Wayne Schmidt's Christmas Movie Reviews 244 Christmas movie reviews recommending which to watch and which to avoid.
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For ten years my wife and I have made a hobby of watching all the Christmas movies possible that are aired on television during the holiday season and rating them as to which were good enough to purchase and add to our library, which were okay to watch only once and which we wanted to make sure to avoid in the future. We're posting these lists to help people find the best movies to watch and the ones to avoid.
While many pleasant movies have been made that revolve around ghosts, flying reindeers, Santa Claus, his relatives, or angels coming to Earth to perform miracles, our preference is to avoid them. This isn't a reflection of negative secularism, just our feeling that such movies cross over too far into fantasy.
Our criteria for a good movie is that it has an interesting and believable plot with Christmas as an important element, competent acting, avoids cliched characters and doesn't have smart-aleck children dumping attitude on everyone. Also, since the Christmas season is supposed to be a joyful time of year we prefer movies that are light and happy. We limit ourselves to live action films rather than animated movies. Starting with the 2012 season we've had to add another limitation to the movies we'll try. That is that we are no longer able to stand watching movies based on the incredibly overworked Christmas Carol concept where the ghosts of past, present and future visit a scrooge-type person and turn them into a Christmas loving individual. After enduring eleven of them over the years we finally reached our limit in 2011 with Three Wise Women. In this film a hospital administrator is the scrooge character. We tried to get through it but after seeing the same plot so many times we couldn't stand it any more. For all we know this was a great movie. But the plot was so familiar and boring in its repetition that watching it was like listening to fingernails being scraped across a blackboard. From now on we'll list titles of these movies in the "Okay To See Once" list but not formally review them. If you aren't sick of the Christmas Carol you may want to try one of them.
Almost all Christmas movies follow the standard formula of someone discovering happiness over the holiday season, usually by falling in love. Formula movies don't bother us as long as they're done well.
The movies are listed in alphabetical order within each of the four sections, ignoring introductory "A" and "The". Within a section the best movies have a + after the review to highlight which we believe are the best. The more +s, the better the movie. Some movies get listed in TV guides with titles beginning with numbers. Those movies are positioned on this list with the number spelled out. For example, The 12 Christmas Wishes would be listed as The Twelve Christmas Wishes. This lists movies of similar titles close together so they can be differentiated more easily.
I've read reviews on Amazon.com for several movies we intensely disliked and discovered many people wrote about them with glowing praise. Obviously tastes vary so please don't take the following reviews as absolutes.
So, without further ado... here are our lists:
Must-See Christmas Movies:
These are the very best Christmas movies we've found. They stand up to repeated viewings and form the heart of our Christmas movie library.
The Bishop's Wife
While this movie violates our criteria against movies with angels and magic, it does it so well and is so perfectly acted and written that we believe it should be on everyone's much-watch list. From 1947, Cary Grant, Loretta Young, and David Niven are letter-perfect as Grant (an angel) comes to earth to help Niven (the bishop) remember the meaning of Christmas. This movie is hilarious yet has great heart without crossing the line into sappiness. (Available on DVD.)
Christmas in Connecticut (1945)
Barbara Stanwyck scintillates as a big city newspaper woman cornered into posing as a country-bred homebody to entertain a GI for the holiday. Supporting her are an interesting mob of diverse characters that avoid being cliched stereotypes. This movie's a lot of fun, though I have to admit I didn't care too much for the first fifteen minutes about the GI on a life raft and later manipulating a nurse into getting steak for dinner. Some critics complain that the script needed tightening but it worked for us. (Available on DVD.)
The Christmas Wife
Sad, tragic and thoughtful, this isn't our usual fare for Christmas. Yet Jason Robards and Julie Harris' performances are so unforgettable that we rank this as one of the most touching Christmas movies of all time. He plays a recent widower who looks for someone with whom to spend the holiday. Harris supplies the companionship but she has a secret that tragically keeps them apart. The movie ends on a hopeful note that leaves the viewer believing that, at least for Robards, the future holds promise. (Available on DVD.)
