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Netflix and seasonal chill

Payel Majumdar Upreti | Updated on December 21, 2019 Published on December 20, 2019

Better watch out... Love Actually is a multi-plot, multi-starrer film where people face obstacles in romantic love

Christmas movies are like pineapples on pizza: You love them or hate them

Got your mug of hot chocolate, and plum cake? Lean back on the sofa, and click ‘start’ on your remote. Your Christmas fun is about to stream. Seasonal offerings from Hollywood are the modern-day nativity plays, but with different themes. What’s nice — and therefore Christmassy — is that they are all feel-good films underscoring the festive cheer. And what’s equally nice is that old films continue to wield their magic, even as, year after year, Hollywood comes up with new offerings.

So, eight-year-old Kevin, who gets trapped alone in his house while his family is off holidaying for Christmas, never loses his appeal.

Get together: Home Alone and its sequels the starring Macaulay Culkin are perhaps the most-watched Christmas movies ever

 

Home Alone and its sequels starring Macaulay Culkin are perhaps the most-watched Christmas movies ever. They have all the elements one would expect in a Christmas film — comedy, miracles, festive cheer, the anxiety of being alone for the holidays and various kinds of Christmas props. The movie, released in 1990, grossed $476.7 million at the box office.

Get together: A still from The Grinch series — children or family Christmas movies are a hugely popular genre

 

Another all-time favourite is The Grinch series, an introverted green monster who hates the world and plans to ruin everyone’s festive fervour with nasty acts. But guess what? He has a change of heart. The latest version — a 2018 film with Benedict Cumberbatch as Grinch — has the furry green grouch trying to steal Santa’s gifts. Does he succeed? Ha!

Christmas movies are like pineapples on pizza: You love them, or violently hate them. And yet, while they rarely win Oscars, they’re the favourite genre of a large section of folks across the world. Like nativity plays, they follow a set pattern — viewers aren’t looking to be wowed so much as to feel the gush of familiarity, watch a miracle, get a moral lesson — and end up feeling good. Comedies thrive in this genre, and so do rom-coms. A case in point is Love Actually, a multi-plot, multi-starrer film where people face different, sometimes bizarre, obstacles in romantic love. While some find love, others are not so lucky. The film, which earned $248 million worldwide, has several memorable moments. For instance, when Colin Firth starts learning Portuguese to communicate better with his girlfriend or when Alan Rickman’s marriage breaks down at the Christmas tree when his wife, played by Emma Thompson, finds out about his affair with his secretary. All the characters in the film are linked in some way, and the film drives home the point that the concept of romantic love, even though universally desirable, isn’t just a source of happiness, but of heartbreak and ennui as well.

Love and happiness, however, drive Christmas movies, which have been a Hollywood staple for decades. During the silent film era, viewers watched various versions of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Then, in 1942, a musical called Holiday Inn was released. The plot, with Christmas as the backdrop, centred on a group of entertainers who had come together at a country inn.

Analysts believe that the seasonal films are popular because they underline what viewers hope to find in their lives — love and family, with a few miracles thrown in. Take the 2006 film The Holiday. Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) are both unhappy. Iris, a columnist for The Daily Telegraph in London, suffers a heartbreak when she discovers that her colleague, whom she secretly loves, is engaged. Amanda, a film industry executive from Los Angeles, catches her boyfriend cheating on her. The two women arrange to stay in each other’s homes for the Christmas holidays. And that’s how they recover from their respective heartbreaks and find love in the midst of their vacation.

Clearly, the films are about hope. The new Emma Thompson-starrer from November, The Last Christmas (2019), has her holding a dead-end job as an elf in a Christmas store. But the daughter of Yugoslavian immigrant parents, Kate (played by Emilia Clarke), who recently had a heart transplant, wants to be a singer. A mystery man appears in her life and motivates her to do better. The film is full of good-natured cheer about a young girl finding herself, but, despite outstanding performances by Thompson and Clarke, leaves you tearing your hair out because of a rather bizarre end. Watch it to know more.

