The 25 Days of Christmas | 2021 Watchlist

The winter timed holidays are nothing if not a collection of traditions. Some are religious themed festivals, each with their own distinct practices, while others celebrate the aligning of the earth with the sun. Everyone has their own beliefs and traditions but no holiday has as many traditions like Christmas. Some countries honor St. Nicholas (who was the inspiration for Santa Claus), while others teach their children to fear the young’n stealing Krampus. The English like wearing paper crowns and eating gross deserts, while Americans like getting drunk on eggnog, gifting fruit cake to people we hate and going overboard on presents and decorations.

However you celebrate it, I think we can all agree that there are few things that fill one with the Christmas spirit quite like a movie or TV special set around the holidays. Luckily, the SAW crew has made a list of essentials that you should watch this month. If you’re looking for an alternative to the same old Christmas classics or want ideas for your own marathon, check out the recommendations below.


Day 1—Scrooged (1988)

In Richard Donner’s modern take on the Dickens classic, Bill Murray absolutely thrives in the role of Frank Cross (aka Ebenezer Scrooge), a selfish, successful television executive who sacrificed love and family to rise to the top. The cast is fantastic, but it’s really Murray doing what he does best that carries the film. His take on Scrooge is a cynical one. Mean-spirited, a little chaotic, and utterly unredeemable… well, until the end, obviously when it’s finally the prospect of a premature death that knocks some soul into the man. Karen Allen adds a touch of sweetness as Frank’s former girlfriend who is way too good for him, though admittedly, I felt like the romance in this film was the weak link. In any case, if you want to put a little love in your heart, check out Scrooged this month. If you’re not a Murray fan, watch it anyway – Carol Kane beats the crap out of him for a good ten minutes or so.

–Romona Comet

Day 2—Doctor Who: “A Christmas Carol” (2010)

The first Doctor Who Christmas Special to feature the 11th Doctor (played by Matt Smith), “A Christmas Carol” is – as the title suggests – a play on the Charles Dickens classic, with The Doctor as all the ghosts, traveling back and forth along the bad guy’s timeline, trying to convince the miserly Sardick (Michael Gambon) to save companions Amy and Rory by disabling his electrical… cloud… thingy. Also there are singing sky sharks. Sort of. It’s probably more convoluted than it has to be, in typical Steven Moffat fashion, but it’s also heartwarming and adorable and very much in the Christmas spirit. It’s my very favorite of all the nuWho Christmas specials.

–Bob Cram

Day 3—Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

We are once again here to answer the age-old question of what makes a movie a Christmas movie. And we are once again here to proclaim that simply taking place on or around Christmas is more than enough to consider something as such. Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut is no exception to that rule. It’s got it all – Christmas lights, toy shopping, and the ultra-wealthy/ultra-powerful elites of society participating in masked orgies. Christmas fun for the whole family! Whether you believe Kubrick’s fever dream of close-call sexual encounters is partially a commentary on Christmas season over consumption and consumerism, or just a coincidental timeframe setting, Eyes Wide Shut should certainly be part of your December watchlist.

–Raf Stitt

Day 4—The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (2006)

I’ve previously written about my love for Disney’s The Santa Clause trilogy in past Christmas watchlists, but I have never spent any time talking about the third film in the series. The Escape Clause is easily the worst, story wise, of the three, but there’s still plenty to enjoy. Martin Short, for instance, is a blast to watch as Jack Frost. Desperate to find a holiday to call his own, Jack Frost tricks Scott (Tim Allen) into renouncing his Santa Claus title. After that, it’s all time travel shenanigans, screenagers. I know there are a million adaptations of A Christmas Carol that use the time travel gimmick, but this one is the real deal. There’s a real alternate timeline and everything. Give it a whirl. It’s fun for the whole family!