The Christmas Wish
Neil Patrick Harris (Dougie Houser) is very good as an executive taking over his deceased father's real estate business. Along the way he discovers there's more to business than making profit, finds someone to love, and solves a mystery in his father's past. A simple movie that succeeds by doing everything very well. (Available on DVD.)
Gary Sinise's outstanding acting makes this mystery of a man discovering love in a girl from his youth a must-have film. (Available on DVD.)
A Holiday for Love
Often listed under the alternate title Christmas in My Hometown, this light romantic comedy revolves around a tractor company executive forced to go back home to size up the local factory for downsizing. Disguised as a tractor purchaser, the town thinks he's really there to place an order that could save the factory. Along the way he's thrown together with widowed mother Melissa Gilbert. They fall in love and of course everything works out in the end after some bumps in the road. This isn't a perfect movie because Gilbert's young daughter is cast in some unusual situations as the leader of an adult choir and an elderly man with mild dementia seems out of place, but the total effect is uplifting. One of the things I enjoy about this movie is that the plan devised for saving the factory is totally believable. While this movie may not have the knock-down greatness of some of the others, it's still one of our favorites. (Available on DVD.) +++
1942 classic about a nightclub owner who doesn't like to work. His solution is a "holiday inn" that's only open during holidays so he can take the rest of the year off. The plot's fluff but Bing Crosby sings, Fred Astaire dances and Marjorie Reynolds does both. What more could you want? One quibble is the inclusion of cliched African-American stereotypes. Although condoned in 1942, it's offensive by today's standards. On the other hand this movie introduced White Christmas, the most recorded song of all time. (Available on DVD.)
Miracle on 34th Street
A classic from 1947 that's best seen in the colorized DVD version, (The 2006 Special Edition with two disks) not only because this is one movie that clearly benefits from color helping to bring the bright Christmas scenes and Mrs. O'Hara's gloriously red hair to full glory, but because the original film was restored prior to colorization and upgraded to Dolby stereo so it's considerably sharper and sounds much better than black-and-white versions. Colorization quality varies depending on the amount of effort put into it. I'm happy to report that the quality of colorization on this movie is the best I've ever seen. The acting is universally excellent making this movie a delight even after watching it several times. (Available on DVD.) ++
Outstanding acting all the way around, interesting characters, good production values and an excellent screenplay with several believable twists make this movie about a boy suspecting a man (Hume Cronyn) vacationing at a hotel in July of being Santa Claus a joy too see. Is he or isn't he? You'll have to watch to find out.
We both loved this movie and aren't alone in our opinions. This made for TV feature was nominated for five Emmys and won two. (Available on DVD) +
Remember the Night
Another classic, this time from 1940. Fred McMurray and Barbara Stanwyck hit every note perfectly as he plays a district attorney prosecuting her for shoplifting on Christmas Eve. Through a series of comic mistakes they get thrown together for the holiday. She teaches him compassion as he shows her the value of honesty. Hilarious at times, the movie ends on a tragic, though promising, note. Great by any standard. (Only available on VHS but hopefully that will change soon.)
Very Good Christmas Movies:
In spite of their weaknesses we enjoyed the following movies enough to purchase DVDs of them:
All I Want For Christmas
Unbeknownst to her, the son of a widowed mother who works at a charity shelter wins a toy store promotional contest titled, "All I Want For Christmas." His wish: a husband for his mother. Mild comedy ensues as she agrees to it in exchange for the toy company saving her mission. As she's working her way through the "husband" applicants she forms a mutual attachment with the toy store owner's rich son. The problem is a long-time family friend is also in love with her. The inevitable happens but not before everyone has to work through several plot twists that keep things interesting.
