Tired of the Same Old Christmas Movies? Try These Instead.

7 unconventional picks to scratch your holiday itch

Anna and the Apocalypse

There’s no shortage of Christmas horror movies to choose from, but there’s only one teen zombie pop musical out there (so far).

“Shot in gray, grim, suburban Port Glasgow in Scotland, Anna and the Apocalypse is about young hearts burning to be free – right until the undead rip those hearts out of their chests and eat them. Anna (Ella Hunt) is in her last year at high school, and her dad isn't in on her plan to put off university for a year and go traveling. Her best friend John (Malcolm Cumming, one of the best depictions of teen awkwardness since Jon Cryer's Duckie) is working out that his crush on Anna has no future. Meanwhile, she's dealing with her quick fling with an arrogant dudebro, and that's all the emotional complexity your average high school musical needs. And then the zombie apocalypse hits, and the story gets dark and sorrowful and soulful really fast.” – Richard Whittaker

Streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime. (Read full movie review.)

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Worn out your Die Hard VHS tape? Try Shane Black’s Christmas-set action comedy starring Robert Downey Jr. as a wannabe actor and Val Kilmer as the private dick he’s shadowing.

“The directorial debut of screenwriter Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Long Kiss Goodnight) is a suckerpunch-and-a-half, a trippy tribute to L.A. noir that blazes through its running time, a genre-busting blitzkrieg attack on Hollywood pretentiousness that’s just as full of it as the pulp paperbacks and their myriad filmic offshoots that it lampoons. It’s also a doozy of a comedy.” – Marc Savlov

Streaming on Hoopla. (Read full movie review.)

Carol

If you’re tired of Christmas movies insisting on ho-ho-ho happy endings, Todd Haynes’ Carol melancholic melodrama is the antidote. Set in 1952 at Christmastime, it stars Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett as unlikely lovers, cut from the same cloth as a classic Douglas Sirk weepie.

“The movie has an allure that is almost trancelike, mimicking for the viewers the inescapable attraction experienced by the two main characters. The period production design is perfectly on point, as is the Fifties costume and set design. Ed Lachman’s exquisite camerawork captures every minor detail with a virtually tactile sensibility that beckons the viewer to fall swooningly into the frame.” – Marjorie Baumgarten

Streaming on Netflix. (Read full movie review.)

The Shop Around the Corner

It’s a Wonderful Life steals all the headlines, but Jimmy Stewart starred in this Christmas charmer, too, about two squabbling shop clerks who don’t realize they’ve been swapping anonymous love letters – a plot Nora Ephron would later borrow for You’ve Got Mail.

“There’s such sweet inevitability to Klara and Kralik’s love story. That doesn’t mean the movie is all softness; director Ernst Lubitsch (Ninotchka, Design for Living) gooses laughs from an adulterous affair and a suicide attempt, after all. The real surprise is in how earnestly the director of some of the finest, spikiest romantic comedies ever made is willing to step off the gas and let heartfelt romance win the day. And it so very winning.” – Kimberley Jones

Streaming on HBO Max. (Read full movie review.)

Tangerine

Sean Baker’s breakout indie broke the mold in 2015 for being shot entirely on an iPhone – and for casting two trans women as its leads.

“It’s Christmas Eve on the sun-kissed sidewalks of West Hollywood, and working girl Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is a woman scorned. Newly sober and back on the block, she and BFF Alexandra (Mya Taylor, both transgender) are sharing a glazed breakfast at Donut Time when an unwitting revelation cuts short their happy reunion: During Sin-Dee’s 28-day stint in rehab, her pimp boyfriend cheated on her with another sex worker, one who has “a vagina and everything.” From there, the exuberantly one-of-a-kind Tangerine goes full throttle as its determined drama queen strides the L.A. boulevards.” – Steve Davis

Streaming on Hulu and Amazon Prime. (Read full movie review.)

Christmas in Connecticut

Snarky and surprisingly progressive, this 1945 comedy stars Barbara Stanwyck as a Manhattan writer and single gal about town doing backflips to preserve the central lie of her magazine column – that she’s a married mother of two and domestic goddess living on a Connecticut farm.

“Barbara Stanwyck is softer here than in her more acclaimed screwball roles (Ball of Fire, The Lady Eve), and it’s the right touch for such a feather-light romantic comedy. The Christmas theme is just tinsel (nobody’s making any speeches about angels getting any wings), but the holiday does occasion a sexy sleigh ride and a half-hearted carol.” – Kimberley Jones

Streaming on DirectTV, Fubo, and the TCM app. (Read full movie review.)

The Lion in Winter

This 1960s Oscar-winning costume drama might look like homework, but it’s actually a romping picture of bickering brothers and their shouldn’t-they-be-divorced-by-now parents. (Dad just happens to wear a crown.)

“For some, closed quarters with the family at Christmas can feel like a prison sentence. Quite the opposite for Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), enjoying time off for good behavior. The Lion in Winter, a 1968 adaptation of James Goldman’s play (both taking considerable liberties with the historical record), opens with Eleanor’s arrival in Anjou in 1183, called to Christmas court by the king (Peter O’Toole), who’s rather unromantically been imprisoning her for years of their long union. The purpose of her visit? Definitely not conjugal, nor a happy occasion to exchange gifts, reminisce over eggnog. It’s time to finally name Henry’s heir." – Kimberley Jones

Available to rent. (Read full movie review.)

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