Notes from the Back Row 

Christmas classics

Snow drifts across the hard frozen ground, sadness and loneliness swirl on the winter winds. No, it's not Christmas in Whistler when you're miles from your family and working a double-shift serving noodle, it's True Grit the new western revenge/morality flick from the Coen Brothers ( Big Lebowski, No Country for Old Men). An adaptation of the Charles Portis novel, True Grit stars Hallie Steinfeld as a 14-year-old girl out to avenge her father's death. Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin all co-star and the Coens deliver a clean, efficient and, dare I say, gritty Western genre flick. They don't reinvent the wagon wheel but they make sure it rolls along just fine.

Also playing this week at the Village 8 is Little Fockers , by far the worst entry into that tired franchise. I guess even De Niro has bills to pay this Christmas.

Christmas movies are best watched at home with a little 'nog though and the classic is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. You can't beat the Griswalds - Chevy Chase on top of his game, Randy Quaid stealing the show and a young Juliette Lewis as the cherry on top.

For the little kids Home Alone still stands up. It's the elaborately set traps that make the movie - an iron to the face never gets old. Good family fun, plus the late great John Candy has a role.

Speaking of family, 1983's A Christmas Story makes the list because all Ralphy wants is a B.B. gun and they just don't make Christmas flicks like this anymore. Asian waiters singing "Fa Ra Ra Ra Ra" might not be politically correct anymore, but it's not meant in a hurtful way and it's still funny.

The Grinch is the original Christmas badass (both the cartoon and the Jim Carey movie rule) but Billy Bob Thornton and Bernie Mac also make the list with Bad Santa because strippers, drunks and con artists don't get the praise they deserve this time of year. There aren't enough R-rated Christmas flicks.

But here's one - R Xmas is a grim-but-awesome New York Christmas tale about two loving parents/heroin distributors just trying to find that super rare and popular toy doll for their little girl. Drea de Matteo ( Sopranos) gets the doll on the black market but things go south when her husband is kidnapped by Ice-T and she's supposed to raise the ransom in half an hour or return to her daughter with a doll but no daddy. Abel Ferrera ( Bad Lieutenant) brings his trademark naturalistic directing style and hip hop pioneer Schoolly D contributes to soundtrack, giving R Xmas more street cred than a Salvation Army Santa Claus.

These days Santa is a lot more celebrated at Christmas than Jesus and Santa's Slay is my new favourite B-grade Christmas treat. The premise is that Santa is actually Satan's immaculately conceived child (he gets one too) who was defeated by an angel in a curling match and banished from earth - a premise that puts the "high" back into high concept. Anyhow, evil Santa returns on a flying buffalo-deer and ass-kicks his way down both the naughty and nice lists. Lots of tits, blood, puncture wounds and creative death scenes, as well as some of the best teenage dialogue ever filmed, make this 2005 doozy the DVD of the week.

Finally, Treevenge is a 13-minute short film staring J-Roc that sums up the holidays as well as anything can. Made by East Coast Canadians Jason Eisener and Rob Cotterill, this is standard viewing after Christmas dinner at my place. Find it free online.

Ho Ho Ho! Christmas can be cold and lonely (like Mel Gibson at the Christmassy beginning of Lethal Weapon) so let the movies warm your hearts this holiday season. Liquor helps too.



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