Tough Guys Don’t Dance (1987; rewatch) — Tim (Ryan O’Neal) finds himself entangled in a complex web of love, sex, drugs, deceit, corruption, and murder. Also starring Isabella Rossellini, Lawrence Tierney, Penn Jillette, and especially Wings Hauser, it’s hard to describe but so easy (and so fun) to watch.
Die Hard (1988; rewatch) — While visiting his estranged family in L.A., New York cop John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds himself at his wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia) company Christmas party when it’s taken over by terrorists (led by Alan Rickman). Unable to expect much help from the LAPD (led by Paul Gleason and featuring Reginald VelJohnson as the lone voice of support), McClane has to face off against the terrorists himself in one of the greatest action movies (and greatest Christmas movies) of all time.
Die Hard 2: Die Harder (1990; rewatch) — While waiting for his wife’s (Bonnie Bedelia) plane to arrive at the airport, John McClane (Bruce Willis) finds the airport taken over by terrorists (led by William Sadler). Unable to expect much help from the airport police (led by Dennis Franz), McClane has to face off against the terrorists himself in one of the most adequate action movies (and most adequate Christmas movies) of all time.
Red River (1948; rewatch) — With the help of his loyal ranch hands, Groot (Walter Brennan) and Matt (Montgomery Clift) and a bunch of other hired help, Tom Dunson (John Wayne) needs to get his massive herd of Texas cattle to market in Missouri. It’s over a thousand miles full of Indians, rustlers, and other dangers, and many of the guys are getting fed up with Dunson’s taskmaster attitude. It’s a terrific classic western that’s so much fun to watch.
Once Upon a Time in the West (1968; rewatch) — When a harmonica-playing stranger (Charles Bronson) arrives in town, he’s expecting to meet Frank (Henry Fonda) but instead meets three of his men (including characters played by Woody Strode and Jack Elam). Meanwhile, Frank is murdering the McBain family and framing Cheyenne (Jason Robards) for it, just as Jill (Claudia Cardinale) arrives to be the new Mrs. McBain. It’s a deadly face-off of three great gunmen and one tough woman caught in the middle. It’s one of the greatest westerns of all time and totally earns its three-hour runtime.
The Man from Laramie (1955; first-time watch) — Will Lockhart (Jimmy Stewart) is a former army captain who now uses his mule team and wagons to make deliveries. When he makes a delivery to the small, remote town of Coronado, he finds himself constantly under duress from the Waggoman family and their top ranch-hand (Arthur Kennedy). He’s got to save his own skin, while also saving the town from the Waggomans and from the Apaches. Kind of in the vein of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Stewart is a non-heroic hero who is very fun to watch against cartoonish bad guys.
The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017; first-time watch) — Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) may not be too bright, but he’s extremely loyal to his friend Ed Johnson (Peter Fonda), who has just been elected senator. When Johnson is killed, Brown vows to catch whoever is responsible. Ignoring Mrs. Johnson’s (Kathy Baker) objections, and reluctantly picking up a young companion (Diego Josef) along the way, Lefty finds himself in a much bigger ordeal than he’d originally expected. It’s a solid modern western very much in the vein of True Grit that’s fun to watch even if it can’t hold a candle to the great classics.
Thelma (2017; first-time watch) — Thelma grew up with an overprotective, devoutly Christian family, but now she’s going away to college for the first time. But just as she’s getting her first tastes of freedom and temptation, and just when it looks like she might start making friends, she has a seizure. Then she has more of them. While doctors try to figure out why she’s having them, Thelma learns more about her past and her family. It’s a terrific film that captivates you right from the opening scene and easily holds your attention throughout.
Sudden Death (1995; rewatch) — Darren McCord (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is the fire marshall at a hockey arena where it’s the final game of the Stanley Cup. The Vice President (Raymond J. Barry) is attending, and so is Joshua Foss (Powers Boothe). Foss takes the Vice President hostage, holding him for a large ransom. All of the fans are oblivious to what’s going on, and Foss is able to keep the authorities at bay, so it’s up to McCord to save the day, while also worrying about his two children who just happen to be watching the game. It’s a very dumb but immensely fun version of Die Hard set in a hockey arena.
Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974; first-time watch) — Godzilla appears and starts to destroy everything in his path. Except it’s not Godzilla; it’s a robot disguised to look like Godzilla, and it’s being controlled by aliens disguised to look like humans. The real Godzilla and the real humans must fight the fake Godzilla and the fake humans to save the world. It’s a decent movie, even if it does spend too much time on monsters fighting and not enough time on the plot.
Trancers (1984; rewatch) — Jack Death (Tim Thomerson) is a renegade cop from 300 years in the future. He travels back in time to 1985 to try to catch his nemesis Whistler (Michael Stefani) before he kills the ancestors of the members of the ruling council and prevents them from being born. Death teams up with a girl he just met (Helen Hunt) to try to track down and protect the ancestors before Whistler gets to them. It’s not a good movie, but it’s entertaining enough under the right circumstances.
Blade of the Immortal (2017; first-time watch) — After an epic battle in which he single-handedly took out a giant group of people, a samurai is endowed with blood worms by a witch. These worms can instantly heal wounds, effectively granting immortality to their host. After some time, the samurai finds his purpose: to help a girl take revenge against an evil and powerful gang that murdered her family. It’s kind of like the Baby Driver of samurai movies in that it’s got a fantastic opening, but is pretty lackluster after that. And this one is nearly half an hour longer than Baby Driver.
