Tangerine, Sean Baker’s 2015 film about transgender sex workers struggling through the holidays, tops Rotten Tomatoes’ new list of modern Christmas movie classics.
The list, released last month, is a deliberate attempt to shake up what people might traditionally consider a Christmas movie. The list of the 22 Freshest Modern Christmas Classics also includes the Finnish killer Santa film Rare Exports and the Japanese anime Tokyo Godfathers.
“I love this,” said Baker, Tangerine‘s writer-director, in an e-mail. “I remember setting out on this adventure with my co-writer Chris Bergoch (who was the one who suggested the Christmas backdrop) and it was Chris’s hope that audiences would not only see Tangerine as a Christmas film but return to it year after year because of that. So we are just really tickled pink about this news.”
All of the films on Rotten Tomatoes list had to be released after 2000, so it excludes Christmas standbys like It’s a Wonderful Life and White Christmas.
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But it’s worth noting that Tangerine, which was shot entirely on iPhones and includes a gorgeously shot oral-sex sequence in a drive-through carwash, scores better on Rotten Tomatoes than either Christmas movie. It is “certified fresh” with 96 percent positive reviews, compared to 93 percent for It’s a Wonderful Life and 77 percent for White Christmas.
“The editorial team compiled a list of modern Christmas classics using a very simple set of criteria: the movies had to be about Christmas or set firmly during the holiday; they had to have been released after the year 2000; and they had to have a Fresh score with a minimum of 20 reviews,” Rotten Tomatoes said in a news release. “Some, like Die Hard before them, will inspire debate about whether they even are ‘Christmas movies.’”
The film stars Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as Sin-Dee and Mya Taylor as Alexandra. After Alexandra tells Sin-Dee that her boyfriend and pimp has been cheating on her, Sin-Dee goes on a mission to find him. Alexandra, meanwhile, struggles to make it as a singer.
Rotten Tomatoes isn’t the first to frame Tangerine as a holiday film. Writing for Decider last year, Joe Reid opined: “Tangerine IS a Christmas movie, and not only because we deserve one. Tangerine is a Christmas movie because it is about family. Sin-Dee and Alex are true sisters, and the events of this movie only serve to remind each other of that.”
Rotten Tomatoes aggregates reviews and assigns them a number based on the percentage of positive reviews they receive, and assigns them an overall rating of “fresh” or “rotten.” The higher the numerical score the better.
Some people ignore or reject aggregated reviews altogether, believing that numbers can’t reflect the heart that goes into making and watching a film. But in this case, raw numbers highlighted and raised attention for a critically acclaimed but underseen film with subject matter that may not necessarily scream “Christmas.”
You can read Rotten Tomatoes full list of 22 Modern Christmas Classics here.
This article has been updated with Sean Baker’s reaction to Tangerine topping the list.