Bad Santa is the greatest holiday movie of all time

This film manages to perfectly excoriate the tinseled superficiality of the season

'Bad Santa.'
(Image credit: AF archive / Alamy Stock Photo)

There are certain seminal Christmas films whose yearly broadcast becomes an indelible part of the season. The holly-jolliest people I know plan their holiday parties on the night that A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas air on basic cable. Many a hipster holiday shindig has revolved around oh-so-ironically showing Die Hard (complete with bearded film bro explaining that, no, really Die Hard is, actually, the ultimate Christmas movie). Each Christmas Eve, TBS marathons A Christmas Story, and of course, it simply wouldn't be Christmas without the annual airing of It's A Wonderful Life. However, one holiday classic is all-too-often overlooked, eschewed for the more overtly "goodwill toward men" kind of fair: That classic is Bad Santa. This film, which features Billy Bob Thornton as the titular no-good, low-down-dirty Claus, is a louche, mean-spirited romp that somehow ends up encapsulating the true spirit of Christmas — even (or, perhaps, especially) for people like me, who decidedly don't see it as the most wonderful time of the year.

Bad Santa follows Thornton's whiskey-pickled safecracker, Willie T. Soke, as he and his partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), a con artist and thief with dwarfism, rob department store after department store, under the guise of a mall Santa and his plucky elf pal. Willie is a jaundiced husk of a man, living between the legs of his latest no-name conquest whenever he isn't face-down in the alley behind the bar. There's something delightfully subversive about seeing the iconic red Santa suit hang limply over Willie's scrawny frame, his fake beard, puke-flecked and soiled gray, dangling below his whittled jaw. He's a walking (or, more like stumbling), talking (okay, more like profanity-spewing) middle-finger to the fake pieties of the holiday season: the mandate to be cheerful, even if it feels forced; the idea that gifts equal love or attention; and all the superficial kitsch like insipid, cynical debates about Starbucks cups and "the War on Christmas," the non-stop carols, and of course, the department store Santas.

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