Movies set at Christmastime have been a long tradition; who can resist all that great imagery, lights, snow, Santa Claus, Christmas trees, wrapped presents, candy, stockings, etc.? (It even looks good in black-and-white.) But for every It's a Wonderful Life, there have been other movies with decidedly darker dealings, sometimes set directly in contrast with the bright holiday season.
1. 'R Xmas (2001)
Combine the words "Abel Ferrara" and "Christmas" in the same sentence and you're bound to come up with a heartwarming holiday tale like this one. A well-to-do wealthy Latin American couple (Lillo Brancato Jr. and Drea de Matteo) spends the days before Christmas trying to track down the hottest new doll for their daughter (Lisa Valens) as well as packaging and selling a shipment of heroin. They're just your typical, happy New York family, until the husband is kidnapped. Ice-T plays the kidnapper. 'R Xmas is very poorly regarded in the United States -- mainly thanks to shoddy distribution, both theatrically and on DVD -- but it's one of Ferrara's best films.
2. Morvern Callar (2002)
Poor Morvern Callar (Samantha Morton) wakes up to find a dead boyfriend under her tree (he committed suicide). She opens all her presents from him, takes the money from his wallet, goes to a party, comes home and signs her name to a manuscript he completed. She then takes a road trip looking for "someplace beautiful." That's the dark beginning to Lynne Ramsay's poetic film, but though it stays dark and death-obsessed for some time, it's ultimately just a tiny bit hopeful.