Holiday Movies

1. White Christmas (1954)
Directed by Michael Curtiz

A roaring fireplace, a mug of piping hot apple cider, the scent of pine in the air — this picturesque Yuletide tableau isn’t complete without the velvety baritone of Bing Crosby wafting from the record player. The combination of impeccable vocals with Irving Berlin’s gold-plated standards embodies the holiday spirit incarnate, and forms the backbone of this lighthearted musical. Der Bingle and Danny Kaye play a pair of WWII servicemen who make a go of show business upon their return from the front to the Big Apple, with Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen as their fetching romantic opposites. Their wholesome coupling draws on three near-boundless sources for sentimentality: warming Yuletide cheer, a proud support-the-troops mindset lingering from the Allied victory over the Nazis, and the power of a well-written tune. Could any meet-cute over roasted chestnuts ever really be this charming? Only in our dreams.

2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)
Directed by Ron Howard

Regrettably, Netflix doesn’t have the 1966 animated special in their content library, but there’s plenty to be said for the live-action treatment that casts Jim Carrey as the green-furred misanthrope. He brings the same rubber-face physicality that made The Mask into a hit to Dr. Seuss’ timeless verse, giving a vivid and emphatic performance from underneath a prosthetic snout and a couple pounds of makeup. His irreverent take on the character as a petty, layabout homebody was somewhat ahead of its time; Carrey’s Grinch has gained new notoriety as a mainstay of GIFs, memes, and other units of #relatable online content. Indeed, have we not all had our Grinchier moments, when all the world’s smiles and upbeat attitudes must be taken as personal slights? The good news is that no matter how grumpy we might be, we’re all just one redemptive gesture away from making good.

3. Love, Actually (2003)
Directed by Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis dished up a full banquet with this collection of interconnected mini-rom-coms, encouraging a balanced diet of bawdy humor, gentle drama, and high-grade mush. Whether you prefer the one where PM Hugh Grant gives lascivious President Billy Bob Thornton what-for, or the one with Liam Neeson and the rosy-cheeked kid, or the one involving an agonizingly slow gift-wrapping process courtesy of Mr. Bean, every stripe of viewer can find something to feel fuzzy about within this film’s two-plus hours. It’s a cornucopia of loose delights, from the oft-imitated cue card confession to the oily yet sympathetic affect of the late, beloved Alan Rickman’s philandering executive. Overexposure has done a lot to grind the joy out of this one, but if you haven’t given it a look in a few years, you may be surprised at what a purely pleasurable experience this paean to amour can be.

4. A Christmas Prince/Christmas Inheritance (2017)
Directed by Alex Zamm/Ernie Barbarash

Netflix has a deep bench of off-brand Hallmark movies (as well as a solid number of actual Hallmark movies), but these two 2017 selections stand out from the pack by merit of their visual polish and faithful adherence to their form. Which is to say that these are the Hallmarkest of Hallmark movies, chemically engineered for maximum awww factor, designed by movie scientists to pair well with white wine and a throw blanket. In the former, a ditzy but lovable journalist (Rose McIver) hits it off with a charming royal (Ben Lamb) while reporting on the goings-on at the palace; in the latter, a ditzy but lovable heiress (Eliza Taylor) falls for a honest, simple local (Jake Lacy) while stranded in a New England hamlet plucked from Norman Rockwell’s canvasses. Both films revolve around the same fantasy, of being whisked away from your life to a glorified vacation where you can find the answer to all your problems in the perfect man. As escapism goes, it’s potent stuff.

5. Tangerine (2015)
Directed by Sean Baker

“Merry Christmas, b—!” That defiantly barked line announced the arrival of a hilarious, profane and wholly original breed of holiday classic, courtesy of American indie cinema’s darling Sean Baker. He takes to the grungier streets of Los Angeles for this buddy comedy about two trans sex workers (Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) tracking down a low-down, good-for-nothing boyfriend/pimp (James Ransone) who’s gone AWOL. Their odyssey of johns, street harassers, cabbies, and meth-heads may not be ideal viewing for youngsters (or more buttoned-up oldsters, for that matter), but a spirit of magnanimity all too apropos for the occasion defines the close friendship between the leads. It’s a tough world out there, even on Christmas, and the line about “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” needn’t be so gender-essentialist.