have to just trust me that it’s good. (Or trust the experts: Even though it was totally snubbed from the 92nd Academy Awards, “Uncut Gems” became a critical darling that took home three Independent Spirit Awards.)
Adam Sandler — yes, the mastermind behind some of the century’s worst films — stars as unscrupulous jeweler and compulsive gambler Howard Ratner, who is in debt and attempts to sell a one-of-a-kind opal to Boston Celtics star Kevin Garnett. Garnett, playing a fictionalized version of himself, seems to derive good luck from the gem. Ratner puts him at the center of a complex bet that could pay out enough to help repair his collapsing life. It’s immensely stressful to watch Sandler depict Ratner’s spiral down and down as he searches for one big win. Perfect for the holidays!
I will come clean: This cannot possibly be construed as a holiday movie. However, it’s one of the most rewatchable and legitimately funny studio comedies in recent memory, and I take every chance I get to recommend it because a significant portion of the moviegoing population seems to have missed it completely. I suspect the reason why is its questionable premise: Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) host a highly competitive board game night, but when Brooks (Kyle Chandler), Max’s successful older brother, comes into town, he decides to start a game night of his own that begins with him getting kidnapped. The line between game and reality quickly blurs. Spooky stuff!
It could have been so much worse than it is if not for the creative direction, which integrates tilt-shift shots and frenetic action sequences, and the comedic strength of the supporting cast, featuring Lamorne Morris and Kylie Bunbury as a bickering couple and Jesse Plemons as a sketchy cop whom Max and Annie are reluctant to invite to game night. If you’re gathering with a group of friends sometime this month, please suggest this film.