Writer Shane Black, in one of the most assured directing debuts ever, delivers a great modern detective noir while also poking fun at the genre in “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” (2005). The film marks the last great Val Kilmer performance before his slump and the start of the superstar portion of Robert Downey Jr.’s career. It’s RDJ’s first team-up with Black; they’d join forces again for the underappreciated “Iron Man 3” (2013).
Writer-director Joe Swanberg, as he did the previous year with “Drinking Buddies,” delivers a slice of life in “Happy Christmas” (2014), titled with purposeful inaccuracy. He contrasts a poor young family — Swanberg’s Jeff, Melanie Lynskey’s Kelly and their baby — with Jeff’s slightly younger sister (Anna Kendrick’s Jenny) who is reeling from a breakup and is notch behind on the maturity meter.
National Lampoon’s “Christmas Vacation” came out 30 years ago this month, and it has only grown in status as a holiday classic since. Here are 30 random observations after my latest viewing:
The Knight Before Christmas” (November, Netflix), like most of TV’s recent holiday movie catalog, is so uninspired that I wonder if the sets, locations, casting and costumes come first. Then an exec assigns a writer — Cara J. Russell in this case – to churn out a screenplay with the boardroom-approved punny title and then they go from there.
Let It Snow” (November, Netflix) comes from a 2008 novel co-written by coming-of-age chronicler John Green. It’s adapted by Kay Cannon (“Pitch Perfect”) and two other writers for this who’s-who of Gen Z actors. Although I only recognized Kiernan Shipka (“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”) and Jacob Batalon (the best bud in the MCU’s “Spider-Mans”), the talent level is surprisingly high. Down the road, “Let It Snow” could play as a classic of young actors breaking out, except that the overall movie is too safe and predictable.
Lethal Weapon” (1987) introduced the masses to writer Shane Black (and his penchant for setting his films at Christmastime) and gave director Richard Donner a fresh franchise after being rudely booted off “Superman II” (1981). And while it didn’t launch the buddy cop trope (1982’s “48 Hrs.” often gets credit for that), it’s perhaps the most shining example.
Halloween” (1978) is often cited as the first modern slasher movie, but it didn’t emerge out of nowhere, with no influences. One of its most notable progenitors, well regarded among horror fans but not given enough credit in the wider world of film criticism, is “Black Christmas” (1974). Written by Roy Moore and directed by Bob Clark (“A Christmas Story”), it does everything “Halloween” would later do, but better.
Die Hard” (1988) is required Christmas season viewing for many, but “Die Hard 2: Die Harder” (1990) should not be overlooked. Although both are rightly revered as classics, I personally like the sequel more, and it certainly leans harder into its holiday trappings. This one takes place in Washington, D.C., in a snowstorm, and the terrorists set up camp in a church that’s being shut down to make way for runway expansion.
iZombie’s” Rose McIver is doing pretty well, at least commercially, on her offseason hiatuses, starring in 2017’s “A Christmas Prince” and this year’s “A Christmas Prince: The Royal Wedding.” In these Netflix hits, she plays Amber Moore (a long-lost twin sister of Liv?), an American journalist who falls for the prince of Aldovia while on assignment covering the royal succession.
The Christmas Chronicles” (Netflix) makes a strong bid to join the pantheon of holiday classics. Despite being a straight-down-the-middle yarn in a lot of ways, the earnest performances – especially a game Kurt Russell as Santa Claus – and top-flight special effects should make this a winner for all but the most Grinchy of viewers.