–Marmaduke Karlston

Day 5—Carol (2015)

Based on the 1952 romance novel, The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith (later republished as Carol in 1990), Carol tells the story of a forbidden affair between an aspiring female photographer (Rooney Mara) and an older woman (Cate Blanchett) going through a difficult divorce. It’s a film told in parting glances and quick embraces. Where the simple touch of the hand, even for a moment, is as steamy as anything you’d find on Cinemax late at night. It’s forbidden, which makes it captivating but it’s never salacious due to the fact that this isn’t a tale about lust, it’s a tale about love. The only reason it’s forbidden, is the fact that it’s beyond taboo. Their love and their overwhelming desire to be together is hindered by societal barriers and watching the two try and deal with it is as emotionally rewarding as it is emotionally draining. You’ll be cheering as many times as you will be reaching for the Kleenex but just like the best roller coasters, it’ll put you through the ringer but there’s also nothing else as invigorating. This movie will make you feel something, which is what all art should strive for.

–Sailor Monsoon

Day 6—The Lodge (2019)

At a certainpoint during the Holiday season, we horror fiends will get sick and tired of all the warm fuzzies and Hallmark Christmas specials to the point where we simply want to see the world burn. To quench our thirst for blood to balance the sweet and sappy nonsense of it all, we turn to Christmas movies of the horror variety. Insert The Lodge

A father and his two children meet with his fiancee at her remote lodge during the Christmas holidays to get to know one another. However, as unexplainable things begin happening around the lodge and the fiancee falls further into madness, you’re left wondering just who the villain really is. The winter weather that comes with the end-of-year holidays can instill a lot of fear of isolation in people around the world, and The Lodge from 2019 brings that fear to life.

–Vincent Kane

Day 7—Police Story (1985)

Before Die Hard, before Lethal Weapon, there was another movie set around the holidays that mixed Christmas iconography with graphic violence and action set pieces. I’m speaking, of course, of Jackie Chan’s classic Police Story. Most famous for a car chase through a shanty town and Jackie almost getting killed by his own stunts, the climactic chase/fight scene through a shopping mall includes a number of Christmas displays. There’s also Jackie sliding down a string of Christmas lights to fall through a display (yet another stunt that almost got him killed). Where’s the Christmas spirit in all of this? Uh… Jackie goes through his naughty list and beats the crap out of all of them?

–Bob Cram

Day 8—Eight Below (2006)

Okay, so Eight Below has nothing to do with Christmas. It actually begins in January. So why am including this survival drama film, which is a remake of the 1983 Japanese film Antarctica? Well, growing up, this was one of my favorite movies. I enjoyed Paul Walker’s performance—the first movie I ever saw him in; I was still years from watching The Fast Saga—as Jerry Shepard, the dog sled musher. Bruce Greenwood and Jason Biggs also appear in supporting roles. It’s a feel good, heartfelt movie that one can enjoy no matter the season. But personally, and this might be the abundance of snow outside my window and in the film talking, I feel that it is best watched at Christmas, surrounded by your loved ones. Trust me, you’ll come out of this with a tear in your eye and a new appreciation for who and what you have in your life.

–Marmaduke Karlston

Day 9—Better Watch Out (2016)

A teenager (Olivia DeJonge) is babysitting a 12-year old boy (Levi Miller) when they both realize that someone outside is watching them. To give away any more of the plot would be criminal, just know that the film is a hardcore reimagining of Home Alone but as a grisly horror thriller. Every ten minutes you’ll either scream “what the fuck” or “holy shit” or you’ll be covering your eyes to shield you from the multiple gruesome acts of violence peppered throughout. Although it probably won’t become your new holiday tradition, it is good enough to be in the conversation of the best Christmas horror films ever made.