This movie does everything right: the acting is universally good, the characters interesting and believable, production quality is high and the plot has a few interesting surprises. It also avoids many of the mistakes of lesser movies: there are no hokey special effects and even the bad guys are as much victims of their circumstances as the mother. Still, the movie lacks the spark that would normally lock it into the "must see" list. Also, the lead actress appeared to be very tired and weary looking. Still, it left us with a satisfied warm glow so we've added it to our library. (Available on DVD.)
Debbie Macomber's Mrs. Miracle
This loose remake of Mary Poppins has a magical nanny help a widowed father cope with his two sons over Christmas, resolve his feelings about the loss of his wife and find love. The male and female leads are extremely appealing and handle their roles perfectly. The miracles performed by the nanny are subtle and kept to a minimum. What nudges this movie up from the "okay to see once" list to the "very good" category is the interesting fact that although the lead characters have completely different problems, those heartaches effect their lives in similar ways. Only by seeing someone else trapped by anger and hurt do they come to realize how the same feelings affect their own lives. On the down side is the sad fact that the boys playing the father's sons were poor actors, bad enough to almost relegate this movie to the "only okay to see once" list.
A Different Kind Of Christmas
Shelley Long (Cheers) looks great as a city attorney running for mayor. Complicating things is the legal chaos created by a man playing Santa when he sets up a permanent residence in a local neighborhood. There are several unexpected and believable plot twists that kept us wondering what was going to happen next. Good acting all the way around make this an entertaining choice. (Available on DVD.)
Regarding the DVD; if you purchase it avoid reading the front cover. It contains a spoiler that ruins one of the major twists in the movie. I think it's criminal when marketing people sacrifice a key element in a movie in their frantic rush to sell it. In this particular case they not only give something away, they do so in a way that makes the movie appear to be different than it is.
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Super organized business woman recaptures the Christmas spirit and finds love from a stranger who circumstances conspire to have stay at her house over the holidays. This one just barely made it onto the "very good" list. The plot is predictable, the super-model mother too gorgeous to believe and her her mop-haired son a cliched character. What saved this movie for us was Henry Winkler's outstanding performance as her mischievous uncle and matchmaker. The romantic male lead was also very good. An odd stop-action sequence of her trying to prepare a turkey and a dream scene were awkward, but as a whole this movie satisfied more than the films on the "only see once" list.
The Santa Suit
I have to confess that I'm embarrassed to recommend this movie. It's a painfully cliched and predictable story about a heartless toy company owner who's transformed by the real Santa to appear to be Santa whenever anyone looks at him. He's thrown out of his company, ends up living in a shelter and working at a toy store as Santa. Along the way he learns the value of compassion and embraces the spirit of Christmas. Having learned his lesson he's turned back into himself and proceeds to make things right in his company and help a little girl he met while working in the toy store. There are several awkward scenes where we see the CEO (Kevin Sorbo) as he is yet everyone else sees him as Santa. The shifts back and forth are jarring and give the first 20 minutes of the movie a Twilight Zone feeling. There are also a few lame special effects that usually sour us on a movie. We also didn't enjoy the character of the department store's "dark side" elf.
Yet the bulk of the movie feels true as Sorbo slowly comes to understand the Christmas spirit. He's very good at this and by the end of the movie we were left with a warm Christmas glow. Another plus is the female lead, who manages to create a wonderfully sweet character that never crosses over into sillyness or childishness, as so many do. If you try this movie and don't enjoy it, I completely understand. But, in spite of its weaknesses for some reason we bought into his performance enough to want a DVD of it. I'd rate this as the weakest movie in this section. The Santa Suit is a 2010 movie and as of November of 2011 was not available on DVD.
Christmas Movies that Are Okay to Watch Once:
selections that are just barely tolerable.)
All I Want For Christmas
The plot of two children conniving to reunite their divorced parents has been overworked to the point where it is chiche'd. Nonetheless, we're recommending this movie because it does it much better than most. The older brother and younger sister are given oddly mature dialogs, yet the actors make it sound both believable and entertaining. Twice we laughed out load at great sight gags and Lauren Becall is outstanding as their sophisticated grandmother.
