That, by the way, is not an unloved cousin visiting from afar (although it could have been), but rather Jack Nicholson, the star of As Good As it Gets, one of nine major Hollywood films that opened here on Christmas Day. That's correct. Not Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, but the day of Yule itself.
While to many in Britain the idea of going to a film on Jesus's birthday might seem eccentric, if not downright sacrilegious, to Americans it has become increasingly commonplace. For many families, and not just non-Christian ones, going to the movieplex has become a Christmas Day tradition.
And don't the studios know it. Christmas Day has in recent years become one of just a few key days in the calendar that can bring in the jackpot (if the film is the right one). Others include 4 July, Independence Day, (this year, it was Men in Black that conquered that spot) and Memorial Day in May.
This was the most competitive Yuletide on record, however. "It's the greatest number of wide releases on Christmas Day we've ever seen," panted Paul Dergarabedian, vice-president of Exhibitor Relations, a Los Angeles company that tracks film showings. "It will be a good capper to a year which is going to be a record. It will go out with a bang."
Openings this Christmas Day included not only the Nicholson film (actually a well-reviewed comedy), but also a new Quentin Tarantino offering (he of Pulp Fiction fame) called Jackie Brown, a stinging White House satire with Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro entitled Wag the Dog, as well as The Postman, which amounts to being merely a tiresome-looking post-apocalyptic epic conjured by Kevin Costner.
But there is more. Indeed, for those of us who like to keep up with things celluloid, 'tis the season to go quietly bonkers. But how to fit them all in? It was only days ago that the latest James Bond movie opened here (got to catch the action) as well as the hugely well-reviewed, mega-lengthy Titanic. And not all of us yet have made it to the newest Spielberg must- see, a film by the name of Amistad.
"It seems like Christmas week is indicative of this whole year," says Jeff Blake, president of releasing at Sony Pictures. "Every studio has kicked up a notch this year. I've never seen this much competition."
All told, the box office takings in the US from the weekend before Christmas until the weekend after New Year are expected to amount to a record-breaking $340m (pounds 200m).
What other factors make for this Christmas film-going frenzy? One thought is that while in Britain most of us are confined to the sofa by Christmas Day afternoon in a food- and alcohol-induced haze, in America most of the turkey-gorging has actually gone on five weeks before - on Thanksgiving Day.
For the studios there is that little fellow called Oscar. February is nomination month for the Academy Awards and this may be just about the last opportunity for films to make their impressions on the judges. Release them into the dead weekends of mid-January and they could vanish without trace.Reuse content