To brighten those 12 nights of Christmas, we’re making a list — and checking it twice — of a dozen suggestions for what to watch on Amazon’s Prime Video in December. From sexy thrillers to feminist road-trip movies to Dr. Seuss-based baking shows, there should be something here for even the most crotchety viewer to enjoy.
Coming Dec. 1
Basic Instinct (1992)
Kim Basinger, Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Michelle Pfeiffer, Geena Davis, Kathleen Turner, Kelly Lynch, Ellen Barkin, Mariel Hemingway — you could fill the Beverly Hilton ballroom with the A-list actresses who turned down the lead role of Paul Verhoeven’s seminal 1990s sex thriller. Ultimately, it went to little-known Sharon Stone, whose previous biggest part was the evil wife Arnold Schwarzenegger shot in Verhoeven’s Total Recall, quipping, “Consider that a divorce.” Playing a sociopathic mystery novelist-turned-murder suspect who lures Michael Douglas’ Detective Nick Currran into a steamy tryst made her the decade’s biggest sex symbol, but also the most, shall we say, overexposed. Stone says the infamous interrogation-scene crotch shot of her crossing and uncrossing her legs was filmed without her knowledge. Verhoeven claims Stone knew exactly what she was doing.
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
It takes some chutzpah to remake a movie that originally starred Marlon Brando and David Niven, but director Frank Oz’s update of 1964’s Bedtime Story — about two con men on the French Riviera trying to swindle an heiress out of a fortune — turned out to be a light comedy delight, thanks to Steve Martin and Michael Caine. “One of the season’s most cheerful, most satisfying new comedies,” raved The New York Times. “Mr. Caine and Mr. Martin work together with an exuberant ease that’s a joy to watch.” The joy is undimmed in a time that could use some good cheer.
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Igby Goes Down (2002)
If you like Kieran Culkin as Roman Roy in Succession, then you’re going to love his turn as Igby Slocumb Jr. in this coming-of-age tale about a smart-mouthed, misanthropic but ultimately lovable teenager who runs away from his wealthy, overbearing family and ends up bumming around downtown Manhattan (think Salinger Does SoHo). Written and directed by Burr Gore Steers (a nephew of Gore Vidal who went on to direct The L Word, Weeds, Big Love and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), it didn’t make much noise when it was first released, grossing less than $5 million. But it landed on a bunch of critics’ top choice lists and has, over the last 20 years, developed a devoted cult following.
Paper Moon (1973)
Ryan O’Neal and his then-9-year-old daughter, Tatum, are so heartwarming together in Peter Bogdanovich’s Depression-era comedy about a con man and an orphan puttering around Kansas in a broken-down jalopy that you can almost forget about how messed up their real family life was. The film made her the youngest Oscar winner ever. But her grandpa took her to the ceremony and Ryan stayed home. “In the press, he played the doting father,” Tatum wrote in her memoir A Paper Life. “But in his eyes, I read the truth: deep resentment that his own brilliant performance was being dismissed.” The two became deeply estranged, with Tatum later battling drug addiction and other demons. But their performance together in Bogdanovich’s movie remains a cinematic ode to innocence.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
The script was based on a 1970s New York magazine article about kids in the outer boroughs obsessed with a funky new dance craze. The writer later confessed he’d made up most of it, but no matter — the lie grew into the truth. It made disco a phenom for real, not just in Brooklyn but across the world. John Travolta, already famous as Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back, Kotter, became a bona fide movie star after playing Tony Manero, the disco-obsessed paint store clerk who spends his weekends hoofing at a local dance club. And the Bee Gees, who not only wrote the music for the film but tweaked its title (they added the “Fever” to the original title Saturday Night) sold 25 million copies of their soundtrack. That opening shot of Travolta strutting down a sidewalk to the tune of “Staying Alive” still turns up in other movies (check out Brad Pitt’s homage in 2020’s Bullet Train).
