It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — which, depending on your feelings about the holiday, might not be the best news of the week. For every person who loves the artifice and fake snow of this time of year, there are those who know exactly what Ebeneezer Scrooge meant when he growled “humbug” at the top of his voice. This, then, is a list of Netflix offerings for the latter audience — special seasonal choices for those who can’t wait until the tree has been trimmed so much that you can’t even see it anymore.
SANTA CLAUS CONQUERS THE MARTIANS (1964)
Regularly named one of the worst movies ever made, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is the ideal way to pretend that you’re trying to get into the Christmas Spirit while secretly celebrating how ridiculous it all is. After all, when you think about it, there’s actually nothing less realistic about the prospect of Father Christmas being kidnapped by aliens and training his martian protege than there is about his flying around the entire world in one night to give gifts to all the good boys and girls.
TRADING PLACES (1983)
While not definitively a Christmas movie, the movie’s pivotal scenes do take place during the holidays, so it… kind of counts? More importantly, the movie still speaks to the injustice at the heart of the American Dream, more than three decades after it was made. Sure, you’ll laugh, but try coming away from this with any kind of lasting warmth about the season.
Sure, this seasonal special might not be one of Bill Murray’s finest moments, but there’s something undeniably fun about watching him recreate Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol alongside such stalwarts as Bobcat Goldthwait, Robert Mitchum and the not-in-enough-movies Karen Allen. Highlight of the whole thing, however? Carol Kane’s psychopathic fairy — well, that and the fact that naughty Frank is far more fun than nice Frank.
BLACKADDER’S A CHRISTMAS CAROL (1988)
Another spin on* A Christmas Carol, this British TV special (as the title suggests, a spin-off of the classic *Blackadder series) has a twist in the tale that makes it ideal for the holiday-phobic: There’s no redemption at the end. (I’d have put a spoiler warning in there, but this is something that’s more than a quarter of a century old.) Instead, you’re free to watch a series of season-specific skits that ends up with the important lesson that, hey! Turns out cheaters do prosper, after all.
BATMAN RETURNS (1993)
Not content with being the best Batman movie that doesn’t star Adam West — search your hearts, nerds, you know it to be true — Batman Returns also takes a whole host of holiday-centric cliches (The chance to start over at the start of a new year, a focus on children and all that damn snow) and turns them into a messy, darkly-funny movie where the highlight is undoubtedly Michelle Pfeiffer’s mesmerizing Catwoman. Think of it as the lump of coal of Christmas movies.
BAD SANTA (2003)
Even the very title of Billy Bob Thornton and Lauren Graham’s comedy crime movie tells you that this isn’t something for those who dream of candy canes and frosted window panes. Thornton plays a thief who spends every December disguised as Santa to get access to shopping malls, but the movie’s most impressive festive innovation is definitely Sue, most likely the first Santa fetishist who’s come out about her addiction in cinema. There can be no denying that we need more of those.
THE ICE HARVEST (2005)
Another crime movie — and another Billy Bob Thornton joint, as well — The Ice Harvest sees Harold Ramis take on Scott Phillips’ critically-acclaimed novel of the same name, with Thornton and John Cusack stealing money from the mob on Christmas Eve and finding out that Santa isn’t the only one with a vested interest in who’s naughty or nice. Come for the headlining duo, but stay for Connie Nielsen as a strip club owner and especially Oliver Platt as an ugly drunk.
IN BRUGES (2008)
Those hoping to see Bruges beset by elves and reindeer will find themselves sadly upset by Martin McDonagh’s weird-but-wonderful comedy of manners amongst the professional killer community; again, the seasonal setting is mostly in the background of the movie. Instead, what’s up-front is a story that offers less of the uplifting cheer expected in this time of brightly-colored trees and garishly-wrapped gifts, and instead delivers drug-addicted dwarves, hit men beset by guilt and a fine lesson about the problem with unbending principles. Also, people die. A bunch of people die. Happy holidays!
HAPPY CHRISTMAS (2014)
Nothing says “the most wonderful time of the year” like a feel-bad drama about a self-destructive alcoholic (Anna Kendrick, who’s wonderful in this) visiting her brother and his wife at Christmas, only to bring chaos and awkwardness in her sack of holiday goodies. The presence of Lena Dunham in the cast (alongside Mark Webber and Melanie Lynskey) might tell you all you need to know about the movie’s tone, depending on how you feel about HBO’s Girls.
I AM SANTA CLAUS (2014)
To end on an upbeat note, wrestler Mick Foley leads this crowdfunded documentary about a year in the life of five men who spend their holidays pretending to be Old Saint Nick. Exactly the movie to show to anyone who wants to have their childhood fantasies about jolly bearded men ruined, it’s nonetheless a heartwarming look into the minds of men who have to be the happiest people on Earth for a whole month every year. Well, we couldn’t end this on a complete downer, could we…?