A Boyfriend for Christmas
A young girl asks Santa for a boyfriend, which he promises to deliver in 20 years. Twenty years later the same Santa brings her together with a boy she met briefly in her youth.
NEW!!! A Case For Christmas
A sporting goods manufacturer sues Santa as a merchandising ploy. Santa accepts the suit and hires a struggling lawyer to defend him. This movie borrows several plot elements from the great Miracle on 34th Street. Dean Cain is good in a difficult role to make believable. In spite of a few lame special effects, some over-the-top acting by the manufacturer and a particularly silly special effect in the last 30 seconds of the movie we're listing this one as okay to see once. The Santa is better than most and the movie focused on Christmas and the Christmas spirit.
It's interesting to compare this one to The Santa Suit, which just barely made it into the "must see" list. They both have the same number of pros and cons but I believe The Santa Suit works much better because Kevin Sorbo's performance is more touching and his love interest is more believable than Dean Cain's in A Case For Christmas, who struck us being vacant.
NEW!!! Christmas Angel
An unemployed young woman is hired by her neighbor to help him in his activities as a secret Santa. Along the way she recaptures the Christmas spirit and finds love. This movie features very good acting and an interesting plot with entertaining twists. It's touching without stepping over the line into sappiness. +
The Christmas Box
Hard working father gets talked into moving his family into a huge house to look after an elderly lady. Although she at first seems unfriendly and he's openly sarcastic, in time everyone learns to care for each other. The biggest problem is that the father is so rudely critical at every turn and remains that way so long that he turned us off to what otherwise would have been a very nice movie. This was enough for me to vote that it go to the "avoid" list. My wife felt it belonged in the "see-once" category. Some people may feel uncomfortable about the blatant pro-Christian message at the end.
The Christmas Card
An army sergeant in Afghanistan receives a random Christmas card from a girl in the states. He goes to find her and the predicable ensues. This movie is entertaining to watch because of the beautiful mountain scenery of its location as well as a host of interesting and well acted supporting characters. The weaknesses are the marginal acting ability of the male lead, a stereotypically self centered boyfriend and several scenes of what many will consider forced patriotic themes. The movie is also a little too sweet for some viewers. In spite of these issues we enjoyed it enough to place it near the top of our "see once" list. +
A Christmas Carol (5X and counting)
The Dickens classic has been brought to the big screen in its original format four times: 1938 starring Reginald Owen, 1951 starring Alistair Sim, 1984 starring George C. Scott and 1999 starring Patrick Stewart. In addition to these original format versions, the concept of ghosts representing Christmases past, present and future visiting a miser has been adapted for television and too many cheap knock-off movies to be counted. The problem with watching one of the originals is that most people have seen so many of the weaker adaptations that they are sick of the plot. Consequently, the four originals suffer from having the concept over exposed, even though all were critically acclaimed when released. That's the main problem I have with them, which is why I'm listing what are considered classics in the "see once" group. Other considerations include the unavoidable fact that the 1938 and 1951 versions, though excellent, are so dated in style that it's hard to get into them. The 1984 version suffers from George C. Scott's unattractive interpretation of Scrooge after he turns good. My preference is for the 1999 version with Patrick Stewart. The worst is the Kelsey Grammer musical costume version.
This "fact inspired" story how how Thomas Kincade began painting has a lot to recommend it. The acting is good and the story line interesting with some truly moving moments toward the end. The problem is that there are also several totally unnecessary scenes that sour the overall effect: like an unattractive Christmas display competition between two neighbors, a cliched vamp teasing the town's promoter, a pointless pageant that falls apart and so on.
Christmas in Boston
A double identity switch makes this familiar tale of pen pals meeting over Christmas more interesting than most movies using this theme. Not great, but tolerable if there's nothing better on. One oddity is an almost black and white scene of a bridge seen from the side in the distance with a lady in bright pink framed in a square of lighter pink walking without moving. It has no apparent connection to the movie. We rewound and watched it again and still couldn't figure it out. Very strange.
