DISCLAIMER: This is not a series dedicated to proving men shouldn’t cry, or to suggest ONLY women cry and are therefore inferior. The goal of this series is to dispel the pre-established (yet flawed) notion that being “manly” and being disconnected from your emotions go hand-in-hand. Even the most macho of men enjoy and even shed a tear at films, and the sooner we can admit that the sooner the concept that one sex is better than the other can go away. While the approach to these articles is one of light-hearted comedy, the emotional core is valid. While men might be more hesitant to admit it, movies often times have the potential to make us cry, for example:

“Christmas Movies that aren’t Christmas Movies”

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it, and a hearty “Up yours” to anyone offended by that (keep in mind I’m Jewish, so you have no excuse). As families all over the world polish off whatever who-feast they’ve spent the day preparing, many lethargic relatives will suggest popping in a Christmas-themed film. Groaning, you lean over to your movie shelf (or fire up your streaming service if you are young and hip) to see what repetitive syrupy sweet sludge to watch. Fear not, those who are sick of the stop-motion cartoons of yore…and rest your heads, those who can’t stand another viewing of A Christmas Story. There are exciting, action-packed, heart-pumping films that dance around the Christmas pool without jumping in. These plots take place during the holiday but don’t necessarily have to, instead using the themes and settings of Christmas to enhance an already amazing film. While there are enough Christmas touches to qualify as a holiday tradition, you won’t have to claw your eyes out due to repetitive viewings.

1. Die Hard

A cop in the right place at the wrong time fights against both organized thieves and overzealous police. This is a movie that didn’t have to be set at Christmas, yet is so much richer for it. First of all, the juxtaposition of the Christmas decorations in the office tower against the hyperviolence that made this film a classic action movie is delicious. Plus, who can forget the famous line “Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.” You can’t swap out another holiday and get anywhere near the amount of joy from Alan Rickman deadpanning around. Many consider this a Christmas must-watch, yet it’s perfectly viable year round. Try saying that about “Frosty the Snowman.”

There are several parts of this film that hit us in the feels. Carl Winslow being forced to shoot someone despite his PTSD. Bruce “Did that guy ever have hair” Willis saving his ex-wife, insinuating that instead of getting the girl, he already got her and then lost her and this experience won’t really change that. But don’t forget the background character who tried to be a protagonist. Mr. Takagi is asked to aid the terrorists and refuses. He is promptly killed for not being Bruce Willis, despite Mr. Takagi’s noble efforts to protect his people and their assets. Mr. Takagi died for your sins.

2. Iron Man 3

Another action movie that doesn’t have to be set at Christmas, yet the groundwork of the holiday is everywhere. Tony gives Pepper an enormous stuffed bunny as a present, there is snow on the ground, even the ending resolution is solidified with a “Merry Christmas” from Mr. Stark. Like a Marvel studios version of Die Hard, you can make the case that this film can be watched all year round, but should be watched during Christmas time. Robert Downey Jr.’s comedic timing is at it’s best, armor fanatics get their fix and then some, and the plot ties the entire trilogy together in what I feel is a perfect bow.

What gets us needing the specialized crying armor? Gary, the guy in the news van. Gary was a Tony Stark superfan and helped Tony get mission critical information. What did he get in return? Nothing. Hell, all the kid did was act as a sounding board for Tony to think out loud, and he got a garage full of expensive toys. Sorry Gary, at least you have your tattoo.

3. Batman Returns

After Batman Begins, it’s easy to forget that Tim Burton’s first two Batman films were the entire reason we don’t have casting rumors of who will take the place of Adam West. For all his eccentricities, Tim Burton created a serious, stylized Batman for the silver screen that we’re still feeling the ripples from. Batman Returns was the second film after Tim proved that Batman could get by without Bat-Shark Repellant. Navy Blue, White and Black are the colors, Michelle Pfeiffer ushered an entire generation of boys into manhood, and Danny DeVito was genetically bread to be the Penguin. Plus you have Christopher Walken running around for some reason or another…it’s a fantastic Batman film…that just happens to take place on Christmas. Most lines mentions something about the holiday, there’s a Gotham tree-lighting ceremony as a set piece, and if you look closely in the dance scene, someone is wearing a Chanukah Menorah hat. MENORAH HAT!

The sad part? Penguin is a villain created from the 1%. His parents, Pee-wee Herman and some other lady pull a “Moses” and drop him into a river. A frozen river ON CHRISTMAS that dumped into an oddly sized sewer. At least in Egypt it was warm.

4. Gremlins

The first film was pure horror, the second one more parody comedy, but both were stories of creatures that kill for fun. We all know the rules of the Mogwai: don’t feed after midnight, don’t get wet. Of course both of those things happen all the time, and in this film they just happen to occur during Christmas. Once again the juxtaposition of a joyous holiday and murder/death/kills creates a more memorable film than, say, one taking place during Flag Day. I hear that they’re planning on rebooting the franchise, or maybe just continuing it in a third installment. I’m on board with all of that, but I would hope they once again set the story during the holidays.

The sad part is actually a touch of meta. Remember Zach Galligan, the curly-haired protagonist? He did this film and was on fire, but he chose to finish school just in case he didn’t make it big. The result: the “Gremlin” heat cooled off and besides the sequel and Waxworks, he was never in any movie you’ve ever heard of. Oh Billy, you deserved better.

5. Home Alone

A boy is accidentally left behind by his family when they go on vacation, and his freedom is cut short by the need to thwart two robbers from burglarizing his house. This didn’t need to take place during Christmas, hell, it could have been a summer cruise that the family left during. The filmmakers chose Christmas to drive home the “You miss your family during the holidays” theme, but what everyone remembers from this film are the hilarious traps foiling the would-be criminals. The sequel was fun as well, and anyone who felt that leaving your child twice is a dumb idea/product of the times, I present the Taken franchise.

The saddest part of the film is when Kevin’s neighbor, the lonely street salter, opens up about not talking to his family for a very long time. This man represents a more realistic portrayal of someone who wanted to be alone and got his wish, and the raw emotion of that scene still resonates even amidst the swinging paint cans and burning-hot doorknobs.

Daniel Epstein
Father, filmmaker, and writer. Once he won an Emmy, but it wasn't for being a father or writing.

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