Thelma and Louise (1991)
It’s hard to imagine that its final scene — Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon zooming off a cliff in their convertible — would get a green light in today’s more suicide ideation-aware cultural environment. But at the time, it was an amazing ending! A feminist road movie about two friends who go on the lam together in Arkansas after shooting a rapist, it was unlike anything Hollywood had turned out before. Despite a few pans (the New York Post called it “a misogynist tale about unbelievably ditzy women”), it won an Oscar for its writer, Callie Khouri (who based the script on her relationship with country music singer Pam Tillis), as well as nominations for director Ridley Scott and for Davis and Sarandon (who came onboard the project after Michelle Pfeiffer and Jodie Foster pulled out during preproduction).
Coming Dec. 2
Riches (Amazon original)
Gorgeous, obscenely wealthy family members do terrible things to each other as they vie for control of the family business. Hey, it worked for HBO Max (see Succession), so why shouldn’t Amazon give it a go? The British-made six-episode series stars Deborah Ayorinde (Them), Hugh Quarshie (Absentia), Sara Niles (Ted Lasso), Adeyinka Akinrinade (Top Boy) and a slew of other mostly English, mostly black actors as the sprawling, squabbling and fabulously stylish Richards clan, who scramble to succeed as head of the Faith and Glory cosmetics empire after the family patriarch suddenly suffers a stroke.
Three Pines (Amazon original)
Alfred Molina (Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2) plays Chief Inspector Armand Gamache in this eight-episode adaptation of Louise Perry’s best-selling detective novel, which also stars Rossif Sutherland (Donald’s son and Kiefer’s brother), Anna Tierney (daughter of Star Wars actor Malcolm Tierney) and Canadian singer Roberta Battaglia. Nathaniel Parker played Gamache in a 2013 British TV movie, but judging from the trailer (and the fact that it’s made by the producers of The Crown), Amazon is giving this adaptation a major upgrade.
Coming Dec. 8
La La Land (2016)
Director Damien Chazelle’s modern-day update of an old-fashioned movie musical, with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone playing two young lovers chasing their dreams — and dancing their hearts out — in contemporary Los Angeles won six Oscars. It’s also a testament to L.A.’s traffic cops, who closed down a section of the I-105-110 interchange so that Chazelle could shoot the picture’s “Another Day in Paradise” opening number, turning a bumper-to-bumper jam into a spectacular car-top song-and-dance number.
Coming Dec. 13
Dr. Seuss Baking Challenge (Amazon original)
Yet another baking show? This one with contestants constructing cakes and pastries that look like Dr. Seuss characters? I will not watch it on the box, I would not watch it even on Fox! I do not like these sorts of shows, why others do heaven knows! But there sure are a lot more of them than me. It’s hosted by actress Tamera Mowry-Housley, with pastry chefs Clarice Lam and Joshua John Russell as judges.
The Black Phone (2021)
Fresh from theatrical release, this supernatural thriller stars Ethan Hawke as The Grabber, a clownlike psychopath who abducts and imprisons young boys in a small Colorado town. Until one of his abductees — played by 15-year-old Mason Thames — uses an old black disconnected rotary phone on the wall of his basement prison to somehow connect with The Grabber’s previous victims, and tenaciously schemes his escape. Reviews were mixed — “It doesn’t help that Hawke is stranded in a character whose torture repertoire consists mainly of elaborate hand gestures,” sniffed The New York Times — but audiences lapped it up, giving it an excellent 83 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Coming Dec. 21
Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan, Season 3 (Amazon original)
Remember when TV shows used to take the summer off and then come back with a new season in the fall? Those were the days. Fans of Amazon’s adaptation of Clancy’s Jack Ryan series, with John Krasinski starring as the intelligence operative once played in the movies by Alec Baldwin, have been waiting three years for this latest season. What to expect? Judging from the trailer, Krasinski’s super spy will be hopscotching across Europe attempting to save the planet from World War III, but this time he’s also running from his own CIA, having been framed for … something or another. Amazon has already announced a fourth season, which will air who knows when.
Ben Svetkey is a contributing writer who covers film and entertainment. Editorial director of Los Angeles Magazine, he previously was a top editor at The Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly and is the author of the Hollywood novel Leading Man.