The Christmas List
A women perfume expert in a department store begins receiving everything on a joke Christmas list her friend drops in Santa's mailbox.
NEW!!! Christmas Magic
Lindy Booth is absolutely radiant as a recently deceased young woman who has to help a struggling single father before she can get into heaven. This is the best movie of this genre we've ever seen. The acting is universally excellent, particularly by Ms. Booth who's able to portray a sweet woman without stepping over the line into silliness or childishness. The plot is predictable and some viewers may criticize the ending as being a cope-out, yet it's done so well that we didn't find it objectionable. The single biggest weakness was two brief scenes where the male lead sings what's supposed to be a touching song. We didn't think the song was very good and the vocal voice over was obvious. However, this is a very minor problem with an overall good film. +
NEW!!! Christmas Pageant
Melissa Gilbert plays a demanding Broadway director who gets fired and the only job open to her is directing a small town's Christmas Pageant. We hate to knock a Melissa Gilbert movie but this is one that just barely made it into the "okay to see once" list. The biggest problem is that several supporting characters were supposed interesting or quirky, yet they came across as clownish and even childish. Additionally, there was a child actor that wasn't very good. The plot was predictable and several scenes were contrived. Still, it wasn't offensive as so many of the movies in the "avoid" list so we decided to kick it up a level.
For no good reason, a spoiled rich girl and poor orphan switch bodies when they make similar wishes at the same time. Confusion ensues, they learn the value of their own lives and eventually get back together with the help of an angel. Sounds pretty bad yet I found it interesting enough to watch through to the end so I'm not dropping it into the "avoid" category. Place this one at the very bottom of the tolerable-to-see-once list.
NEW!!! A Christmas Wish
her husband deserts her, a mother of three heads north for a new
start. We're recommending this movie as okay to see once with severe
reservations. The background music is dreary and the unrelenting
sequence of bad luck that haunts her for almost the entire movie is
depressing. At the very end she finally breaks down in tears, prays
for help and over the last four minutes of the movie all of her
insurmountable problems get resolved. I found it farfetched and
unsatisfying. On the good side there are many entertaining characters
and we never quite knew where it was going. Some people may enjoy
several scenes with strong Christian themes.
Comfort and Joy
A successful business woman fast-forwards to a future in which she's a happy wife and mother. This movie has better acting than many Christmas movies. The only weaknesses were the clumsy way the fast-forward was accomplished and the visually jarring way she returned to the present. Because of the acting and screenplay it almost made our "must see" list. On the other hand, the terrible way time travel was handled nearly got relegated to the "avoid" list.
A Dad for Christmas
A young, single father kidnaps his newborn son to prevent his girlfriend for giving it up for adoption. He runs away to his curmudgeon grandmother's lodge to hide out. Following several incidents the movie wraps up in a court case with the predictable result. Some good acting and a few interesting twists make this movie marginally worth seeing, though it's connection to Christmas is almost non-existent.
NEW!!! Dear Santa
Vacant, over-indulged 30 year old rich girl is threatened by her affluent parents to have her allowance cut off unless she starts to lead a meaningful life. At the same time she finds a Dear Santa letter from a young girl asking for a wife for her widowed father. The rich girls investigates, falls in love with him and helps save a soup kitchen he runs. This movie is so weak that at one point the writers are so desperate that they have two adult women indulge in a food fight to maintain viewer interest. Viewers are also left wondering if she initialy pursued the father because she was trying to avoid being cut off, was simply curious or was seriously interested in him. The biggest problem with this movie is that the lead character is played unattractively ditzy. The character improves by the second half of the movie but by then the damage has been done. The only thing that saves this film from being delegated to the "avoid" list is that the lead actress has such an exuberant, infectious smile that's it's impossible to resist.
