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Larry Donnelly 10 more movies to watch this Christmas

Our columnist takes a break from US politics watching and switches to movies.

LAST UPDATE | 26 Dec 2023

ONE OF THE things that I have wound up revering since leaving Boston for a new life in this country more than two decades ago is the lazy stretch between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Unlike in the United States, where we resume work nearly as soon as Santa gets to rest, most people are lucky to be off until after 1 January.

This is a period to catch up with family and friends, to rest and rejuvenate. Many classic films are shown and are available to view on the plethora of accessible television channels and streaming services.

In 2021 and 2022, I offered lists of ten movies I regard as worth tuning into, if possible, at the end of the year. Here are some more for 2023, in no particular order, with the annual proviso that my tastes are decidedly simple. Those seeking sophisticated or fashionable pieces of art won’t discover them below!

10. The Goonies (1985)

the-goonies-1985-warner-bros-film-directed-by-richard-donner THE GOONIES 1985 Warner Bros film directed by Richard Donner. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

I am fully aware of and agree with the critique that this 1980s fantasy in the Pacific Northwest of the US – a quest of a ragtag crew of kids to unearth the treasure of the mythical “One-Eyed Willie” – hasn’t aged well. Nonetheless, I am a fan.

First, it brings me back to the glory days of my childhood and walking with my pals literally across a highway overpass from our houses to see it at the single screen East Milton Cinema, latterly turned into a high-end Italian restaurant owned by Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block fame.

We were lucky to have this theatre and luckier still that our parents let us go to it unaccompanied. Second is observing my son, Larry Óg, guffaw at the same gags and situations I similarly thought were hysterical when I was 11.

9. Clear and Present Danger (1994)

harrison-ford-clear-and-present-danger-1994 Harrison Ford, Clear and Present Danger, 1994 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

One of several versions of books written by Tom Clancy, the legendary Harrison Ford as protagonist Jack Ryan and the great James Earl Jones as the dying Admiral James Greer put in standout performances in this epic thriller.

In it, a covert war, authorised at the highest levels of government, is waged by US special forces against a drug cartel. It’s two and a half hours long, which I typically find tough to take, but this is an exception. Riveting from start to finish.

8. Back to School (1986)

rodney-dangerfield-back-to-school-1986 Rodney Dangerfield, Back to School, 1986 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

In my humble opinion, Rodney Dangerfield is the second funniest person ever, trailing only Eddie Murphy. In this terrific comedy, Dangerfield plays Thornton Mellon, a successful, yet garish, businessman who buys his way into the university his son is attending and “studies” alongside him.

Non-stop, often politically incorrect hilarity ensues. Notably, Burt Young, who was best known as “Paulie” in the Rocky series and passed away in 2023, is excellent as Mellon’s bodyguard and confidante.

7. The Holiday (2006)

the-holiday-2006-sony-pictures-releasing-film-with-cameron-diaz-and-jude-law Jude Law and Cameron Diaz in The Holiday. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It would have been wrong not to include at least one Christmas movie. Readers will have seen Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet do a house swap in order to get a taste of life on the other side of the Atlantic and unexpectedly stumble into true love, at last, in the process.

It’s enjoyable and heart-warming. My possibly controversial perspective for what it’s worth: the Diaz storyline set in a scenic English village is much better than Winslet’s sojourn in Los Angeles and its environs.

6. Blown Away (1994)

blown-away-1994 Tommy Lee Jones and Jeff Bridges in Blown Away 1994 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

I am unashamedly biased toward everything associated with the city of my birth. Hence, I can excuse the absolutely horrendous Irish and even worse Boston accents attempted by Tommy Lee Jones, Lloyd Bridges and Jeff Bridges, respectively.

The story of an IRA prison escapee (Jones as Ryan Garrity) discovering an erstwhile comrade (the junior Bridges as Jimmy Dove) who has made a new life as a bomb squad cop in America’s most Irish corner is well-shot, entertaining and has lots of great local Massachusetts culture.

Again, memories of my youth: an old neighbour of mine sings in the Irish band at Dove’s wedding and I was among many spectators there to witness the massive explosion over the harbour at the climax.

