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  • Carson Cook

A Holiday Season Programming Guide

Warner Brothers

It’s that time of year — cold and blustery outside (or at the very least feels like it should be), homes and businesses decked out in red and green, inescapable Christmas music, frantic shoppers. With seasonal festivity in the air, you’re jonesing to throw on some holiday movies in between catching up with the deluge of awards contenders. But not all such movies are created equal, and not all are the perfect fit for whatever mood you happen to be in that day. To help you decide your viewing schedule, we’ve put together this programming guide — hopefully there’ll be a little something for everyone…

If you want to watch a consensus Christmas classic: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

The Great Depression! Suicide attempts! Corporate greed run amok! Yes, Virginia, this is the heartwarming holiday movie you’ve been looking for.

If you want to watch a modern Christmas classic: Elf (2003).

Of course we all know that this is Will Ferrell at his best, but might it also be James Caan at his best?

If you specifically want to watch “A Christmas Carol”: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992).

I’ll admit, I haven’t seen every film adaptation of the Dickens’ yuletide classic, but to my knowledge none of the other versions have famed Muppet hecklers Statler and Waldorf singing a jaunty duet to Ebenezer Scrooge about his impending damnation.

If you wish Santa Claus had a Batman Begins-esque origin story: Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970).

A Rankin/Bass special that pretty much predates the rampant prequelization of the modern era, with children breaking into the story via voiceover to say things like “oh, so that’s how he got his magic sleigh,” but it also has characters named Winter Warlock and Burgermeister Meisterburger, so I’m giving it a pass.

If you want an “alternative” Christmas movie, but kind of want to play it safe: Die Hard (1988).

The discourse around Die Hard being a Christmas movie has been played out for years, but Die Hard absolutely rips so why wouldn’t you take every opportunity you can to watch it?

If you want an “alternative” Christmas movie that stars Bruce Willis but Die Hard is too obvious: 12 Monkeys (1995).

Look, I get why this one doesn’t have the same universal appeal as Die Hard, but what if we all collectively decided that it should?

If you need your Tim Burton and/or superhero fix: Batman Returns (1992).

If your go-to Tim Burton-adjacent holiday property is The Nightmare Before Christmas, that’s a direct insult aimed at Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer, the King and Queen of Christmas, and it simply cannot be tolerated.

If you want to pull double-duty with 2021 catch-up and prefer a sympathetic monarch: The Green Knight (2021).

Come for one of our most exciting young actors in a star-making performance, stay for the great Sean Harris stealing the show.

If you want to pull double-duty with 2021 catch-up and prefer an unsympathetic monarch: Spencer (2021).

Come for one of our most exciting young actors in a star-making performance, stay for the great Sean Harris stealing the show.

If you love Christmas but hate capitalism: Prometheus (2012).

I was this close to tripling down on the Sean Harris bit.

If you enjoy nativity scenes, but also post-apocalyptic nihilism: Children of Men (2006).

I have to be honest here, if someone made a movie directly about the birth of Christ, cast Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and got Emmanuel Lubezki to shoot it with virtuosic oners, I’d probably watch the hell out of it.

If you love regular nihilism: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

If you love nihilism and Kurt Russell: The Thing (1982).

Addendum: if your dog watches movies with you, pick something else for their sake.

If you love America and Kurt Russell: Miracle (2004).

Listen, it’s hockey, which means winter, which means the holidays. I don’t make the rules. Kurt Russell does. “Again.”

If you’re thinking about how much you love your family: Little Women (2019).

Like being wrapped in a warm blanket, knowing that those you care about will never truly leave you, and that your attempts to create an artistic legacy will eventually bring you fulfillment. A perfect literary adaptation.

If you’re thinking that maybe you kind of hate your family: The Shining (1980).

Like being stuck in a frozen snowdrift, knowing that you’re doomed to haunt the world forever, and that your attempts to create an artistic legacy will eventually drive you mad. A perfect literary adaptation.

If you have complicated feelings about your family: Catch Me if You Can (2002).

No better way to spend Christmas than with America’s two dads: Tom Hanks and Christopher Walken.

If you’re a romantic at heart: Carol (2015).

If you’re a romantic at heart but also a psychopath: While You Were Sleeping (1995).

My partner watched this with me and noted that it’s essentially a dry run for Dear Evan Hansen. On the one hand, the inciting incident is played for comedy, not tragedy, so that’s a plus. But on the other hand, unlike in Evan Hansen the central character is an ADULT and should KNOW BETTER. Anyway, cute movie.

If you’re an anti-romantic at heart: Eyes Wide Shut (1999).

Christmas in your twenties: it’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Christmas in your thirties: emasculated by your own imagination, wandering around a deserted faux-New York seeking entry into a high-society orgy because you can’t face your wife and child.

If you want holiday horror: Black Christmas (1974).

A tangent, but how wild is it that director Bob Clark made his other, more popular Christmas movie (A Christmas Story, probably playing right now on cable somewhere) the same year he made Porky’s II: The Next Day? Weird career!

If you want holiday horror but also want a holiday musical: Anna and the Apocalypse (2017).

This movie made approximately zero dollars theatrically, but it’s good and if you didn’t go see it you should be ashamed of yourselves. Protect the movie musical at all costs!

If you want a holiday musical, prefer it to be French, and love Les Miserables: The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964).

Pretty colors, great music, plenty of ennui and melancholy: the unbeatable Jacques Demy formula.

If you want a holiday musical, prefer it to be French, and love Mamma Mia: 8 Women (2002).

You owe it to yourself to see just how hard Isabelle Huppert goes in this.

If you spend all your money buying Criterion Collection Blu-rays: Dekalog III (1989).

Possibly the saddest, sweetest hour you’ll spend watching a film this year, only available in a deluxe box set of all ten films that definitely didn’t take me almost two years to get through.

If you spend all your money buying out of print ‘90s thrillers on eBay: Strange Days (1995).

Yes, this movie has a whole New Year’s vibe to it, but I’m basically just using this entry as a soapbox: please, for the love of god, someone do a 4K remaster and make it widely available. I will pay any amount of money.

If you tend to spend New Year’s considering your own mortality: Ikiru (1952).

And after you finish watching, you and a crew of your best buds can head over to your local municipal office, apply for jobs, and try to get a playground built!

If you’d prefer to just lose yourself in the often hellish landscape of a fantasy world for nine and a half hours and ignore the often hellish landscape of the real world: The Lord of the Rings (2001-03).

Of course, if you’d prefer to just Lose Yourself, full stop: 8 Mile (2002).

Happy holidays, and happy moviegoing!


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