Listen to us talk about unstreamable Christmas and New Year's Eve movies on KUOW's The Record here, and then check out our list below, presented in chronological order:
USA, 1971-1974, ~60 min episodes
Sonny and Cher never made a holiday album together, but they did record multiple Christmas specials for their Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, which ran for four years in the early '70s on CBS. Added together, the specials constitute enough jingles for an album, and luckily, a DVD was released in 2004 devoted to all of these Christmastime shows. It's seriously delightful, with special guests including Bernadette Peters and some old TV personas I can't place. These episodes air during the era of Nixon's potential impeachment, and the show's struggle to create joy around impeachment news is particularly relatable.
The costumes are from good old Bob Mackie, who recently told Harper's Bazaar that he would make Cher "up to 20 costumes" for one hour-long show. "It might be on camera for 30 seconds or 10 minutes, but she wore lots and lots of clothes," Mackie said. "She became this amazing clothes horse." I'm not being hyperbolic when I say my jaw dropped at some of these looks. Colorful, proud hippie modernism is alive and well in Mackie's designs.
Enjoy the razzle-dazzle—diva worship can get tedious, but it's deserved when directed at Cher. CHASE BURNS
USA, 1995, 145 min, Dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Strange Days feels eerily resonant today, despite its ballooned and overambitious script and runtime (it all made sense once the credits rolled and I saw "Screenplay by James Cameron"). Set in Los Angeles during the final days of the last century, Ralph Fiennes plays Lenny Nero, an ex-cop who deals illegal "SQUID" recordings, a futuristic technology that can record the memories and feelings of its wearer for later playback. Lenny gets tangled up in some messy shit when someone slips him a disk containing a memory of a violent sexual assault and murder. He ends up dragging his hot friend Mace (Angela Bassett) into the fray as the world counts down to the big and scary 2-0-0-0.
Shot in 1995, four years before the events of the film were meant to happen, this pseudo-future reflects the issues of year it was made: the platform of politically conscious rappers, police brutality, the explosive growth in tech. It's a great watch with some outstanding extensive POV shots. Heads up: there's a brutal scene of sexual assault about a third of the way through. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 1999, 101 min, Dir. Risa Bramon Garcia
Before there was Love, Actually, there was 200 Cigarettes. There are easy parallels here: Both cast a cornucopia of celebrities, both are controversially cloying, and both rank high on people's "guilty pleasure" lists. The obvious differences between the two are their settings (Love, Actually is a Christmas movie, 200 Cigs is a New Year's Eve movie), their box office totals (Love, Actually's box office is close to $250 million, 200 Cigs barely beat its budget), and their streaming statuses. 200 Cigs, an early movie from MTV Films, is totally, woefully unstreamable.
Like many unstreamable artifacts, 200 Cigarettes' unstreamability is probably due to its bloated soundtrack. The movie contains 49 songs, featuring everyone from Blondie to Elvis Costello to—checks notes—Harvey Danger singing a cover of English Beat's "Save It for Later." The song's music video includes some of the most famous women from the '90s—Courtney Love!!!—hitting on Harvey Danger frontman/Stranger alum Sean Nelson. (Watch it here. Sorry for digging this up, Sean, but it's cute.)
I can't say I disagree with the film's original reviews. It is, as Variety wrote, "dismally unfunny." But I'd like to argue that its costumes, designed by Susan Lyall with a heavy Betsey Johnson vibe, are enough to save the movie. The coats that Christina Ricci and Gaby Hoffmann wear should be in a museum. Martha Plimpton is so perfectly bad and distressed and her gowns match her mood. We frequently look past a subpar movie's terrible script or acting as long as it contains good special effects or cinematography, but we rarely extend the same courtesy to good costuming. How boring. CHASE BURNS
France, 1999, 106 min, Dir. Danièle Thompson
La bûche is loosely analogous to Love, Actually in that it takes several different characters and has their storylines collide in joyous, sad, and cloying ways. Also it's French so they throw a whiff of intellectual superiority and (almost) incest in there to "spice" things up. The film follows three sisters (one of whom is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) who try to comfort their aging mother during the holidays after the death of their stepfather. The sisters attempt to balance the opposing wishes of their divorced parents, along with the demands of their own partners. Family secrets (and pregnancies) are revealed as Christmas approaches. It's a very French, messy dramedy that's perfect for that murky period before the New Year. JASMYNE KEIMIG
USA, 2013, 63 min, Dir. Alicia Dwyer
I've been thinking about this documentary every day since I watched it. This uncelebrated gem is set during a time of heightened anxiety in the United States around led in Chinese-made toys, when news headlines were dire: "One third of Chinese toys contain heavy metals," read The Telegraph. The fears played on rising xenophobia in America—the doc, filmed around 2011, starts off with audio clips of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton yelling about China; spooky stuff.
Centered around producer Tom Xia, a Chinese-born filmmaker raised in the U.S. who is working on getting his citizenship, the doc tries to get a white American family to commit to spending an entire December without using any Chinese products. "It's like a diet," one mom says in the film. It's a preposterous, impossible diet that one family irrationally commits to, putting into action a darkly comical series of events that make the interconnectedness of the Chinese-U.S. economies literal and apparent. The family has to get rid of everything—the lightbulbs, the toaster, the Christmas lights. There are tears. Meanwhile, that family is juxtaposed against Xia's parents, who are obsessed with having a perfect American Christmas in their new Colonial-style home.
The documentary occasionally feels like it's about to veer into pointless absurdity, but its emotional grounding in Xia's citizenship journey makes it engaging, curious, and smart. It was ahead of its time. CHASE BURNS
Unstreamable means we couldn't find it on Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, or any of the other 300+ streaming services available in the United States. We also couldn't find it available for rent or purchase through platforms like Prime Video or iTunes. We don't consider user-generated videos, like unauthorized YouTube uploads, to be streamable.