NEW!!! Debbie Macomber's Trading Christmas
A widow and a writer trade houses over the holiday and find love. For the most part this is an excellent movie with interesting situations and attractive characters. We really wanted to elevate it to the "Good but Flawed" category but there was one problem that was so overwhelming that it ruined the movie for us. The problem was Tom Cavannah, who played a Boston writer trading his condo for the widow's snowbound cottage. He portrays the character with such frenetic unattractiveness that it poisoned the excellent acting by the other three main characters. He's rude, negative about Christmas, sarcastic about country life, unfriendly to children, critical of neighbors offering him Christmas cookies to welcome him to the community and nearly abusive to an unexpected guest who tries to help him with his novel. Had he made this character entertaining instead of gratingly annoying this might have been a must-have movie.
NEW!!! A Dog Named Christmas
A mentally challenged young man talks his parents into letting him adopt a dog from the local pound for Christmas, then works to have other people in the town do the same. The acting and writing are generally good but I thought the connection to Christmas was weak.
Unhappy business woman is granted her wish to go back 8 years to change the decisions that lead to an empty life. This movie irked me because with a few minor improvements it could have been great. The acting was universally good, photography acceptable and the storyline, while predictable, was handled as good as can be done. The problems are that the star upon which she made her wish, the pixie dust sprinkling off it when she does and the too-hip African-American guardian angel were unnecessary. The writers and director should have had enough faith in the actors ability to sell the story without these cheap sight gags. Bill Murray didn't need it in Groundhog Day and the result was a classic. Also, the lead got unattractively drunk too often in the early scenes making her less appealing. If these detractions had been avoided this movie would have easily made it into the "must see" list.
Farewell, Mr. Kringle
A non-Christmas loving reporter is sent to a heavily Pro-Christmas town for an article about the local Santa Clause. During the story she re-embraces the Christmas spirit and falls in love. Cliched and predictable, I nonetheless was interested enough in how everything was going to work out that I'm placing this movie on the "okay to see once" list... but just barely. It suffers from many weakness, including being filmed in summer to save production costs even though it's supposed to be in winter (green lawns, trees in full leaf, flowers blooming all over the place, bright, warm, sunny weather,) a couple of minor characters that didn't ring true, a Santa who looks a little too harsh for the part and the impossible coincidence of two people meeting who had almost identical Christmas tragedies.
Finding John Christmas
This sequel to A Town Without Christmas has an almost identical plot but benefits from better acting and avoiding the original's melancholy by not opening with a child announcing a plan to kill herself. Peter Faulk again plays an irritating and enigmatic angel, which is a distraction from what otherwise would have been a better movie. The connection to Christmas is very weak. One annoying scene at the beginning of the movie has a man draping an American flag around a dog and letting the flag drag on the ground.
The Gift of the Magi
This Hallmark Channel update of the classic has good acting and acceptable production values, in spite of a few scenes of lush green grass along side artificial snow. Although there are many happy moments, the overall tone was a little too sad for our tastes.
A Grandpa for Christmas
After a car accident sends a mother to the hospital, her daughter goes to live with a grandfather she never knew she. After some initial problems she ends up liking him and plays the lead in a school musical. Not great but harmless. Our biggest problem was the young girl playing the daughter was too talented a singer to be believable and her performances so affected that they seemed artificial and forced. Still, Earnest Borgnine and a bunch of other older actors have a lot of fun playing retired actors when they are, in real life, retired actors.
His and Her Christmas
This one was a near miss. Most of the story was entertaining, well acted and interestingly written. It revolves around two competing journalists meeting and falling in love while they battle each other in their articles over the virtues of Christmas. What ruined it for us is that on two occasions, just when we'd been set up to expect them to begin acknowledging their feelings for each other, the female reporter explodes in a maniacal tirade at the other reporter. The virulent and irrational nature of these outbursts were unbelievable and ruined what might otherwise have made it to our "must see" list. +
Robert Mitchum plays a footloose man who courts a excessively practical single mother (Janet Leigh.) She resists for many good reasons but in the end is won over by his sincerity and charm. Just okay.
