Watching: Have a Very Arty Christmas

With two unconventional holiday movies.

By The Watching Team

Christmas is coming, which for many of us means a long weekend and a little extra down time — particularly if you aren’t scrambling to travel or assemble a big family feast. You might also be finding the Christmas spirit a bit more elusive than usual this year. That’s OK.

Luckily, there are a ton of holiday movies streaming to help get you in the mood. (So many!) The Times has already rounded up some good ones — see here and here — but our contributor Scott Tobias has a few unconventional recommendations for this unconventional season. It’s the theme of this week’s double feature.

Margaret is off on Friday, so we’ll see you again Saturday. In the meantime, stay safe. And for those of you who celebrate, happy Christmas and happy Watching.

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Your weekly double feature: An art-house Christmas

Catherine Deneuve in “A Christmas Tale,” directed by Arnaud Desplechin.Jean-Claude Lother/IFC Films

‘A Christmas Tale’ and ‘Carol’

Tired of piling into the family room for kid-friendly holiday standards like “Home Alone,” “The Polar Express” or “Elf”? Not up for that 20th viewing of “A Christmas Story” or the umpteenth iteration of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”? For a certain subset of the population, sneaking away to the art house is an alternative holiday tradition, a way to cut the saccharine with stories of domestic discord or unrequited love.

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With “A Christmas Tale,” now streaming on Criterion Channel, the great French director Arnaud Desplechin delivers on the warmth and togetherness of the season, gathering a family in a big house with flowing wine and eclectic Christmas songs. But true to a film by a director who broke through with a three-hour slugfest called “My Sex Life … Or How I Got Into an Argument,” there’s plenty of infighting among the film’s adult siblings, despite the need for one of them to donate bone marrow to their cancer-stricken mother (Catherine Deneuve). The likelihood that the transplant could kill her makes it possible for the donor to be either her savior or her cause of death.

There’s no more swooning moment in recent cinema than the exchange of looks between Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara in Todd Haynes’s “Carol,” as Blanchett’s rich, unhappy housewife stops for a gift at a department store. When Mara’s clerk appears in a Santa hat behind the counter, their meeting sets into motion a forbidden affair against the backdrop of Christmas season in the 1950s, defying obstacles of age, social class and sexual norms. That they court near-certain disaster makes their relationship only more romantic, especially in a season when traditions are so rigidly defined. — Scott Tobias

Stream “A Christmas Tale” on The Criterion Channel. Rent it on Amazon and Apple TV.

Stream “Carol” on Netflix. Rent it on Amazon, Apple TV and Vudu.

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