Unless you work in an industry that doesn’t afford you time off for the holidays, your next few weeks will involve quite a bit of family time. At least in my family, that means stuffing yourself with all manner of delicacies on Christmas Eve, catching up on life and watching TV and/or movies the rest of the time. At my mother-in-law’s house in Utica, for example, we will often grab a Redbox movie after a holiday dinner, which 9 times out of 10, involves some sort of explicit, adult-oriented content that makes my face flush red. Thankfully, the last time I was there, someone suggested we watch Yesterday, which was a quasi-feel-good film, if you can get past all the scenes featuring Ed Sheeran, who is, by no means, as good an actor as he is singer-songwriter.
For those of you spending family time together in Saratoga Springs this holiday season, you could just warm up the SUV and jet over to the Bow Tie for a tried-and-true winter blockbuster. You and a thousand other Saratogians. Or you could take a different route: stay in the warm confines of your own home or apartment, pop some popcorn and have a Saratoga-themed movie or TV night. There are a number of films, TV shows, documentaries and the like that you can get “free” or “rent” with a Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime Video subscription that have a Saratoga connection. Here are the 10 best options.
Saratoga (1937) – What better way to kick off your post-holiday dinner sesh with a black-and-white classic. Saratoga was actress Jean Harlow’s final movie—she died at the tender age of 26 in June of ’37. (She was sort of a proto-Marilyn Monroe.) Harlow, who died before the movie wrapped, causing Director Jack Conway to finish it using stand-ins, acts opposite the great Clark Gable. It’s got an 84 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, so it won’t be like Christmas ’88, when Uncle Dan decided to rent Ishtar.
Saratoga Connection: What’s in a name?
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) – Fun fact: The little boy in Kramer vs. Kramer, Justin Henry, who became the youngest actor to ever receive an Oscar nomination, years later attended Skidmore College. The film is one of the best—but saddest—on this list, as it hinges on a messy divorce. But it stars Dustin Hoffman (see below) and Meryl Streep, so the top-notch acting will make up for the “I’m not crying, you’re crying” that’ll be going down that night.
Saratoga Connection: Little Billy Kramer’s a future Skiddie!
Billy Bathgate (1991) – When I was a fifth-grader at Lake Avenue Elementary School, my classmates Sanford Mirling and Maureen Toomey—Patrick’s sister—tried out and got the part of extras in Billy Bathgate, a movie starring Dustin Hoffman and Nicole Kidman, which filmed some scenes in Saratoga. (I deeply regret the decision not to follow suit.) While it’s not the world’s greatest movie, it’s worth the watch just for the Saratoga-peeping. It also co-stars Bruce Willis, who, at the time of filming, was two films deep in the Die Hard canon. (Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie, so you could always just watch that instead.)
Saratoga Connection: Saratoga scenes include glimpses of Saratoga Race Course and the Saratoga Spa State Park
Sneakers (1992) – This is sort of a ’90s version of those movies that come out these days that you can pretty much assume the cast did just for the hefty paycheck. (Hey, look, we all gotta make money, right?) But it’s actually a pretty fun movie—perfect for an open holiday evening. You don’t really need to think too hard about it. It also stars Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Poitier and a late-career River Phoenix, who tragically died in 1993.
Saratoga Connection: In one of the better cameos in Capital Region history, former broadcast news anchor Ernie Tetrault, who spent his entire 42-year career at our local CBS affiliate, makes an appearance in the film. Blink, and you’ll miss him. Thank the lord for our TV-pausing capabilities.
Becoming Bond (2017) – If you’re a fan of the 1969 James Bond movie On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which takes place during Christmas and features the only one-time Bond, Aussie George Lazenby, you’ve probably wondered why he only struck once. Saratogian Josh Greenbaum, a talented director and documentarian, tracked down Lazenby and created this wonderful documentary on his life leading up to and directly after the movie. It’s exclusively on Hulu.
Saratoga Connection: Director Josh Greenbaum is a graduate of Saratoga Springs High School.
The Americans (FX) – Yeah, so the Russians hacked our last presidential election. That much we know. The cable show, which premiered in 2013—and takes place in the early ’80s—follows two deep-cover Russian KGB agents, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys, respectively), who are posing as American citizens in Washington, DC. They have two kids, live a normal life, work a normal job—but when nobody’s looking, the Jennings pop on disguises and carry out assassinations for the Reds. It’s a truly gripping, binge-able show.
Saratoga Connection: The show’s spooky score was written by Skidmore College graduate Nathan Barr.
Stranger Things (Netflix) – Depending on how much vacation time you took over the holidays, you could easily binge the first three season of Stranger Things. MILD SPOILER ALERT: The Season 3 finale features a hilarious duet between Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) and his new girlfriend, Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo), which ends up saving the world.
Saratoga Connection: Schenectadian Pizzolo, who you have to wait until nearly the final scene in the Season 3 finale to see, got her start in showbiz performing at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, among other local arts venues.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime Video) – This is must-watch streaming TV. The third season just dropped on December 6, and it’s more of the same hilarity that viewers were introduced to in Seasons 1-2. Following the glorious life and times of Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a Jewish housewife, who takes up standup comedy after her husband leaves her, Mrs. Maisel is a joy from start to finish. You could watch a single episode of Season 1 on every night of Hanukkah (it’s eight episodes long). Or you could just binge the entire damned thing.
Saratoga Connection: The fellow who plays Maisel’s ex-husband, Joel, is none other than Skidmore grad Michael Zegen. A friend’s mother told me all about him at a recent Passover seder. He sounds like a real mensch.
The Walking Dead (AMC) – You’re not going to be able to binge ten seasons of this zombie apocalypse smash-hit over winter break, but let me tell you: The first few seasons rush by quickly, because they’re gripping, thrilling and full of gore that you might be embarrassed watching in front of grandma (I’d suggest finding a cozy spot in your finished basement or watching under the covers in your bedroom). Look out for Jon Bernthal, a one-time Skidmore student, who plays the loud, brash adulterer cop, Shane Walsh.
Saratoga Connection: Actor Jon Bernthal
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix) – If you’re in need of a laugh over the holidays, the multiple Emmy-nominated Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is just the ticket. The basic plot: The titular Kimmy has recently been rescued from a doomsday cult (minor spoiler: its leader is deftly and hilariously played by Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm), and she has to pick up the pieces after living (literally) underground in a bunker since the ’90s. So she moves to New York City and all sorts of fun ensues. The show was co-created by SNL alum Tina Fey, and The Office‘s Ellie Kemper is a breakout star as Kimmy.
Saratoga Connection: The show’s direct connection to the Spa City is, well, a little creative. In a previous life, I, executive editor at saratoga living, used to live in the northernmost Brooklyn neighborhood of Greenpoint. The show’s production headquarters was based there, so if you know Greenpoint, it makes multiple appearances in the show. (Lillian Kaushtupper’s stoop was right nearby my apartment.) I get super nostalgic over the holidays; it reminds me of my old home and life in the city.
Enjoy these great picks in your home, wherever it may be, this holiday season. Happy Chrismukkah to all!