Netflix is really going after the Hallmark Channel for most prolific provider of cheap holiday entertainment Netflix is putting out a Christmas film a week and that started as soon as the first Friday of November. Last week, however, saw a slight difference as they released Klaus, an expertly animated, above-average family film. As we draw closer to Thanksgiving and then Christmas, I will pick up my pace on watching Christmas fare, but the past couple of weeks have been solid. Meanwhile, I’ve been pondering over how devoted a film has to be to Christmas for it to be a Christmas film. I watched both You’ve Got Mail and Holiday Inn this past week and have decided to include Holiday Inn but not the former. My feeling is that You’ve Got Mail doesn’t end on Christmas. Christmas is in the middle and only a peripheral detail in the movie. Holiday Inn gave us Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” so I’m counting it.
2019, Directed by Sergio Pablos
(7-Very Good Film)
Probably as a countermove to Disney Plus, Netflix is all-in on putting out great content for children. Klaus is a bigger-budget animated project exclusive to Netflix. It follows young, rich, entitled Jesper (Schwartzman), who’s given an ultimatum: post 6,000 letters in a year or face being cut off from his inheritance. His family owns the postal business, so working as a mailman in a miserable, remote island of Smeerensburg is a real come down. Finding, on arrival, a town torn by family feuds, Jesper doesn’t see any chance of hitting that 6,000 letter-mark until meeting a mysterious toymaker named Klaus (Simmons) who gives Jesper an idea to turn things around. Fresh take on the Santa Claus myth, Klaus tells a good story and compliments it with unique, well-crafted animation. It may seem an odd complaint but it lacks what I would describe as the Christmas spirit for most of the film. For the majority of its run time, we see everything through Jesper’s jaded eyes and Christmas is seen as a commercial opportunity. It’s not until the very end that Klaus really brings it home.
#5: Love Actually
2003, Directed by Richard Curtis
Multiple storylines weave together on the road to Christmas ranging from dramatic (Alan Rickman is tempted by his secretary to cheat on his wife, Emma Thompson) to humorous (Hugh Grant is a charming, meek Prime Minister of Great Britain who falls for someone in his staff). Love Actually is a wonderful, unapologetic mess. It embraces its muchness and wears its emotions right on its sleeves. You can be cynical, roll your eyes at the contrivances, the “office workers” that look like supermodels or make a joke about the corniness, but I choose to enjoy the spectacle of it all. It’s a spectacle without special effects. Some of the storylines are more interesting than others, but all of the performances are good.
#6: The Knight Before Christmas
2019, Directed by Cara J. Russell
As I observed before, Netflix seems to be going after the Hallmark Channel’s audience. As a result, many of their original films in the past have bordered on made-for-television quality. With The Knight Before Christmas, the border is gone. This film has moved well beyond it. It stars Vanessa Hudgens as a kindly school teacher who’s boyfriend cheated on her, preparing for Christmas in some quaint little town of Ohio. Josh Whitehouse plays Sir Cole, a 14th-century medieval knight, sent to modern times in order to fulfill a quest given to him by a sorceress. How will a 14th-century knight function in modern America? Pretty well according to The Knight Before Christmas. It takes him all of a day to learn a good deal of modern vernacular. This is also not the kind of film to have him declared insane upon arrival and locked inside a mental hospital. Everything about The Knight Before Christmas is pleasant. The town is beautiful, the actors are all attractive and kind, even the “flirtatious girl” who might have been a rival to Hudgens quickly bows out the race for Cole’s affection gracefully and without conflict. I do think there is value in a movie that is pure sweetness. I’m sure many people are looking for a film just like this one and will be glad to find it.
#7: Holiday Inn
1942, Directed by Mark Sandrich
Glossing over a couple of benign, but still problematic scenes involving blackface, Holiday Inn is a fantastic musical. You can’t do better than Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire, and Irving Berlin together. Crosby plays Jim Hardy, a showbiz veteran who’d like a simpler life for himself and his wife-to-be, Lila, living on a farm in quiet Connecticut. Then, Lila runs off with his dance partner, Ted Hanover (Astaire), and his farm turns out to be a lot of work. Time passes and Jim gets a new idea. A holiday-themed hotel wherein it’s only open on holidays complete with a complimentary music show. Working to put it together, he gets the lovely, talented Linda Mason to work for him, but Ted, already kicked to the curb by Lila, has plans to lure Linda away. Great music, dancing (Astaire’s drunk number is incredible), shimmering black-and-white photography, and impressive sets. Holiday Inn puts on an outstanding show.
#8: Let It Snow
2019, Directed by Luke Snellin
Here’s Netflix’s attempt at a Christmas film for the young adult crowd. The diversity is well-orchestrated. They’ve really covered their bases. I personally don’t see the teen house party film meshing well together with an earnest Christmas sentiment. Let It Snow tries. A handful of teenagers grapple with their love lives in a small, snowed-in town in Illinois, while Keon (Jacob Batalon) just wants to host an awesome party. Every note is dutifully done, but a good house party movie needs to be raucous in my opinion and a good Christmas movie needs to be earnest. Let It Snow is somewhere in the middle, aside from being melodramatic and clichéd.
-Walter Tyrone Howard-