Tag Archives: Johnny Depp

‘Die Hard,’ ‘Bridget Jones’ Among Christmas Guilty Pleasures

When it comes to choosing Christmas movies, there are a surprising number of options.

There are the beloved classics, films that have stood the test of time, like “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street” and “A Christmas Carol.” (Dickens’ classic is in a category unto itself with dozens of different versions for the picking.)

Then there are the childhood favorites, including “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!,” “Home Alone” and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

And there are Christmas movies to be found in virtually every genre: comedy (“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”), romantic comedy (“Love Actually”), action (“Die Hard”), period drama (“Joyeux Noel”), horror (“Gremlins”), animation (“The Polar Express”) and more.

If you want to get carried away with the yule-tide themed viewing, things can start to get weird. A list of the “50 Best Christmas Movies of All Time,” compiled by gamesradar, includes such unlikely selections as “Go,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” “Batman Returns,” “Eastern Promises,” “Life of Brian,” “Eyes Wide Shut” and “In Bruges.”

Christmas viewing is an extremely personal activity. Every family has its traditional favorites. Every person gets sentimental about different films. Some people live for cheesy holiday movies on Lifetime. Others love “The Santa Clause” just as much as “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

So this season, I offer a list of my 10 favorite Christmas movies (in no particular order). I’m not going to pretend they’re the best holiday films ever made. You won’t find Jimmy Stewart’s perennial favorite here or many other traditionally cherished flicks.

This is my guilty pleasure list. These are the movies I return to year after year and never grow tired of watching.

When you’re done reading, I’d love to hear your list of Top 10 Christmas flicks.

1. “Mixed Nuts,” 1994: Nora Ephron’s quirky little Southern California Christmas comedy just may be my favorite seasonal pick of all time. Last year, I wrote this ode to the movie, which depicts the wacky Christmas Eve shenanigans of the staff of a Venice Beach suicide hotline.
“Mixed Nuts” features a hilarious cast, including Steve Martin, Rita Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Anthony LaPaglia, Liev Schreiber (in drag), a very young Adam Sandler and the sublime Madeline Kahn. This is the one film my family watches every Christmas without fail.

2. “Love Actually,” 2003: When I’m doing my holiday shopping and hear the high notes of Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” coming out of the P.A. system, I get a hankering to watch the most addictive holiday rom-com ever. With its cheeky humor and stiff-upper-lip melodrama, writer-director Richard Curtis’ roller-coaster ride of yuletide emotions is especially appealing to anglophiles. The film turned 10 last year, sparking debate about its merits or lack thereof, but that doesn’t change the fact that it has become a legitimate classic in only a decade. It doesn’t hurt that the cast, which includes Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy, Colin Firth, Hugh Grant and Rick Grimes from “The Walking Dead,” is both talented and wildly attractive.

3. “The Holiday,” 2006: I’ll admit there are a lot of “chick flicks” on this list, but that’s hardly surprising considering I am, gasp!, a chick. Second only to “Love Actually,” Nancy Meyers’ decadent and delicious rom-com is the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, as comforting as a cup of cocoa. It stars Cameron Diaz and a too-adorable-for-words Kate Winslet as a couple of sad grinches who get an unexpected dose of seasonal spirit when they swap houses for the holidays. The film may be as over-stuffed as a Christmas goose, but it’s chock full of goodies, including an unbelievably blue-eyed Jude Law and the late Eli Wallach as a rascally Hollywood screenwriter who encourages Winslet to be the heroine of her own life.

4. “Die Hard,” 1988: Here’s one to counteract all those ooey-gooey romantic comedies. This ’80s action classic is fun to watch at Christmastime precisely because it doesn’t trade in holiday cliches. Instead of peace on Earth and good will toward men, it features clever, hostage-taking terrorists (or are they?), volleys of machine gun fire, a hefty helping of adult language and the wanton destruction of an L.A. high-rise. Plus, it stars a wise-cracking, tank-top wearing Bruce Willis and a smooth-as-eggnog Alan Rickman.


