“If you believe in this spirit thing, the miracle will happen and then you’ll want it to happen again tomorrow… It can happen every day, you’ve just got to want that feeling.”
– Bill Murray in SCROOGED
That’s right – it’s time to feel the moment and that holiday spirit thing. It’s time for Spoiler Free Review’s 12 days of Christmas. We posted our favorite holiday experiences with 12 reviews and illustrations of movies, TV and music. So sit back, enjoy some spiked eggnog and welcome to SFR’s 12-days of Christmas!🎅🏽
HOME ALONE 🤩
On the thirtieth anniversary of its release, let’s take a look back at the Christmas movie that cost around eighteen million dollars to make and made around half a billion dollars. And people ask me why it’s my favorite holiday movie…
Sure, it’s easy to overanalyze the severe, if slapstick violence and the entire premise requires a huge suspension of disbelief, but we have all seen HOME ALONE, and dammit, we laughed a lot and even cried a little (at least, for “The Shoveler”).
Written and produced by John Hughes, little Macaulay Culkin as Kevin, accidentally left home alone for the holidays by his family, must defend himself and his home from two bungling yet persistent burglars. With a great cast, multiple ridiculous premises and, like most of John Hughes’s movies, a sweet center, there is lots of holiday cheer to go around. Interesting enough, the movie was just as hugely popular with adults as it was with kids (though many parents refused to let their kids see the movie because of the violence), and the movie poster of Kevin slapping his cheeks in horror will always be burned into our psyche.
HOME ALONE, even with its ridiculous premise, still provides fun Holiday entertainment.
Available on Amazon Prime Video.
DIE HARD 🤩
The movie that changed the movie business. For the first thirty-two years after this movie came out, every film pitch in Hollywood started with, “It’s DIE HARD at a clown school!” – or something like that.
This movie gave us our first super hero who was just a regular, average John. Bruce Willis plays NY detective John McClane, who arrives on Christmas Eve to reconcile with his estranged wife Holly. He joins her for her company’s holiday party and then terrorists attack but when John escapes the party and deep into the bowels of the huge office building, he becomes more than just a fly in the ointment. I cannot discuss this movie without bowing down to Alan Rickman for his defining performance as the lead bad guy, Hans Gruber.
While viscerally violent – not something you expect from a Holiday movie – the acting and story are so tight and constant dueling between John and Hans keeps you glued to the screen. I remember seeing someone wearing a t-shirt with a big old fashion picture of Santa on it, in the middle of the summer when this movie was released, with John’s catchphrase on it, and thought, “Merry Christmas and Yippee Ki Yay M***** F*****” indeed.
DIE HARD (1988) is the benchmark of action movies AND Christmas movies! Peace on Earth.
Available on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
BLACK CHRISTMAS 😊
BLACK CHRISTMAS, the second remake of the 1974 horror classic, doesn’t deliver the shock and scares the original did, but does provide a fun, updated story filled with a strong female cast and some clever dialogue. A tale about a serial killer stalking and murdering sorority girls was an original idea 46 years ago and the original film went on to inspire the slasher pics of the late ’70s and ‘80s, namely Halloween.
The 2019 film won’t seem wholly original but it does add some twists to keep the plot timely, especially in the era of #MeToo.
My biggest complaint is that it feels like this film should have been R-rated, but got edited to PG-13. This severely cuts back on the gore I wished it had and pushes many of the kills off-screen. Perhaps these edits allow for you to enjoy BLACK CHRISTMAS with more of your family around the holidays, but don’t be in any hurry to add it to the top of your list.
Currently streaming on all HBO properties and DirecTV VOD.
A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) 🤩
There’s a reason TBS can get away with showing this for 24 hours straight, and not have people get sick of it (I know it represents an annual tradition for me and my family). A CHRISTMAS STORY is not only one of the funniest damn Christmas movies ever made–it’s just one of the funniest movies ever made period! A movie that flopped on its initial release, but ended up becoming a classic through the endearing iconography of a smutty leg lamp, a tongue stuck to a pole, and a pair of pink bunny pajamas. The film presents universally relatable scenario after universally relatable scenario about the pains and joys of growing up, from dealing with bullies, learning about corporate commercial promotions for the first time, getting in trouble over your first curse word, and going after that one Christmas present you knew your life would never be complete without (or your face, for that matter, after you literally do shoot your eye out). And that not only makes the misadventures of Ralphie, Randy, Ma, and The Old Man all the more funny, but infinitely more touching.
