When the umpteenth viewing of ELF just doesn’t cut it, FIELD OF STREAMS has you covered
Welcome to Field of Streams, Cinapse’s weekly guide of what’s playing on your favorite streaming services. What’s new on Netflix and Amazon Prime? What do we recommend on Kanopy, Fandor, and Shudder? We’ve got it all. From monthly roundups, to curated top 5 lists, to reviews of our favorites available now… it’s here. We built it for you, so come and join us in the Field of Streams.
Now more than ever, Christmas movies have become a staple of every holiday season. Each year, along with presents, ham and familial guilt, films depicting the holiday in all its various forms have proven so essential, that the holiday just isn’t the same without them. For many, Christmas isn’t Christmas without viewings of It’s a Wonderful Life, Home Alone, Christmas Vacation or Love, Actually. The presence of such titles only adds to the joy of the time of year for many. For others, they offer up escapist portraits of what they wish their holidays could be like. Even non-conventional holiday titles such as Batman Returns and The Great Escape have found their place and now garner repeat viewings from legions of fans every holiday season.
Christmas movies will always be an essential sub-genre within cinema. For my money, the beauty and value of holiday films can be found in their universality. Regardless of circumstance and social experience, every person has a Christmas and seeing the myriad of ways the most shared of holidays can be depicted on film is always its own kind of fascinating. While all of the above-listed films are personal favorites of mine, I thought I’d highlight a few more left-field holiday titles for this Christmas edition of Field of Streams. While some are more recognizable than others, each in its own way shows a different side to the most wonderful time of the year.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (Kanopy)
In recent years Christmas horror has become a sub-genre of film all it’s own thanks to titles as diverse as The Nightmare Before Christmas and Krampus. Yet those and other titles owe it all to the Godfather of Christmas horror titles, 1974’s Black Christmas. The Canadian-made chiller tells the story of a group of sorority girls (Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Andrea Martin, and others) who are stalked by a killer during the winter holidays. Tension has never proven more of an asset than in Black Christmas from the eerie phone calls full of heavy breathing to the shaky camera movements set to mimic the killer’s POV. In true slasher style, the kills of Black Christmas are spectacularly effective, yet can never be accused of being overly gory. The film’s sub-plots (including a surprisingly involving one featuring Kier Dullea) give the movie heft and the Black Christmas’s unanswered ending only adds to the overall fright. A worthy remake came our way back in 2006, but the it’s the original that fans will always cling to.
MIXED NUTS (Vudu)
Unjustly cited as a “Nora Ephron bomb,” this 1994 yuletide comedy may have had one too many dark laughs for audiences looking to have a warm Christmas escape at the movies. Steve Martin leads a cast that includes Rita Wilson, Adam Sandler, Juliette Lewis, Madeline Kahn, Liev Schrieber, and others in this L.A.-set tale featuring the staff of a suicide hotline who must contend with their business shutting down, a handful of wacky outsiders, a fruitcake no one can get rid of and a serial killer stalking the streets of Venice Beach. It’s easy to see why most audiences didn’t take to Mixed Nuts upon initial release since quite a bit happens within it that’s decidedly anti-Christmas thanks to its somewhat morbid (yet hilarious) humor. The obscene caller bit and the stuck elevator gag remain favorite moments of mine. As it goes on however, Mixed Nuts actually proves to be a heartfelt love letter to those for whom the time of year proves to be too much to bear, ultimately suggesting that although they may not have everything they want, they are certainly not suffering by themselves.
LOVELY, STILL (Fandor)
The title says it all in this case. There’s a whole mess of movies which take everyday plots and toss in a Christmas backdrop in an effort to have their film capitalize on the holiday. However Lovely, Still is one of the few in which the story and the season work in tandem for a uniquely enriching film experience. After years of living alone, Robert (Martin Landau) finds himself falling for Mary (Ellen Burstyn), the mother of his next door neighbor Alex (Elizabeth Banks). On the advice of his boss Mike (Adam Scott), Robert decides to pursue this late in life romance as he and Mary come upon the holiday season. There’s a loving earnestness to Lovely, Still that makes you wish it could go on forever, especially as the audience watches the beauty of these two people discover that it’s never too late to find the one you were meant to end up with. If Christmas has a special place within Lovely, Still, it’s in the way the film hones in on that feeling which takes place during the season when magic and emotions are at their highest and the need to connect is never stronger.
TREE MAN (Netflix)
Christmas documentaries aren’t too much of a thing, but this one in particular proves they should be. I first reviewed Tree Man back in 2015 upon its initial release and instantly fell in love with its central figure, Francios; the Quebec-born tree farmer who ventures from his home in Canada to New York City for a month every December to sell Christmas trees on his usual street corner. The documentary chronicles Francios’ annual practice of setting up shop and showcasing all of his magnificent homegrown trees as New Yorkers come from various Burroughs in order to get a tree specifically from him. Beyond being just a look at the Christmas tree selling trade, Tree Man is a documentary about the spirit of community. Each year the sam local young men help deliver Francios’ trees to his clients, some of the residents have him over for dinner on a regular basis, while others offer him their shower to use(Francois camps out in his van while in New York.) Francios does admit to some unavoidable sadness at having to spend the days leading up to Christmas away from his family each year. However it’s a sadness that’s greatly offset by the warmth and joy he and his trees bring to so many.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS (Prime)
Everyone has their favorite version of A Christmas Carol whether it be the Alastair Sim classic, the ever-joyful Muppets rendition or Robert Zemeckis’s CG-heavy adaptation. Yet only The Man Who Invented Christmas could tap into the specific human magic which helped make the classic tale come to life in the first place. Dan Stevens stars as Charles Dickens in this semi-fantastic re-telling of how one of the world’s greatest Christmas stories came to be. The Man Who Invented Christmas is definitely one of the oddest biopics ever to exist with the imaginary presence of Ebenezer Scrooge (a tour-de-force Christopher Plummer) acting as the bane of Dickens’ very existence while the author battles his loving, but problematic father (Jonathan Pryce), his compromised relationship with his own family and the inescapable professional slump which very nearly spells the end of his literary career. There’s a charm that flows throughout the movie that favors the tender rather than the syrupy on a movie ride that never once drags in its effort to weave fact and fiction in sincerely enchanting ways.
There are countless services to explore and great things to watch on all of them. Which ones did we miss that you would suggest to us? And, as always, if you’ve got thoughts on titles we’re missing out on or new services to check out, leave a comment below or email us.
Till next week, stream on, stream away.