DIE HARD
U.S., 1988, 132 min, Dir. John McTiernan

A year after Fox Plaza, a 35-story tower in Century City, Los Angeles, was completed (1987), it starred in a film that brought it and Bruce Willis fame, Die Hard. Fox Plaza plays Nakatomi Plaza, a building owned by a Japanese corporation, and Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a white NYC cop whose estranged white wife not only lives in LA but appears to have gone to the other side, the Japanese side. While McClane visits his wife at Nakatomi Plaza, things go crazy and we enter the world inside of the building: its elevator shafts, air ducts, and structural spaces. Here, postmodern architecture meets Reagan-era Hollywood cinema and makes lots of movie magic. CHARLES MUDEDE

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Available to stream on Peacock, IMDb TV, and the Roku Channel. You can also rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and Vudu.



BATMAN RETURNS
U.S., 1992, 126 min, Dir. Tim Burton

Batman Returns came out in June of 1992, and its Christmas theming must’ve been extremely bizarre to see in a big summer blockbuster. It’s much more suited to a wintertime watch: There’s pretty snow flurries, baubled trees, a traditional Christmas masquerade (???), and a plot to murder all of Gotham’s first-born sons. Tim Burton’s inverted interpretation of American kitsch is rivaled only by that of Paul Verhoeven (whose 2016 film Elle intersects with the holidays too, but in ways that are significantly less lighthearted), and the romantic/violent tension between Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer is seething. It’s also nice to imagine that there was once a time when a politician’s career could be plausibly ended by a recording in which he espouses despicable intentions. Oh well! At any rate, Gotham’s never been more atmospheric than in this film, with its rooftops blanketed in shadow and snow like a lofty graveyard, and if your holiday temperament is more moody than jingle-belly, this film perfectly sets the tone for the darkest day of the year. MATT BAUME

Available to stream on HBO Max.


PHANTOM THREAD
U.S. | U.K., 2017, 130 min, Dir. Paul Thomas Anderson

Ok, yes, technically, Phantom Thread is not a Christmas movie. If anything, it's a New Year's Eve film as a key scene takes place during a New Year's celebration. But, still, there's an element of holiday cheer and gloom to Paul Thomas Anderson's delightfully romantic meditation on love, power, and artistic practice. . That is partly thanks to Jonny Greenwood's absolutely incandescent score, which enshrouds the film in the twinkling, sweeping sounds of the piano.

Daniel Day Lewis plays Reynolds Woodcock, a fussy—but genius—fashion designer in post-war London. While his demeanor leans cold and dismissive, his creations are the opposite: sumptuously made gowns that fit women's bodies like a glove. One preening admirer evens tells Reynolds she wished to be buried in one of his dresses, a compliment to which he gives a curt smile. His disinterest in any kind of normal courtship goes up in flames once he meets Alma (Vicky Krieps), a young and headstrong waitress that quickly becomes his muse and lover. She completely disarms the way he moves through life, interrogating his need to project strength and control at all times. Their dynamic cycles through complete adoration to disdain and back again, with Anderson slipping in a delicious twist halfway through. Loving men can be a difficult exercise! JAS KEIMIG

Available for purchase or rental on Amazon Prime, Vudu, YouTube, and iTunes.


12 DATES OF CHRISTMAS
U.S., 2020-now, 45 minute episodes

Sowwy in advance for mentioning Joe Biden in the middle of this merry Christmas movie round-up, but, as Joe Biden said yesterday: No, "This is not March 2020," even though the omicron news makes it feel like we've cycled right back to March 2020. If this week's headlines are making you feverish, I'd like to offer up some 2020-era smooth-brained entertainment as a Christmastime tonic: HBO Max's 12 Dates of Christmas.