5. “Elf,” 2003: I don’t know a living soul who doesn’t appreciate Will Ferrell’s instant Christmas classic. The silly, sweet-natured story of a displaced North Pole helper manages to remain funny and heartwarming after countless viewings. With his green and yellow spandex, perpetual grin — smiling’s his favorite — and irrepressibly sugar-plummy disposition, Buddy the Elf is impossible not to love. The comedy is insanely quotable — “You sit on a throne of lies.” — and will, however improbably, stay atop the list of best loved holiday movies, right alongside “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

6. “Christmas in Connecticut,” 1945: When it comes to classic movies, screwball comedies are my favorite, and as far as I’m concerned the queen of screwball comedy — second only to Katharine Hepburn — is Barbara Stanwyck. As a New York City food writer forced to go to extremes to maintain the charade that she’s the perfect country homemaker, Stanwyck is gorgeous, amusing and oh-so-sly. “Casablanca” alums Sydney Greenstreet and S.Z. Sakall provide merry support. The madcap antics are coated in a dusting of Norman Rockwell-esque Christmas Americana, and you’ll learn how to flip the perfect pancake just by watching.

7. “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” 2001: This adaptation of Helen Fielding’s laugh-out-loud read is perhaps not technically a Christmas movie, but it is bookended by two unforgettable yuletide scenes: one involving humiliating jumpers and questionable hors d’ouevres, the other a snowy kiss with everyone’s favorite Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth. Renee Zellweger is awkward and adorable as a London singleton trying to get her stuff together in time to find Mr. Right for the holidays. Firth is snobbish and gentlemanly in a way that makes Jane Austen fans swoon. As warm and cozy as a well-worn pair of Christmas pajamas, this one never gets old.

8. “White Christmas,” 1954: Because nothing gets you in the holiday spirit quite like Bing Crosby crooning Irving Berlin’s atmospheric yuletide classic. Because my grandmother loved this film and showed it to me and my siblings over and over again. Because it’s helmed by “Casablanca” director Michael Curtiz. Because few comedy duos are as smooth and quick-witted as old Bing and the incomparably funny Danny Kaye. Because never were there such devoted sisters as Rosemary Clooney and Vera Ellen. Just because.

9. “Edward Scissorhands,” 1990: When you grow tired of Christmas movie cliches, Tim Burton’s sublime suburban satire hits the spot. Johnny Depp first demonstrated his flair for eccentric characterizations in this macabre but poignant fairy tale about an innocent young man with blades for fingers and a talent for avant-garde hairdos and topiary sculptures. There are two scenes in this film that have me crying like a baby every time. The first features Vincent Price and the most wonderful cookie-making machine ever dreamed up. In the second, Edward carves a snow angel for his crush (a crush-worthy Winona Ryder) and transforms the mundane into holiday magic. That sound? It’s my heart breaking.

10. “A Christmas Story,” 1983: This one goes on the list in tribute to my dad, who never grew tired of taking writer Jean Shepherd’s trip down memory lane. Having grown up in the 1940s in the very region where “A Christmas Story” takes place, my father harbored a deep nostalgia for this hilarious warts-and-all depiction of a working-class family celebrating the season. Even if you can’t relate, the story of precocious Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) and his quest for a Red Ryder BB gun will send you flashing back to your own childhood misadventures. Ralphie may be the star and narrator, but it’s his pop, The Old Man (Darren McGavin), who steals the show with his unholy passion for a certain leg lamp. Fra-gee-lay!

Photos: http://www.tasteofcinema.com, the-gaggle.com

Looking Forward to Films of Fall

Fall may be the best season of all.

And not just because it begins with the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Along with sweaters, scarves, Halloween, turning leaves and a welcome chill in the air, fall is a time of renewal for Hollywood as a late-summer slump at the movies gives way to a fresh supply of films we’re actually looking forward to.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been AWOL from the movie theater. I couldn’t bring myself to watch Idris Elba — who deserves better — terrorize Taraji P. Henson — who also deserves better — in “No Good Deed.” “A Walk Among the Tombstones” looked as dreary and depressing as its title. “This Is Where I Leave You” has a wonderful cast, but then I read the reviews. I meant to see “The Maze Runner,” but was less than impressed with the book and haven’t gotten around to it.

