The Best Movies Ever – Bad Santa

Bad Santa

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Bad Santa. It was late at night on Christmas Eve, and I couldn’t fall asleep. Even though I was an adult at that time I still had a bit more of that childlike anticipation that keeps you awake on the night before Christmas. I had recently moved out of my parents’ house, and was feeling just a little homesick. I turned on the TV – Comedy Central was playing Bad Santa uncut and uncensored, which meant that in order to compensate for the FCC fines they’d receive for playing such content on basic cable, they had to double down on commercial time. There was 4 minutes of movie followed by 5 minutes of commercials, ad infinitum. It’s a maddening way to watch a movie.

Nevertheless, it was so much better and so much funnier than I expected! When Bad Santa first came out, I had no interest in seeing it. I wasn’t down for the crass debasement of Christmas that it seemed like, and the comedy was marketed as being dumber and more lowbrow than it actually is. Bad Santa is raunchy, make no mistake. But it’s earned raunchiness. All of the explicit content develops naturally from well-written characters.

That all sits on Billy Bob Thornton’s shoulders. Sling Blade may have earned him the most critical acclaim, but THIS is the role he was born to play. It suits him so well I feel like he could play it in his sleep (and in a way, he did. He claims he was drunk during many scenes). His character’s worn-out, sour, utterly defeated personality is summed up perfectly in the mumbled opening narration:

I’ve been to prison once. I’ve been married, twice. I was once drafted by Lyndon Johnson and had to live in shit-ass Mexico for 2 1/2 years for no reason. I’ve had my eye socket punched in, a kidney taken out and I got a bone-chip in my ankle that’s never gonna heal. I’ve seen some pretty shitty situations in my life, but nothing has ever sucked more ass than this.

Yeah, it’s crude and it’s crass and it’s dark, but it’s not so dark that it bums you out, and it certainly doesn’t make you feel stupider. Oddly enough, the Coen brothers (THOSE Coen brothers) were executive producers.

While Billy Bob is the shining star around whom this movie revolves, my favorite character is definitely Tony Cox’s elf partner. He’s like a fire hose of rapidfire insults that rain down on everybody in the movie, but mainly on Willie (Billy Bob). Everytime I see him tell Willie, very matter-of-factly, “You’re an emotional fucking cripple. Your soul is dog shit. Every single fucking thing about you is ugly.” I laugh out loud.

Now at this point, despite what I wrote above, if you enjoy Christmas movies and haven’t seen this, you may be thinking it sounds like the polar opposite of what you want to feel when you watch a Christmas movie. But miraculously, beneath the thick, thick layers of despair, debauchery, and misanthropy, there’s actually a beating heart! To his repeated chagrin, Willie is forced to become something of a father figure to one of the most pathetic kids you’ve ever seen, played by Brett Kelly. Even for the audience he has the kind of face that you just want to punch for some reason, and the personality to match. Yet, he somehow becomes the only positive force in Willie’s life. And the ending of the film doesn’t pull the rug out from under you.

Lastly, this movie had one of the late Bernie Mac’s best roles (and John Ritter’s last) as the head of security at the mall. He’s a great foil for Willie because you get the sense that he hates life just as much, but doesn’t feel defeated by it. For him, it’s a kind of freedom. The all too brief scenes of him, Billy Bob, and Tony Cox verbally sparring with one another are the best in the film.

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