Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!: December ’16 in Film

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2016 was quite a hectic year and December was no exception. Right before I started my monthly recap of November, I was so overcome with anxiety and depression that I simply lacked the energy for much writing. This recap, however, will be in my regular short review format that I had given to the numerous monthly recaps prior. I know that I need to move on from the sadness that seems to consistently surround everything and one of the best ways I’ve found to do so is by keeping myself busy, particularly with writing. In the final half of this month, I devoted my time and energy to binging on a whole bunch of Christmas TV specials and writing about a bunch of them (these mini-reviews can be found on my Letterboxd). The final product of this is my list of the top 13 Christmas specials from animated TV. Completing this post gave me such an invigorating feeling of satisfaction that I’m excited to carry on throughout the start of 2017 (and hopefully longer).

And boy, do I have a lot of things scheduled in the immediate future. To tie in with this post, I also want to do separate posts for (1) a recap of 2016 in movie-watching, (2) a recap of my experience with the #52FilmsByWomen challenge, and (3) a brief overview of the best non-2016 films I watched for the first time this year (although there might be some conflating of two or all three of these topics, depending on how much time/energy I have to accomplish them). After these, I’ll be hard at work on the various “best of” lists I have planned – namely the best albums, hit singles, and films of 2016. And on top of all of this, I want to be more regular with my One Random Single a Day challenge (which I started earlier in December) while also making some actual headway on my overview of the top 100 songs of 1981. Needless to say, I’m going to be one busy person this next month or so!

So, now for the recap. As always, I’ve listed below every film I watched this past December, with asterisks indicating rewatches.