Runaway (1984; rewatch) —A police officer (Tom Selleck) in charge of neutralizing robots gone haywire finds himself up against an evil robotics genius (Gene Simmons) making robots go haywire. Also featuring Kirstie Alley, Joey Cramer, G.W. Bailey, and Cynthia Rhodes, it’s a dumb but thoroughly entertaining cautionary tale with a great climax.
The Double O Kid (1992; first-time watch) — Lance (Corey Haim) is a kid detective who finds himself teaming up with unsuspecting teen Melinda (Nicole Eggert) against a gang of bad guys (including Wallace Shawn). Also featuring Brigitte Nielsen, John Rhys-Davies, and Karen Black, it’s worth seeing once to marvel at its badness.
Cell (2016; first-time watch) — The world has experienced a zombie apocalypse triggered by nefarious cell phone signals. John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson are among the lucky few who escaped the wave of infections, and now Cusack is trying to get home to see if his wife and kid are okay. It’s an adaptation of a Stephen King book that mostly escaped notice, and the world is better off that way.
Elves (1989; rewatch) — A Nazi plot to take over the world leads to an evil elf chasing after a girl and her friends, mostly trapped in a department store. Only a down-on-his-luck Santa (Dan Haggerty) has the chance to save them, but he doesn’t do such a great job. It’s slow paced and nonsensical, but that’s not to say that it’s unwatchable.
Purple Noon (1960; first-time watch) — This original French adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel, later remade as The Talented Mr. Ripley, features Tom Ripley (Alain Delon) as a mooch who befriends and then kills the well-to-do Philippe Greenleaf, and then tries to impersonate him in an attempt to live a life of luxury and make a play for Philippe’s girlfriend. It’s a strong film, even if it sometimes feels a bit convenient or contrived.
The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean (1966; first-time watch) — Norma Jean is a sweet, innocent, and vulnerable young woman who gets these “feelings” from time to time. Her most recent one is that she and her friend should get a giant inflatable dome where her friend, along with a mysterious band that just shows up, can perform music for crowds that will also just show up. But despite their performance, she becomes the star of the show, and the leader of the band tries to push her beyond her limits for his own benefit. It’s weird and sweet and sad and ultimately pretty good.
Deep Red (1975; rewatch) — A musician sees a woman’s murderer running away from the scene of the crime and becomes obsessed with trying to track them down. As he gets closer, he finds himself in increasing danger, and people around him start to suffer as a result. It’s an Argento film in the same vein as Suspiria, but more conventional and more approachable.
Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny (1972; first-time watch) — Santa Claus finds himself stranded on a Florida beach with his sleigh stuck in the sand and no reindeer to pull him out. The local kids try to help, but nothing seems to work. And while they’re trying to figure out what to do, Santa tells the kids the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, so we just temporarily switch to a different movie before coming back to find the titular Ice Cream Bunny driving a fire truck and coming to save the day. It’s utterly incompetent and makes no sense, and yet it wouldn’t necessarily be out of place as a regular Christmas tradition.
The Disaster Artist (2017; first-time watch) — Greg (Dave Franco) is an aspiring actor. He meets Tommy (James Franco) in an acting class and is immediately entranced by Tommy’s fearlessness and talentlessness. Before long, Tommy has written a movie and wants Greg to co-star in it with them. It’s a semi-factual account of the creation of the cult classic “so bad it’s good” film The Room based on Greg Sestero’s book of the same name. There are certainly inconsistencies between the book and the movie, but the movie is entertaining enough to overlook some flaws, and somehow even James Franco (who also directed) doesn’t ruin the movie.
Babes in Toyland (1934; first-time watch) — Laurel and Hardy star as a couple of screw-ups in a fairytale land where the rich, evil Barnaby is trying to force Little Bo Peep to marry him instead of her true love, Tom Tom, the piper’s son. It’s a crazy movie full of the unexpected, and that sense is only magnified when you consider its age.
The Murder of Fred Hampton (1971; first-time watch) — A documentary about the life and death of Fred Hampton, one of the leaders of the Black Panther movement in Chicago. When Hampton is killed in a shootout with the police, the account given in the police report doesn’t seem to align with the evidence left at the scene. The film doesn’t exactly paint Hampton in a light of innocence and purity, but it does show that police corruption is nothing new.
The Thin Man (1934; rewatch) — When a woman is murdered, her employer—a scientist who has just gone missing—is the prime suspect. His daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan) convinces a constantly drinking former detective (William Powell) to investigate and learn the truth. And the detective’s wife (Myrna Loy) appoints herself to be his assistant. It’s a terrific and hilarious crime comedy that’s so much better than any modern attempts at something similar.
The Apartment (1960; rewatch) — C. C. Baxter (Jack Lemmon) works for an insurance firm, where he’s quite popular with some of the executives because he frequently lends them the use of his apartment for some alone time with their mistresses. He’s also infatuated with Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), one of the building’s elevator operators, but she’s already involved with J. D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), one of the company’s top executives. It’s a wonderful comedy/drama that feels very racy for 1960 and is the perfect way to ring in a new year.