Christmastime is here, which means joyous excitement
for some, and worry and dread for others. Fortunately, there’s a whole
roster of streaming Christmas movies available to either enhance or
counter your mood. These range from sweet, beloved classics to much
darker, more modern movies, all the way to the simply bizarre. Enjoy, and happy holidays!
Meet John Doe (Hulu Plus)
Frank Capra’s cornball classic Meet John Doe (1941) still works because
it’s totally heartfelt, and its message still feels like it could apply
today. Barbara Stanwyck plays a big city reporter who loses her job
after a big company buys her newspaper. As a parting shot, she
writes a column about a fictitious John Doe who is fed up with the way
the elite few treat the working masses, and plans to commit suicide on
Christmas Eve. The column is a hit and she gets her job back, but she
realizes she needs to hire a real-life John Doe. Enter Gary Cooper, in
his best “aw shucks” hayseed mode. And, of course, they fall in love.
The movie is equal parts funny and heartwarming, with support from
Walter Brennan and a lovely Christmastime finale. (The movie is
available on Hulu Plus, but it’s also in the public domain and can be found
just about anywhere.)
White Christmas (Netflix)
In 1942, Bing Crosby released one of the biggest recorded hits of all
time, “White Christmas,” and 12 years later came the official movie,
White Christmas (1954), filmed in color and “Vistavision.” Crosby plays
a popular singer, Bob Wallace, who is stationed overseas during WWII.
During an attack, songwriter Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) saves Bob’s life,
and they become partners in peacetime. Teaming up with sister singers
Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy Haynes (Vera-Ellen), they decide to
put on a show to save their old major general’s struggling Vermont
hotel. Director Michael Curtiz’s approach seems a little lethargic at
times, the plot relies a bit too much on a ridiculous misunderstanding,
and the movie isn’t actually all that Christmasy. But it does have a
lovely laid-back simplicity that fits in with what the holiday season
ought to feel like.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc.)
Considered one of the worst movies of all time, this made-for-kids
classic might appeal to families with a specific sense of humor. Santa
Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) tells the story of what happens when
Martian children, after watching too much Earth television, dream of
having a Christmas of their own. So the Martian leader kidnaps Santa
Claus and two Earth children and forces them to make Christmas on Mars.
Fortunately, Santa (John Call) and a friendly Martian named Dropo (Bill
McCutcheon) set things right. The movie features atrocious acting and
situations that range from stupid to annoying, but it’s all worth
laughing with (or at). The movie’s simple, naive quality makes it rather
joyous in its own way. Pia Zadora plays one of the Martian children
(named GirMar… get it?). Once you hear the song “Hooray for Santy
Claus,” you will never forget it. (The movie is in the public domain and
can be found just about anywhere.)
Trading Places (Netflix)
Set over Christmas and New Year’s, Trading Places (1983) makes
terrific use of grimy, wintry Philadelphia locations. Two wealthy
brothers, Randolph (Ralph Bellamy) and Mortimer Duke (Don Ameche) make a
wager that they can turn their star employee, Louis Winthorpe III (Dan
Aykroyd) into a homeless criminal, and a homeless criminal, Billy Ray
Valentine (Eddie Murphy), into a successful businessman. A
hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold (Jamie Lee Curtis) helps them out, as does a
faithful butler, Coleman (Denholm Elliott). The high quality of the
comic performances helps to drive this ridiculous plot, but director
John Landis’s particular blend of deadpan direction with broad comedy
turns it into something extra.
The Dead (Netflix)
John Huston began his remarkable, maverick career with The Maltese
Falcon (1941) and ended it with this beautiful, wintry, introspective
holiday masterpiece, based on the great short story by James Joyce. The
Dead (1987) takes place a few days into January, during a traditional
Irish family feast. Various family members arrive, each with their own
little dramas. Freddy (Donal Donnelly) has been drinking too much, and
the kindly Gabriel (Donal McCann) worries about his dinnertime speech.
As the events unfold over the course of the evening, it causes Gabriel’s
wife Gretta (Anjelica Huston) to remember a past event that she finally
chooses to share with Gabriel. Huston directed from a wheelchair while
breathing through an oxygen tank, and the movie has a patient, quiet
feel. His son Tony adapted the screenplay.
National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Netflix)
A sequel to the summertime National Lampoon’s Vacation, the sublimely funny National
Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) stands all on its own. Chevy Chase
stars as Clark W. Griswold, a cheerful, accident-prone fellow who loves
his family and Christmas more than anything else. A nightmarish holiday
ensues, with grandparents and cousins coming to stay, rodents in
Christmas trees, an overloaded electrical grid, etc. But worst of all is
that elusive Christmas bonus that just doesn’t seem to be arriving on
time. Chase captured a perfect blend of slapstick idiocy and lovable
doofus, making him someone that you’d actually like to spend the
holidays with. Beverly D’Angelo is wonderful in the straight role as
Clark’s wife, and, in one of her first roles, Juliette Lewis plays his
daughter. Randy Quaid, Diane Ladd, E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, William
Hickey, Mae Questel (the voice of Betty Boop), Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and
Brian Doyle-Murray round out the great cast. Mavis Staples sings the
cheerful title song.
