Yule jewels: 14 Christmas movies break with tradition

Holiday films with a twist are online for streaming pleasure


On Christmas Eve and day, many will want to snuggle up with classic favorites films, but as those days approach, here are 14 odd Christmas ducks — stories of private eyes, sex workers, serial killers, evil preachers, bad Santas, and gremlins – available for streaming or rental.

14. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (2005)

Most of writer/director Shane Black’s films are set during Christmas, creating an interesting clash between peace-on-earth and a shoot-em-up. This fast-talking, irresistibly clever private eye-like story with Robert Downey Jr., Val Kilmer and Michelle Monaghan, is probably his most cheerful. (Hoopla)

13. While You Were Sleeping (1995)

For those who despise “Love Actually,” try this hilarious, genuinely touching Sandra Bullock rom-com, set over Christmas and New Year’s, as she tries to navigate her way out of a sticky situation involving a coma patient (Peter Gallagher) and his brother (Bill Pullman). (Disney+)

Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock star in the delightful Christmas-set romantic comedy “While You Were Sleeping.” (Courtesy Buena Vista)

Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock star in the delightful Christmas-set romantic comedy “While You Were Sleeping.” (Courtesy Buena Vista)

12. Tangerine (2015)

Shot in incredible pinks and oranges on an iPhone, this Los Angeles Christmas Eve odyssey follows trans sex workers Sin-Dee (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) as they vengefully try to find a cheating boyfriend. (Hulu, Hoopla, Vudu, Tubi, Kanopy, & Crackle)

11. Carol (2015)

Based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, Todd Haynes’s gorgeous, heartbreaking Christmas-set movie tells the story of a budding romance between a store clerk (Rooney Mara) and the glamorous title character (Cate Blanchett), squashed by the bigotry and underlying menace of the 1950s. (Netflix, Tubi)

10. A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas (2011)

Originally shown in gobsmacking 3D, this irreverent comedy loses none of its inventive, charmingly nutty impact on the small screen. Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) must spend Christmas Eve night finding a rare Christmas tree to replace the one they burned down, or face the wrath of Harold’s father-in-law (Danny Trejo). Co-starring the Wafflebot. (HBO Max)

9. Better Watch Out (2017)

In this brisk, wildly clever Christmas horror/slasher, smitten 12-year-old Luke (Levi Miller) has a whole romantic evening planned with his pretty 17-year-old babysitter, Ashley (Olivia DeJonge). Before long, though, the cheery color palette begins to change to a lot of red. (Amazon Prime, Shudder, Hoopla, Vudu, Tubi, Crackle, Pluto TV)

Levi Miller and Olivia DeJonge appear in the slasher holiday movie “Better Watch Out.” (Courtesy Well Go USA)

Levi Miller and Olivia DeJonge appear in the slasher holiday movie “Better Watch Out.” (Courtesy Well Go USA)

8. Brazil (1985)

In addition to everything else it offers, Terry Gilliam’s weird, dreamlike, futuristic dark comedy masterpiece is set at Christmastime and contains all kinds of Christmas imagery, although most of it is twisted in some off-putting, slightly disturbing way. (Hoopla)

7. Black Christmas (1974)

The greatest Christmas horror movie ever made — about a killer targeting a sorority house just before winter break — still packs a punch with its quietly eerie atmosphere (Christmas lights breaking through the darkness) and memorable characters (played by Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, etc.). (Criterion Channel, Peacock, Tubi, Kanopy, Shudder, PopcornFlix, Shout! Factory TV)

6. Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Stanley Kubrick’s great, misunderstood final film focuses on Dr. Bill Harford (Tom Cruise), whose marriage to Alice (Nicole Kidman) has lost its spark. He goes out on a house call at Christmas time and finds himself drawn into a strange odyssey of sexual promise. The glittering holiday decorations are an ominous juxtaposition to the characters’ state of mind. (Hulu)

5. Fanny and Alexander (1983)

Ingmar Bergman’s epic masterpiece is one of his most personal films, beginning with a lovely, sad Christmas party sequence that takes up nearly the first hour. After that, 10-year-old Alexander (Bertil Guve) and his younger sister Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) go through quite a rough patch as their mother remarries a nasty bishop, but the overall effect is still wistful and beautiful. (HBO Max offers the 188-minute theatrical cut, while the Criterion Channel has that and the original five-hour television cut)

Bertil Guve stars as young Alexander in Ingmar Bergman’s epic “Fanny and Alexander.” (Courtesy Embassy Pictures)

Bertil Guve stars as young Alexander in Ingmar Bergman’s epic “Fanny and Alexander.” (Courtesy Embassy Pictures)

4. Gremlins (1984)

Joe Dante’s smash hit, a tribute to the cartoons and monster movies he loves, is about the id run rampant thanks to the stupidity of human beings. When Billy (Zach Galligan) receives the adorable “mogwai” Gizmo for Christmas, and all of the rules behind its care and feeding are broken, it results in a slimy hoard of green beasties taking over the otherwise sleepy, snow-covered town. ( Fubo, Sling, AmazonPrime)

3. The Night of the Hunter (1955)

The only directing effort by actor Charles Laughton, this stark, black-and-white classic is one of the greatest films ever made, with Robert Mitchum as an evil preacher, hiding malevolence behind his forceful piety as he torments two children to find the location of a buried treasure. It ends with a brief, but well-deserved Christmas celebration with Lillian Gish, the story’s true spiritual hero. (Criterion Channel)

2. Die Hard (1988)

John McClane (Bruce Willis) has one of the most stressful Christmases ever, as he tries, barefoot, to save his wife (Bonnie Bedelia) and her coworkers from a terrorist (Alan Rickman) in a Los Angeles high-rise. This is one of those just-about-perfect Hollywood productions that does nearly everything right, and it has become a Christmas perennial for many. Yippie-kay-yay. (HBO Max)

1. Bad Santa (2003)

San Francisco’s own Terry Zwigoff directed this brilliantly hilarious dark comedy with Billy Bob Thornton as safecracker Willie T. Soke, who, along with his partner Marcus (Tony Cox), pose as Santa and elf in order to rob department stores on the most lucrative night of the year. Willie’s relationships with a barmaid (Lauren Graham) and a weird kid (Brett Kelly) bring out an unexpected touching quality among the deeply cynical humor. Be sure to stream either the 91-minute theatrical cut, or Zwigoff’s 88-minute director’s cut, and not the 99-minute “uncut” version, which ruins the movie’s comic timing. (Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, YouTube)

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