By Dan Heching | CNN
Most would agree: One of the best things about the holidays is downtime to cozy up on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa and watch a tried-and-true favorite holiday movie.
This year, I offer you a challenge when you’re tempted to watch “Home Alone” for the tenth time since November: Try something new that might still give you the warm and cozy familiar feel of what you’re used to.
Not that “The Holiday” or “Batman Returns” or “Scrooged” aren’t great.
But there is a wealth and breadth of options out there within the category of holiday movie that you may have not discovered yet. So if you’re searching for something to watch when the cousins come over for Christmas dinner, consider these options below.
(Note: I have excluded the obvious — like “A Christmas Story Christmas” or the new series “The Santa Clauses” — because I shouldn’t have to tell you that those are worth a try if you like the originals.)
If you liked “Bad Santa,” try “Violent Night”
For those in the mood for a Christmas movie not for the faint of heart, “Violent Night” features an ass-kicking Santa Claus who doesn’t take any crap and fights off the bad guys with aplomb. While David Harbour’s (“Stranger Things”) Santa may not be as “bad” as Billy Bob Thornton’s trash-talking Father Christmas in 2003’s “Bad Santa,” the pair could definitely drink each other under the table, each eschewing the smiley/cheesy vision of the character for something gleefully grittier.
If you liked “Elf” or “Just Friends,” try “Spirited”
If for no other reason than to witness the union of two Hollywood greats, this year’s “Spirited” is a safe and fun bet since it brings together Will Ferrell and Ryan Reynolds, who were featured in two of the most beloved and hilarious Christmas movies from earlier this century — Ferrell in 2003’s “Elf” and Reynolds in “Just Friends” from 2005. The new film is filled with song and dance built around a(nother) fresh take on the classic “A Christmas Carol” tale, and it still manages to showcase Reynolds’s trademark smart-aleck delivery as well as Ferrell’s zaniness. The only thing that seems to be missing is Anna Faris’s brilliant and sidesplitting pop star Samantha James from “Just Friends.”
If you like “Gremlins,” try “Krampus”
If you haven’t quite met your horror quota after Halloween, 2015’s “Krampus” will deliver and then some. Featuring a cast including Adam Scott, unofficial horror queen Toni Collette and the late character actress Conchata Ferrell, the movie riffs off of the Germanic folktale of Krampus, a shadowy pagan figure who comes to punish those who Santa Claus skips over. The movie is an atmospheric slow build, but once the homicidal gingerbread cookies attack, even those nostalgic and cuddly-ferocious Gremlins should run for cover.
If you liked “A Christmas to Remember,” try “Falling For Christmas”
For those who want to go “Overboard” on Hallmark-style holiday fare, Lindsay Lohan has come to the rescue on Netflix this year, bringing viewers the amnesia-themed “Falling For Christmas,” which feels startlingly similar to the 2016 movie “A Christmas to Remember” starring Mira Sorvino. In both, a mishap befalls a privileged and pretty young woman, who learns about life lessons and the spirit of Christmas from a flannel-wearing hunk in a small town. The major beats are there, and nothing else much matters apart from LiLo’s doe-eyed cuteness and killer holiday fashion.
If you liked “The Family Stone,” try “Last Christmas”
Who doesn’t love a tearjerker around the holidays? “The Family Stone” from 2005 is a warm and charming family Christmas movie that builds to a heartbreaking climax, one that you can see coming in the more recent “Last Christmas” from 2019, which features Emilia Clarke as a free spirit who crosses paths with prim and proper Henry Golding. While it might be just a touch more heavy on the heartstrings, “Last Christmas” also stars Emma Thompson (who co-wrote the script) and this year’s awards darling Michelle Yeoh of “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” Plus, it features music from the late and great George Michael (the title of the movie is not an accident).
If you liked “Die Hard,” try “The Tower”
“Die Hard” is everyone’s favorite alternative knock ’em, sock ’em Christmas action movie that earns its spot in the category only because it just so happens to take place during a highrise Christmas party. And while Korean movie “The Tower” from 2012 doesn’t include snooty hijackers like the dearly departed Alan Rickman, the story about a luxury skyscraper catching fire during a Christmas Eve party feels like the love child of “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno” you didn’t know you needed, providing a perfect viewing opportunity for those in the mood for more daunting and death-defying antics instead of snowflakes and mistletoe.
If you liked “Jingle All the Way,” try “8-Bit Christmas”
Last year’s “8-Bit Christmas” ramped up the nostalgia factor big time, with this endearing throwback tale centered around a young boy on a quest to receive the ultimate gift in the ’80s — a Nintendo video game system. Much like “Jingle All the Way,” which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and is now solidly ’90s-nostalgic, “8-Bit Christmas” hinges on the rabid fury that overtakes Christmas shoppers as they embark on their mission to procure the gifts they so desperately need (this also shows up, beautifully, in the opening credits of “Krampus,” above). What’s more, “8-Bit” features Neil Patrick Harris of “Doogie Howser” fame — a walking piece of nostalgia himself. (“8-Bit Christmas” is available for streaming on HBO Max, which like CNN is part of the same parent company, Warner Bros. Discovery.)
If you liked “Love, Actually,” try the Christmas episode from “Ted Lasso,” “Carol of the Bells”
“Love, Actually” enthusiasts are some of the most vocal Christmas movie fans of them all, and while nothing can totally capture the magic of that ensemble film (except, perhaps, the anniversary special on it that recently aired), Emmy-winning feel-good series “Ted Lasso” came pretty close with the fourth episode from last year’s second season, which is arguably the best entry from the show to date. Between Roy and Keeley’s bonkers quest to freshen the breath of a little girl to Rebecca’s lovely gesture towards Ted, the episode is winsome, warm, sweet, and unmistakably British — just like Hugh Grant.
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