  1. Shan he gu ren (Mountains May Depart) (Zhangke, 2016)
  2. Toys (Levinson, 1992)
  3. Mei ren yu (The Mermaid) (Chow, 2016)
  4. White Girl (Wood, 2016)
  5. *batteries not included (Robbins, 1987)
  6. Kenzo World (Jonze, 2016)
  7. Sabotage (Jonze, 1994)
  8. To Die By Your Side (Jonze, 2011)
  9. Weapon of Choice (Jonze, 2000)
  10. Praise You (Jonze, 1999)
  11. We Once Were a Fairytale (Jonze, 2008)
  12. How They Get There (Jonze, 1997)
  13. Sure Shot (Jonze, 1994)
  14. Video Days (Jonze, 1991)
  15. Meek’s Cutoff (Reichardt, 2010)
  16. The Kentucky Fried Movie (Landis, 1977)
  17. A Christmas Horror Story (Harvey, Hoban, & Sullivan, 2015)
  18. Night of the Comet (Eberhardt, 1984)*
  19. V paprscích slunce (Under the Sun) (Mansky, 2016)
  20. High-Rise (Wheatley, 2016)
  21. I’m Here (Jonze, 2010)*
  22. The Boys From Brazil (Schaffner, 1978)
  23. Prep & Landing: Tiny’s Big Adventure (Wermers & Deters, 2011)
  24. How the ‘Dook Stole Christmas (Kent, 2014)
  25. Frosty the Snowman (Cannon, 1954)
  26. The Spirit of Christmas (Parker & Stone, 1992)
  27. A Christmas Treat (Sullivan, 1985)
  28. The Spirit of Christmas (Parker & Stone, 1995)
  29. The Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives (Ising & Harman, 1933)
  30. Born to Be Blue (Budreau, 2016)
  31. Margot at the Wedding (Baumbach, 2007)
  32. Happy Christmas (Swanberg, 2014)
  33. Gremlins (Dante, 1984)*
  34. Manchester By the Sea (Lonergan, 2016)
  35. Certain Women (Reichardt, 2016)
  36. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Roemer, 1964)*
  37. The Little Drummer Boy (Rankin & Bass, 1968)
  38. Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (Rankin & Bass, 1970)
  39. The Year Without a Santa Claus (Rankin & Bass, 1974)*
  40. The First Christmas: The Story of the First Christmas Snow (Rankin & Bass, 1975)
  41. Rudolph’s Shiny New Year (Rankin & Bass, 1976)
  42. The Last American Virgin (Davidson, 1982)
  43. Jackie (Larraín, 2016)
  44. Return of the Jedi (Marquand, 1983)
  45. Jingle All the Way (Levant, 1996)*
  46. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Meyer, 1970)
  47. Get Santa (Smith, 2014)
  48. Loews Christmas Greeting: The Hardy Family (Sidney, 1939)
  49. Donkey’s Christmas Shrektacular (Dohrn, 2010)
  50. Hector’s Hectic Life (Tytla, 1948)
  51. Snow Foolin’ (Sparber, 1949)
  52. Christmas Comes But Once a Year (Fleischer, 1936)
  53. Somewhere in Dreamland (Fleischer, 1936)*
  54. Peace on Earth (Harman, 1939)*
  55. The Snowman (Jackson & Murakami, 1982)*
  56. The Christmas Toy (Till, 1986)
  57. A Muppet Family Christmas (Harris & Till, 1987)
  58. Sunset Song (Davies, 2016)
  59. The Little Drummer Boy Book II (Rankin & Bass, 1976)
  60. Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey (Rankin & Bass, 1977)
  61. Jack Frost (Rankin, Bass, & Izuka, 1979)
  62. Frosty the Snowman (Rankin & Bass, 1969)*
  63. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Rankin & Bass, 1974)
  64. Kung Fu Panda Holiday (Johnson, 2010)
  65. A Jetson Christmas Carol (Patterson, 1985)
  66. Alpha’s Magical Christmas (Blizek, Blyth, & Bronaugh, 1994)
  67. He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special (Reed & Schmidt, 1985)
  68. Frosty’s Winter Wonderland (Rankin & Bass, 1976)
  69. Treevenge (Eisener, 2008)
  70. A Charlie Brown Christmas (Melendez, 1965)*
  71. It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown (Melendez, 1992)
  72. Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tales (Leichliter, 2002)
  73. Christmas Comes to Pac-land (Patterson, 1982)
  74. Pinky & the Brain Christmas Special (Mills & Masuda, 1995)
  75. Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Celebration (Vinton, 1987)
  76. Mickey’s Christmas Carol (Mattinson, 1983)*
  77. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (Jones & Washam, 1966)*
  78. A Cosmic Christmas (Smith, 1977)
  79. The Smurfs Christmas Special (Baldwin, 1982)
  80. The Town That Santa Forgot (Alvarez, 1993)*
  81. A Garfield Christmas Special (Roman & Singer, 1987)
  82. The Christmas Tree (Ferreira, 1991)
  83. John Denver & the Muppets: A Christmas Together (Charmoli, 1979)
  84. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (Falkenstein et al., 1999)
  85. A Chipmunk Christmas (Monroe, 1981)
  86. Raggedy Ann & Andy: The Great Santa Claus Caper (Jones, 1978)
  87. Casper’s First Christmas (Urbano & Cunningham, 1979)*
  88. It’s a Wonderful Life (Capra, 1946)*
  89. Home Alone (Columbus, 1990)*
  90. Alpha Dog (Cassavetes, 2006)*
  91. The Holiday (Meyers, 2006)*
  92. Ip Man (Yip, 2008)
  93. Appropriate Behavior (Akhavan, 2015)
  94. Loving (Nichols, 2016)

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My initial plans for December, in continuation with what I accomplished in the previous month, were to keep watching films from 2016 that I had missed out on throughout the year. Obviously my viewing habits eventually veered off on a different direction, but I still managed to squeeze in twelve films from 2016. Most of these viewings were fortunately very enjoyable, albeit for very different reasons depending on the film. I already wrote a little bit about Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid over on my Letterboxd page, and it’s still one of the funniest films I’ve come across all year. One other fast favorite of this year is Jia Zhangke’s Mountains May Depart, which is an excellent, poetic portrait of life’s cycles spanning several decades. Additionally, Vitali Mansky’s Under the Sun is a terrific documentary that totally took me off-guard with its jarring surrealism surrounding a society that is, nonetheless, all too real. Although it probably won’t make my top films of the year list, Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise was another film that surprised me; I assumed that its weird characters and nearly formless structure would be off-putting, but it turned out that it was precisely what I enjoyed so much about it. Finally, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea may actually very well be the best film from 2016 I watched all month – but I’ll write more about that one later.

