After you’ve opened the presents, greeted the guests and feasted and fêted your way through a blizzard of cookies and eggnog, there’s no better way to settle into the spirit of the holidays than with a Christmas classic on the small screen. This year, I’ve combed the season’s online offerings to find the films that best reflect The Contributor’s mission of giving and support for all of our Nashville neighbors.
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
It’s just not Christmas without a viewing of one of the many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ timeless tale of Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from a penny-pinching miser to a joyous, repentant ambassador of love and goodwill. This tale sticks to the traditional story and throws in a few songs, but it’s Michael Caine’s straight, dark and life-affirming turn in the title role that puts this version of the Scrooge tale alongside the best of the bunch. The Muppet Christmas Carol is one of the best Muppet movies ever made, and it’s also a Christmas classic for the ages. Streaming on HBO GO
Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas (2016)
Once Upon a Sesame Street Christmas may not catch your ear as the title of a timeless holiday classic, but this Sesame Street origin story makes a great pairing with The Muppet Christmas Carol. Plus, it’s a perfect fit for this list. This story begins on Christmas Eve as Elmo’s father tucks him in for a bedtime story. When Elmo asks, “Why do we leave cookies out for Santa?” his pop weaves a tale about 19th Century Sesame Street when the people of the neighborhood were so cold and mean that Santa Claus’ sleigh regularly passed them by. It was Elmo’s great-great-great-grandmonster who first brought kindness and warmth to the most famous street in kiddom. This story about community and neighborly kindness arrives just in time for the holidays. Streaming on HBO GO
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
A Christmas story wrapped in a Halloween puppet show, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a celebration of the stop-motion animation that originally brought seasonal classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town to life. Of course, Tim Burton’s unforgettable story about Jack Skellington’s quest for the Christmas spirit is more complicated than that, but at its core The Nightmare Before Christmas reminds us that there are no outcasts among us this time of year and that the holiday season is for everyone. Streaming on Netflix
Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: Christmas Special (1988)
Also known as Christmas at Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, this holiday hoopla from the heyday of Pee Wee Herman’s Saturday morning television show is easily the most bizarre and subversive pick on our list this holiday season. Essentially a send-up of contemporaneous network television holiday specials, this cheeky chestnut features an all-star cast in a musical variety show that revels in seasonal punchlines from yellow snow to fruit cake. This is by far the campiest Christmas celebration ever made for the small screen, and a who’s who of gay icons — Cher, Oprah Winfrey, Dinah Shore, Joan Rivers, Grace Jones, Zsa Zsa Gabor, K.D. Lang, Charo and Little Richard all pop in to the playhouse for a sloshing mugful of seasonal cheer. Of course, Pee-Wee Herman is an eternal child, and the magical thinking that evokes the Christmas spirit gives this special the license to be alternately sexy and cheerful, fabulous and merry while still maintaining the candy-striped veneer of a holiday special for kids. Nearly three decades of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse: Christmas Special is still totally bizarre, but it’s also another example of a holiday celebration in which everyone is invited to join. Streaming on Netflix
Die Hard (1988)
Another Christmas classic from 1988, this Bruce Willis action-thriller plays like the polar opposite to the Pee-Wee special: NYPD detective John McClane heads to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve in hopes of reconciling with his estranged wife at her office Christmas party. When a group of German terrorists seize the tower where the Nakatomi corporation is celebrating, McClane is the only person at the party not taken hostage. The cat-and-mouse game that follows made Willis a bona fide movie star while also proving that cops, terrorists, crashing cars, exploding windows and countless bullets could fill a Christmas stocking just as well as candy canes and sugar plums. It makes our list because, in the end, Die Hard is a love story about a family man trying to make good. I also included it because this one screens at midnight at the Belcourt on Friday, Dec. 22. Yippie Ki Yay.