Winter Holiday B-Squad

Because enjoying cinema seasonally is fun – and it’s not New Year’s yet.

So everybody knows a smartypants who says their favorite Christmas movie is Die Hard. You do, right? Maybe you just finished dinner and you’re waiting for dessert and folks are talking about their favorite Christmas movies – and your sister’s boyfriend says A Christmas Story and your sister says It’s a Wonderful Life and you say Elf and your friend from high school says Love Actually and then there’s that one guy who says “My favorite Christmas movie is definitely Die Hard” and then you smolder in jealousy as everyone starts talking about how great Die Hard is and “I didn’t remember that it was set at Christmas” and “Yeah, it’s totally a Christmas movie…” – basically everyone at the table throws a little conversational parade for Smarty McPherson, master of cinema.  Yippee-kay-yay, indeed.

Well this year, you could be that smartypants. Because there are lots of movies out there that are winter holiday-adjacent: set among the December holidays but not about the December holidays. I wrangled a few up for you and organized them into thematic categories, so you can chime in with a nontraditional holiday favorite this year, even if you’re not into action movies and/or have no interest in Die Hard. Maybe monsters are your thing. Or romantic comedies. Whoever you are, there is a holiday-adjacent movie out there JUST for you. What a relief!

Crime and Action

Crime doesn’t sleep just because it’s Christmastime! In fact, while you are busy eating ham and opening presents, shady Uncle Randy might be out there embezzling millions or passing allergy medicine off as ecstasy at a Christmas rave.

Lethal Weapon (1987)

It’s a shame that Die Hard gets all the Christmas cred, because Shane Black invented not only the buddy cop dynamic as we know it today, but also the idea of setting a violent action movie at Christmas, when he wrote Lethal Weapon the year before. Christmas is the backdrop for the entire movie – from “Jingle Bell Rock” playing over the opening credits, to the heartwarming finale, when Danny Glover invites Mel Gibson in to join his family for Christmas dinner and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” begins to play over the end credits. Sure, there’s lots of gunfights and murder and drugs in between, but Lethal Weapon is a a Christmas movie, through and through. (Trailer)

How to Watch

$4 to stream (Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

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Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

You could list pretty much any Shane Black movie here – he’s got a real thing for putting crime and Christmas together. But Kiss Kiss Bang Bang needs a special shout. This pulpy L.A. noir comedy follows a small-time crook-turned-actor (Robert Downey, Jr.) and a whipsmart, no-nonsense P.I.(Val Kilmer), as they cross paths with Michelle Monaghan at her most smoldering – and get to solving a series of murders at Christmastime. It’s a dark, delicious holiday snack. (Trailer)

How to Watch

$4 to stream
(Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

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Go (1999)

Go is a late-90’s rave culture nostalgia wave with twinkly lights and garland wrapped around it. This set of four interlocking stories that all begin at a suburban grocery store on Christmas Eve feature pleather, ecstasy, combat boots, Amway, strippers, grand theft auto, infidelity, a stolen gun, shoplifting, cops, a three-way, food poisoning, electronic music (of course), and Sarah Polley getting hit by a car. Not to mention the most 1999 cast ever: Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr, Scott Wolf, Taye Diggs, Timothy Olyphant – and a surprise cameo from a young Melissa McCarthy. (Trailer)

How to Watch

$3 to stream
(Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

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Tearjerker Time

Everyone feels so much around the winter holidays – anxiety, gratitude, grief, anticipation, loneliness, love. Why not give all those feelings a healthy outlet, so you don’t end up snapping at your brother, or getting into a stupid argument with your spouse? Watch a tearjerker and have a good cry instead!

Untamed Heart (1993)

Maybe it’s the extreme saturation of Minnesota in the wintertime – Marisa Tomei’s adorable accent, the snowy south Minneapolis neighborhoods I know so well, Christian Slater’s apartment in that building on the U of M campus with the great porches that was turned into condos for trust fund babies a few years ago – or maybe it’s nostalgia, but I can’t get enough of this 1993 romance. It’s so sweet. Plus we’ve got Christmas trees, people wrapped up as presents, a New Year’s party – and so many puffy winter coats and hoop earrings. Pull the curtains closed, get snuggled under a blanket, accept that baboon heart stuff at face value, and just let yourself feel it. Almost as good as therapy. (Trailer)

How to Watch

Free to stream on Vudu

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Monsters

The same juxtaposition of violence and merriment that makes Christmas action movies work particularly well also applies to horror-comedies, it turns out.