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In a multicultural world, Xmas films are no longer just about white men and women. Take A Very Harold and Kumar 3D Christmas, which ends up as a laugh riot. A spin-off of the stoner comedy film series Harold and Kumar, it shows the two pals, played by Kal Penn and John Cho, meeting after several years around Christmas. While Harold is a Wall Street honcho, Kumar is still a poor resident living in their old apartment. The reason for their meeting is a package that arrives at Harold’s door, a massive marijuana joint, that Harold and Kumar tussle over and end up tossing out of the window, lighting the prized Christmas tree belonging to Harold’s father. We don’t need to tell you the movie is nuts anymore, but watch it for its comic timings.

Children or family movies are an equally popular genre. There is the classic Polar Express, spelling out the magic of Christmas in Tom Hanks’s believable baritone; Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer; Dr Seuss’s The Grinch; Jim Carrey’s A Christmas Carol, a modern adaptation of the classic Dickens work; and Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas — part-spooky, part-adorable, and very watchable. Netflix’s first original animation, Klaus (2019), directed by Sergio Pablos, is about the friendship between a reclusive postman who lives in the North Pole and an equally reclusive toymaker. Voiced by Jason Schwartzman and JK Simmons, the movie has received positive reviews for its animation.

Netflix has an entire bunch of holiday specials that the platform will stream around the end of the year. It has already released Holiday in the Wild, A Knight Before Christmas, A Cinderella Story, Let It Snow and Holiday Rush with Hollywood A-listers. A Holiday in the Wild (2019) is a positive tale of how a middle-aged New Yorker finds her calling as a vet in Africa, in the middle of a wildlife sanctuary for elephants in Zambia, having flown in after her husband of many years asks her for a divorce. It doesn’t have mistletoe and Christmas trees, but salutes Christmas spirit in the tropics. Starring Kristin Davis and Rob Lowe, it also features a holiday romance between the two. Lowe plays a pilot in Zambia, making a living by transporting couples for luxury safaris.

A Christmas Prince (2017) is also a tale of Christmas spent away from home. The film is set in a fictitious location called Aldovia. Its king has died and the prince is going to be crowned on Christmas Eve as per tradition. Amber (Rose McIver), a young sub-editor who wants to prove herself, is sent to cover the coronation, and get a scoop, if possible. The catch? The prince is rumoured to be a playboy and never appears for any public meetings or press meets.

It also transpires that after the death of his father, he had spent the better half of the year, by his own admission, ‘on the beach in a tent’ somewhere in the US. Amber manages to get into the castle as a tutor for the prince’s feisty younger sister, Princess Emily. A villainish cousin, meanwhile, is eyeing the throne. Reminiscent partly of The Sound of Music, the film — despite the sickly-sweet story — is pretty entertaining for those fond of classic fairytales.

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If you have a box of tissues by the sofa, you may want to watch A Christmas Wish (2011), a complete tearjerker. Single mom Martha Evans (Kristy Swanson) has been abandoned by her husband. So, she travels across the country with her two children, trying to make ends meet. But kind strangers step in to ensure that the family doesn’t end up having a bleak holiday, after all.

On the other hand, if you would like to stay away from all the saccharine cheer, there is the cult horror movie Silent Night, Deadly Night (1987), where a teenager goes on a murderous rampage with an axe on Christmas night. Eyes Wide Shut, starring Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, a Stanley Kubrick classic, begins in a Christmas home, with the gorgeous couple heading out for a party, but ends up in weird erotic parties. After a frank discussion with his wife, Dr Bill Harford leaves for a night of sexual adventure, ending up risking his life and having a harrowing time, Kubrick-style. The film discusses the conflict between the concept of fidelity on one hand, and one’s sexual desires on the other.

Whether in the mood for some festive cheer, or wanting to stay away from it all, the holiday season has films for every kind of audience. After all, this is the season to be jolly. Or weepy. Or mawkish. The choice is yours.

Published on December 20, 2019
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