Weak remake of the Robert Mitchum-Janet Leigh classic of 1949. The actors are more attractive but the acting isn't as good. If you haven't seen the original you might enjoy this one.
Home for the Holidays
Lady struggles to create a home for two orphaned children of a recently deceased relative.
If You Believe
lady editor gets knocked out and starts hallucinating about being
haunted by herself as she was when she was eight years old. Her
younger self pokes and prods her into changing her ways and
everything ends happy. The isn't a Christmas story because it could
just have well taken place anytime of the year. Another objection is
that through most of the movie the lead character is so mean she's
unappealing. But, it's interesting to watch because the young actress
playing her younger self is very entertaining and happens to be one
of the first roles for the actress playing "Claire" on the
hit television series Heros.
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Young boy sees dad dressed like Santa kissing his mom on Thanksgiving and thinks he's trying to steal her away. His solution is to act as bad as possible to keep Santa from showing up. Good acting by everyone and several entertaining surprises kept us wondering what was going to happen next. It dragged a bit toward the end but it's still okay to see once. +
It's A Wonderful Life
The classic starring Jimmy Stewart as a poor banker who's saved from suicide by an angel sent to show him that his life has meaning. There are several hilarious moments mixed in with truly tragic scenes. The biggest problem with this movie is that it's been aired so many times it suffers from over exposure. Most critics rate this as a "must see" movie. For me the tragic scenes overpower the good ones so much that it leaves us feeling a little melancholy, which is why it's not up in our must-see list.
The Man Who Saved Chrsitmas
An interesting and entertaining movie about the true story of the toy builder who invented Erector Sets who first endorses, then rejects, the government's policy of cancelling Christmas in favor of buying World War I war bonds. We thoroughly enjoyed this movie but after watching it felt no reason to purchase it to watch it again, which is why it's in the "okay to see once" list.
Meet Me In St. Louis
This 1944 musical classic revolves around the turmoil of a turn-of-the-century family's impending move away from their beloved St. Louis. While many people rate this as a must-see movie, we placed it in the "worth-seeing-once" category because it seemed dated and Margaret O'Brian's performance was over the top in places. Still, Judy Garland's singing is great, particularly her heart-rending delivery of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.
Meet the Santas
This sequel to Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus where the couple suffer through many trials as they try getting married isn't as funny as the original. It suffers so much from Steve Guttenberg's painfully artificial "Ho Ho Ho" that it almost got relegated to the "avoid" list. But, it had enough funny scenes, just barely, to make it tolerable for a single viewing.
NEW!!! Midnight Clear
This movie is about five pitiably tragic intertwined stories about people suffering through personal problems on Christmas Eve. While the tone is almost totally somber, most of the performances were very good and the movie doesn't conclude with somehow everything working out in the end. Without getting preachy, the stories end with glimmers of hope. This is a tough movie to watch, but mesmerizing, like a train wreck in slow motion. I can't say I enjoyed it, but I never wanted to turn it off. The weakest performance was by Stephan Baldwin, Alec Baldwin's younger brother.
Moonlight and Mistletoe
The daughter of a "Santa" who runs a Christmas Village store overdoses on Christmas in her youth and ends up a Christmas-hating business woman. When her father has an accident she grudgingly returns home to help. She discoverers that the business is bankrupt and against her will tries to fix things. Predictably, while she's doing this she rediscovers the Christmas spirit, finds love and manages to solve all the financial problems. This is a formula movie that handles the familiar plot adequately. My biggest problem with it is that for the first 40 minutes the grown daughter is so rudely self absorbed that it's hard to develop any empathy for her.
Mr. St. Nick
Kelsey Gramer is interesting as Santa's rebellious, playboy son who eventually is forced into taking over for dad. Several lame special effects, a particularly irksome wizard and an annoying immigration officer ruin what might otherwise had been an okay flick. I rate it as worth watching once... but only if you're in a charitable mood.