Gremlins (1984)

Getting a strange new pet for Christmas from your Dad is ever young bank teller’s dream! But as any child of the 80’s knows, this adorable little smoosh-face comes with special instructions – and unless you’d like an army of scaley little mayhem and destruction monsters taking over your town, I recommend you check the time twice, feed the Mogwai once, if you know what I mean. (Trailer)

How to Watch

$4 to stream
(Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

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Night of the Comet (1984)

It’s 11 days before Christmas, and a comet just buzzed past the earth for the first time in 65 million years, turning nearly all human life to ash or transforming them into flesh-eating zombies. The only regular people left appear to be high-school sisters Reggie and Samantha, who find themselves not only fighting zombie dirtbags, but also dealing with a mysterious pack of bunker-dwelling scientists who are a little too curious about them. Set against the backdrop of California Christmastime, Night of the Comet is a low budget party with a surge of girl power. (Trailer)

How to Watch

Free to stream on Vudu

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Superheroes

Even people with superpowers get the holiday feels.

Batman Returns (1992)

This is a full-on Nightmare Before Christmas live action Batman movie for grown-ups. It’s the Tim Burton-est: art deco columns, clowns, an old-timey zoo, people who are monsters and monsters who are people, a huge Christmas tree, and thousands of penguins with red and white rockets strapped to their backs critical-massing their way to full domination of Gotham’s streets. Michelle Pfeiffer defined unhinged sultry superhuman as Selena Kyle/Catwoman (before those CGI cats in theaters gave us all nightmares) and Danny Devito’s Penguin looks like he smells just terrible. Also, Christoper Walken! Michael Keaton! It’s been too long since you watched Batman Returns – it’s a treat. (Trailer)

How to Watch

$4 to stream
(Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

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Iron Man 3 (2013)

We wrote a whole lot more about Iron Man 3 here, so I won’t rehash all that and just sum up with: we really don’t think too much of it around here. But it IS set at Christmas. Because it’s a Shane Black movie. Before his house gets blown up, Tony buys Pepper a gigantic bunny for a present – and after his house gets blown up, he ends up outside a gas station in rural America at Christmastime, in the snow, with a broken Iron Man suit. There’s a bunch of other stuff too about terrorists and supersoldiers and secret formulas and treason – none of it has much to do with Christmas. I think it’s mostly set at Christmas because the lights look pretty, honestly, and for that delicate background melancholy. (Trailer)

How to Watch

Streaming on Disney+, OR
$3 to stream
(Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

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Lighthearted Romance

Winter holidays are a great backdrop for stories about relationships and love and personal growth – and there are a couple that don’t go deep enough into holiday themes to be considered “Christmas movies” (see: Love, Actually), but in which winter holidays do play a big part. So break out the bubbly and get a little fizzy – it’s romantic comedy time.

When Harry Met Sally… (1989)

Although this story spans a number of years and definitely doesn’t center itself on winter holidays, New Year’s parties play a significant part in Harry and Sally’s friendship/romance. And the speech that Billy Crystal delivers to Meg Ryan at the New Year’s party… when they’re talking about “Auld Lang Syne” and what’s it about anyway and Sally suggests that it’s about old friends with tears in her eyes. Oh my. I can’t remember what she says exactly because I’m always crying at this point. (Trailer)

How to Watch

$3 to stream (iTunes)

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Bridget Jones’ Diary (2001)

The diary of Bridget Jones follows a full year in her life – but that year begins and ends during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. From her cooky parents’ holiday turkey curry buffet where she meets Mark Darcy, Bridget’s story is equal parts heartwarming and humiliating. Perfect for these winter holidays, actually. (Trailer)

How to Watch

$4 to stream
(Vudu, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)

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Last But Not Least…

Heartworn Highways (1976)

OK, this isn’t a winter holidays movie at all – it’s a great documentary about the musicians who appear in the credits at the end of the video (such as Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clarke) and you should watch it. I really just wanted to invite you, though, to watch/listen to this clip from the film. It’s my favorite-ever rendition of “Silent Night” – an impromptu, late-night sing-along by a bunch of musicians/friends sitting around a table by candlelight. Of anything I’ve ever found in cinema, this song makes me all Christmas-feelie inside.

Love to you all, friends. ❤

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