The Twelve Films of Christmas

In the same way that Lords ‘a’ leaping and Maids ‘a’ milking seem a bit random for a Christmas song, I’m presenting 12 films for Christmas on the basis that they have the required number in the title and not necessarily anything to do with Christmas.

The ground rules are:

·         No numbered sequels or parts, e.g. Toy Story 3, Godfather Part 2

·         No multiple numbers, e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Taking of Pelham 1,2,3.

I’m doing this all of the top of my head, so please feel free to point out the obvious ones I am bound to miss!

On the first day of Christmas…One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Had to bend the rules slightly straight away, as the song doesn’t explicitly say “one partridge”, but it has the number one, a bird and a nest that I would imagine would be in a tree, so that’s good enough for me!

The central performance of Jack Nicholson rightly takes most of the attention (supposedly James Caan, Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando turned the part down before it reached Nicholson), but he is more than ably supported by a strong ensemble cast featuring Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Brad Dourif as the heartbreaking Billy Bibbit and a career high performance from Louise Fletcher.  It won 5 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor & Actress for Nicholson and Fletcher respectively.

Honourable Mentions: Air Force One, One Hour Photo, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1, One Day, One of our Dinosaurs is Missing

On the second day of Christmas…Two Mules for Sister Sara

Clint Eastwood parodies his “Man with No Name” image in a surprisingly violent comedy action film.  He plays a sort of secret agent in the wild west who stumbles across a nun, Sister Sara (Shirley MacLaine) being attacked.  After rescuing her he finds that she could also help him with his mission.  I remember being bitterly disappointed with the comedic aspects of this film, as I really just wanted another gritty Eastwood western.  Originally it was seen as a vehicle for Eastwood and Elizabeth Taylor, but the budget would not stretch to Taylor’s salary.  It was directed by Don Siegel with whom Eastwood worked on many films (and dedicated Unforgiven to Siegel and Sergio Leone) and had an original story by Budd Boetticher who himself made some excellent westerns with Randolph Scott.

Honourable Mentions: Lock, Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels, The Magnificent Two, Two Lane Blacktop, Two Way Stretch, The thing with 2 heads, Two Moon Junction (for those of us who remember a bootleg VHS copy doing the rounds at school!)

On the third day of Christmas…3 Amigos!

Wow, having seen this in the last year I realise how my sense of humour has moved on a bit!  Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short are the eponymous Amigos who perform in movies at the turn of the century.  In a twist on the Magnificent Seven, a Mexican town under siege by bandits sees the movies and thinking it real hire the Amigos who, in turn, think it must be a staged public appearance.  Hilarity ensues.  Nostalgia makes it something worth watching for me and who can forget doing the “Amigo Salute”?

Honourable Mentions: 3 Fugitives, 3 Godfathers, 3 Musketeers, 3 Men and a baby/little lady, Saturn 3, 3 Coins in the Fountain

On the fourth day of Christmas…Four Lions

Should I be laughing at this?  Four Lions rides dangerously close to, and occasionally grinds through, the knuckle in its comedic depiction of suicide bombers in England.  Written and directed by Chris Morris (Brass Eye) the film has plenty of laughs and also takes the suicide bomber/terrorist cell and twists it into an absurd bunch of buffoons.  Fans of Fonejacker get to see what the Fonejacker really looks like: Kayvan Novak as Waj.

Honourable Mentions: 4 Weddings and a Funeral, Fantastic 4, I am Number 4, 4 Brothers, 4 Rooms. The 4 Feathers

On the fifth day of Christmas…Five Easy Pieces

Its Jack Nicholson again, this time as Bobby Dupea, a classical pianist shunning his privileged background and living as a blue collar working man.  Disenchanted throughout, this film delves into Dupea’s life and soul and finds a tormented character who just may never find happiness.  Nicholson is superb and reveals Bobby’s tortured soul when delivering the line “I move around a lot, not because I’m looking for anything really, but ’cause I’m getting away from things that get bad if I stay.”

Honourable mentions: Slaughterhouse 5, Come back to the 5 and dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean,5 Children and It, Full Fathom 5

On the Sixth day of Christmas…Six Degrees of Separation

Having discarded D-Day 6th of June and the Sixth Sense, I fell back on this film that pretty much introduced Will Smith as an actor that could do more than wear his cap sideways and gurn at the camera a la the Fresh prince.  Smith proved he had the chops to do serious films and look at him now – I’m not keen on him creating a Smith entertainment dynasty by forcing his offspring unto the world (if the Day the Earth stood still is anything to go by, I think Willow will have a longer career than Jayden).