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So, during my 2016 catch-up phase, I sought out Kenzo World, the short film directed by Spike Jonze that was released as an advertisement for the luxury brand Kenzo. It was pretty fun and definitely memorable, but overall felt more like a newer reworking of Jonze’s fantastic music video for Fatboy Slim’s “Weapon of Choice”. Watching this did, however, lead me into a night-long rabbit hole of seeking out as much of Jonze’s short work as I can possibly find available to watch online. Music videos like “Weapon of Choice”, Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, and another by Fatboy Slim “Praise You” were obvious standouts; I have watched them all numerous times as a kid when they were on high circulation on TV in the 90s, and each rewatch gave me numerous waves of nostalgia. Additionally, I also watched some of his short narrative films that I had never actually seen before. To Die By Your Side is a macabre little piece that employs some weird stop-motion animation to pull some literary characters right out of their pages. It’s a neat idea, but unfortunately isn’t really explored to any relevant extent in its rather short runtime.

Next, I watched We Once Were a Fairytale, which I had heard good things about around Kanye West’s 808s phase. With West’s recent public breakdown in pretty recent times, this was especially discomforting to watch as his self-doubts and instability are laid out as bare as they could possibly get. West gives a pretty great performance, but Jonze’s signature weird narrative twists and turns – including a truly out-of-the-blue twist ending – elevate this one to true “must watch” status. Since I was already avoiding my usual chronological order of things, I then watched one of his earlier short films How They Get There. It basically just follows two people mimicking each other from across the street until one gets hit by a car. Nothing too impressive, except that this was probably the one short that made me realize the fascination Jonze has for bodies and the strange movements they make (Kenzo World, “Weapon of Choice”, and his feature film Being John Malkovich also support this observation). Finally, I watched his very first directorial effort, the legendary skateboarding tape Video Days. I’m surprised that I had never heard of this, since it’s frequently noted as being one of the most influential skating videos of all time, and I was even surprised with how much I enjoyed it. As another fascinating examination with how human bodies manipulate movement (and, at some points, stumble and fall), it really is quite an engrossing slice of culture that I’d suggest to anyone even mildly interested in the sub-genre.

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I won’t talk much in this part, since I want to save most of my breath for my 52 Films recap, but I did watch seven films directed by women in December. The side note being that one of them (The Holiday) was watched earlier in the year already, so that won’t count for another notch on the final number. Secondly, two of these films (How the ‘Dook Stole Christmas and The Snowman) were watched as part of my Christmas binging; the former I absolutely hated and felt as a total corruption of its preceding source material which I loved so much, while the latter is one of my favorite Christmas specials ever, although I already wrote about it in my Christmas post. Besides these, I watched two Kelly Reinhardt films: Meek’s Crossing and Certain Women. From these two – as well as Wendy and Lucy, which is a movie I’ve loved for quite a while already – it is clear that she has formed her true auteurship in quiet, contemplative pictures that, nonetheless, often tackle some really big ideas and themes in condensed, personal narratives. It may take a bit of patience to get through her films, but I’d say that the patience to do so would only be greatly rewarded.

