Instant Gratification: “The Ice Harvest” and four other good Christmas movies to watch on Netflix Instant


Merry Christmas Eve! If you’ve got a mountain of presents still to wrap, or just want to chill a little before heading up for a long winter’s nap, here are five yuletide films streaming on Netflix, from naughty to nice.

Pick of the week: “The Ice Harvest” — A friend recommended this 2005 black comic thriller, starring John Cusack as a Wichita mob lawyer trying to get out of town on Christmas Eve with $2 million of his employers’ money. It’s great — funny and mean and violent, and the screenplay by novelist Richard Russo and his filmmaking partner Robert Benton (“Nobody’s Fool”) elevates the material into an unsentimental look at middle-age disappointment. Cusack has a great speech about his father and his uncle that serves as an acidic corrective to the “Every life means something” message of “It’s A Wonderful Life,” basically saying “Pottersville. Bedford Falls. Either way, we’re all dead.”

Comedy of the week: “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” — Now this is probably much more what you had in mind, as the Griswolds suffer one holiday disaster after another. Comedy sequels are tough to pull off (see “Anchorman 2”), but the “Vacation” series arguably made their “threequel” their best.

Musical of the week: “White Christmas” — Saw this for the first time last year and loved it as kind of a grown-up, mixed-drinks kind of Christmas movie, as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye put on a show to save their old commanding officer’s inn. Lots of great musical numbers, the highlight for me being Kaye’s weirdly passive-aggressive slam on modern dance. And, of course, the title song.

Romance of the week: “Love Actually” — Yes, yes I know. Some of this is insufferable. But some of it is great, like debauched rock star Bill Nighy or Emma Thompson quietly falling apart as she learns of her husband’s infidelity. If nothing else, it will remind you not to get your wife a CD for Christmas.

Fantasy movie of the week: “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” — This Finnish movie is completely nuts, reimagining the St. Nicholas figure as an ancient evil that reindeer herders and one brave young boy must catch to protect their village.  You’d better watch out.

Instant Gratification: “The Robber” and four other good movies to watch on Netflix Instant


Pick of a week: “The Robber”My full review is here. An Austrian marathon runner finds a new method of pushing his body to the limit — robbing banks in broad daylight and outrunning the cops. This thriller is as lean and mean as its protagonist, with minimal dialogue and stunning foot chase scenes.

Drama of the week: “The Kids Are All Right” — A lesbian family’s life is turned upside down when their children want to contact their biological father. What could be a high-concept premise turns into a comic and dramatic look at family and responsibility, with great performances all around.

Classic of the week: “Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis” — Far from the definite restoration of Fritz Lang’s dystopian classic, Moroder (heard on the latest Daft Punk album) added color tinting and an ’80s pop soundtrack.

Comedy of the week: “Love Actually” — Not all of the many, many plotlines work (Colin Firth and the maid?), but there’s enough good stuff, and certainly enough good British actors, to carry this tale of Londoners looking for love.

Foreign film of the week: “Poetry”My full review is here. In this beautifully sad South Korean drama, a grandmother tries to make sense of her life, including her grandson’s role in a horrific crime, through a poetry class.