And quite frankly, nothing will ever make me laugh harder during the Holiday season, than the traumatic fish-eye lensed POV scene of the a-hole mall Santa kicking Ralphie down a slide after telling him he’d shoot his eye out, and the catatonic look on his face after the inevitable shootdown/disappointment. I dare you not to laugh or at least smile once during that scene!
It is available on Hulu.
THE NIGHT BEFORE 🤩
“You can cry to it. You can run to it. You can party to it.”
Sarah (Mindy Kaling) discusses why WRECKING BALL is a perfect song.
Director Jonathan Levine (50/50 and LONG SHOT) delivered audiences an overlooked Christmas / Chanukah classic back in 2015. THE NIGHT BEFORE may be an offensive drug-fueled adventure, but at its core it is a perfect cocktail of holiday spirits.
A group of New York friends celebrate Christmas every year by getting wasted together. Cut to 10 years later, they are all grown up and about to embark on one last night with each other. This simple premise works so well as audiences will be rooting for protagonist Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to win back his ex. It gets complicated along the way, but what holiday movie doesn’t?
Simply put, THE NIGHT BEFORE is the WRECKING BALL you want to have crash into your living room this holiday season.
It is available to laugh-out-loud to via Hulu.
HEY ARNOLD!: ARNOLD’S CHRISTMAS (S1 EP 11) 🤩
There are dozens of animated Christmas specials out there. CHARLIE BROWN is amazing. So is the original THE GRINCH. And many people love the RUDOLPH and FROSTY stop-motion classics. Even SHREK THE HALLS is pretty good. But HEY ARNOLD!: ARNOLD’S CHRISTMAS was the one I wanted to cover because 1) it doesn’t get the love and recognition it deserves, and 2) it is 100% the holiday special the world actually NEEDS right now!
Without getting too political, it’s not an exaggeration to say we’re living in challenging, divisive times. Any moment, whether online or in person, there’s the potential to see the worst, most selfish qualities in humanity. And it’s easy to put on a holiday special and feel better, but it honestly takes more than messages about the dangers of commercialism to fix things. Human kindness in the face of real human challenges is honestly the best message one can spread at this time; a lesson we all can use. And that, in my opinion, is what sets ARNOLD’S CHRISTMAS apart from the rest.
For those who haven’t seen it, the special finds the titular football-headed Arnold secretly trying to help his neighbor Mr. Huynh track down the long lost daughter he was separated from during the Vietnam War, in hopes of reuniting them for Christmas. Even outside the microcosm of animated holiday specials, for any kid’s animated series to tackle a subject as heavy as the Vietnam War, and what it did to separate families is completely unheard of. Though light-hearted in nature, the episode is ballsy enough to feature a heart-breaking flashback scene of dozens of Vietnamese citizens trying to flee the turmoil happening in their country, and Mr. Huynh’s desperate efforts to ensure his daughter is afforded a better life. From there, we see the heartwarming and hilarious efforts of multiple characters making personal sacrifices to do the compassionate, human act of bringing a family back together.
Funny, mature, warm, and poignant, if you haven’t seen it in a while or ever, I encourage you to find it and rectify that injustice this Christmas.
HEY ARNOLD!: ARNOLD’S CHRISTMAS is available to view on Hulu (season 1: episode 11 of the original series).
MUSIC INSPIRED BY ILLUMINATION & DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH – TYLER, THE CREATOR 😊
Tyler Okonma’s contribution to the holiday music pantheon is exciting, refreshing and lush. Across six tracks (eight if you include his rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “I Am the Grinch,” which were actually used in the 2018 remake of THE GRINCH), he employs his signature production and frequent collaborators to create a new-age holiday soundtrack.
These songs feel like Tyler, the Creator songs, which is a feat I think gets lost in a lot of contemporary Christmas music. Rather than the indistinct carols and faceless classic tunes that fill grocery stores November through January, MUSIC INSPIRED BY ILLUMINATION & DR. SEUSS’ THE GRINCH is strong enough to stand on its own, any time of year.
Tyler’s THE GRINCH EP is available on all the usual platforms.
NATHAN FOR YOU (S1 EP 2) 🤩 – MALL SANTA
Tasked with helping James Bailey extend his mall Santa gig into the summertime, Nathan Fielder digs himself into a hole so ridiculous it’s hard to see how he could possibly make it out. But in the spirit of the (summer) holiday season, he has to find a way! Bailey also finds his way into the second part of the episode, which is always fun in a Nathan for You episode.
Many episodes of this show are so absurd that you have to see it to believe it. This is one of those episodes.
All of Nathan for You is available to watch on HBO Max.