–Sailor Monsoon

Day 10—Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Not exactly a Christmas movie, but a perfect movie to kick off the holiday season. A John Hughes movie starring two comedians in their prime: Steve Martin and the late John Candy. Martin stars as marketing executive Neal Page, who must get home to Chicago from New York for Thanksgiving. Enter John Candy’s salesman Del Griffith and things go way off track from there as only John Hughes can provide. In the end, it’s a story about friendship, family, forgiveness and not sticking your hand between two pillows while sharing a bed with your new-found buddy. Also keep an eye out for typical Hughes actors Ben Stein and Edie McClurg.

–Ralph Hosch

Day 11—Duck the Halls: A Mickey Mouse Christmas Special (2016)

Set in the new Mickey Mouse series of shorts, Duck the Halls focuses on Donald Duck being sad he has to miss another Christmas. Since he’s a duck, he has to fly south for the winter meaning that he’ll miss out on celebrating Christmas and participating in all the festive activities. Well, to make a 22-minute special short, Donald skips out on heading south and stays up north with Mickey, Goofy, Minnie, and Pluto to finally enjoy the holidays in all its Christmas glory, but it doesn’t go according to plan. I’ll let you watch the special to understand why.

–Marmaduke Karlston

Day 12—Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

Kevin Feige should cut Shane Black a check every year for some MCU residuals because if it wasn’t for this movie, Clive Owen would’ve been Iron Man. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is the reason Robert Downey Jr. is the most successful actor on the planet. Jon Favreau saw this movie and was reminded that 1) Downey Jr. could act, and 2) how similar their lives are. This singlehandedly changed the landscape of cinema and that’s still less impressive than the film’s screenplay. This could never have been the launching pad it was if it wasn’t for that screenplay. Partially based on the novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them, the film reimagines the classic hardboiled literary genre but in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. It’s updating the noir in the coolest way possible. It never feels forced either; it’s the genuine article and that commitment is what makes it cool. Add on top of that a cast of scene stealers (Michelle Monaghan, Corbin Bernsen, Dash Mihok and Rockmond Dunbar) and two never been better leads (Robert Downey Jr and Val Kilmer) and you got the best noir pastiche probably ever. And a strong contender for the funniest Christmas AND buddy cop movie awards.

–Sailor Monsoon

Day 13—Just Friends (2005)

There are a plethora of holiday-theme rom-coms, but how many of them feature Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit and Anna Faris as a slightly crazed pop singer? Reynolds is hilarious as Chris Brander, reverting back to his insecure teenage self when he happens to find himself home for Christmas. This was Reynolds before he was Ryan Reynolds, finding major success doing the same schtick in every film. He and Amy Smart have some really nice chemistry, although it’s Faris’s self-absorbed psycho pop singer Samantha James that brings the real laughs in the film. Just Friends is an underrated gem with the underlying message that no amount of success is going to win the heart of someone you love… sometimes it’s better just to be yourself.

–Romona Comet

Day 14—Tangerine (2015)

Twenty years ago, Danny Boyle showed the world what digital cameras can do with the documentary feeling 28 Weeks Later and seven years ago, Sean Baker proved you can make art with simply a phone. Shot with three iPhone 5S smartphones, Tangerine is a Cinema Verite style look into the lives of a pair of transgender sex workers. The two leads (played by newcomers Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor) are authentic and real and have immediate chemistry. If you told me they knew each other their whole lives and had both been sex workers, I’d believe you. They don’t feel like they’re acting. They’re so believable, that the are times when the feels like a documentary. You forget you’re watching a movie and are convinced it’s real life unfolding out in front of you. It’s a beautifully realized snapshot of a tiny chunk of life Hollywood typically ignores and a lovely portrait of a family of strangers bonded together by proximity and genuine affection.

–Sailor Monsoon

Day 15—Deadly Games (1989)

As I said in my review last year, think Home Alone as directed by Dario Argento and you’ll have a little bit of an idea of what Deadly Games (a.k.a. Dial Code Santa Claus) feels like. Following precocious Thomas on a Christmas eve where a deranged Santa Claus invades his huge mansion (his mom is super-rich), it’s both darker than it should be and more light-hearted at the same time. It’s impossible to impart how odd and yet heart-warming this movie is. There are so many 80’s pop-culture references that you’ll be certain it was made recently, but no – it’s just your typical 80’s holiday/home-invasion horror film. Enjoy – I sure did.

