Netflix vs Amazon … who’s best for Christmas films?

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If you’re a serious film buff, you probably own your favourite Christmas movies on Blu-ray (my collection includes It’s a Wonderful Life, Scrooged and Die Hard). But if you are like most people, you probably rely on the streaming services to give you your annual dose of Christmas cheer. So which service here in the UK has the best selection? On that front, the clear winner is Amazon. Of the following dozen movies, 10 are on Amazon Instant Video and only two of them are on Netflix …

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Scrooged (Netflix)

It’s now 26 years old, and is loathed by most film critics, but Scrooged is one of the best (and funniest) Christmas films ever made. It’s based on the classic Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol, and sees Murray playing Frank Cross, a miserable, hard-headed and cruel IBC network TV executive who cares only about ratings and nothing about people. He’s the sort of man who will happily fire an employee on Christmas Eve, and for Christmas gives his only brother a bath towel for a gift. The story takes place as the network is preparing for a live global broadcast of a new retelling of Dickens’ story, here called Scrooge, and sees Cross visited by the traditional three Ghosts in a effort to get him to see the error of his ways.

It’s nothing like a “traditional” Christmas film, but that’s a large part of it charm. It sticks fairly closely to Dickens’ basic plot, but often veers off in its own wacky direction. Scrooged has the odd scary moment, and goes to some pretty dark places, but it’s enormously funny and warm-hearted too. Ignore the haters – yule love it.

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Miracle on 34th Street (Amazon; the 1994 remake)

The late Dickie Attenborough replaces the marvelous Edmund Gwenn for this 1994 remake of the 1947 classic tale of Santa Claus having to go to court to prove who he really is. The John Hughes screenplay sticks fairly close to the original, about a Macy’s executive and her daughter. Neither of them really believes in the spirit of Christmas, until they encounter an old man named Kris Kringle (Attenborough) who is hired to play Macey’s Santa. But because he actually believes himself to be the real Santa Claus, the authorities threaten to put him in the nuthouse. Although Attenborough and costars Elizabeth Perkins, Dylan McDermott and Robert Prosky do their best, it’s an unnecessary remake that doesn’t quite get the point of the story. Stick with the original Miracle on 34th Street if you can, but this one is OK if you can’t find it anywhere.

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The Santa Clause 2 and 3 …  but no 1? (Amazon)

The Santa Clause trilogy – which sees Tim Allen “accidentally” take over the job of being Santa – is loads of Christmas fun. But for some very strange reason, Amazon UK ony has the second and third films available – not the first one! Amazon US does, of course, have the full trilogy – further proof, if it was needed, that “regions” really need to disappear once and for all.

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It’s a Wonderful Life (Amazon)

One of the loveliest films ever made, and although It’s a Wonderful Life was released more than 65 years ago, it’s a film that never gets old. It’s the story of George Bailey (James Stewart), who grows up in the small town of Bedford Falls and dreams of travel and adventure. But events conspire to keep him stuck firmly at home and eventually taking over the running of the family business, the Bailey Building & Loan. But when a scandal threatens to bankrupt the business – and George – he attempts suicide, on Christmas Eve. Apprentice angel Clarence (Henry Travers) saves his life, and then shows George what the world would be like if he had never been born. This is probably director Frank Capra’s best film, and despite the fact that it’s quite cheesey and very schmaltzy, it works – thanks primarily to wonderful performances from Stewart, Donna Reed and Travers. Much imitated, much parodied but never bettered, It’s a Wonderful life is, to put it simply, just wonderful. And a perfect Christmas film.

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Bad Santa (Amazon)

A sort of “anti-Christmas” film, Bad Santa is rude, crude and utterly hilarious. It’s produced by the Coen Brothers, who came up with the initial idea, but director Terry Zwigoff brings a unique touch to this tale of a cynical, misanthropic alcoholic thief (Billy Bob Thornton) who gets a job as a department store Santa each Christmas so that he and his pint-sized partner (Tony Cox) can rob the place from the inside. A woman with a Santa fetish (Lauren Graham) and a strange, withdrawn little fat kid (Brett Kelly) do their utmost to redeem our foul-mouthed “hero”. But do they succeed? Like many black comedies (such as the Coens’ Fargo or Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave), Bad Santa is an acquired taste, and a film that’s hated by many. But I love my humour dark and dirty, and Bad Santa is one of my favourite festive films, thanks to sharp performances all around and an ending that is not quite what you’d expect.

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Blackadder’s Christmas Carol (Amazon)

The second of three different versions on the Dickens classic to make this list, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol is a one-off episode of the BBC’s hugely popular historical sitcom. It first aired in December 1988, and is set between Blackadder the Third (1987) and Blackadder Goes Forth (1989). The beauty of this particular version of A Christmas Carol is that it does Scrooge in reverse – Ebenezer Blackadder (Rowan Atkinson) begins as a nice, kind, thoughtful and generous man but changes when shown the alternative by three ghosts. It’s rightfully a classic, and a must-see if you never have before.