5. The Town (2010)

the-town-2010-warner-bros-film-with-rebecca-hall-and-ben-affleck The Town 2010 Warner Bros. film with Rebecca Hall and Ben Affleck. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Yep, a second Boston selection. It was hugely popular with people in this country, especially those acquainted with the Charlestown neighbourhood, its main character in truth. Ben Affleck, who co-wrote, directed and starred in this adaptation of a 2004 novel, captures perfectly the changed demographics of this geographically tiny, formerly working class and now gentrified area.

It used to be known as the bank robbery capital of the US where a “code of silence” prevailed and meant that outsiders were treated with disdain and never confided in. The plot – in which the chaotic lives of a group of male “Townies” in their twenties revolve around their unique traditions, cynical law enforcement officials pursue them relentlessly and naïve transplants look on disbelievingly – is fascinating and action-packed. A car chase through the narrow streets of Boston’s historic North End ranks up there with the very best.

4. The Cutting Edge (1992)

kellysweeney-the-cutting-edge-1992 Kelly and Sweeney, The Cutting Edge, 1992 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

If my choosing The Holiday suggests that I am a romantic at heart, picking this fable of unlikely love is proof. Moira Kelly (Kate Moseley) is a figure skater past her prime and DB Sweeney (Doug Dorsey) is a disgraced ex-ice hockey stalwart. The extremely difficult and spoiled Moseley has to settle for Dorsey, who she deems an uncivilised grunt, to have any chance at an Olympic medal in the twilight of her career. Cue an improbable mutual crush that they only admit to each other in the closing moments.

My wife managed to endure it on only one occasion and called me “sad” – not to mention additional, more colourful adjectives – when it concluded. I favour another critic’s assessment: the co-stars make “something special” out of what could have been “bland, predictable or sentimental.” Well, if you also are a pure softie, spending an hour and a half absorbing The Cutting Edge will be an uplifting escape from some actually sad realities.

3. First Blood (1982)

sylvester-stallone-first-blood-1982 Sylvester Stallone, First Blood, 1982 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

I don’t necessarily buy into the maxim that the original is the best, but it definitely is when it comes to the first instalment of motion pictures showcasing Sylvester Stallone in his second most famous role. John Rambo, a Vietnam veteran who feels abandoned by the nation he served in war and killed for, is run out of a small town by the local sheriff, played masterfully by Brian Dennehy.

Rambo responds by annihilating local, state and federal authorities, by himself. It’s fantastic, and you can’t help rooting for him. It’s not just a violent, shoot ‘em up; Rambo’s rant at the end about the extraordinary sacrifices he and his fellow soldiers, lots of whom died, made for their country with little recompense mirrors the experience of thousands who fought in ill-conceived wars in Vietnam and Korea. History repeats itself. There is a new generation of Americans as scarred today by what they saw and did in the Middle East as the not so fictional John Rambo.

2. Trading Places (1983)

aykroydmurphy-trading-places-1983 Aykroyd and Murphy, Trading Places, 1983 Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

This is arguably the best farce Hollywood ever produced. Two rich, deeply cynical brothers hatch a plan and put a cool one-dollar bet on the outcome. Can a homeless Black man, Eddie Murphy as Billy Ray Valentine, could earn them as much money as a blue blood, Ivy League educated, commodities broker, Dan Ackroyd as Louis Winthorpe III?

It is a simultaneously uproariously funny and depressingly revealing sketch of the worst of American excesses and has a profound resonance four decades since it was made. Income inequality and a consequent societal malaise have only worsened. Rumour has it that Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder were to be cast as Valentine and Winthorpe. It is fortunate that they were unavailable or unwilling; Murphy and Ackroyd are beyond brilliant.

1. Hoosiers (1986)

hoosiers-1986-orion-pictures-film-with-gene-hackman-at-left-and-dennis-hopper Hoosiers 1986 with Gene Hackman at left and Dennis Hopper. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

As a young basketball fanatic who, despite my passionate dedication to the game, was too slow, short and nowhere approaching athletic enough to excel at it, this film with Gene Hackman as the coach and Dennis Hopper as his drunken, though knowledgeable, courtside assistant was magic. A tiny high school in the middle of nowhere Indiana wins the state championship. It is amazing stuff.

But this underdog tale, despite its phenomenal popularity in the US and the heightened interest in basketball in Ireland, doesn’t appear to have made much of a dent here. Accordingly, I have not been able to re-watch it. I hear that YouTube movies may be the answer. Fingers crossed!

Whether you are persuaded by these recommendations or viscerally reject them, have fun whiling away a few hours on the couch this week!

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

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