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Posted at 11:54 AM ET, 12/17/2010

Friday List: Five unconventional holiday movies

By Jen Chaney

Nothing says Christmas like Jake Gyllenhaal in a Santa hat. (Universal)

Like so much about the yuletide season, when it comes to our Christmas movies, we tend to fall back on tradition. Hence, at some point in December, we feel obligated to sit down and watch one or all of the following: "It's a Wonderful Life," "A Christmas Story," "Miracle on 34th Street," "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and/or "Elf."

And hey, there's nothing wrong with that. I also feel like something is amiss if I haven't spent time with George Bailey or Ralphie Parker before the holidays are over.

But sometimes it's nice to mix it up. Which is why, five years ago, I wrote this list of unconventional holiday movies to watch on DVD. That first list led to a second list, then morphed into an annual little Washington Post tradition of its own. This year's rundown of 10 unconventional holiday movies -- the fifth -- appears online and in today's Weekend section of the Post.

With five years of Christmas flicks under my belt, this seemed like a good time to devote a Friday list to five of my favorite unconventional holiday movies from the past half-decade's worth of lists. The criteria for making the cut: each movie must either be set during the fa-la-la season or include at least one memorable Christmas scene. Of course, there are still plenty more that haven't made my lists, so feel free to chime in with your favorites by posting a comment.

"The Sure Thing" (from the 2006 list)

John Cusack must be subconsciously drawn to offbeat holiday fare. He's appeared in a few films that fall into that category, including "Better Off Dead" (yes, the Lane Meyer Story does include some yuletide moments) and the little-seen "The Ice Harvest." But 1985's "The Sure Thing" -- in which Cusack and an uptight Daphne Zuniga fall in love while trekking across country during the holidays -- is my favorite. Who can resist Cusack as Walter Gibson, buying a holiday round and joining in a sing-along of "The Christmas Song"?

"The Thin Man" (the 2007 list)

Speaking of drinking, let's turn to Nick and Nora Charles, the banter-trading, crime-solving couple (played by William Powell and Myrna Loy) who manage to solve a murder while throwing killer holiday cocktail parties in this 1934 classic. Shooting at the Christmas tree while drunk never seemed so classy.

"American Psycho" (the 2008 list)

A satire about a yuppie who murders people? Yeah, that's about as far away from usual holiday cheer as it gets. Does anyone sound less genuine saying the words holly, jolly Christmas than Patrick Bateman, as played by a deliciously evil, Huey Lewis-loving Christian Bale?

"The Apartment" (from the 2009 list)

Billy Wilder's romantic comedy about navigating relationships while climbing the corporate ladder gets better and better with age. It's so revered that people often forget it's a Christmas movie, and one that features a "swingin' office party" that even outdoes the holiday soiree featured on last season's "Mad Men."

"Jarhead" (from the 2010 list)

Sure, there are better war movies. But I still say that "Jarhead" never got the accolades and attention it deserved, and that includes praise for a performance by Jake Gyllenhaal that's far stronger than his work in "Love & Other Drugs" ... and, coincidentally, also involves a bit of partial Gyllenhaal nudity.

By Jen Chaney  | December 17, 2010; 11:54 AM ET
Categories:  Friday Lists, Movies, Pop Culture  
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I just read your list of 10 for 2010 and I have to say I couldn't disagree more about Precious. I know alot of people raved about this movie. I think the actors did an outstanding job, but I could not walk away feeling hopeful at the end of that movie. Yes, she finally broke free of her abusive situation, but after she found hope she also found out the father that had been sexually abusing her had also given her AIDS and she was probably going to die. After watching all the pain and suffering she went through, I needed a little more feel good at the end. And I definitely wouldn't watch it at Christmastime.

Posted by: luvlydawter | December 17, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

A Midnight Clear

It was on one year when I was decorating the tree &, if my husband would let me, I'd watch it every year while decorating the tree.

The Germans & Americans stuck together put aside their differences for Christmas. Yes, there's some shooting & killing, but still a Christmas movie nonetheless.

More of a Christmas movie than say, Die Hard.

I'll also add Dennis Leary's The Ref to the list.

The imdb summary sorta says it all:
A cat burglar is forced to take a bickering, dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve.

And dysfunctional hilarity ensues.

Posted by: wadejg | December 17, 2010 12:44 PM | Report abuse

Jen, I disagree. Jarhead IS one of the best war movies ever made. Several scenes in the movie are among the more memorable in all of cinema. Those of you who have not yet seen it, rent it and watch it.

Posted by: sasquatchbigfoot | December 17, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Why say 'holiday' movies, when each is clearly a Christmas movie?

Posted by: 1911a1 | December 17, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

John Cusack's "Serendipity" is also a Christmas movie, albeit a more conventional one.

Posted by: skippercollector | December 18, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse

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