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Elf  (Amazon)

Elf is one of those very silly Christmas films that makes the world go around. Will Ferrell leads the cast in a charming piece about Buddy, a normally-sized man adopted by Santa as an elf, who then heads to New York to find out who he is and where he comes from. It is of course a well-worn path. Tom Hanks pulls off a similar “kid in an adult’s body” schtick in Big, but it’s a load of fun, the set pieces are great and since this was an early outing for Ferrell, for once it doesn’t come out as a star vehicle.

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The Muppet Christmas Carol (Amazon)

Another take on the Dickens tale, this time with puppets. You know the drill: miserly money-grabber Ebenezer Scrooge isn’t exactly the most popular man in London, and gets the error of his ways pointed out by three Christmas themed ghosts. As wwith the Muppet Show TV series and most of the Muppet movies, The Muppet Christmas Carol is brilliantly done, adding a classically Henson-esque spin to the tale but also remaining true to the book. Michael Caine is a fine Ebenezer, Kermit is a great Bob Cratchit and Gonzo narrates with Dickensian aplomb (“I am here to tell the story”), even with the distractions provided by sidekick Rizzo the Rat (“and I am here for the food”). The rest of the usual gang are also on hand (quite literally in some cases) in a variety of roles: Waldorf and Stadtler as the Marley Brothers are particularly memorable. Funny and touching, it leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy.

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National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (Amazon)

There are probably people around today who think that Chevy Chase is just that grumpy old dude from Community. Well, back in the day (ie, when your parents were children) Chase was a pretty big star. He got his start in a comedy TV show called Saturday Night Live, then moved into movies with hits such as Caddyshack, Fletch, Spies Like Us and Three Amigos. But it was the four National Lampoon Vacation films that Chase is probably best know for now … apart from Community, that is. Christmas Vacation is the third in the series, and has Chase back as Clark Griswold, happily married to Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and wwitrh two kids, Rusty and Audrey (Juliette Lewis and Johnny Galecki). The first tow films saw the Griswolds hit the road, but there is no trip this time as the Griswolds stay home and let the rest of their extended family come to them. The usual chaos ensues. Clark has to have the biggest tree possible, he has to have the most Christmas lights covering his house and he had to have the most obnoxious relatives possible. It’s not quite as funny as the other Vacations, but it does have its moments. And keep your eyes open for the wonderful Julia Louis-Dreyfus as a psycho neighbour.

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Die Hard (Amazon)

Ah, the original and easily the best of the Die Hard films. The film that sent Bruce Willis’s star (and box-office mojo) soaring. The film that upped the action film stakes. And yes, don’t argue – it is a Christmas film! All the events at Nakatomi Plaza take place on Christmas Eve. New York cop John McClane (Willis) is visiting his estranged wife in LA when a gang of terrorists, led by the wickedly evil Hans Gruber (a delightful turn from Alan Rickman), takes over their office building during the staff Christmas party … and only McClane can stop them. So begins a cat-and-mouse game between the terrorists and the police, with McClane caught in the middle. Yippie-ki-yay, Santa Claus!

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Arthur Christmas (Amazon)

How does Santa Claus manage to deliver millions of presents to millions of children all in one night? The sheer scale of the operation must be mammoth. Well, Arthur Christmas sets out to answer those questions and more with an engaging new take on the legacy of Father Christmas. The film grants the audience an insight into just how the Project Christmas operation is tackled, and thanks to an army of ninja-like elves, sci-fi technology and of course a bit of magic, every child gets a present on Christmas Eve. It’s a lovely bit of work from Aardman Animation with a stellar voice cast – including James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton and Ashley Jensen. Arthur Christmas is a great family film for the festive season.

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Silent Night, Deadly Night (Netflix)

The second Christmas film on this list to be available on Netflix, and it’s a doozy – and definitely not one for the whole family! I’ve never been much of fan of remakes, but if ever a film was screaming out to be remade, it’s this one. Silent Night, Deadly Night is a really terrific idea, but poorly executed – low budget, bad script, awful dialogue and dire acting. But done properly, this could be an exceptional horror film. It’s a great story – little kid sees parents murdered by man dressed as Santa; raised by cruel nuns in orphanage; and at the age of 18, when forced to play Santa at the toy store at which he works, he cracks and goes on a murder spree. Silent Night, Deadly Night is notorious for the fuss it caused on its release in 1984. It caused so much anger among parents and films critics, who all called for its boycott, that it was never released in the UK (contrary to popular belief, if was never actually banned).
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Stuart O’Connor