–Bob Cram

Day 16—The Venture Bros.: “A Very Venture Christmas” (2004)

One of the many great things about The Venture Bros. is the creators’ dedication to the holiday themed special episode. Only the best worst shows have a dedicated episode for celebrating Christmas, so in honor of that, the creators decided to lean into that as hard as they could. There’s still the plotting and humor the show is known for but with a veneer of holiday schmaltz. It’s a perfect pastiche that also works as a fun stand alone episode. Dr. Venture throws a Christmas party for many of his friends, but the party goes awry when Dean and Hank find Dr. Orpheus’s spell book and accidentally summon the Krampus. Since this came out over fifteen years ago, it can make the claim of using Krampus way before the craze of the last decade.

–Sailor Monsoon

Day 17—Rocky IV (1985)

Rocky IV gave us the gift of FREEDOM, my friends. Freedom to punch your way to holiday catharsis. While it doesn’t tread any new ground, is jingoistic almost to the point of parody, and shamelessly manipulates our feelings… wait, you can get 2 out of 3 of those in any Hallmark Christmas special. Rocky IV at least features way more punching and 100% more snowy training montages. As formulaic as it is, that final Christmas day bout between Russian boxing “machine” Ivan Drago (Dolf Lundgren at his most “I must break you”) and Rocky (Sylvester Stallone at his most “I just gotta do what I gotta do”) is still feel-good magic.

–Bob Cram

Day 18—LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special (2020)

Sure it’s not a full-length movie, and it’s definitely not the Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978, but it is Star Wars and it is Lego. Be prepared to laugh, giggle and maybe roll your eyes at this animated epic. The LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special still takes place during the Wookie Life Day celebration, but don’t run away just yet. Revisit popular characters from across the Star Wars trilogies and TV shows as Rey and BB-8 attempt to find a hidden key to the galaxy’s past that will help make a Jedi’s future clearer. Of course, this key can only be found at a Jedi temple on Life Day and Rey’s time traveling journey begins! Can she complete the task in time and rejoin her friends so they can celebrate Life Day? Can the new trilogy gang perfect the Tip-Yip recipe in time for the celebration? Stop arguing about which trilogy is better, kick back with your family and enjoy!

–Ralph Hosch

Day 19—Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)

I bet you forgot that Airplane II was marketed for and released during Christmas? I never forgot. I also never forgot that most of the jokes are rehashed from the original comedy classic Airplane! But let’s put that aside, 9-year old me loved this movie; though 9-year old me wasn’t a fan of laughing so hard soda shot out of my nose… but, I digress. Airplane II reunites most of the original cast with the addition of William Shatner being as over-the-top as Shatner can be. The story involves the passenger space shuttle “Mayflower” on its maiden voyage to the moon. A computer malfunction, a mad bomber, a love triangle and courtroom drama are added to the story as Robert Hayes’ Ted Striker is called upon to save the shuttle from hurdling into the sun. Unfortunately, the comedy masterminds behind the original film (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker) are nowhere to be found and it shows. Don’t worry, there are plenty of cameos and jokes to keep you laughing, especially with Shatner on screen and the Star Trek gags. I would strongly suggest watching Airplane! since most of the characters return in this movie and it is one of the greatest comedies of all-time.

–Ralph Hosch

Day 20—Grumpy Old Men (1993)

My mom had a habit of showing me really funny movies growing up, but at an age where I wouldn’t understand all of the best jokes. My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Grumpy Old Men are two films I love today that I absolutely hated the first time I saw them. Grumpy Old Men in particular just gets better with age. Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau deserve to be on the Mount Rushmore of the Best Movie Comedy Duos. Watching them fight each other for the heart of Ann-Margret gets me laughing every time.

