Slate's guide to overlooked Christmas movies.

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Dec. 13 2007 4:17 PM

"Now I Have a Machine Gun. Ho Ho Ho."

Slate's guide to overlooked Christmas movies.

This holiday season, some of you—no matter what anyone says—are still going to snuggle up on your couch with a mug of hot chocolate and watch It's a Wonderful Life. That's fine; there are worse  Christmas movies out there. But for those of you who like to spike your cocoa, Slatehas compiled a list of alternative Christmas classics. These movies fall into two categories: Christmas movies that never quite made it into the canon, and films that aren't Christmas movies per se, but are set during the holiday and evoke it every bit as well as the old standbys. Why settle for Jimmy Stewart when you can have Bruce Willis?  

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Die Hard

Die Hard The Nakatomi Corporation may have the finest fern lobby that money can buy, but it throws a terrible Christmas party. It's held on Christmas Eve ... in the office. The employees, surrounded by strange stairways leading nowhere, snort cocaine and chase each other into bathrooms. Cut to John McClane, an NYPD cop so humble that he refuses to ride in the back seat of a limousine from the airport. Walking into this desperate holiday revel, Bruce Willis dons the smirk that he'll wear for the rest of the movie. Through his eyes, the office Christmas party is revealed for what it really is: the fake fun of capitalism, the dying gasp of another pointless year.

Hans Gruber, played by the pre-Snape Alan Rickman, understands this too. He shows up at the Nakatomi building as a kind of anti-Santa Claus, with a band of long-haired blond German elves. Gruber, with his nihilistic, European-educated mind, knows that Christmas is a time when international corporations with $640 million in their safe show their soft underbelly. They are understaffed and vulnerable to a well-organized team of crooks in knit shirts. The only requirement for this advantage is scorn for Christmas.

Throughout the ensuing cat-and-mouse chase, carols are used as ironic counterpoint to the fights and explosions. But Die Hard's most elegant Christmas sneer occurs early in the movie, when McClane sends a dead German down the elevator, strapped to a chair, wearing a Santa hat, with the following written on his gray sweatshirt: "NOW I HAVE A MACHINE GUN. HO HO HO." Rickman's line reading is exquisite. With three punctuated Hos, he deftly inverts the joy of those words, expressing all the contempt that the manufactured cheer of Christmas can inspire.— Michael Agger

Yogi's First Christmas

Yogi's First Christmas
A surprisingly touching ode to ursine innocence, Yogi's First Christmas never even got a shot at the big screen. When it debuted in 1980, it did so on syndicated TV, stuck between reruns of Emergency! and local newscasts. It seldom aired after that, consigned to Hanna-Barbera's vast vault of cartoon esoterica.

Yet Yogi's First Christmas doesn't deserve the obscure fate of Hong Kong Phooey. Directed by animation veteran Ray Patterson, who drew for classics like Fantasia, the movie is far smarter than the standard kiddie dreck. The story, for starters, depends on the viewer possessing at least a passing knowledge of zoology: Yogi Bear and his sidekick Boo-Boo are accidentally aroused from hibernation, allowing them to enjoy their first Yuletide celebration.

When not learning to ski or fending off the lusty Cindy Bear, Yogi stays busy foiling the Grinch-like plans of a spoiled brat named Snively and his trollish associate, Herman the Hermit. When the nasty duo's resistance to holiday cheer inevitably melts, Yogi deserves all the credit—his message of unconditional love is one that does Christmas' holy namesake proud.

Yogi's First Christmas is by no means perfect, and there are headscratching moments of terrible pacing and belief-defying idiocy—how, for example, did Herman learn to fly a helicopter? But for viewers willing to look past the film's minor flaws, a retro treat awaits—see for yourself.— Brendan I. Koerner