A film with myriad problems – not least its glaringly anachronistic monoracial version of London – but most were all too apparent evenwhen it came out in Christmas 2003, when Tony Blair wasn’t a political pariah and Donald Trump was just an attention-seeking casino magnate. What really stands out – especially in this year of Brexit and president-elect Trump – is that Love Actually is not horribly sexist as some claim, it’s a powerful excoriation of white, male hegemony and the terrible things men do as a result, actually.
There’s Andrew Lincoln’s creepy portrayal of a man who just can’t help but confess his love to his best friend’s new wife, played by Keira Knightley, looking younger than Lincoln by every one of the 12 years that separate their ages; Hugh Grant’s pervy prime minister seducing the No 10 household staff (Martine McCutcheon, mystifyingly referred to as fat at every opportunity); the cleaner for Colin Firth’s character falling head over heels in love with a much older man despite the fact they can’t speak the same language. Talk about a mid-life fantasy.
The film really shows its hand in the only truly moving story, told predominantly from a woman’s point of view, with Alan Rickman’s superb portrayal of a philandering husband. I ask you, is there any greater display of white male idiocy than deciding to cheat on Emma Thompson? Perhaps we should refer that question to Kenneth Branagh … If you really needed it confirming in 2016, stick this on the TV. White men suck, actually.
John McClane flies to Los Angeles for Christmas to be with his estranged wife, only for her incredible 1980s office block to be invaded by gunmen. Unfortunately for them McClane is a cop – yippie ki yay etc. But oh, how quaint Alan Rickman’s German terrorist Hans Gruber seems now to modern audiences so used to a constant stream of “evil Muslims” from Hollywood blockbusters. Of course, it is eventually revealed that Rickman (whose death this year is just another tragedy in the long litany of awfulness served up by 2016) is using political rhetoric to disguise more selfish, financial motives. Sound familiar? Die Hard was well ahead of its time in exposing the fact that what might appear to be someone taking a principled stand to protect those in need is actually about the rich getting richer, and while they’re at it shafting the poor, represented here by Bruce Willis’s working class copper.
The McCallister family go on holiday to Paris, but leave little Kevin behind with a house full of junk food and at the mercy of burglars. The casual disregard for child safety is shocking. To do it once is bad enough, but to follow up by leaving him in New York just a couple of years later (at the mercy of a cameoing Donald Trump no less) in Home Alone 2 should surely have been enough for the McCallister children to be taken into care. But, then again, if David Cameron can leave his kid at a pub without people batting an eyelid maybe times haven’t changed all that much.
It’s the character of Old Man Marley who rings most alarm bells in 2016. The creepy old neighbour, who the local kids think murdered his family, is eventually revealed to have a softer side when he confides in Macaulay Culkin in a church. But is he a bit too friendly with our eight-year-old protagonist? The revelation that he watches his granddaughter sing in the choir every year, but isn’t allowed to speak to her due to a mysterious argument with his own son, rings alarm bells that mean when he comes to the rescue at the end, and is rewarded with a cathartic reunion with his own family, a modern audience is left to wonder if Marley might have more malign intent than the “wet bandits” he has foiled. Cynical, perhaps. But it’s hard not to be these days.
It’s a Wonderful Life
A guardian angel comes to George Bailey, who is on the verge of being declared bankrupt and is pondering killing himself, to show him how awful the world would be without him. But while you’re weeping into your mince pies it can be easy to miss the key message of this festive staple. Bring back building societies. The mortgage crisis that caused the 2008 crash could have been avoided if we’d focused more on safe, localised lending – of the sort that rescues Bailey at the film’s denouement.
A community’s savings stored in each other’s homes instead of mortgage-backed securities and collateralised debt obligations: the message isn’t subtle – but it’s more relevant today than ever, and few have put it more succinctly than James Stewart in his speech to the loan board: “What’d you say a minute ago? They had to wait and save their money before they even ought to think of a decent home. Wait? Wait for what? Until their children grow up and leave them? Until they’re so old and broken down that they … Do you know how long it takes a working man to save $5,000? Just remember this, Mr Potter, that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?”
The Muppet Christmas Carol
What might appear to be a sweet retelling of the pinnacle of Christmas fables – as a grouchy Michael Caine is imbued with the festive spirit by the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future – is now revealed as a malevolent paean to the neoliberal economic consensus. The familiar narrative of Scrooge having his heart melted by the plight of Tiny Tim (surely Robin the Frog’s finest performance) seems to appeal to all our better instincts about what Christmas should represent. But in an age of swingeing cuts to welfare budgets, all this story really does is bolster the arguments in favour of capitalist free markets and small-state conservatism.
The Cratchit family don’t need a safety net provided by a welfare state, the film says, everything will be fine as long as the deserving rich do their philanthropic duty. It’s this kind of pervasive, paternalistic thinking from the right, which ignores the massive structural inequalities in society, that allows massive corporations to avoid paying their fair share. Why pay tax when you can hand out a few crumbs to needy causes? Et tu, Kermit?
Joe Dante’s comedy-horror about a suburban family taking in an exotic, seemingly cuddly animal, leading to an outbreak of the eponymous, bloodthirsty critters, leans hard on postwar fears of foreigners, vocalised through Dick Miller’s Murray Futterman. But what at the time of release appeared to be a mockery of the last gasp of a xenophobic generation is now revealed to be a prescient metaphor for the dangers of cultural appropriation. Lionel Shriver might not worry about this, but in Gremlins it becomes all too apparent what damage this can do.
Mr Wing (a racist stereotype even then) refuses to sell the innocent-looking mogwai, knowing all too well this cookie-cutter American family will not be able to obey the rules, and so it proves with disastrous consequences. Even though they try to respect the ancient customs that surround this mystical creature, they can’t help but blunder, getting them wet, feeding them after midnight, and thus letting loose havoc. As the old Chinese wise man says at the end: “You do with mogwai what your society has done with all of nature’s gifts. You do not understand.” And a special shout out to Gremlins 2, a sub-par film in many ways, but ahead of its time with its critique of urban gentrification.
A second spin on the Dickens classic, this time a satire on the excesses of 1980s television that now seems almost restrained in comparison with modern reality. The thread that most resonates this year, though, is the fate of a friendly homeless man, Herman, destined to freeze to death in the cold whatever path Bill Murray’s Frank takes after his encounter with the ghosts. The number of rough sleepers in Britain is estimated to have doubled since 2010. After years of concerted effort by the Labour government, progress has been drastically reversed since the austerity programme began. Scrooged came out in 1988, but people are still dying on our streets while we tuck in to our turkey dinners. That’s a political choice, not an economic necessity. We should all hang our heads in shame.
The Duke brothers place a bet on whether a random person off the street, Eddie Murphy, can replace their high-born protege, Dan Akyroyd, without affecting their stock-trading business. It’s a story that reveals the great emperors of capitalism really are wearing no clothes, and is as relevant now as it was in 1983. Success is still largely determined by the level of privilege people are born into. Racism is still rife. And bankers are still chancers, gambling with all our futures. Merry Christmas!
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The patriarchy, actually. What our favourite Christmas films mean in 2016 have 1695 words, post on www.theguardian.com at December 16, 2016. This is cached page on Europe Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.