Tons of picks for Christmases both white and blue.
When it comes to holiday movies on Netflix, the situation is currently pretty dire. You could lose yourself in a sea of made for TV crap for hours before coming across something worth watching. Don’t let that happen to you. Use this handy list we’ve put together to plan your holiday movie watching schedule. It’s easy. Just click on the film’s titles to be taken to their Netflix pages.
Pick of the Month: Happy Christmas (2014)
If you’ve ever been a scumbag drunk in your 20s, or had to put up with a sibling who was a scumbag drunk in their 20s around the holidays, then Joe Swanberg’s darkly funny indie drama Happy Christmas is for you. Swanberg’s movies started off polarizing, but they’ve continued to get better and better, to the point where I can’t see anyone not being entertained by them these days. There’s a lot of insight here. There are complex characters, and they’re portrayed with a ton of honesty, to the point where they don’t even really feel like movie characters so much as they feel like people you know.
Anna Kendrick is so charming as the screwup, it’s unreal. Swanberg himself plays the older brother who’s letting the screwup crash in his basement, and he brings that unique Swanberg smarm to the role that’s always delightful. Swanberg’s real life son is playing his baby, and he’s such a mental patient that you can’t take your eyes off of him. Melanie Lynskey steals the movie like she always does, but she does it in amazing fashion here, by making the nagging wife archetype three-dimensional and likable for once. Also, Mark Webber shows up playing a kind-hearted weed dealer, and he’s responsible for one of the most skin-crawlingly awkward make out scenes ever put on film. It needs to be seen to be believed. All that and the movie takes place on Christmas!
If you were tasked with explaining this movie to someone, you’d probably start off by using some sort of nonsense phrase like “tone poem.” Christmas, Again doesn’t tell much of a story. It’s just a small portrait of a clearly sad man (Kentucker Audley) living in a trailer, selling Christmas trees on the streets of New York, and trying to escape something from his past that’s got him all tore up inside. What this movie does real well is establish a mood. If you’re the type who’s prone to getting blue around Christmas, you’re going to be very familiar with that mood, and I’ve found that wrapping yourself up in it in the form of a movie that’s insightful and beautiful to look at can be pretty therapeutic. Misery loves company, and all that jazz.
Let’s be clear, Christmas With the Kranks isn’t a good movie, but a whole generation of kids grew up watching Tim Allen’s The Santa Clause joints around Christmas, and those things aren’t available for free streaming, so this is the best you’re going to get. There are some reasons to put this one on though. They got M Emmet Walsh to play the wacky neighbor. How nuts is that? Also, Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance is so bad, you have to check it out. She’s usually great, but she cannot do this big, broad, wacky comedy thing. She comes off as a cross between the mom from Carrie and the Chicken Lady from The Kids in the Hall.
Even though Dutch came out when Ed O’Neill was at the height of his Married With Children fame, and even though its got the pedigree of a John Hughes script, it didn’t really receive the warmest reception when it was released. That’s stupid though, because it’s basically a close cousin of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, where an odd couple is forced into taking a disastrous road trip home together for the holidays, and it’s nearly as fun to watch as that movie is. O’Neill is exploiting the shit out of his Regular Joe charms, and a young Ethan Embry makes for a great, stuck-up, snooty foil for him to play off of. Like you would expect from a Hughes story, even though these characters start off as caricatures, they deepen over time, you begin to care about them, and their plights even let you learn a few lessons about what’s really important around the holidays. Also, there’s a nudie playing card bit in here that’s just to die for.
