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Larry Donnelly Ten more movies to watch at Christmas

In our columnist’s humble opinion, these films are perfect to watch in the halcyon days sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s.

AT ROUGHLY THE same time last year, just before my wife, son and I travelled back to Boston, I compiled a list of 10 movies in this space that I planned to inflict on family and friends while relaxing in my frigid home town.

As I said then, my tastes are far from refined. The reaction to my choices was decidedly mixed.

After perusing the comments and social media posts, however, I realised that there were at least 10 others that make for awesome viewing – in my humble opinion – on the halcyon days sandwiched between Christmas and New Year’s that seem designed for doing as little as possible.

Although we’re staying in Wicklow in 2022, here goes again, in no particular order.

10. Die Hard

Let’s forget the debate as to whether this action-packed thriller, starring Bruce Willis as John McClane trying to rescue his wife and her colleagues from terrorists in Nakatomi Plaza, is a Christmas film. Regardless, it’s brilliant.

There are plenty of great scenes and some memorable lines.

As for the latter, the pathetic Harry Ellis’s attempt to negotiate with the men holding him hostage – “Business is business, you use a gun, I use a fountain pen, what’s the difference, am I right?”

And the retort of one FBI agent to a colleague who shouted that their helicopter ride was similar to a tour of duty in Vietnam – “I was in junior high, d**khead” – are gems.

Die Hard 2 is pretty damn good, too.

9. Mr Smith Goes to Washington

To most, the legendary Jimmy Stewart will eternally be synonymous with It’s a Wonderful Life, but he is superb in this 1939 classic, considered one of the best political motion pictures ever made.

Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, a totally naïve boy scout-type who is appointed to a vacant seat in the United States Senate and battles endemic corruption.

Countless advocates for political reform have since argued that Capitol Hill needs a senator like him.

8. A Christmas Story

I’ll never understand why this oft-repeated, annual cable television staple in the US never really caught on elsewhere.

It recounts the 1940s childhood of nine-year-old Ralph Parker, who frenziedly wants a Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle from Santa.

Poor Ralphie is told by nearly everyone: “You’ll shoot your eye out.”

This central element of the plot is supplemented well with instances of hilarity, including the protagonist’s father’s obsession with a risqué lamp, fights with schoolyard bullies and a “triple dog dare” that leaves a young boy with his tongue stuck to a frozen flagpole.

7. Coming to America

Eddie Murphy – Prince Akeem from the fictional African nation of Zamunda – provides a comic masterclass in this unlikely fantasy in which a royal eschews an arranged marriage in favour of working at McDowell’s (a fast food rip-off of McDonald’s) in the Queens borough of New York and finds love with the owner’s daughter, who had been courted by a rather ridiculous suiter, Eriq La Salle, of subsequent ER fame.

Murphy, along with talk show host Arsenio Hall, played multiple diverse characters to uproarious effect throughout.

6. The Fugitive

It may engender the ire of some critics, but this 1993 film featuring Harrison Ford as Dr Richard Kimble and Tommy Lee Jones as Deputy US Marshal Samuel Gerard is, to me, one of the few productions of recent decades that warrants the epic moniker.

The acting is terrific. It is beautifully shot and captures the essence of Chicago.

And while the pursuit of Dr Kimble, convicted of his wife’s murder, is far-fetched in certain respects – for instance, how does he, when cornered by Deputy Gerard, survive jumping hundreds of feet off a dam into flowing rapids? – The Fugitive is still believable enough to be gripping from start to finish.

5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Remaining in the environs of the Windy City, this romanticised, delightfully over the top portrayal of Ferris (by a young Matthew Broderick) and friends “playing hooky” or “mitching” – depending on which side of the Atlantic one hails from – at a suburban high school is relentlessly entertaining.

I will always think the phone call from the kooky Cameron, pretending to be a bereaved Mr Peterson, to the hapless principal, Ed Rooney, is the funniest bit. But there are many to choose from. Save Ferris!

4. Death Wish

Paul Kersey is a mild-mannered New York architect turned vigilante after his wife is murdered and his daughter raped by robbers who attacked them on their walk home from a grocery store.

Made in the 1970s, when many American cities were plagued by escalating crime rates, Charles Bronson, as Kersey, became something of a folk hero.

And it’s hard not to root for the main character as he methodically eliminates bad guys on the streets of the Big Apple.

Once he is finally apprehended, the police opt not to arrest Kersey and instead forcibly relocate him to the midwest. An incessant series of sequels of declining quality followed the original.

3. A Bronx Tale

Another violent picture set in New York, this one is directed by and stars Robert DeNiro, whose impressionable son Calogero falls into the company of and is “adopted” by a gangster, Sonny, at the beginning.

DeNiro, a bus driver, is desperate to keep his son from criminality and deeply wary of Sonny, expertly played by Chazz Palminteri.

The best vignette in the middle is when a group of motor bikers, purporting to be gentlemen, come into a neighbourhood bar asking for beers.

Granted entry initially by the locally omnipotent Sonny, their rowdy behaviour results in their being locked in to the establishment, and not in an enviable way. “Now youse can’t leave”, portends the bloody beating they receive.

2. A Few Good Men

There is a definite set of ideals that animate – or formerly animated – us lawyers. One of them is that no one is above the law; even the most powerful people in the world can be held to account.

Here, Colonel Nathaniel Jessup ordered a “code red” leading to the death of an allegedly deficient soldier at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

Daniel Kaffee is the military lawyer known for plea bargaining who morphs into a crusader for justice in his defence of the two Marines charged with the killing and takes down Jessup in the process.

In my estimation, Tom Cruise as Kaffee and Jack Nicholson as Jessup both put in the best performance of their careers.

1. Good Will Hunting

Yes, I am biased. Yet this is among the essential Boston films.

It tells the story of a gifted kid from Southie, a place that has been transformed utterly by gentrification in the intervening period since it attracted wide acclaim in 1997.

Perhaps the dispositive element of the Boston movie genre, for natives anyway, is that those endeavouring to represent the city we adore get our accent right.

Needless to say, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck execute to perfection. And the late Robin Williams, as the mentor to Damon’s Will Hunting, is extraordinary.

Damon bashing the window with his palm and roaring “Do you like apples?” at a Harvard snob is a signature moment.

I’ve already re-watched four of the above movies. Six more to go.

No matter if you see some or none of my favourites, I hope you are enjoying the Christmas holidays and have a fantastic 2023.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston lawyer, a Law Lecturer at the University of Galway and a political columnist with The Journal.

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