Film & Television

The Netflix Five: Christmas Spirit, On Demand

One of the most important ingredients of a satisfying holiday season is time spent with family and friends. But, what do you do on those late December evenings if all your shopping is done and your loved ones are otherwise occupied? I suggest pouring yourself a little eggnog (or other holiday libation of choice) and cuddling up on the couch with Netflix.

Browsing through the on demand service’s holiday selection will give you plenty of options. If you’re lonely, you can enjoy Christmas with the Kranks  or the Fitzgeralds. Chances are, these film families will make you appreciate your own real-life one. Or you can spend an evening with your favorite Hollywood girlfriend, like Mary Steenbergen, Anna Kendrick, or Sandra Bullock; or with funny men Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and Bill Murray.

Here are five more Netflix options, going back nearly eight decades, that are guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit.

 

A Christmas Carol (1938)

There are dozens of versions of Dickens’ beloved story, but MGM’s 1938 classic is a particular treat. The black-and-white movie runs just over an hour and the story has been simplified — enthusiasts may bemoan the absence of young Ebenezer’s fiancé or some of the more chilling spectral scenes. There’s also an added romantic subplot; Scrooge’s nephew can’t afford to marry without his uncle’s blessing (and financial aid). Reginald Owen is a marvelous Scrooge, and you may enjoy spotting other familiar faces, like Scarlet O’Hara’s younger sister (Ann Rutherford) as the Ghost of Christmas Past or the befuddled judge from the original Miracle on 34th Street (Gene Lockhart) as an unaccountably chubby Bob Cratchitt. Lockhart’s own daughter June, who would grow up to be Mrs. Robinson on TV’s Lost in Space, is Belinda Cratchitt. And as for Tiny Tim (Terry Kilburn), he’s as pathetic, wide-eyed and loving as anyone could wish for. “God bless us, everyone.”

 

White Christmas (1954)

There is something so utterly corny about this holiday classic and yet not only does it hold up some sixty years later, but stage revivals have had successful runs on Broadway and throughout the country. Two former GI’s, now successful song and dance men (the immortally talented Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye) meet an aspiring sister act (equally talented Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen). They spend a memorable evening together on a train (if only today’s club cars remotely resembled the one in the movie), then team up to save a struggling Vermont inn, which happens to be owned by their former WWII commanding officer. Naturally, the inn is saved and everyone falls in love. And, who can resist Irving Berlin’s wonderful score, including “Heat Wave,” “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep,” “I Wish I Was Back in the Army,” “Snow,” and, of course, “White Christmas.”

 

Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special (1988)

Before you roll your eyes, let me explain. In this surprisingly delightful holiday special, Paul Reubens’ blends his adept physical comedy with a funky mashup of Christmas kitsch, sly adult humor and countless guest stars. Cameos include everyone from Cher and Grace Jones to Little Richard, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon. You’ll thrill to the “dulcet tones” of the Del Rubio Triplets, Charo’s cha-cha-cha guitar, and the athletic prowess of Magic Johnson (after all, he and Pee Wee’s “Magic Screen” are cousins). Other guests include Whoopi Goldberg, K.D. Lang, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Joan Rivers and Oprah Winfrey. The last visitor of the evening is the jolly fat man himself, who upbraids Pee Wee for his 52-foot long Christmas list before enlisting his help to deliver toys to all the children of the world. If you have kids or grandkids with you, this is a great alternative to some of the more insipid holiday cartoons. There really is something for everyone.

 

Love Actually (2003)

My daughter and I have seen this movie at least twenty times. Love Actually weaves together different stories that illuminate the varied nature of love: first, last, romantic, sexual, unrequited, parental, sibling, soul mate … you name it. Set in London at Christmastime, it features a marvelous cast including Colin Firth, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Keira Knightly, Liam Neeson, Bill Nighy, Laura Linney and so many more. The writing is really clever — alternately funny and heartbreaking, just like life. Two of my favorite scenes include an aging rocker who advises children watching him on TV not to buy drugs. “Become a pop star and they’ll give them to you for FREE!” And, a little later, a wife who finds a Christmas gift her husband bought for another woman and confronts him, “Tell me, if you were in my position, what would you do? … Would you stay, knowing life would always be a little bit worse? Or would you cut and run?” Wow.

 

A Fireplace for Your Home

Growing up in New York City in the 1960s and 70s, we always watched The Yule Log on independent local network WPIX. Broadcast on Christmas Eve, it was an endless video loop of a blazing fireplace, set to a soundtrack of Christmas music. We lived in a high rise and there was no fireplace in sight (Santa Claus, presumably, came in from the terrace), so our family gathered around the television together. It was sort of like the Cratchitts — except we had enough to eat and a color TV. Netflix has revived and reinvented this time-honored custom for our digital on-demand age. It makes the perfect backdrop for a cocktail party, writing cards or opening presents. Of course, even the simplest of holiday traditions can be the fruit of much talented labor. For a tongue-in-cheek look at all of the artistic genius behind A Fireplace for Your Home, click here.

Season’s Greetings!

 

 

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