#1: Die Hard — dir. John McTiernan
I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone, if you’ve been reading this list. Die Hard is the perfect film. It is my favorite Christmas film. It is flawlessly put together. It has a brilliant hero, and a brilliant villain. It has brilliant subvillains and subheroes. It’s incredibly quotable. Both on inside jokes and obvious quotes. It has excellent twists. Every character, from Holly, to Al, to even goddamn Argyle, gets a chance to have a shining moment. It is the most perfectly assembled film.
It has forever changed Christmas music for me. Like some sort of Pavlovian curse, whenever I hear “Let It Snow,” even if it isn’t the Nat King Cole version from the movie (I think it’s Nat King Cole. It could be Bing Crosby. I’ve been wrong before.) I see the guy crashing through the windshield, and I impulsively have to watch the movie.
I love Die Hard because it has a hero who gets fucking destroyed. I like a movie or television show where the hero gets hurt because he isn’t indestructible. He gets shot. He gets his feet lacerated with glass. He gets stabbed or burnt. And then most importantly, that fucking damage stays with him. It becomes part of the plot. If John McClane spent the rest of the film kicking guys or running, it’d be lesser than. But he doesn’t. Even when he has to swing off the roof, adrenaline explains his ability to do it, and there bloodstains on the window. And he suffers for it later. He limps through half the film.
Hans Gruber may be the greatest villain of all time, definitely top five, probably definitely top three. Alan Rickman’s portrayal is so damn smooth. Because like the Joker, he smiles. He gets angry. He’s conniving. He’s manipulative. He’s brutal. And he’s up against quipmeister John McClane.
McTiernan has made some of my favorite movies ever: The Last Action Hero, Predator, The Hunt for Red October. And the third sequel to this series, Die Hard: With a Vengeance. Like Indiana Jones, the order goes 1, 3, 2. And 2 is pretty rough, but still watchable for different reasons from 1 and 3. And then there aren’t any more sequels because at that point, they aren’t just beating a dead horse, they’ve started to beat the guts that came out of the dead horse to see if any tiny dead horsemeat might be left hiding inside there. Ah, I actually kind of liked Live Free or Die Hard. Terrible villain — Timothy Olyphant looked like a Starbucks manager, and that it was PG-13 is fucking inexcusable. When your hero’s catchphrase involves the word “motherfucker,” you have committed yourself to making R rated sequels. But let us never speak of A Good Day to Hardly Die, Maybe Tomorrow, Check With Me Then.
Die Hard is a pretty great comedy fused perfectly with a great action film. And that’s what makes it so good. For years, I was convinced it was Shane Black, because of the wittiness of the character and because it was set at Christmas. But that’s not true. However, Shane Black has been hired to write/direct the possible sixth sequel, for which could possibly become the greatest damn film ever.
And that puts paid to my list of 50 Films in Fifty Days. Yippie-kay-yay-mothertrucker.