Starting this weekend, however, there will be reasons galore for moviegoers to get off the couch and get their butts into the cineplex once again. Film buffs, rejoice — the fun won’t stop until after Christmas.

Here are the fall (and winter) movies I’m most looking forward to.

“The Boxtrolls,” Sept. 26: Stop-motion animation studio Laika brought us the exquisitely dark “Coraline” and hilariously macabre zombie comedy “ParaNorman.” The painstakingly rendered “Boxtrolls” — which features more than 200 detailed puppets — looks to be just as enchanting.

“Gone Girl,” Oct. 3: Gillian Flynn’s poisonous he-said, she-said thriller was impossible to put down. Watching director David Fincher pull off the book’s epic twists should be interesting. So should watching Ben Affleck inhabit the role of douche-baggy murder suspect Nick Dunne.

“Kill the Messenger,” Oct. 10: The underrated Jeremy Renner takes a break from playing the loneliest Avenger to tackle the meatier role of real-life journalist Gary Webb, who investigated the CIA’s alleged involvement in drug smuggling in the mid-1990s. Sure, I’ll miss the spandex and the crossbow, but it will be nice to hear Renner say more than three lines in this drama.

“Whiplash,” Oct. 10: Young up-and-comer Miles Teller (“Project X,” “The Spectacular Now,” “Divergent”) stars as a drummer under the sway of a maniacal music instructor (J.K. Simmons) in a drama that caused a sensation at the Sundance and Toronto film festivals. It sounds just strange enough to be awesome.

“Birdman,” Oct. 17: This dark satire appears to be a significant departure for director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (“21 Grams,” “Babel”), who isn’t exactly known for his comedies. Michael Keaton steps into the role of a washed-up actor once celebrated for playing a superhero. Could he be riffing on his stint as a certain caped crusader? If this movie has anything intelligent to say about our comic book obsessed culture, it could be fascinating.

“Fury,” Oct. 17: There are so many movies about World War II, coming up with a new angle on the conflict isn’t an easy task. “End of Watch” director David Ayer seems to have done it though, telling the story of a Sherman tank crew on a mission behind enemy lines. Brad Pitt plays a philosophical sergeant — am I the only one who’s tired of the actor’s incessant speech-making in recent films? — but I’m more excited about the underrated Michael Pena as the Fury’s driver.

“St. Vincent,” Oct. 24: Anytime Bill Murray decides to come out of his eccentric, hermit-like shell and make another movie, it’s cause for celebration. It’s a bonus that the comedy, about a cantankerous Brooklyn veteran who becomes a boy’s unlikely babysitter, looks so darn hilarious. It also stars Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd, which can’t be bad.

“Horns,” Oct. 31: The boy who played Harry Potter is all grown up and has been busy carving out an eclectic career on the stage and screen. Daniel Radcliffe’s latest choice, a bizarre thriller by horror director Alexandre Aja, may be his strangest and most intriguing endeavor yet. The former wizard plays a man on a quest to find his girlfriend’s killer. He’s aided by supernatural horns that spontaneously sprout from his head.

maxresdefaultMatthew McConaughey in “Interstellar” (photo YouTube)

 “Interstellar,” Nov. 7: After the “Dark Knight” trilogy and “Inception,” I would travel many miles and shell out a lot of cash to see anything director Christopher Nolan dreams up. His latest is an enigmatic sci-fi odyssey we know little about, thanks to a typically obscure Nolanesque advertising campaign. We do know “Interstellar” stars Matthew McConaughey, who has suddenly become one of Hollywood’s most intriguing actors. This is a must-see if there ever was one.

“Rosewater,” Nov. 7: Jon Stewart makes his directorial debut with a drama, starring Gabriel Garcia Bernal, about Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned and tortured following his country’s 2009 presidential election. This is the movie that managed to temporarily lure Stewart away from his beloved “Daily Show,” so it better be good.

