Call us crazy, but Christmastime seems like the perfect time to watch some Christmas movies. Here are a few holly jolly (and some not so holly jolly) holiday flicks available on Netflix Instant that should be able to fill your stocking nicely, no matter what kind of silent night you're having.
Probably the best of the Vacation movies and certainly the one with the most heart, Christmas Vacation is an uneven yet enjoyable Santa's bag of sloppy sentimentality and slapstick pratfalls. Clark W. Griswold wants the most perfect Christmas ever, one that captures the magic of the one from his childhood where he was trapped in the attic (you'll see), so he proceeds to string up his house with 25,000 Christmas lights and other such overenthusiastic shenanigans. The film stumbles as much as it scores -- and nothing tops the sequence involving a squirrel getting loose in the house, a brilliant portrait of such pure chaos and havoc that you may be moved to tears. Chevy Chase actually really shines in this one, providing a heart and soul to the silliness that goes a long way.
Yippie-ki-yay! Die Hard is one of best action movies of all time, the film that made Bruce Willis a bona-fide movie star and that's still just as great today as it was when it was first released 22 years ago. Unlike the Stallone and Schwarzenegger action heroes of the day, New York cop John McClane is all too human -- he gets his ass kicked and makes some tough choices that don't always end well as a group of bad guys take over a Los Angeles high rise. He eventually saves the day (or Christmas Eve, rather) in one of the most gratifying climaxes in film history. Willis is fantastic, as is Alan Rickman as suave German thief-cum-terrorist Hans Gruber. Watch this one if you like your Christmas with a little ka-boom.
Whatever one thinks of the darkly comic tone and antic style of Tim Burton's Batman Returns, there's certainly a lot in it for Batfans to chew on. Michelle Pfeiffer's divine Catwoman is gorgeous, dazed and to die for. Danny De Vito's Penguin is a tour de force performance -- his Oswald Copplepot is like a mutated, aquatic Richard III, with a morally bankrupt rise to power and meteoric fall. Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne is charming and intense, a truly underrated take on a man who doesn't feel right unless he's dressed up like a bat. This film has an odd charm, lost on many, which in the end may be more Burtonian than Bat-inspired -- and the Christmas setting only takes the film further into its dark world of freakish danger and beautiful melancholy.
Perhaps the best Christmas horror movie out there (besides Joe Dante's Gremlins), the original Black Christmas scores points for actually being scary, taking full advantage of its rather ominous Christmas setting in delivering its ice-cold slasher story. Christmas Break is approaching, though for a group of sorority sisters, it's hardly a time of celebration as a series of obscene phone calls leads to them being picked off one by one by some crazy cuckoo bird. You even get an abortion subplot in there, just to keep things topical. The mega-hot Olivia Hussey can scream like nobody's business in the lead role -- you also get Margot Kidder a few years before her turn as Lois Lane in Superman and 2001's Keir Dullea as Hussey's well-meaning (and probably doomed) boyfriend.
There have been many movie versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol over the years, though this made-for-TV 1984 adaptation starring George C. Scott as Ebenezer Scrooge is considered by many to be the best (we'd put the musical Scrooge with Albert Finney as a close second -- and there was that one with Bill Murray that was kind of good, too). Scott runs the show here, managing to capture Scrooge's miserly crankiness while always giving us a glimpse of the compassionate man underneath. You also get David Warner as a fine Bob Cratchit, and Michael Carter continues his '80s run of playing tall, imposing fantasy characters as The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Carter also played Jabba's lieutenant, Bib Fortuna, in Return of the Jedi and the demonic Molasar in Michael Mann's The Keep). You know the story, but let George C. Scott tell it to you again.