To read more of Sharp’s Christmas Movie Smackdown, click here.
At some point or another, we’ve all been a little disingenuous around the holidays. We fake smiles at overly cheerful strangers on the street, nod politely through small talk with acquaintances at dinner parties, and act appreciative when we receive socks instead of a Christmas bonus from our bosses.
All of that surface insincerity, though, only serves to deepen and intensify the true feelings that arise when we’re celebrating with the people we really care about. Those are the moments — surrounded by our families, our loved ones, our oldest friends — where we can let loose, relax, and be the assholes everyone knows we really are.
That line of demarcation — between the public and private Christmases — is what separates Elf and Die Hard.
At first glance, you’d think that Elf is clearly the more genuinely Christmassy movie, what with all the carol singing and father-and-son bonding and adorable Claymation narwhals. But everything about it is so explicitly engineered to elicit joy, so over-the-top in its quest to generate laughter and nostalgia and some superficial veneer of Christmas Spirit, that it begins to remind you of the bogus “Awww, she’s so cute” you delivered when Mrs. Frederickson showed you 40 photos of her homely granddaughter at that party last week. It’s like getting a wad of cash as a present — sure, it makes you happy, but, like, of course it’s going to make you happy.
Die Hard, on the other hand, is more like that present you didn’t even realize you wanted from the person who knows you best: thoughtful, inspired, counterintuitive. It’s brash and loud and direct, like a large family gathering. And where Buddy the Elf is a great character for his performative, exaggerated qualities, John McClane is great for how raw and real and worn-in he feels. You feel comfortable with him, even when he’s mowing down terrorists with a submachine gun and tossing their bodies out the 30th floor window.
To put it plainly: Elf is Christmas as we imagine it to be; Die Hard is Christmas the way it really is. And that’s why it’s blazed a path directly into the championship round. Welcome to the party, pal.
THE WINNER: Die Hard