Honourable Mentions: With 6 you get egg roll, Crazy Six (Rob Lowe, Mario Van Peebles, Ice-T and Burt Reynolds?!!), Adam at 6am.

On the seventh day of Christmas…The Magnificent Seven

Many to choose from here, but I love the Magnificent Seven.  Although McQueen pretty much steals the film from under the nose of Yul Brynner, the entire cast (even the miscast Horst Bucholz) make the film so great.  Legend has it that all of the actors were so young and hungry for success that they would do all they could to upstage the others.  McQueen was the master of making movements and faces even whilst other actors had lines, as he knew the viewers eye would be drawn to him.  Brynner noticed this and had to resort to taking off his hat when sharing scenes with McQueen as he knew the viewer would be drawn to his bald head instead!

Honourable Mentions: Seven, 7 Pounds, 7 Years in Tibet, 7 Samurai (on which the Magnificent Seven is based), Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Seven Year Itch, Robin and the Seven Hoods, Seven Men from Now, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The 7 Ups  and numerous Magnificent Seven sequels.

On the eighth day of Christmas…8MM

Back in the days when Nicholas Cage could act rather than overact in hair-pieces, this little gem of a movie from Joel Schumacher was very good.  It delves into the seedy underworld of LA torture-pkkn as part of a classic detective story.  If you like this film watch Paul Schrader’s Hardcore.

Honourable Mentions: Butterfield 8, Jennifer 8, 8 Men Out, 8 Mile

On the ninth day of Christmas…District 9

Neill Blomkamp’s superb sci-fi film not only has a great story with lots of political undertones relevant today it also has a fantastic central performance from Sharlto Copley who went on to play Murdoch in the A-Team movie.  He will however, be working with Blomkamp again on another sci-fi film in the near future currently called Elysium.  See my full review of District 9 here.

Honourable Mentions: Nine, The Whole 9 yards, 9 Queens, 9 Songs

On the tenth day of Christmas…The Ten Commandments

Perhaps not as obvious a choice as 10 (Dudley Moore, Bo Derek), but it links (sort of) to the whole Christmas thing.  Charlton Heston is Moses in the huge epic.  Legendary film director Cecille B. DeMille was effectively remaking his own film from 1923.  This version was massive box office hit yet only won one Oscar (Visual Effects) despite being nominated in several categories: It lost out on the best picture Oscar to Around the World in 80 Days.

Honourable Mentions: 10, Starter for 10, Force 10 from Naverone, Agatha Christie’s 10 little Indians, Ten Canoes

On the eleventh day of Christmas…Ocean’s Eleven

Not the slick heist movie from Steven Soderbergh, the rambling shambles of a heist movie created solely for Sinatra and his Rat Pack to spend time in and get paid for being in Las Vegas.  The film is ok, but doesn’t capture the chemistry the Rat Pack shared in their on stage performances during the same period.  But the key players, Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jnr and even Lawford and Bishop exude cool and the nonchalance of a group of middle aged men who could fulfil every fantasy they had.  Living the dream!

Honourable Mentions: Ocean’s Eleven (Soderbergh) – why aren’t there more films with 11 in the title?!

On the 12th day of Christmas…12 Angry Men

The 1957 version directed by Sidney Lumet and featuring Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Ed Begley and the rest of the 12 is one of the most powerful and thought provoking films you could ever see.  The ensemble cast entombed in the deliberating room until they can reach a verdict bounce of each other superbly.  This is partly down to the performances and Lumet’s direction, but mostly down to Reginald Rose’s excellent script – a script that stands up so well even a TV movie remake with George C. Scott and Jack Lemmon is gripping.  In fact the 1957 version was based upon a TV movie version as part of Studio One Hollywood some 3 years previous.

Honourable Mentions: Twelve Monkeys, Ocean’s Twelve, The 12 Chairs,

ALL TOGETHER NOW:

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me 12 Angry Men, Ocean’s 11, The Ten Commandments, District 9, 8MM, The Magnificent 7, Six Degrees of Separation, FIVE EASY PIECES!! 4 Lions, 3 Amigos, 2 Mules for Sister Sara and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest…well, it almost works?!

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