The Best Holiday Movie Is the One You Want to Watch

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The holidays, more than anything, are a time of traditions. Cookies, candles, cold-cocking relatives for disagreements over politics or sports. People come to expect these things each year. And there’s something else they’ve come to anticipate: movie marathons. Every family and friend group has their favorites—and they all argue about which is best. It’s fun; it’s exhausting.

So, here’s a new plan: This season, watch whatever the hell you want to watch. It doesn’t even have to take place during the holidays. Watch it even if there’s not a menorah or Christmas tree in sight. Yes, people love to fight over whether Die Hard is a Christmas movie, or whether Love Actually is trash, but, guess what? No one has to do that.

For years, even decades, now, Hollywood—particularly streamers like Netflix and Hulu and the monolith known as the Hallmark Channel—has been machinating to make more holiday movies than any person could possibly watch. Rom-coms, family dramas, specials dedicated to Bill Murray—we’ve got them all. And roughly 50 percent of them are insufferable. (One of the main inspirations for this column was a friend who texted about watching A New York Christmas Wedding, a Netflix offering that actually sounds like a nightmare before Christmas. Seriously. The phrase “dead gay fetus” pops up in one review because it’s actually an apt description of one of the characters.)

Each year for the last five, I’ve watched Carol around the holidays. Yes, it takes place circa Christmas, and it features lots of tinsel and soft lighting—but it’s hardly a movie intended to get one in the spirit. Instead, Todd Haynes’ drama, based on Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt, focuses on the deep and sharp contours of love. And Cate Blanchett’s cheekbones. This may not do it for everyone, but for me it’s about finding family, and that’s essential during this season.

Traditionally (there’s that word again), my family has been a National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation household. This Chevy Chase mainstay is both a classic and fairly played out. The jokes still hit, but we’ve heard them all before. This year, I’ll be gunning really hard to get Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar added to the rotation. The Matrix Resurrections too. It’s time there was some new blood.

In 2021, most people can watch whatever they want whenever they want. Yes, there are some films that have been lost to time, trapped on VHS and forsaken by all the streaming services, but when it comes to classics, they’re available. Having a holiday movie marathon no longer requires sharp elbows and a trip to Blockbuster. So this year, when you’re arguing over which movie is the best one to screen after dinner, pick something new; watch The Power of the Dog if you like. As long as it brings joy. 

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