Far from Heaven (Netflix)
Indie director Todd Haynes paid tribute to director Douglas Sirk and All That
Heaven Allows with this nostalgic, but updated vision of suburban angst.
Far from Heaven (2002) stars Julianne Moore in an amazing performance as
Cathy Whitaker, a 1950s-era housewife who forms an illicit friendship
with her African-American gardener Raymond Deagan (Dennis Haysbert).
Meanwhile her husband, Frank (Dennis Quaid) tries to wrestle with his
repressed homosexuality, sneaking out and visiting secret bars at night.
Haynes bathes everything in a gorgeous Technicolor-like sheen, making it
appear not so much like the 1950s, but like a 1950s movie, where things
are supposed to be even more perfect and perfectly aligned than in life.
Part of the movie takes place at Christmas, and though it’s not exactly
a joyous holiday, it’s very beautiful.
Morvern Callar (Netflix)
One of the most downbeat Christmas movies ever made, Morvern Callar (2002) nonetheless
touches on a certain kind of sad beauty that movies very rarely achieve.
Morvern (Samantha Morton) is a young Scottish woman who wakes up on
Christmas morning to find that her boyfriend has committed suicide. He
has left her some presents, and his finished manuscript with
instructions on how to publish it. She erases his name, puts in her own,
submits it, and sets out on a road trip with her friend Lanna (Kathleen
McDermott). They flirt with boys, and Morvern ponders death. There are
noisy moments, ugly moments, reflective moments, and beautiful moments,
but the film is ultimately hopeful. Lynne Ramsay directed.
Love Actually (Netflix)
Screenwriter Richard Curtis’s directorial debut, the sprawling
Christmastime romantic comedy Love Actually (2003), didn’t have the
impact of his earlier scripts Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill,
or Bridget Jones’s Diary, but it’s unwaveringly funny and touching over
an implausibly long 135 minutes. Focusing on several disparate groups of
characters, the movie sometimes unexpectedly slips into pathos, but just
as effortlessly slips back into comedy, or heartfelt romance, or very
simple moments of joy. Hugh Grant leads the huge cast as the Prime
Minister of England, with Keira Knightley, Bill Nighy as an egotistical
pop singer, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Martin Freeman, Colin Firth,
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alan Rickman, and token American Laura Linney.
Tokyo Godfathers (Netflix)
Based on a 1913 story Peter B. Kyne, the anime Tokyo Godfathers
(2003) tells the story of three homeless people who find an abandoned
baby on Christmas Eve. The trio forms a kind of twisted nuclear family.
The alcoholic ex-bicycle racer Gin is the father, drag queen Hana is the
mother, and young 20-something runaway Miyuki is the child. Together
they travel all over Tokyo looking for help and clues. Of course, it’s
supposed to mirror the Nativity story, and usually movie versions of
this old tale—such as John Ford’s 3 Godfathers (1948)—end up being
very sappy. But director Satoshi Kon is a gifted storyteller and
balances the sentiment with humor and fantasy, as well as a muted, moody
In Bruges (Netflix)
The feature debut of playwright and Oscar-winning short filmmaker
Martin McDonagh, In Bruges (2008) tells the story of two hitmen who have
been sent to Bruges by their hard, sinister boss (Ralph Fiennes), for a
reason as yet unknown to them. If you’ve never heard of Bruges, neither
has Ray (Colin Farrell); it’s in Belgium. His older partner Ken (Brendan
Gleeson) tries to see the Christmastime sights, but Ray becomes involved
with a pretty girl working on a local movie shoot. Eventually trouble
comes to town, and everything becomes riddled with bullets and F-bombs.
But it’s a lot of fun.
The Warrior’s Way (Netflix)
This strange English-language martial arts Western hybrid was an
international production with a Korean director and star, and with
English and American costars. The Warrior’s Way (2010) was fairly expensive to produce, but
its American release barely registered a blip, and it lost a fortune.
Yet it’s a slick, bright, brisk, and highly entertaining movie with a
fun little Christmas sequence at its center. A skilled swordsman (Jang
Dong-gun) succeeds in wiping out an entire enemy clan, but refuses to
kill a baby, choosing instead to go into hiding and raise the child
himself. He heads for a remote Western town, where he opens a laundry,
meets the spunky Lynne (Kate Bosworth), and befriends “8 Ball” (Tony
Cox), and the town drunk (Geoffrey Rush). But a local villain, the
sadistic Colonel (Danny Huston), comes in to cause trouble, and the
swordsman’s past isn’t too far behind.
More Streaming Christmas Movies
Holiday (1938) (Hulu Plus)
Mr. Arkadin (Hulu Plus)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (Netflix)
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Netflix and Hulu Plus)