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Alternative holiday film festival 

Another year, another mangerful of that most saccharine of genres, the Christmas flick. As a break from the jolly old St Nick shtick, here are a few movies that qualify as seasonal, tangentially.


Ted Demme's 1994 caper comedy, The Ref, is a good place to start. Gus (Denis Leary) is a burglar on the run who takes Caroline (Judy Davis) and Lloyd Chasseur (Kevin Spacey), a dysfunctional married couple, hostage in their home as he hides from cops trolling the wealthy Connecticut town. Davis and Spacey argue so well, their banter is entertaining, even familiar. The ridiculousness peaks when the Chasseurs' extended family arrive.

Loose seasonal connection: Snowy suburban locale (shot outside Toronto) at the holidays.

For an action movie, try John McTiernan's Die Hard(1988). New York cop John McClane's (Bruce Willis) semi-estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and kids have moved to California. He arrives just in time for the her office holiday party, interrupted by a terrorist heist led by Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman). McClane single-handedly tries to take the thugs down while the company remains captive on the 30th floor. Die Hard brings a new fervor, and foul-mouthed freshness (it's R-rated) to the holiday season but it won't put you off your eggnog.

Loose seasonal connection: Christmas in Los Angeles.

For more laidback action, watch The Thin Man (1934), the first of a series of six. Detective Nick Charles (William Powell), his wife Nora (Myrna Loy) and their Jack Russell terrier, Asta, bring this murder mystery to life. Nick investigates the disappearance of an inventor but the plot is irrelevant. It's Nick and Nora's repartee that drives the movie. Even Nick's sleuthing and climactic blame-pinning dinner party scene is tacked on.

Loose seasonal connection: Booze-filled holiday parties.

Whit Stillman's debut film, Metropolitan (1990), takes place during vacation from college, sometime in the '80s. A privileged group of young Manhattanites get together on an almost nightly basis for post-debutant parties to drink, gossip, play bridge and be witty. At its heart, it's a reworking of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice; Tom Townsend (Edward Clements) is an outsider and an odd addition to their social sphere.

Loose seasonal connection: Christmas and New Year's Eve in New York.

Also set in Manhattan--- as well as Paris and Venice---Woody Allen's 1996 musical comedy, Everyone Says I Love You has an all-star cast (including Julia Roberts, Alan Alda and a young Natalie Portman), a contagious soundtrack of standards and endearing multiple love stories. Magical parties with attendees dressed up as Groucho Marx is a tantalizing taste of Allen's make-believe Manhattan.

Loose seasonal connection: International Christmas and New Year's Eve parties, with added dancing on the banks of the Seine.

Equally enjoyable is Arnaud Desplechin's 2008 A Christmas Tale. Junon (Catherine Deneuve), matriarch of the Vuillard family, is diagnosed with leukemia. Upon her request, the family is reunited---middle child Henri (Mathieu Amalric) and his sister Elizabeth (Anne Consigny) have been estranged for years. It's not strictly drama; it's funny and, at times, surreal and whimsical.

Loose seasonal connection: The title.

Based on a classic James Joyce story, John Huston's final film The Dead (1987) takes place in 1904 Dublin at an Epiphany party. It's Christmastime, but no one is behaving as the dinner stumbles forward. The crux of the night is Gabriel Conroy's (Donal McCann) learning of his wife Gretta's (Anjelica Huston) past lover, now dead. Christmas stories often hinge on love; this does too, but in a more bleak and mournful way, emphasizing the "what-ifs" that ultimately occur having lost a love. Not to say there is no humour--- Huston instills a lightness to compliment the darkness. To this extent, it's one of the most accurate, touching and unlikely holiday tales around.

Loose seasonal connection: Snow falling on Ireland, "falling on every part of the dark, central plain."

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