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As mentioned, I already wrote a whole entire post talking about the Christmas specials I watched this season, but I’ll just mention it here again. I initially started off watching every Christmas-related short I stumbled upon and is available to log on Letterboxd. That’s what led me to watching weird stuff like A Christmas TreatThe Shanty Where Santy Claus Lives, and Donkey’s Christmas Shrektacular. Yet sometime after I finished both versions of Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s The Spirit of Christmas – the first one was Jesus vs. Frosty, the second one was Jesus vs. Santa; both are awful – I decided that I wanted a bit more quality and positivity in my viewings, so I sought out more specific themes in my schedule. In total, I watched every Rankin & Bass Christmas special, as well as all the Peanuts cartoons, some Disney cartoons, and some Jim Henson stuff that dealt specifically with the holiday. After I finished with these, I started watching special Christmas episodes of TV shows, soon realizing that animated shows tended to do the holiday the most justice. And thus is the journey of how I got to writing about these animated holiday specials in the first place. It has been really fun having this take up a bulk of my viewing activity this season, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

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Somewhere in all of this Christmassy mess, I managed to still watch some non-holiday-related movies – including Return of the Jedi, which I finally watched for the first time! People have been throwing tomatoes at me for years because of this blind spot, but having been told that it’s easily the weakest of the original trilogy, I figured there was no rush to watch it right away. So I watched it and… yeah, it’s true. This one definitely doesn’t have quite the narrative tightness of A New Hope or Empire Strike Back and I even found that it drags at bits. Regardless, it’s still a perfectly solid popcorn sci-fi flick. My boyfriend and I watched the original cut, during which he occasionally pointed out during certain scenes the edits that George Lucas made to subsequent rereleases. Some of them sound so preposterous, I may just have to check out the new edit sometime in the future. Of the original trilogy, though, this one has my second favorite final act, after the first film, but maybe that’s because the reveal of Empire has been so oversaturated for me. And of course, I do think the infamous golden bikini is awfully cringeworthy in retrospect, especially in the name of the late, legendary Carrie Fisher. Of course, Leia also gets the incredible scene where she savagely and heartlessly murders Jabba, which almost completely makes up for it all.

Oh, and also the Ewoks are adorable! All those haters can get bent!

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I was originally supposed to watch The Last American Virgin around the time when I was really obsessed with obscure and weird finds, a few years ago. Somehow it slipped under my radar and I didn’t really think much about it until I spotted it at the library early in the month. I finally watched it and… well, I did enjoy it. It’s so easy to dismiss as just another of those 70s and 80s teen sex comedies, but it comes off as so much more than that. Unlike many of these kinds of hedonistic comedies, there are real life consequences to the characters’ actions and the film doesn’t dare to shy away from some truly awkward, even painful territories. It’s not perfect, of course, and there are several bumps in the story that I will probably skip over in subsequent viewings, but everything else is pretty great. One of the most delightful aspects of the film, to me, is the settings and clothes that just feel so unabashedly 80s in its aesthetic. Overall, it’s a pretty remarkable little film and I’m so happy it has as big of a following as it has garnered to this day.

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Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is yet another film that I’ve been putting off for god knows how long. It mainly intrigued me for its cult following, as well as the fact that it was written by Roger Ebert. So, I finally watched it, and while I can’t say I loved it as much as I was expecting to, it’s not one I’m bound to be forgetting about anytime soon. The production design on this one is also beautiful, with its sets, costumes, and general look and feel practically popping with vibrant colors and lighting that feel almost like a parody of the 70s. And in a way, I guess it is, if only for how ridiculous the plot gets as it inches closer and closer to its climax. The writing is practically from a whole other planet, with lines of dialogue that are so tawdry, weirdly prose-like in nature, it’s impossible to believe that any actually human being could have uttered such words (my personal favorite: “‘Step into my web’, said the spider, et cetera.”). Once again, some of the turns it takes in the story aren’t really to my liking and I found the novelty of its peculiarity to dwindle as the final act came to a close. Still, it’s one that I’ll always be excite to slip back on for a groovy, psychedelic time.

And that concludes this post! Stay tuned and ready for my recap of 2016 in films, which should be coming around here in the next day or so. Hope you have a safe and happy new year!

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