I can see you snickering over there, pretending that you don’t like Ernest movies. It’s okay. Let go. Admit that, though these things can get pretty dumb, Jim Varney was a decently talented, old-school entertainer who struck gold with the Ernest character, and he’s always good for a legit laugh or two. Plus, even if goofy voices and silly catchphrases isn’t your thing, Ernest Saves Christmas is still worth a watch because it works so well as a Christmas movie. It’s all about cultivating kindness and finding fellowship with lonely weirdos, which is truly the spirit of the season. Douglas Seale weirdly makes for one of the best movie Santas there’s ever been in this movie, too. The guy is really good in this Ernest movie, doing a straightforward, earnest (ha!) portrayal of Good Ol’ Saint Nick. When Seale thinks that Christmas is ruined and there isn’t going to be anyone to carry on the mantle of Santa Claus, shit gets emotional. I’m not going to say that I cried at an Ernest movie, but it got close.
This is a totally weird Christmas movie, which makes it a nice change of pace from the usual holiday fare that’s all about schmaltzy themes of togetherness and whatnot. It’s got Jim Broadbent playing a version of Santa who’s a little bit wild-eyed, a little bit scattered – like if Doc Brown was suddenly infected with the spirit of Christmas. It’s about this slightly left of center Santa crashing his sleigh, getting thrown in the slammer, and the father/son team (Rafe Spall and Kit Connor) who then have to clean up the mess he’s made in order to save Christmas. It’s got farting reindeer, guns that shoot balls of poop at the police, and a scene where Santa tries to act hard while his hair is in corn rows and ‘Straight Outta Compton’ plays over the soundtrack. The kids will love it.
Looking for something to plop the kids down in front of? There’s where you’re in luck. Netflix is full of Christmas specials from all sorts of animated properties. Cycling through them reveals a depressing lack of quality though. Is there anything on here you can watch too? Yes. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas is an anthology film that manages to rekindle some of the charm of classic Disney animation. There’s a Donald story here, a Goofy story, a Mickey and Minnie story, and even a series of bumpers that are delightfully narrated by Kelsey Grammer. If nothing else, maybe sitting down as a family and watching this holiday treat could serve as a nice way to ease your children into watching Frasier. It’s never too early to learn to appreciate the droll repartee shared between Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce.
Probably, if you were thinking about watching Miracle on 34th Street this Christmas, you were thinking about watching the 1947 version of the film. It’s a classic – a throwback to a more innocent time that charmingly didn’t think that it was so innocent. Netflix doesn’t have that though, it’s got the 1994 remake, but it’s not such a bad consolation prize. At its core, this is still a movie about melting cold and skeptical hearts and filling them up with warmth and hope, and there’s really nothing that’s more hardcore Christmas than that. Also, Richard Attenborough makes for a great Kris Kringle, Elizabeth Perkins really anchors the film with her nuanced, affecting performance, and Dylan McDermott is also in the cast. Ladies seem to like him. Right? Whatever your tastes, there’s no way you’re going to turn your nose up at a super-tiny Mara Wilson talking all adult. Some people say that this is the role that got her the job starring in Matilda. Hard to believe, I know.
It’s true that the Pee-Wee’s Playhouse Christmas special isn’t a real movie, but it was twice as long as your typical episode of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, and it is one of the most ridiculous things that’s ever been made, so it needs to be included here. So much work went into all of the little details and Christmas decorating of this thing that to watch it feels like being transported instantly to Christmas morning. Plus, it’s just such an oddity. The assortment of celebrity guests it got was insane. You had legit big stars of the time, strange relics of yesteryear, and about a million icons of the LGBT community. This thing is a potent pill of camp culture, shoved straight down your throat, it’s all weirdly Christmas-wrapped as some kind of variety show for children, and it’s just so much fun that it’s almost too much to take in. Plus, it still manages to teach important Christmas lessons about putting other people before yourself and how gross fruit cakes are. This is a Christmas special that has everything.
