This Christmas, don’t you want a little drama in your life? No, we’re not talking about those controversial remarks your Aunt Gladys said during dinner, or that horrible present you got from someone you thought had good taste; we’re talking dramatic movies, baby!
Dramas are great to watch during Christmas as they are typically devoid of the false cheer and sentiment that is present in most holiday movies. The following three selections center on fractured families, broken relationships, and awkward Christmas dinners. They are all also immensely entertaining and perfect to watch on December 25.
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The Alexander Payne-directed movie, set during a holiday break at an empty New England prep school in 1970, is a story of three loners — Paul Hunham, an unpopular teacher; Angus Tully, an angsty teen left behind by his careless family; and Mary Lamb, the school cook who is grieving the loss of her son — reluctantly bonding over the holidays. There’s more to the movie than that; there’s also a clandestine trip to Boston, a broken arm, secrets revealed and kept, and an ending so perfect you could cry. (Reader: I did.)
The Holdovers is the ideal movie to watch right now for several reasons — it has excellent acting, writing, and cinematography — but what makes it particularly essential this holiday season is how it expertly blends its cozy atmosphere (the 1970s setting, costuming, and vibes are immaculate) with a razor-sharp character study. It’s the most cynical, sentimental movie made in the last 20 years and a treasure worth discovering this Christmas.
The Holdovers can be rented or purchased at Prime Video and other digital vendors.
There are a handful of movies that are mediocre but also have a weird kind of charm that makes you keep watching them year after year. The Family Stone is one of those movies. This 2005 film is centered around Meredith Morton (Sarah Jessica Parker), an Uptight Career Woman (capitalized because she’s a type rather than a character) who meets her fiancée’s smug, NPR-listening family. Chaos and antics ensue, including multiple fights, a terminal cancer diagnosis, one of the most awkward dinners ever recorded on film, and the most unrealistic swapping of romantic partners cinema has ever seen.
Why, why is this movie so popular? And why do I keep watching it every Christmas? Because it’s done very well for what it is, the acting, particularly by Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams, is better than what you expect. Meredith is initially portrayed as the villain, but what makes the movie endlessly watchable is the fact that you actually side with her. The family in The Family Stone is truly horrible, but they, and the filmmakers, don’t know it, and it’s that cluelessness that’s really the secret to its sloppy charm.
The Family Stone is streaming on Fubo TV.
Do you think Christmas doesn’t have enough angst or suburban ennui? Well, watching Robert Redford’s classy tale of upper-class discontent Ordinary People will do the trick. The 1980 movie, which won Oscars for Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Picture, has Donald Sutherland and Mary Tyler Moore play a long-married Chicago couple who lost a son in a boating accident, which caused their other son (Timothy Hutton) to try to kill himself by slashing his wrists. Fun, right?
The movie focuses on the aftermath of that tragedy and how it exposes the deep rifts that already exist in the family, particularly between Moore’s unemotional mama and Hutton’s needy son. The movie is set around the holidays and boasts some striking cinematography and music (courtesy of long-dead composer Johann Pachelbel, whose Canon in D Major became popular after the movie was released). It’s a tough movie to watch, but it’s so good you’ll feel elated instead of depressed after you view it.
Ordinary People is streaming on Max.
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