If your favorite Santa is named Billy Bob, here are two movies you should consider renting.
Fans of feel-good Christmas fare will be pleased to know that all three versions of “Miracle on 34th Street” — from 1947, 1973 and 1994 — are available for streaming via Google Play.
But what if you’re feeling more naughty than nice this season?
Begun in the mid-’70s with the Canadian slasher flick “Black Christmas” and peaking in 2003 with Billy Bob Thornton as a boozy Kris Kringle in “Bad Santa,” the “bah, humbug!” variety of yuletide cinema is alive and well this year with two movies newly available on demand — and both merry with bad tidings.
“All Is Bright” (also on DVD and Blu-ray) stars Paul Giamatti and Paul Rudd as a pathetic pair of Christmas tree salesmen from rural Quebec who drive south to set up shop on a barren corner of northernmost Brooklyn. Giamatti’s Dennis is a recovering thief just sprung from jail, while Rudd’s Rene is a dim bulb who has taken up with Dennis’ ex-wife. Neither has a nickel to his name.
Days pass without a single sale as the pair are reduced to eating presumably pilfered soup straight out of the can. Both actors are in fine form, particularly the swollen-eyed Giamatti, who makes us feel the frostbite on Dennis’ crumpled hands. The soundtrack’s sickly renditions of “Away in a Manger” and other would-be cheery carols add to the chill.
Dennis’ fortunes improve when a cranky, thickly accented Russian-American woman (Sally Hawkins) wanders by and miraculously purchases a tree in addition to vaguely befriending the poor guy. Still, screenwriter Melissa James Gibson and director Phil Morrison (“Junebug”) clearly prefer their eggnog curdled.
More sour yet is “White Reindeer,” whose prim and proper, pearl-necklace-sporting heroine (Anna Margaret Hollyman) goes on a sex- and drug-fueled tour of the underclass after her TV meteorologist hubby (Nathan Williams) gets shot in the head, the victim of an apparently random home invasion in the days leading up to Christmas.
Discovering that the deceased had been carrying on an affair with a stripper named Autumn (Laura Lemar-Goldsborough), Hollyman’s Suzanne reacts not with outrage but curiosity. She starts hanging out with Autumn and her stripper friends, drinking and drugging until the wee hours, then waking with a compulsive need for wildly excessive holiday shopping online. A swingers’ party in suburban Virginia follows, and with it our sense that Suzanne may have fallen off Santa’s nice list for good.
Raunchy though it may be, “White Reindeer” is ultimately a quite serious meditation on the meaning of Christmas in an era when every variety of conventional holiday cheer can be guaranteed for next-day delivery. Thanks to the wonders of VOD, “White Reindeer” arrives immediately, but it stands to linger long past New Year’s.
Rob Nelson is a National Society of Film Critics member whose reviews appear regularly in the trade magazine Variety.