This is an update of a list I put together last year of Christmas films and TV streaming in Australia. I was hoping this would be a bigger update. But I ran out of time as with everything and more frustratingly, a lot of the additional things I watched for this one ended up being super crappy.
This is certainly not comprehensive, I barely touch on some of the Christmas related stuff on some of the services available, but I’ve tried to get a mix of stuff on a few different services.
I’ve always loved Christmas films and TV, even as I got older. There’s something about those simple, lovely themes that I do think can add some beauty to what has become an overwhelming consumerist vibe to the season. All of these have something of that vibe of togetherness, love and reflection, though not always in the most obvious of ways.
- It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – I wrote a full review of this one last year that you can read here. It’s an absolute classic.
- Christmas TV – One of the cool things Stan does is curate the Christmas episodes of a huge number of TV shows. Some favourites (episode numbers here are how they appear in the Stan Christmas collections, not standard ep numbering):
- Community: ‘Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas’ (ep 2): This may be my favourite thing on this entire list. The spirit of the season examined through the exploration of one (Muslim) person’s mental health and search for the meaning of Christmas. A hilarious take on the Christmas musical in super cool stop motion animation.
- Parks and Recreation: ‘Ron and Diane’ (ep 3): The Parks and Rec Christmas episodes probably don’t stand alone as well as some others. But this still has giggly awed at woodworking royalty Ron Swanson which is beautiful. And the focus on Jerry Gergich, always an underrated supporting character, and his famous Christmas party is a cute way to bring in those traditional themes.
- The O.C.: ‘The Best Chrismukkah Ever’ (ep 1): This was in the brief golden period when this show’s dynamic was so sharp. Seth Cohen’s energy comes to the fore here with the made up holiday and Summer/Anna. Even now, so far removed from this show the music still rules. And Ben McKenzie gives a good emotional performance here as Ryan, which delivers a lot of the thematic goods.
- Bad Moms 2 (2017) – This is a solid film that never quite lives up to the promise of having a hitchhiking Susan Sarandon play the mother of Kathryn Hahn (what film could). But this is a decent comedy that is actually pretty thematically rich – zeroing in on the mental load on women during the season. Let’s face it, Christmas can be fuckin stressful and most of that falls on mums. Those themes, some really nice performances and some interesting romantic stuff make it worth a look. Note: This one is also on Aussie Netflix.
- A Very Murray Christmas (2015) – I’ve watched this every December since it came out. Murray’s schtick, which can be hit and miss for me, works really well in this. There are some cool songs that add to the storytelling and Sofia Coppola infuses some of her visual style in here as well. Importantly it’s also super funny.
- The Christmas Chronicles (2018) – AKA Kurt Russell Santa The Movie. This is actually quite a meaningful take on the Christmas mythos. Plus it looks really ace and is well acted all round. A lovely sense of magic and wonder to the world created here. Another favourite I watch pretty much every year.
- The Christmas Chronicles 2 (2020) – Not as good as the first, but a more than worthwhile continuation of the characters and themes. Slick but in a not altogether bad way as there’s plenty of charm here. Goldie Hawn brings such joy and compliments Russell’s Santa very well. Leans into the elf stuff here, giving us loads more of that mythology.
- Klaus (2019) – This is an absolutely stunning looking animation. There is an interesting out of time quality to this, there’s no hint as to when it is set. It’s a different take on the character of Santa too, how they reframe it. The film at times falls into the pitfalls of contemporary animation and having too modern a sensibility, with glib winking montages making multiple appearances. But that take on Santa and the really quite poignant ending make it worthwhile.
- The Polar Express (2004) – I’m certainly in the minority with this one as most people hate it. But I think it’s excellent. Something about the sensibility of it appeals. Christmas vibes and themes (particularly the role of belief in the season) mixed with some adventure film beats. One of the great cinema Santa’s Workshops too.
- Holidate (2020) – Not strictly a Christmas movie. But it features and in terms of schmaltzy rom-coms this is extremely good. Plus there’s a grand romantic Christmas payoff. The sublime casting helps a lot, Emma Roberts is always ace (seeing her spit “fucking holidays” whilst smoking a durry makes this worth a watch by itself) and Like Bracey is solid too. It’s kinda raunchy and there are loads of good laughs.
- Jingle Jangle (2020) – Love the storytime vibe to this one. The whole vibe around the songs is great too. Musically interesting, great dancing and they flow beautifully with the film. Design and costuming is absolutely spot on. There’s some charming relationships built up throughout the film as well, particularly a grandfather-granddaughter one.
- The Grinch (2018) – I revisited the Jim Carrey film and was struck by just how much it massively sucked. Then out of the blue my eldest chose this animated version for movie night. I intended to watch the first 10 minutes then get some stuff down but ended up watching it all. Cumberbatch is a bland main voice. But aside from that it’s colourful, wry, fun and even a little thoughtful. It’s also pleasant for adult viewers which I don’t usually associated with Zeuss adaptations and the messaging is lovely but not laboured.
- Nailed It! Holiday! – Nailed It absolutely rules. It is somehow the kindest reality show that pokes fun at people truly awful at what they are attempting. Charming, unserious and Nicole Byers is the perfect host.
- ‘We’re Scrooged’ (season 2, ep 1): A Christmas Carol themed episode with co-host Jason Mantzoukas. I haven’t always been the biggest fan of his comedic energy. But he’s fucking hilarious here. And there’s some delightful riffs on Dickens’ work. The hosts, and I, basically had a laughing fit at one of the cakes presented.