What The Ref does is clever. It takes the normal-though-crippling family dysfunction that everyone can relate to, and it blows it up into a metaphor for an insane criminal endeavor gone terrifically wrong, giving the whole thing life and death stakes. The comedy here is black as coal, the actors pulled together for the ensemble are strong, and the film is helmed by Ted Demme – who also made the best Black Wednesday movie of all time, Beautiful Girls – so you know that you’re in good hands. Admittedly, the writing is a little thin, but does that matter when you’re giving Kevin Spacey plenty of opportunities to play put-upon, Denis Leary so many opportunities to play incredulous, and Judy Davis unlimited opportunities to dazzle? If you’re looking for a holiday movie with a mean streak, give The Ref a shot.
Back in 1988 it must have seemed like casting legendary smart-ass Bill Murray as an updated version of the Ebenezer Scrooge character was a guaranteed home run, and it absolutely was. Despite the fact that Scrooged is painfully 80s, and it goes to slimy, coke-fueled places that aren’t always pleasant to go to at Christmastime, it’s still become a modern Christmas classic that people make an effort to revisit every year. Maybe what makes this one so memorable is that it’s full of iconic actors who look like a motley crew when they’re listed next to each other. Who would have ever thought that they’d get to see a movie starring Bobcat Goldthwait, Robert Mitchum, Carol Kane, Buddy Hackett, Karen Allen, and Robert Goulet? That’s insane. Richard Donner was on a roll with the movies he was directing in the 80s, and this one is no exception to that rule. He made it right in between Lethal Weapon and its sequel! What a run.
Are we cheating here a little bit by calling Son in Law a holiday movie? Maybe. It’s about a college freshman (Carla Gugino) coming home to her parents’ conservative farm for the holidays with a crazy guest (Pauly Shore) in tow, but it’s focus really isn’t on the fact that it’s the holidays. Still though, the climactic scene takes place during a Thanksgiving dinner, the movie is all about our relationships with our families – and how that can change after we’ve been away from our families for a while – and it’s just too good to not put on a list about holiday movies. Shore has become a bit of a punchline over time, but he was a huge media figure in the early 90s, and this movie and his first big foray into Hollywood acting, Encino Man, both totally hold up as 90s comedies. This thing has Kelly Kapowski in it, for the love of Mike.
What’s surprising though is that there’s a legitimate character arc that happens due to Shore’s character and Lane Smith’s uptight dad character clashing at first and then eventually learning to bond, and it’s actually kind of nuanced, and it’s totally earned, so Son in Law isn’t just about Shore’s catchphrases and all of his “Weasel” character nonsense. It’s actually a real movie. That’s not to say that Shore’s “Weasel” character wasn’t funny though. It had a shelf life, but it also had its time. And who doesn’t have a huge crush on Carla Gugino?
When it was announced that Netflix was making and releasing A Very Murray Christmas, everyone seemed to assume that it was going to be some kind of post-modern deconstruction of the old-school Christmas special. It ended up being a much more straightforward love letter to those old Christmas specials though, that was full of celebrity guests, musical numbers, and sentimentality. If that doesn’t sound like something that would fly these days, usually it isn’t, but Bill Murray has earned so much cultural clout that he could basically get away with anything. This Christmas special is boozy, it’s smoke-filled, and it’s the sort of thing that makes one long for years gone past – the time before our culture was decimated by things like social media and memes and grown people caring about whatever the latest Miley Cyrus stunt was, even though at one point the latest Miley Cyrus stunt was her appearing in this special.
If you’re looking to watch a true Christmas classic this year, a member of the canon that people have been dragging out every Christmas forever, then White Christmas is going to be your pick as far as Netflix is concerned. This one has lasted forever, and for good reason. It’s very Christmasy, it tells one of those classic stories about a big show needing to be put on in order to save an institution that’s being put out of business, and it’s full of unforgettable song and dance. Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, and Vera-Ellen – they’re all mega talents, and they’ve all carved out a place for themselves in history with this movie. Not enough can be said about Crosby’s version of ‘White Christmas’ though. That’s in the pantheon of Christmas songs, and it’s something that’s going to be heard on Christmas for thousand of years to come. Or at least until the robots finally take over and decide to brutally kill us all. Merry Christmas.