A superhero film that serves as the ultimate fantasy for any Jewish kid who grew up in a non-Jewish school and/or neighborhood, The Hebrew Hammer stars Adam Goldberg (perhaps playing a grown-up version of his Dazed and Confused character) as Mordechai Jefferson Carver, a Certified Circumcised Dick who dresses like a cross between a pimp and a Hasidic Jew and has dedicated his life to defending his “people.” The Hammer lives in a world where Christians and Jews have shared a tenuous peace for decades, a peace that is now threatened by Damian, the evil son of Santa Claus, and his plan to destroy Hanukkah and make everyone celebrate Christmas. It’s up to Mordechai and his allies (which include his love interest, Esther, and a gang of Kwanzaa supporters) to save Hanukkah and restore the mutual trust between Christians and Jews. The Hebrew Hammer is nowhere near as offensive as it sounds — and, unfortunately, nor is it anywhere near as funny, even though it certainly scores a lot of points just for its completely outrageous and original premise (and for a particularly hilarious Melvin Van Peebles cameo in which he reprises one of his famous blaxploitation roles). Ultimately, it’s Goldberg who keeps it from falling apart, completely committed to his character and the weirdo world he inhabits.
The Coen Brothers‘ screwball homage to the shameless sentimentality of Frank Capra and the rat-a-tat dialogue of Howard Hawks stars Tim Robbins as Norville Barnes, a naive young man from Muncie, Indiana who manages to go from mail clerk to President of Hudsucker Industries in about a week’s time thanks to the scheming board of directors looking to plummet the stock — a plan that backfires when Norville’s invention, the hula hoop, ends up being a smash success. Jennifer Jason Leigh is the fast-talking, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter looking to get to the bottom of it all, with Bruce Campbell sneaking in a few good bits as her smirking colleague, Smitty. While it doesn’t always work the way the Coens (and co-writer Sam Raimi) probably intended, The Hudsucker Proxy is still a charmer, with a terrific ensemble cast that thankfully “gets” its retro style — especially Paul Newman as the cigar-chomping, villainous Sidney J. Mussburger. The film takes place n New York City around the holidays, with a key (and rather suspenseful) sequence taking place on New Year’s Eve that proves there’s magic afoot in the big city when ’tis the season.
You forgot this was (kind of) a Christmas movie, didn’t you? The opening credit sequence sweeps across the Los Angeles skyline to the tune of “Jingle Bell Rock” until we come upon a half-naked blonde on a high-rise balcony who ends up plummeting to her death; the Christmas cheer continues later when Gary Busey blows away a television set that’s playing the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol with a machine gun, exclaiming “Goddamn Christmas!” Meanwhile, there’s tension in the Homicide department of the LAPD as just-turned-50 Roger Murtagh (Danny Glover) has been assigned a new partner, a seemingly suicidal live wire named Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) — together, they take on drug dealers, prostitution rings, guys who want to jump off buildings and nasty Asians who specialize in electro-shock therapy. And so was the beginning of a beautiful friendship — and a hugely lucrative franchise, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that every subsequent sequel just got more and more goofy to the point that, by Lethal Weapon 4, we were all too old for this shit.
James Goldman’s terrific stage play gets a robust cinematic treatment thanks to an amazing cast of super-actors like Peter O’Toole, Katherine Hepburn, John Castle, Anthony Hopkins (making his film debut), Jane Merrow, Nigel Terry and even Timothy Dalton. A highly entertaining portrait of one of the most dysfunctional families in history (but certainly nowhere near being historically accurate), The Lion in Winter is set in medieval France during Christmas 1183 and chronicles the various tugs-of-war between King Henry II (O’Toole), his wife, Eleanor (Hepburn, who won an Oscar for her performance), who he keeps locked in the tower, and their three sons, all of who want to inherit the throne and have their own individual plans of how to do so. Everyone’s playing everyone else for a fool in this wicked and witty holiday tale that plays more like a conspiracy thriller with a dark sense of humor than a traditional “costume drama.” Oscars also went to John Barry’s mischievous score and Goldman’s own adapted screenplay, which is regarded by many as having some of the best dialogue ever written.
This is actually more of a Thanksgiving movie, but you try telling that to the millions of people who watch it every year at Christmas. Miracle on 34th Street is a classic, which means you’re obliged to watch it at least once — and if you’re one of the few people who have never seen it, why not do do this year? Santa Claus is alive and well and playing himself in New York City’s annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, a phenomenon that ends up being just the thing to make a true believer out of Susan (Natalie Wood), a little girl who’s way too young to be so cynical. The premise of Kris Kringle going to court and defending his own identity in modern-day Manhattan may sound ridiculous, but the movie pulls off its fantastical premise by playing it completely straight — and with the Oscar-winning performance of the wonderful Edmund Gwenn as Santa. The 1994 remake written by John Hughes is kind of cute (and Richard Attenborough makes for a pretty great Santa as well), but this original 1947 version is the real Christmas Miracle.