“Foxcatcher,” Nov. 14: Steve Carell in a non-comedic role that requires him to wear a creepy prosthetic nose? Sounds like a recipe for disaster … or wild success, considering the raves coming out of the Toronto Film Festival. Carell stars as millionaire John du Pont, who became embroiled in a murder while sponsoring an Olympic wrestling duo in 1996.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1,” Nov. 21: I’m not the biggest fan of the final chapter in author Suzanne Collins’ dystopian series. That last book was a letdown and it’s too slight to be divided into two parts, as studio Lionsgate has deemed necessary in an obvious grab for more box-office cash. Still, the trailers for “Mockingjay — Part 1” suggest the film could actually be thrilling as Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss becomes the unwitting leader of a revolution.

“The Imitation Game,” Nov. 21: Benedict Cumberbatch is the only reason needed to anticipate this period drama about genius politician Alan Turing, who cracked a notorious Nazi code during World War II and was later persecuted for his sexual orientation. When it comes to playing brilliant minds, “Sherlock” star Cumberbatch is the best. This “Game” could be even more thrilling than “Mockingjay.”

“Wild,” Dec. 5: Based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir about her harrowing hike along the Pacific Crest Trail after a crisis turned her personal life into a shambles, “Wild” seems poised to strike a chord with moviegoers. I hope so, if only to see Reese Witherspoon reclaim her spot at the top of Hollywood’s A-list. She’s gunning for another Oscar. Godspeed, Reese!

“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Dec. 12: Biblical epics are all the rage again. After the cheesy misfire that was Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” I know I shouldn’t be looking forward to director Ridley Scott’s Moses biopic, starring Christian Bale. But I just can’t help myself. The film looks so fabulous and corny, from Joel Edgerton as an eyeliner-wearing Rhamses to “Breaking Bad” bad-ass Aaron Paul as Joshua. And who doesn’t want to witness the Red Sea part in spectacular CGI?

“Inherent Vice,” Dec. 12: Director Paul Thomas Anderson reunites with “The Master” star Joaquin Phoenix for a psychedelic 1970s-set noir film about a private detective investigating a string of juicy conspiracies. “The Master” was sometimes difficult to sit through. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I found it just hypnotic enough that I’ll be back for more of Anderson and Phoenix’s bizarre collaboration.

“The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies,” Dec. 17: The first installment of director Peter Jackson’s “Hobbit” trilogy was a slog, overlong and sluggishly paced. Last year’s “Desolation of Smaug” was a marked improvement, zippier and more engaging. Now I can actually look forward to the finale, which will test all of visual effects house Weta’s computer wizardry as they bring to life the show-stopping skirmish of the film’s title.

“Big Eyes,” Dec. 25: Tim Burton re-creates the dysfunctional marriage of painters Walter and Margaret Keane, who in the 1960s produced a series of memorable paintings of children with creepy peepers. The couple is played by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, a match made in cinema heaven, considering these two are amazing in everything they do.

“The Interview,” Dec. 25: There is no homoerotic comedy union more hilarious than that of Seth Rogen and James Franco, from “Pineapple Express,” to “This is the End,” to the duo’s brazen parody of the Kanye and Kim video “Bound 2.” In their latest wacky endeavor, the pair play tabloid TV journalists who travel to North Korea to interview Kim Jong-un. The dictator reportedly denounced the movie, which somehow makes it even more hilarious.

“Into the Woods,” Dec. 25: Fairy tales are in again, as evidenced by the insane popularity of “Frozen,” “Maleficent” and “Once Upon a Time.” Stephen Sondheim’s bedtime story mash-up could be a dark and cynical anecdote to the sugary sweetness of Disneyfied fables. The only catch is that it’s a Disney movie with director Rob Marshall catering to a family audience. At least it boasts a stellar cast, including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt and Chris Pine.

Into-the-Woods-Movie-Meryl-Streep-as-the-WitchMeryl Streep in “Into the Woods” (photo teaser-trailer.com)