12 Dates follows in the tradition of shows like Love Is Blind, Too Hot to Handle, and Bachelor in Paradise. It takes three singles (some gay, some straight), locks them in a magical snowy location, then parades a chorus of hot single people in front of them and asks them to pick one ho-ho-ho to take home to mommy and daddy for Christmas. The gays are what make this show so good—they gleefully break the show's rules, hook up with people when they're not supposed to, and fuck with the plot until it makes as much sense as a fruitcake. But unlike a fruitcake, it goes down so, so smooth. If you find yourself quarantining this Christmas, flick off that brain and step into this reality cocktail. CHASE BURNS

Available to stream on HBO Max.


THE CHRISTMAS SETUP
U.S., 2020, 85 minutes, Dir, Pat Mills

Try, if you can, not to be too bewildered by the sight of Fran Drescher playing a gentile. The Christmas Setup is a sweet sugar cookie of queer cheer, and one glance at the cover art will tell you 100% of the information you need about this film: Two cute young men, one in green and the other in red, kiss under a sprig of mistletoe held aloft by a mom standing sassily to the side as sparkly snow falls all around them. Yes, it’s one of THOSE Christmas films, churned from the annual assembly line of Christmas clones, but with the pleasant twist of a same-sex romance. Fran, as the wisecracking matchmaking mom, is a giddy delight; and our two leads have a gee-whiz aw-shucks chemistry that feels entirely genuine. That’s probably because it is: Actors Ben Lewis and Blake Lee are real-life husbands, and watching their characters fall in love is a heart-melting pleasure. A challenging film? No, not in the slightest. Just a big warm red-green hug. MATT BAUME

Available to stream on Lifetime, Hoopla, and Philo.


THE WIZ
U.S., 1978, 134 min, Dir. Sidney Lumet


Around nine years ago, I entered a small studio in the basement of a four-story Pioneer Square building that faced the now-buried Alaskan Way Viaduct. The studio belonged to the talented hiphop/rock producer OC Notes, who is associated with Shabazz Palaces and the "Indian Land" artist Nicholas Galanin. That night, Notes presented, for a small audience, his musical and visual remix of one of the oddest artifacts of black culture, The Wiz. Little in this work, based on L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (a novel about the horrors of the highest achievement of late-Victorian economics, the gold standard), made much sense.

It was directed by the gifted realist, Sidney Lumet, and starred Diana Ross, who was clearly too old of the role of a little girl, Dorothy. The best of black Hollywood and Motown of the time, 1978, were stuffed into this work, which, understandably, flopped. OC Notes transformed this mess of a movie into something utterly magical called Emerald City Sequence, the musical portion of which is available on Bandcamp. The visual side of the work, which I saw in his dark studio that evening in 2012, a dark studio that recalled Plato's cave, but with the truth, rather than an illusion, being projected on the screen, finally led me to appreciate the greatness of The Wiz.

The thing to understand about this movie is its riches are not found at the level of the whole, which is obviously incomplete, but only in fragments that are in a pile like those moments the physicist Julian Barbour proposed in his quantum theory of cosmology. Do not attempt to connect these moments but let them shimmer there before you like a smashed disco ball. This was the wonderful lesson I learned from OC Notes' cave. CHARLES MUDEDE

Available to rent or buy on Google Play, iTunes, Prime Video, and Vudu.

STRANGE DAYS
U.S., 1995, 145 min, Dir. Kathryn Bigelow

While Christmas films are certainly more plentiful than New Year's Eve films, Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days is a pillar of the NYE's genre. I first watched the movie for Unstreamable, a column Chase and I write about films you can't find on major streaming services. And to that end, you definitely have to go out of your way to find Strange Days (hit up Scarecrow, Netflix DVD, or your local library), but I promise you it's worth it. Here's what I wrote about the movie back in 2019:

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. JAS KEIMIG

Available to rent at Scarecrow Video or Netflix DVD.


HONORABLE MENTION


BAYONETTA 2

Honorable mention goes to the opening cutscene of Bayonetta 2, in which our heroines go Christmas shopping and monster fighting. Just very silly stupid fun, that’s all.