Jon Favreau has been in entertainment news a lot over the past decade – directing IRON MAN, kicking off the massively successful Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), and much more recently for his work on THE MANDALORIAN, kicking off the Disney+ live action Star Wars TV universe (…D+LASWTU?).
But before all that, there was ELF, starring Will Ferrell in one of his best roles to date. This movie is funny, with a ton of quotable one-liners and bits (including a World’s Best joke that I still think about all the time), but also manages not to be too crude or cruel. It’s a rare comedy that appeals to a broad age-group, with the right amount of humor, heart, and snappy visuals. Admittedly the subplots aren’t the most memorable – however, all of ELF’s elements work together to make it a modern Christmas classic.
Recently, I saw a video on “How They Made Elf”, and from forced perspective to guerilla filming in NYC, there is a clear effort and attention to detail that culminated in the movie we know and love today. It’s also just undeniably fun seeing both the North Pole and New York City from the eyes of a human who thinks he’s an elf.
Stream the World’s Best Christmas movie ELF on AMC+ or Starz or rent it on your favorite platform.
I’m a huge comic book geek. I have been since birth. So as such I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least attempt to put some form of superhero Christmas movie on this list. And I frankly had a hard time choosing between BATMAN RETURNS, IRON MAN 3, and SHAZAM! BATMAN RETURNS is a classic and arguably my second favorite live-action Batman film. IRON MAN 3 is an underrated Shane Black gem, chock full of great action and snappy one-liners. However, ultimately, I decided to go with SHAZAM! And here’s why: of the 3 movies, this is the one that most embodies the Christmas spirit!
SHAZAM! at its core is about family. It’s a heartwarming story about discovering what the true spirit of family is, regardless of blood or background. It’s got equally as many laughs and charming moments as a HOME ALONE movie, if not more. And it genuinely is a fresh take on the superhero genre, opting to stay closer to BIG in terms of tone and concept, than your average doom-and-gloom DC Film. It’s bright, goofy, and optimistic. And best of all, it’s set during Christmas to help emphasize the emotional familial themes brought to the forefront of the movie. It speaks volumes that the superhero film least expected to make you feel something is actually one of the most tender. It immerses us in Billy Batson’s search for his real mother, and the tragic discovery of the truth it leads to, but the ultimate discovery of something(s) greater.
As you’ll see, probably soon in an upcoming review on this site, Christmas is a time to spend with the ones you love. And SHAZAM! is the quintessential Christmas superhero movie that not only understands that, but does the best job of any Christmas-themed superhero movie of delivering that notion to you.
Watch it with your family this Christmas on HBO Max.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS 🤩
“Just because I cannot see it, doesn’t mean I can’t believe it.”
– Jack Skellington
“What’s this, what’s this?” A halloween movie on a Christmas list? Yes! The visual design of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS encaptures the Halloween spirit, but the lessons learned are straight out of a Christmas playbook. On the surface, it is the standard tale of a midlife crisis. Despite Jack Skellington having fame, the King of Halloween is tired of the same-old thing so he tries something new. He attempts to “Kidnap the Sandy Claws” and take over Christmas. Things go wrong, and “Poor Old Jack” learns a lesson or two.
What makes this film a classic and also sets it apart are three things. The operatic haunting score and singable songs from Danny Elfman. The visual richness with something to see on every corner of the screen. And most important, the heart. When Tim Burton is good, he transports audiences to whimsical worlds. When he is brilliant, he adds the heart, turning his unique visual style into classics like this that hold a special place in my own heart.
Believe in the holiday spirit and make it a Christmas tradition to watch Jack lament annually on Disney +.
LOVE, ACTUALLY 🤩
“General opinions are starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed – but I don’t see that. I have a sneaky feeling that love actually is all around.”
LOVE,ACTUALLY is the perfect rom-com that somehow masterfully connects twenty some odd stories with the spirit of Christmas and falling in love. It’s a classic that holds a special place in my heart since its initial release in 2003.
2003 – I saw the film twice in theatres on the same day and proclaimed that director Richard Curtis is the best rom-com creator in the industry.
2004-2014 – I created a tradition to watch LOVE, ACTUALLY every holiday season to remind me that “love actually is all around me.”
2015 – I flew to Heathrow Airport on Christmas eve expecting there to be love all around. Unfortunately, there was not.
2018 – My wife took me to see the limited stage show in Los Angeles during the Christmas season and love was actually all around me, once again.
2020 – 18+ viewings later, I still embark on the experience to “get the shit kicked out of me by love” by re-watching this classic. I am excited to recommend it this Christmas on #SFR.
It is available to rent on all premium video services.