- ‘A Classic Christmas’ (season 2, ep 2): The great Maya Rudolph brings a dry wit to this one that complements Byers and Jacques absolutely perfectly. I could listen to Rudolph riff over stellar incompetence such as not being able to open the fridge every day of the year.
- The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) – The best Muppets movie and maybe the best adaptation of Dickens’ work (which is one of my favourite pieces of art ever). So charming. Captures that snowbound sense of (northern) Christmas. Shows the class situation of the masses well too and Michael Caine is a really excellent Scrooge. It’s a very funny script but laces it with direct lines from the book to give it the Dickens vibe. Never shies away from the absurdity that it’s the Muppets doing this story.
- A Christmas Carol (2009) – Robert Zemeckis is the man and this is a criminally underrated adaptation of the source material. The performance (or four) from Carrey is the best use of his wonderful physicality in the last 20-odd years. And it doesn’t forget this is a ghost story, some of the horror beats are chilling. The script is an excellent, emotionally resonant rendering of Dickens’ novella.
- One Magic Christmas (1985) – First the good stuff (and it’s mostly really good stuff). Harry Dean Stanton as a cowboy Christmas angel! An excellent Mary Steenburgen performance as an utterly worn-down mother figure, in a film that is super concerned with class. Another film that digs into the load on mothers at this time of year. Quite an adult film thematically. Now the bad (which is a bit of a spoiler): The film has a woman believe her whole family is dead so she’ll get some Christmas spirit… that’s super super fucked up. But the fact I still recommend this shows how strong (and original) those good elements are.
- Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmas (1999) – Donald Duck is the worst fuckin character. But despite that, this Disney anthology is a good, easy Christmas watch. Some nice slapstick and traditional Christmas messages presented in a slightly different way. And the final segment functions as a quite sad indictment of what the consumerist nature of Christmas forces us into.
- Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983) – Until the ghosts appear, this is not great at all. Aside from Scrooge being amazing casting as Ebenezer Scrooge (funny that). Looks a little cheap and some of the changes fuck up the messaging. But once the three ghosts stuff starts, this rules hard. Absolutely crushes the messaging through all three. Gets really bleak and frightening (seriously I will never understand how Dickens’ book came to be for kids) but the second half of this is as good as any of the other adaptations on the list.
- Santa’s Workshop (1932) – A rad little short. Old fashioned Disney hand-drawn animation and music at its best. It’s all nice and jauntily done, particularly the lovely rhyming script.
- Winnie the Pooh: A Very Merry Christmas (2002) – A good one for the smallest of Christmas fans. Uses carols well and Eeyore is quite funny. Some of the messaging – spirit over presents – is really nice.
- The Simpsons – I was sort of surprised when I went looking that there were actually very few Christmas episodes in the show’s golden age. The ones that do exist are only ok really and I think in a way the show is too cynical to totally embrace the spirit of the season. But these two are decent enough if you really want a fix:
- ‘Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire’ (season 1, ep 1): Rough as guts animation and voiceover. But it’s a passable Christmas storyline with a nice finish to it.
- ‘Miracle on Evergreen Terrace’ (season 9, ep 11): Nice and Christmassy with lots of the iconography. A reasonable arc for Bart too which is rarely a a strength of the show.
Amazon Prime Video
- The Field Guide to Evil (2018) – This is a good not great horror anthology, held together by the commitment to the folklore vibe. And importantly for the purposes of this piece, the fifth short from Greece titled ‘Whatever Happened to Panagas the Pagan’ is a Christmas story. A very cool little one at that, with a nice mixture of and new themes and imagery. The creature is super creepy too.
- Black Christmas (2019) – This is a solid Christmas slasher that has the added bonus of making a certain subset of horrible dudes irrationally angry. A rare proudly (if unsubtly) feminist flick that would fit rather nicely in a Christmas horror marathon.
- Jack Frost (1997) – Stories about killer snowmen should be fun, and this one really is. An absolute silly delight. Plays in the slasher space. Incorporates Christmas iconography very very well (and bloodily). Though one word of warning: there is one crappy assault scene in here involving the Shannon Elizabeth character.
SBS on Demand
- Tangerine (2015) – Recently revisited this one and it was much more Christmassy than I recall. This is all about Christmas themes as we generally don’t see them: something in the personal drama of the film that speaks to the heightened nature of the season, notions of chosen family, burdens of oppressive family, Christmas for migrant communities and the way that all the shit coming to a head at Christmas causes us to reflect.
- Santa Clause (1898) – A fun little curio. Directed by British film pioneer George Albert Smith, this is a one minute 16 second long piece of early cinema trickery as Santa visits a couple of kids. You can see a nice copy from the BFI here.
- Star Wars Christmas Special (1978) – I can’t in good conscience recommend you sit down and watch this. As a piece of art it’s wildly misjudged. But it’s a hilariously ‘good-bad’ choice to have on in the background as you wrap presents or even at a Christmas party. It’s well known that Disney will never release this officially. But given the version here has been up for 5 years and been watched a couple of million times, it’s clear they don’t give a shit enough to have it pulled down.
- A Luchagore Christmas (2015) – Two minutes of very atmospheric Christmas horror. Cool set dressing that gets darker quickly. Really dig the reinterpretation of Christmas imagery and tropes here, particularly the carol on the soundtrack. There’s a rad, gross kicker to finish it off. You can watch it here.