–Marmaduke Karlston

Day 21—Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Star Trek: Generations is a movie in which the fates of millions of people rest on discovering that Santa Claus isn’t real. I mean this metaphorically – it’s at least in part about wanting to live in the best possible world, to hold on to the things that make us happy and give us joy, and how the pursuit of that, the need to recapture it, can twist and break us. The pivotal point in the film for me is when Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) finds himself in HIS greatest, most joyful reality – the perfect Christmas, one in which he is married with children and his recently deceased nephew is still alive. That Picard is able to realize that this reality cannot be true, that heartbreak and loss is just as much a part of the human condition as happiness, is both tragic and wonderful. Sometimes giving up some imagined perfection is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and to those who love and need us.

–Bob Cram

Day 22Happiest Season (2020)

Happiest Season stars Kristen Stewart as Abby, a young woman who goes home with girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) for the holidays. Just one problem: Harper hasn’t told her conservative family that she’s gay. What follows is a sweet romantic comedy full of misunderstandings and big feelings. Though the movie just came out in 2020,it seems like it will be an annual holiday watch for years to come.

–Vincent Kane

Day 23—Seinfeld: “The Strike” (1997)

If you’re not feeling the Christmas spirit this year, or simply wish to try something new, then you’re in luck. There is Festivus for the rest of us! Instead of biting your tongue and getting through family functions with your cousins and your in-laws, wouldn’t you rather air your grievances and participate in feats of strength? This outlandish holiday has been a part of pop culture for close to 25 years now and it only continues to grow in popularity. But, if you insist on celebrating Christmas, just watch the Seinfeld episode and count yourself blessed to not have parents like Frank and Estelle Costanza.

–Marmaduke Karlston

Day 24—Prancer (1989)

This is a movie I used to watch every year as a kid. Back then, Prancer was about maintaining one’s belief in Santa Claus, or at least the idea of Santa Claus and what he represents. Watching it as an adult, I now see the themes of death and grief and how faith can pull a family through. Not necessarily a religious faith, but faith in the things that bring happiness and joy, as well as a belief in things that you can’t see. Young Jessica Riggs has recently lost her mother and her family has fallen on hard times. When she finds a wounded reindeer in the woods, she is convinced it’s Prancer. She’s determined to nurse the reindeer back to health before Christmas, which causes a multitude of problems for her and her family. Designed to warm even the most cynical of hearts, Prancer is worth a viewing just to watch Sam Elliot read Is There a Santa Claus?, the New York Sun editorial written by Francis Pharcellus Church. It’s bound to bring a tear to your eye.

–Romona Comet

Day 25—Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970)

This is one of the classic Rankin/Bass “Animagic” stop-motion holiday specials, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and The Year Without a Santa Claus. It’s also one of my favorites, in part because it’s so dark! The village of Sombertown (guess what it’s famous for), where Bugermeister Meisterburger (the amazing Paul Frees) rules with a grumpy fist, is as much a dystopian nightmare as found any modern teen sci-fi novel. Even Kris Kringle (Mickey Rooney), when he first shows up, is a little brusque with people – “I’m TELLIN’ you why!” he explains when questioned. Despite this, his warmth and awesome toys win over the hearts and minds of both children and the local schoolmistress. While usually thought of as a feel-good story about the triumph of innocence and play over bitterness and evil, people miss the fact that Kris has to wait for Meisterburger to die before he can clear his name and stop living as an outlaw. The lessons are: friends are important, gifts are good, toys are great and evil has to die sometime. Merry Christmas!

–Bob Cram

Check out past editions of ScreenAge Wasteland’s 25 Days of Christmas!

2019 | 2020

Ho ho ho, that’s a wrap on SAW’s 2021 list of 25 Christmas movies to watch this holiday season. How many will you commit to watching before Christmas Day?