It’s already happened, friends. I was driving around, six weeks from Christmas, the radio on, when I heard it. That one song. The one that tells us to brace ourselves, the holidays are coming: Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” And I am not ashamed to admit that I bellowed out every word and missed every single one of Mariah Carey’s high notes.
With the holidays nearly upon us comes a myriad of emotions: stress, melancholy, joy, hope, more stress, your brain becoming so overwhelmed you have no choice but to enter slug mode, more joy, and telling yourself that it’s okay to eat every sweet in sight because you’ll work them off come January 2nd when you go back to the gym. To help you manage all of these feelings, we’ve created a round-up of different holiday movies to match whatever mood you find yourself in this holiday season.
For When You Want a Little Holiday Romance That’s Not a Complete Cheesefest
While Hallmark holiday movies have seemingly taken over the season, it’s gotten to a point where the films are so predictable there are even Hallmark Channel Christmas bingo cards. If you just can’t watch another city girl go back to her tiny hometown in New Hampshire and fall for a lumberjack, then you may prefer one of these holiday romcoms instead.
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
A rare G-rated comedy and four-generation watch, this is the lesser known Jimmy Stewart holiday movie for when you can’t sit through another viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life. Stewart plays Alfred, the top salesman at a leather goods store in Budapest. He can’t stand his coworker Klara (Margaret Sullavan). Yet unbeknownst to either one, they are each other’s pen pals. And they are falling hard for each other through their letters. While the romance is endearing, it’s the film’s dry humor and satirical takedown of retail that makes it work. If it sounds familiar, the hit Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks 90s romcom You’ve Got Mail is a remake of this film. But in my opinion, The Shop Around the Corner is the better outing. Fans of clever romcom twists like To All the Boys I’ve Ever Loved should add it to their watchlists, as should those brave souls working in holiday retail. You’ll appreciate how jaded Alfred is. Where to stream it: Max
Let it Snow (2019)
A PG-13 drama that’s best described as the Gen Z version of Love Actually (but without the problematic undertones), Let It Snow is based on a book by bestselling YA author John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. Set on Christmas Eve in a snowy town in Illinois, a group of teenagers grapple with different problems: being in love with their best gal pal, trying to throw a last-minute party, dealing with an overly dramatic best friend, and this not-so-common scenario: bumping into and spending the day with a famous singer. There’s also an adorable pig, Joan Cusack dressed in tin foil providing wisdom, and a parody of Waffle House. The plotlines don’t feel twee, as the film presents the characters as everyday kids. Their town isn’t glamorized, they don’t have to save it, and a Christmas nativity scene involves a Chinese dragon. Honestly, what more do you need? Where to stream it: Netflix
Grumpy Old Men (1993)
A PG-13 comedy classic to watch with the elders, this classic will give everyone hope that you’re never too old to be hit by Cupid’s arrow. Starring the late greats Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, the film follows John and Max, two best friends/feuding neighbors living in Wabasha, Minnesota (which, in case you were wondering, is an actual place). The duo spend most of their time ice fishing and playing what they consider to be brilliant pranks on each other, like leaving dead fish in each other’s car. Then the stunning Ariel (Ann-Margaret) moves to town, and they both try to woo her. John and Max’s general awkwardness around Ariel proves that having a crush doesn’t get any easier with age, and you’re still bound to make a fool of yourself. And while there is the traditional romance, the real story is the bromance between Max and John, who clearly can’t live without the other. Grumpy Old Men does have the small-town feel seen in many holiday romcoms, but it doesn’t come with the eye-rolling cheesiness of bakeries and a precocious child. These are two old dudes who love each other and show that love via pranks. Where to stream it: Paramount+ or Pluto
For When You’re Feeling Nostalgic and Wish You Were a Kid Again
One of my mom’s weirder holiday traditions was sticking fruit in our stockings. She did put in candy, but she insisted we eat a banana and an apple every Christmas. She also did this for St. Nicholas Day, except for that holiday she stuck the fruit in our shoes. She also had a deep love for weird 50s and 60s claymation holiday movies and A Christmas Story, which she put on loop on Christmas.
My mom has since passed away, so I try to find ways to remind myself of her and honor her memory around the holidays. Sometimes, the best way for me to do that is to watch those movies that take me back to the time when I would wake up and find fruit in my shoe. The holidays somehow never feel as magical as when you were a kid, so to remind yourself of those times check out these films:
Alien Xmas (2020)
Rated Y and only 42 minutes, Alien Xmas is the modern-day version of 50s and 60s claymation movies. The story goes like this: an alien race known as the Klepts decide to steal all the stuff on Earth. And what better time to do that than Christmas? Their plan is to eliminate Earth’s gravity and grab everything that floats into the orbit. X, one of the Klepts, is sent to the North Pole specifically to set up this gravity-defying machine. Yet X is captured by an unsuspecting elf who assumes he’s a toy and gifts him to his daughter. Interestingly, the director worked on a claymation segment for another Christmas classic: Elf. A quick and cute watch that doubles as an important message about the overconsumerism of the holidays. Where to Stream it: Netflix
Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas
Not one, not two, but three holiday shorts, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas features good ol’ fashioned 2D animation and focuses on the original Mickey gang as they celebrate the holidays. Donald’s nephews wish it was Christmas every day (only to learn that’s maybe not the best idea), Goofy’s son Max learns that Christmas is about more than presents, and Mickey and Minnie reenact The Gift of the Magi, a story that’s normally ridiculous but is adorable when it stars Mickey and Minnie. The beautiful animation will remind you of old-school Disney, and it’s hard not to love a special where Goofy causes absurd amounts of property damage…all because he loves his son. Seriously, Max needs to appreciate his father. I personally love Huey, Dewey, and Louie’s aunt, who bursts in and screams “Where are my boys?! Where are my kisses?!” She’ll remind you of your own crazy yet beloved aunt. Where to Stream it: Disney+
For When You Need a Reminder of What the Holidays are About
Between all the decorating, Secret Santaing, more decorating, and desperately trying to find the right gift for that one person who is impossible to shop for, we often forget what the holidays are really about. While rewatching Linus’s speech in A Charlie Brown Christmas is a helpful reminder, sometimes we need a bit more than that. These films will remind you of why the holidays can be magical.
Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) (2005)
Set during World War I, Joyeux Noel is based on the real-life story of a Christmas truce that broke out between the French, Scottish, and German soldiers when they all gathered in no-man’s land to share a precious moment of peace. A priest held a mass for the soldiers and an opera singer came to perform for them. Soon after, the soldiers had to face the wrath of their superiors. Quite a few stars pop up in the film, including Diane Kruger, Alex Ferns, and Daniel Bruhl. It’s not the happiest of holiday films, but it is a beautiful reminder of how the holidays can bring people together, even sworn enemies. Considering the current state of the world, this film is especially poignant. Where to stream it: Tubi
For When You’re Feeling Sad About the Holidays
It’s okay to feel a little blue around the holidays. I often remember my mom and how much she did to make the holidays special. There’s also the overwhelming pressure to be “full of cheer” all the time, which isn’t humanely possible: we get sad from time to time. For when you’re not feeling oh-so-merry and bright, check out these films:
Christmas, Again (2014)
Shot on 16mm, Christmas, Again is a melancholy mumblecore indie for grown-ups that will make you want to get under the covers and listen to Phoebe Bridgers. The film follows Noel (Kentucker Audley) as he travels to NYC to sell Christmas trees, his annual ritual. But this time around, he doesn’t have the help of his long-time girlfriend (now ex-girlfriend), and Noel is feeling bah-humbug about seeing all the happy couples and families buy trees. He gets some respite when he helps a troubled young woman named Lydia, but there’s nothing cliche about the story. The appeal of the film is its ability to capture a feeling and an authentic world that many can relate to around the holidays. It earned a thumbs up from RogerEbert.com’s Sheila O’Malley: “What a pleasure to watch a film that resists being about only one thing. That resists the conventional story. That lets us enter into the life of another.” Director and writer Charles Poekel actually sold Christmas trees, and the film is based on his experiences. And if you’ve ever worked in holiday retail, you’ll feel for Noel. Where to stream it: Kanopy, Mubi
Fair warning: you will cry during this movie. Scratch that. You will sob during this movie. 1985 has a simple premise: Adrian, a young gay New Yorker, returns home to North Texas to visit his family for Christmas. Except that Adrian’s family members are conservative evangelicals who believe anyone who’s gay has a one-way ticket to Hell. Adding to his troubles, the threat of AIDS looms large in his life. Shot in 16mm photography, the minimalist film grain is what makes 1985 transport you to 1985, and the movie serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives to the tragic disease.
Where to stream it: Peacock, Kanopy
For When You Want to Take a Mental Break from Holiday Stress
When the holiday stress starts to get to you and you need to enter slug mode, check out these escape watches.
Here are just a few things that happen in Pottersville, a dramedy that stars the talented Michael Shannon as a mild mannered general store owner in a role he might prefer to bury:
- He discovers his wife (played by Christina Henricks) is a furry.
- He learns that she’s been cheating on him.
- He gets wasted via moonshine.
- In his drunken stupor, he dresses up in a gorilla suit and parades around town, and the entire town assumes he is a Bigfoot.
Named after the town in It’s a Wonderful Life, the PG-13 film seems to be aiming for “antidote status” — a chaser to the Christmas movie cliches. While it’s not clear exactly what the filmmakers were thinking, it’s a movie that will certainly take your mind off of the stress of the holidays. Where to stream it: Tubi
Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
Weirdly enough, this so-bad-it’s-good sequel follows the long-lost brother of the killer from Silent Night, Deadly Night. Ricky Caldwell treats us to such Shakespearean dialogue like “It sounded like some squirrel getting his nuts squeezed” and “Listen bud. That’s what she said when I f**** her brains out on the backseat of old red here.” The first half of the film is literally footage from the original and the second half is Ricky going on a murderous rampage that makes no sense. This is the film that brought us the beloved “Garbage Day!” meme. If you need to turn your brain off and escape from holiday stress with a howler of a horror movie, this is the film for you.
Where to stream it: Pluto TV, Hoopla
For When You Want to Up Your Adrenaline with A Merry Little Nightmare
If you’ve ever ventured to the mall on Black Friday, then you know that people can transform into vicious zombies. The sheer chaos and crass capitalism of the holiday season can sometimes feel like a horror movie. Hollywood has recognized this, giving birth to “holiday horror movies,” an increasingly popular genre. Here’s one of the more unique tales of terror:
Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
To quote the late great Roger Ebert, “Rare Exports is a rather brilliant lump of coal for your stocking.” Deep in Lapland, Young Pietari lives on a reindeer ranch with his father, which is an actual thing in Finland. On the night before Christmas, Pietrai and his friend discover quite the stir–Santa Claus buried underneath the snow. Except that’s he not Santa. He’s a skinny, creepy old man who happens to look like Santa. Pietarai’s father soon suspects that this imposter may be the reason local children and reindeer have gone missing. Combining Nordic mythology, parody, and dead reindeer, Rare Exports is far more nightmarish than holly-jolly.
Where to stream it: Peacock, Hoopla