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Even if you’re a Grinch, a Scrooge, or a Hans Gruber, you can at least enjoy the holiday season by curling up with some hot cocoa and Netflix. To get you started, here are eight Christmas-inspired titles available for streaming now.
1) White Christmas (1954)
This one is a true Christmas classic. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye star as pals in a song-and-dance act who fall for a pair of sisters around the holidays, and—as expected—hijinks ensue. A light musical, featuring Irving Berlin’s eternally popular eponymous song, White Christmas feels fairly antiquated today, but that’s also what makes it charming. (Some fun facts: the movie co-stars Rosemary Clooney, as in George’s aunt, and was directed by Michael Curtiz—best known for a little film called Casablanca.)
2) The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Is it a Christmas movie or a Halloween movie? The filmmaker believes it to be the latter, but that doesn’t mean people don’t watch this Tim Burton–produced cult classic and animation staple around Christmas too. Nightmare isn’t just for Hot Topic fans anymore. Director Henry Selick’s stop-motion tale of Jack Skellington and his quest to understand Christmas has become an essential film for an entire generation. It’s still widely viewed today, and the music from composer Danny Elfman is instantly recognizable to many.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is weird and a little bit scary. But if you have trouble deciding whether your favorite day of the year falls on Oct. 31 or Dec. 25, this movie may appeal to your inner high school goth.
3) The Ref (1994)
The Ref’s cast alone makes it worth watching. Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis play a bickering couple who are taken hostage by a cat burglar (Denis Leary) on Christmas Eve. That cat burglar then has to suffer through—and try to mediate—the couple’s hateful sniping. The Oscar-nominated Davis and the comically reliable Leary are great, but Spacey is particularly fascinating to watch, as he was still a year away from the superstardom that came with his turn in The Usual Suspects.
Though not an outright classic, The Ref is just a solid, well-structured comedy. Largely forgotten in some ways, the movie succeeds in its biting assertion that while Christmas is supposed to help people come together, it can often be another factor driving them apart.
4) I’ll Be Home for Christmas (1998)
This is one for all the so-called “’90s kids” out there. Starring not only one of the era’s favorite sons, Mr. Jonathan Taylor Thomas, this Disney throwback also features a young Jessica Biel in one of her first film roles.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas is not a great movie, but its nostalgic pleasures are strong, and it’s not without its charms. Thomas stars as Jake, a college student who encounters all manner of difficulties in his quest to return to his childhood home in upstate New York. Contrived? Absolutely. But if you grew up with JTT and want something light that’ll bring back memories of childhood, this is the pick for you.
5) Love Actually (2003)
Hated and maligned as it is loved, Richard Curtis’ self-proclaimed “ultimate romantic comedy” has also turned into a bona fide holiday classic. People watch it year after year around Christmas, and in many ways, the season in which the film is set is inseparable from its story.
Containing nine different subplots, each involving people looking for love leading up to the 25th, this movie is as sappy as romantic comedies get. But despite the fact that it’s dripping with sentiment, Love Actually does manage transcend the traditional romantic comedy in a few key ways. Not everybody gets an easy, happy ending, and there’s an ambiguity to the film’s conclusion which is surprising and refreshing.
Then again, if you’re simply looking for some dumb, cutesy entertainment to watch as you cuddle with your significant other, Love Actually will work for that too. It’s a great “Netflix and chill” movie, because it’s good enough to keep on, but not so good that you can’t let yourself get distracted and shut it off.
6) Bad Santa (2003)
Bad Santa may just be the darkest Christmas movie ever made. Featuring Billy Bob Thornton in one of his best roles, the film follows a horny, depressed, suicidal, alcoholic, grossly inappropriate mall Santa named Willie and his inadvertent road to redemption leading up to Christmas Eve. Bad Santa also has a terrific supporting cast, including Tony Cox, Bernie Mac, John Ritter, Cloris Leachman, Alex Borstein, Billy Gardell, Octavia Spencer, and Gilmore Girls’ very own Lauren Graham (soon returning to a Netflix account near you!) as Willie’s Santa-fetishist love interest.
The movie tries to shoehorn in a message about consumer culture right before the end, and while the point is an apt one, the real fun of the movie is watching Willie be, as the title suggests, the absolute worst Santa of all time. His debauchery is so severe, there are times where it’s hardly even funny. But, in the spirit of Christmas and Christmas movies, he manages to redeem himself by the end. While Bad Santa is a dark comedy of the highest order, its lasting message may be, ironically, that Christmas can bring out the best in even the worst people.
Longtime fans of the movie look out: a long-awaited sequel is reportedly on the way next year.
7) Fireplace for Your Home (2010)
Because why not.
8) The Search for Santa Paws (2010) and Santa Paws 2: The Santa Pups (2012)
It seems unlikely that anyone’s ever actually seen these movies. But puppies!
9) Happy Christmas (2014)
This indie from Chicago director Joe Swanberg, who made a name for himself as one of the forefathers of the “mumblecore” movement, is a far cry from your traditional Christmas movie. Not a lot happens in this dry comedy, and the melancholy story of 20-something fuck-up Jenny, who moves in with her brother and his wife after a bad break-up, isn’t filled with a ton of holiday cheer. But the movie does get great performances from the always watchable Anna Kendrick, who’s surprisingly at home in the rather unlikable role of Jenny, and Melanie Lynskey, who shines as her sister-in-law, Kelly—the movie’s second, and perhaps more interesting, protagonist. There’s also a funny subplot involving Jenny’s friend Carson, who’s played by Lena Dunham, and the creation of a Fifty Shades of Grey–type erotic novel (but with literary merit,) not to mention several adorable scenes with Swanberg’s own son, Jude, who doubles as his movie son too.
Most notably, Happy Christmas serves as a reminder that the holidays can be a tough time in spite of—and sometimes because of—family. We’ve all been there, and that’s what makes the movie rewardingly cathartic.
BoJack Horseman is probably the most cynical show on television, and the Christmas special doesn’t fail to live up to that.
Sort of a show within a show, Sabrina’s Christmas Wish finds BoJack (Will Arnett)
reminiscing, as he often does, over an old episode of his sitcom Horsin’ Around, accompanied by friend/roommate/freeloader Todd (Aaron Paul). The ensuing 25 minutes are a fun diversion from the larger arcs of the series, but in keeping with its deeply bittersweet (and occasionally just bitter) tone.
The only one of Netflix’s originals to get its own Christmas special, BoJack fans will surely already be familiar with this one. For everyone else, it’s just another example of its greatness.
11) A Very Murray Christmas (2015)
Who cares if it is just a bunch of celebrity cameos? Everyone loves celebrities!
And everyone loves Bill Murray. Which is why as confusing as this special may sound on paper, it actually makes perfect sense. Sofia Coppola directs Murray as a meta version of himself, and as promised, various celebrities show up to play themselves too, including George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, and Chris Rock. Michael Cera, Rashida Jones, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Jason Schwartzman, Jenny Lewis, and Paul Shaffer also star.
The special is sort of a throwback to old school variety shows, mixed with the viral-ready presence of Murray and other buzzworthy famous people. And since it was shot by Sofia Coppola, it looks great. As Netflix’s first Christmas special not attached to one of its shows, A Very Murray Christmas isn’t exactly a landmark, but its mix of traditional television sensibilities and millennial tastes makes it a fun (if a bit odd) holiday treat.
Screengrab via André Daylight/YouTube
Chris Osterndorf is an entertainment reporter and movie critic based in Los Angeles. He holds a degree in cinema from Chicago’s DePaul University. His work has appeared on the Daily Dot, Mic, the Script Lab, Salon, the Week, xoJane, and more.