Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Films During Christmas Are So...Depressing

November and December is probably the busiest time for a film critic.  This is when we do the most work, see the most movies, and (personally speaking) this is the time when I have to edit and put final touches on books that are due out in January.  This already puts a lot of stress on a critic, but for the past few years I have noticed another problem altogether.  See, the reason this is the busiest time of the season for writers of film is because it's Oscar season.  This is when all the studios are releasing their films that are "big," "important," and "potent." Films that feature heavy dialog and tough subject matter start flooding the theaters.  Some of the films I've seen in the past few weeks involve father abandonment, child molestation, survival at all costs, and epic space battles that I am legally obligated not to talk about in specific detail until next week (though I will say that this unnamed film is not nearly as much fun as it should be).

That some of these movies are some of the best of the year is of little comfort.  It makes me wonder: What happened to all the fun Christmas films?  It used to be every year we could expect some Christmas films from studios.  Some would be for adults.  Most would be for families.  There was honestly only a fifty-fifty chance of them being good, but when they were good they could be really good ("The Polar Express" and "Arthur Christmas" are two somewhat recent examples).  I remember my dad taking me to movies for my birthday and we would see movies like "The Muppet Christmas Carol," "The Santa Clause 2," and "The Grinch." This year the big movie being released for my birthday is "In the Heart of the Sea," which features no Christmas joy anywhere.  So far I have only seen two Christmas films this year.  The first was the profoundly stupid "We Love the Coopers," which was so bad it was practically gone from cinemas before December even hit (good luck finding it now if you live in a smaller town).

The second is "Krampus," a much better (and shockingly enjoyable film for something that wasn't screened for critics) holiday themed movie that looks at the "other" mystic figure of Christmas that isn't so nice and comes into the picture when Santa decides you weren't nice enough to get any presents.  It's a fun movie to be sure... but it doesn't exactly bring the Christmas cheer one would hope for. Granted, neither did "Bad Santa," but that was released in June the year it came out.  There is also "The Night Before" out there, but I haven't seen it, and I doubt Seth Rogan is going to bring any holiday cheer.  The Christmas films have been so few and far between these past couple of years, that many movie theaters are dedicating screens to classic movies to fill the void of holiday cheer.  This year my local theaters are almost all showing "Home Alone," "Miracle on 34th Street" (both versions), and "It's A Wonderful Life!" Before "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" opens there will be some IMAX's showing "The Polar Express" again.  Heck, one theater near me is even showing Adam Sandler's "Eight Crazy Nights."

That movie is so unpleasant you would find more cheer in watching "The Silence of the Lambs."

It all makes me wonder: What the heck happened?  When did going to the movies during the most wonderful time of the year become such a bleak thing to do?  Right now the only movie that has any sense of holiday cheer is "The Peanuts Movie," which has some scenes during Christmas, but is not a movie that is in and of itself about Christmas.  It is true that Christmas movies have somewhat limited commercial appeal.  People only really want to see them during December.  Most of them open in November to try and stretch out their profitability window, but if they movie tanks during the first couple of weeks it could be gone before that crucial period hits.  Open it too late and it never takes off at all.  The movie can't be released on DVD until the following November because no one wants it before then.  The pro to this though is that if the movie IS successful, you are guaranteed to sell it every year to people in one form or another.

Will studios return to their old tradition of making Christmas movies?  I'm concerned about that.  Hollywood has become more about franchise and Oscar movies.  Holiday films don't really fall into either category at the moment.  That becomes a problem because the most we can expect these days is for a non-holiday movie to at least have a portion of the film that takes place during Christmas.  There's also that whole war on Christmas thing going on, where it becomes more and more politically incorrect to celebrate the holiday every year.  Ah, I better stop before I get into a topic that is too big for me.  At the moment I am watching more movies than I usually do, doing more writing than normal, and yet I'm not feeling a whole lot of joy from these movies regardless of their quality.  I don't know what the problem is and I don't know if there is a solution, but hopefully Christmas films will start to feel festive again at some point.