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Unlikely Christmas Movies

Updated on February 16, 2013

When you think of Christmas movies, most people think of timeless, heartwarming tales that bring a tear to your eye and make you want to hug your family. Not me! While I do love more traditional Christmas fare such as "Miracle on 34th Street," "The Santa Clause" and "It's a Wonderful Life," I've discovered my favorites tend toward acerbic humor, non-stop action and a slightly darker tone.

While some of the films on this list are still appropriate for family hugging, they are just a little left of center on the Christmas movie spectrum. Give them a might just find something that will become a tradition in your home.

"The Ref" (1994)

Way before he entered America's living rooms on the acclaimed series "Rescue Me," Denis Leary starred in this hilariously acerbic holiday comedy "The Ref." Even though it fizzled at the box-office when it was released, there are signs that it's slowly growing into a cult classic - I couldn't manage to get a copy of it from "Netflix" this year. This is my absolute favorite offbeat Christmas movie. Leary plays a cat burglar on the run who ends up taking a bickering couple hostage so that he can use their home as a hideout. He gets way more than he bargained for when other members of their dysfunctional family arrive for a Christmas party. The writing is both cutting and heart-warming, and the cast is fantastic. In addition to Leary, "The Ref" stars Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis as the couple, Christine Baranski as the sister-in-law, and Glynis Johns ("Mary Poppins") as the world's meanest grandma. If you like R rated comedies, do yourself a favor and pick up "The Ref." If you can find it.

"Die Hard" (1988)

This is the one I wait for every year, and then watch it like I've never seen it before. Bruce Willis stars as John McClane, a New York city cop who has come to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and children over the holidays. Upon his arrival, he is driven to her office where the company Christmas party is in full swing. Unfortunately for them, a group of mercenaries seize the building and takes all the employees hostage. McClane manages to escape where he then rains down havoc on the terrorists from the inside, while the authorities move in on the outside. Not only is this the definitive holiday action film, it's one of the best action films ever made. Yippee-ki-ay.

"While You Were Sleeping" (1995)

If you're still not a fan of Sandra Bullock, "While You Were Sleeping" may turn you into one. Released the year after "Speed" made her a star, Bullock plays a lonely toll booth collector dreaming of romance and travel, but whose life is sorely lacking both. She is nursing a major crush on Peter, one of her regular customers (Peter Gallagher) who doesn't know she's alive. When he is attacked and knocked unconscious at her station, she rescues him and gets him to the hospital.. Through a series of mishaps and comic misunderstandings, she is assumed to be his fiancee. When his estranged relatives arrive, she continues to allow them to believe it when they ask her to join them for the holidays. One member of her family, Peter's brother Jack (Bill Pullman), doesn't quite believe her and sets out to see if she's really who she claims to be.

"While you Were Sleeping" is warm and wonderful, with Bullock at her most endearing.

"The Man Who Came to Dinner" (1941)

Based on the Broadway hit by Moss/Hart, "The Man Who Came to Dinner" stars Monty Wooley as imperious radio critic Sheridan Whiteside who is visiting Ohio on a lecture tour. When Whiteside slips on the ice outside the home of his hosts, the family is forced to put up with their acerbic guest until his broken leg heals over the Christmas holidays. In addition to his vitriolic outbursts and a steady stream of eccentric visitors, Whiteside also insists on managing the lives of everyone around him, including that of his long-time assistant (Bette Davis). The dialogue is fast-paced and witty, with absurdly comic situations. "The Man Who Came to Dinner" delivers on every level.

"Trading Places" (1983)

In this comedy directed by John Landis, Dan Aykroyd plays Winthorpe, a wealthy commodities broker whose life is upended during the holidays when he unknowingly takes part in a social experiment hatched by his bosses (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche). Wondering what would happen if Winthorpe's lifestyle was traded with that of homeless man Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy), the pair set out to destroy Winthorpe's reputation while simultaneously bringing Valentine into the commodities business. The plan seems to be going well until Valentine figures out what they're up to, and with the help of Winthorpe and a hooker with a heart of gold (Jamie Lee Curtis) turn the tables on the two curmudgeons.

Do you have a favorite offbeat Christmas movie?

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