This week in New York City, we got the most snow the city has seen in years. Trains were delayed, businesses closed, and piles of garbage were disguised as pure white snow drifts. It’s the first big snow of the winter and has really set the mood for December. Christmas is right around the corner and all those wintery feelings are starting to set in. So while we all sit at home avoiding harsh weather of the outside world, we’ll need something to watch. So put on your santa hat and stare out the window into the bleak abyss of a winter night with the ten movies you should be watching this month.
- Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
David Fincher’s bleak tale of disappearing women adapted from Stieg Larsson’s novel of the same name, is a perfect winter’s tale. The frozen Swedish backdrop alone provides enough reason to make this a favorite December watch, but that paired with the themes of familial strife and systemic failures all make this a poignant film for this specific December. Rooney Mara’s hacker, Lisbeth Slander, is an instantly iconic character navigating the twisted mysteries of a family of nazi’s, shady business ventures, and maybe even a serial killer. It’s by no means an uplifting holiday flick, and there’s one scene in particular that is far exploitative than necessary, but if you enjoy Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig doing deep dive investigations as much as I do, you’ll be enthralled from minute one until the credits roll.
- The Thing
Isolation, dreary coldness, and suspecting nobody has your best interest in mind. Is it Christmas with the family or is it John Carpenter’s horror masterpiece The Thing? It’s both, but we’re talking about movies. This practical effects driven sci fi flick has a little bit of everything: Kurt Russel’s beard, Kurt Russel drinking, Kurt Russel in a weird hat, a shape shifting space monstrosity that may or may not be Kurt Russell in the end. It’s truly an all timer and plays on the horrors of being trapped inside with a bunch of people who you probably can’t trust. It’s an incredibly tense, paranoid film with more style than you’d think could fit in one arctic research facility.
- Eyes Wide Shut
A movie about a sex cult may not be the first thing you associate with the Christmas season, but that doesn’t stop Stanley Kubrick’s paranoid holiday odyssey from tying itself to the month of December like a neat red bow. Tom Cruises’ wealthy doctor wanders through a Christmas light haze to find purpose in his superficial life, one that leads him to a massive orgy of masked elites. The whole thing is dangerous and strange and a constant reminder that there is always somebody above you, pulling the strings of the world. The parallels between this and the overwhelming insistence of Christmas as a moment of forced consumerism, make this film a thoughtful albeit grim addition to the holiday movie canon.
- Batman Returns
The sequel to Batman (1989) traps it’s viewer in a bizarre snow globe. The indulgent sets, all slowly being buried in a layer of snow, have an artificiality to them that makes you feel as though Bruce Wayne is wandering through a model Christmas town that your grandmother has stored in her attic. Batman takes the backseat to his villains in this one, with Danny DeVito’s horrific Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer’s iconic Catwoman stealing the spotlight. The Penguin’s orphan backstory feels like something Charles Dickens dreamed up after smoking too much opium and the whole thing ends up feeling like a festive nightmare.
- The Apartment
Christmas is often pitched as being the happiest time of the year despite it holding the unfortunate statistic of the highest suicide rate of any holiday. The deep loneliness that settles into people in the colder months absolutely saturates Billy Wilder’s The Apartment. The film centers on a man trying to climb the corporate ladder by letting his bosses use his apartment to spend engage in some extramarital activities and accidentally falls head over heels with somebody from his office in the process. The deep connection forged by two lonely spirits that spans the holiday season will resonate with any person who has ever been alone on Christmas and with any person who has a heart beating in their chest.
The last few entries are quite serious, but Gremlins is straight up fun. Adorable puppets turn into horrible little monsters if you don’t follow the rules and chaos ensues. Thematically, there’s not a whole lot to unwrap here, But that doesn’t stop it from being an all timer holiday flick. There’s all sorts of mayhem and weirdness and a particularly unlikable lead to keep you entertained. Plus you get to see one of those little freaks in a Santa hat! What’s not to love?
While never explicitly stated, I like to think this is a movie about making it home for Christmas. Sure, MAYBE it’s a film about Mads Mikkelsen braving the elements (and a polar bear) to save his comrade, and MAYBE it’s about the inspiring strength of the human spirit, but MAYBE he’s just trying to get home in time to put the star on the tree. I just hope it’s my tree.
- A Night on Earth
Another entry into the lonely holiday hearts category, Jim Jarmusch has crafted an anthology about wayward souls engaging in meaningful conversations with strangers. It’s a tale of varying shades of intimacy about connection and how sometimes it’s hard not to overshare. Five different cab drivers around the world strike up conversation with their respective riders with results that are sometimes funny, heartwarming, or tragic. While it never explicitly says what night it is on Earth, there’s a universal feeling of intertwined stories and loneliness that feels specific to this time of year.
- In Order of Disappearance
In a time of togetherness let us not forget loss, a theme at the core of In Order of Disappearance. The Norwegian black comedy is a revenge story about Stellan Skarsgard going after the criminals who killed his son. It’s as bleak as it is funny and the kind of underseen gem that you’ll be glad you made the time for. If it was good enough to get an english language remake starring Liam Neeson, it’s good enough for you.
- Black Coal, Thin Ice
The holidays are a great time to ponder the year that’s coming to a close. This one has been tough so the reflection might lead us to some dark places, but hopefully nothing quite as sinister as what haunts the characters of Black Coal, Thin Ice. Diao Yinan’s sprawling thriller follows an ex detective and his ex partner trying to unravel a crime that ended in shame for both of them years earlier, because identical murders have started happening again. The weight of past mistakes blanket the film like the frost and snow that covers the city. It’s not a good time, but it’s an incredible slow burn that will leave you thinking about it through the new year.