We think the holidays merited a brand new edition of Guest List, in which an interesting person lists some interesting things. This time around our guest is Richard Lawson.
The DPD audience knows him as an esteemed member of our Small Talk cabinet, providing us with odd news of the week. Early in his career, he was, in our opinion, the most entertaining TV recapper in the world.
He’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of film, which he puts to good use as a film critic for Vanity Fair. Richard also hosts the magazine’s awards season podcast, “Little Gold Men.”
Here’s Richard to introduce his list… and to spice up your holiday movie queues.
Richard Lawson: I wanted to highlight Christmas movies that you wouldn’t actually think are Christmas movies. They’re not the traditional “It’s a Wonderful Life” or “White Christmas,” but they are movies that either take place at Christmas or have a sort of Christmassy vibe. Whether it’s Bruce Willis killing terrorists, or it’s Cate Blanchett having a sort of sad, fraught lesbian romance.
“Die Hard 2” (1990)
As you may have guessed from the Bruce Willis reference, the first movie I wanted to talk about is “Die Hard 2.”
People often mention “Die Hard” the first as a Christmas movie that you wouldn’t expect to be one, but “Die Hard 2” also takes place over the holidays. I think, in some ways, it’s the bigger, dumber “Die Hard” movie, certainly, compared to the slimmer, muscly first movie. But I think it’s a little bit more entertaining, if you can believe it.
So, Bruce Willis is traveling over the holidays, trying to get back to his long-suffering wife, stuck at the airport, which we can all relate to during holiday travel. And then, wouldn’t you know it, terrorists take over the airport and are threatening to crash planes. So, Bruce — with the help of a couple other people but mostly him by himself — has to save the day by killing a lot of terrorists.
And, you know, it’s snowy outside, and everyone’s kind of dressed in white with these big, furry hoods, and it’s just — it does feel Christmassy, despite the grimness of what’s happening. I think the “Die Hard” movies have a sort of robust ’80s-ness to them. They’re simpler. The special effects aren’t the kind of main deal. The main attraction is Bruce Willis. I think you could argue that “The Fast and the Furious” movies have a similar pull. Maybe they should do a Christmas movie.
And then, for number two, I’m going to take something of a left turn — 2015’s Carol. Which was directed by Todd Haynes and stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara as not exactly star-crossed lovers in the 1950s, but, you know, certainly experiencing the pains of the love that dare not speak its name.
The film takes place over several months, but the real focus of it, when Carol and Therese are getting together, is at the holiday season. In fact, Therese is working the holiday shift wearing a little Santa hat at her department store when Cate Blanchett approaches her to buy a train set.
I think that what “Carol” embodies best about the holidays is a sense of sort of loneliness but also a coziness. A wintriness that can be cold, but also, if you have the right person to cuddle up to, it can feel kind of good.
“Batman Returns” (1992) & “Iron Man 3” (2013)
And then, for my third pick, I’m going to take a little license and pick two movies, just because they’re in the same genre. They’re superhero movies. I don’t think you’re even allowed, legally, to talk about movies anymore these days without talking about superheroes.
The first one is “Batman Returns,” Tim Burton’s second Batman film, which takes place during some Tim Burton-y version of Christmas. You know, there’s a tree lighting ceremony that gets rudely interrupted by the Penguin.
It’s just… it’s a really odd, but creative Batman movie before they really tilted into nonsense and then tilted all the way back towards the Christopher Nolan, dark, serious, realistic movies. You know, for a kid — which is what I was when I first saw “Batman Returns” — it combined great things like Batman and Christmas, so you can’t beat it.
And my second superhero Christmas movie that you maybe don’t think is a Christmas movie is Shane Black’s funny, weird “Iron Man 3.” That has a long segment where Tony Stark, Robert Downey Jr., ends up in a small town over Christmastime and has an interaction with a precocious little boy who teaches him something about life and himself, which, you know, feels a little Scrooge-esque.
I think the unifying thing about all of these movies is that while there are bad things happening, the holidays are survivable. If Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara can survive the rigid social strictures of the 1950s, or Bruce Willis can survive an onslaught of dozens and dozens of terrorists, you can probably make it through dinner with your family and maybe even a little bit of present-opening.