NEW!!! A Nanny For Christmas
A young lady advertising executive gets fired and the only job she can find is being a nanny for the female boss of a rival advertising firm. The movie just barely made it into the "okay to see once" category. It's filmed in LA to reduce production costs, the situation that lead to her being fired was implausible, her ending up getting fired a second time because she broke rules but saved her new boss's company ridiculous, her lying to a love interest about her job cliched, her hard-as-nails boss's sudden turn around to become a nice person in the last few minutes of the movie was unbelievable and although it takes place during Christmas it doesn't really have that much to do with the holiday. It could just as well have been made for any holiday or none at all. However, the acting was universally good and the writers avoided the worst possible cliche of her boss being a single man and having them fall in love. Even though much of the plot was difficult to accept, we felt there were enough good points to avoid sending this film to the Christmas movie dungeon by listing it in the "avoid at all costs" group.
Beautiful production values, a strong cast, and interestring characters make this a good movie about a town that comes together to give a sick girl what may be her last holiday. The tone is extremely somber and the connection to Christmas is limited to just a few minutes. This is really a story about family grief over the loss of children.
One Special Night
James Garner and Julie Andrews are good in this story of older people finding love, but for some reason it didn't click with us. It's not really a Christmas movie since it could have taken place anytime.
On Strike For Christmas
A taken-for-granted wife and mother goes on strike to convince her family to help out over the holiday. Her idea catches on and soon all the wives in town are also on strike. An interesting plot that held our interest for the entire movie. What was particularly good was that after a few stumbles, the family figures out how to pull it off in their own way. The wife discovers that her way isn't the only way yet she's still indispensable. Keeping things balanced helped make this a watchable, though certainly not great, movie. The biggest problem I had with this movie is that it was obviously filmed in summer.
On The Second Day Of Christmas
is very similar to the classic Remember
recommended in the "must see" list. A department store
security guard catches a lady thief and her young niece accomplice.
The store owner forces him to take them home over Christmas until
they can be arrested after the holiday. As expected they fall in love
and everything ends happily.
Our First Christmas
Familiar tale about the angst of blending two families over the holidays. It avoids many of the cliches typical in this sort of movie and worked pretty well for us. Two problems: the lead actress was unattractively obese and a hinted-at romance between two secondary characters was never developed.
The Perfect Gift
Like all movies produced for The Christian Network, this one blatantly pushes the Christian religious ethic. This may make some people uncomfortable not because it's wrong, but because how it's done is so heavy handedly. The plot is that Christ, as a homeless drifter, visits a church during Christmas and helps build a nativity scene. While doing so he helps a minister, a divorced mother, her spoiled daughter and neighbors discover the true religious meaning of Christmas. Mechanically, there are several things wrong with this movie: The daughter is too unattractively spoiled, the church's pastor is too coldly businesslike and a fanatical activist is too mean about challenging a church's right to put up a nativity scene. But, there also just as many good points: the divorced mother and under-pastor are interesting, well acted characters, the movie doesn't shy away from the fact that the drifter really is Christ and there were several interesting historical facts revealed about Christmas itself.
In spite of its technical weaknesses this movie mostly held our interest so with some reservations we're recommending it as being okay to watch once.
Recipe for a Perfect Christmas
An all-for-business lady food critic blackmails a struggling chef into dating her vivacious mother. The critic and chef fall in love and his restaurant ends up being a success.
Santa's daughter, who ran away to become a high-powered corporate advisor, returns when dad is laid up with a heart attack. Much better than it sounds largely because Jenny McCarthy is very believable as an intelligent business woman. The outcome is predictable but there are a few unexpected twists along the way that make it worth while. Elves are always difficult to portray; this movie does it as good as we've seen. Mrs. Claus, in particular, is spot-on as far as what one expects: lively, cheery and perky without stepping over the line into sickening-sweetness. (The title Santa Baby comes from a song played during the movie and refers to Santa's grown daughter.)
The Santa Clause
A great idea presented only adequately. Tim Allen's character was so sarcastic for most of the movie, to the point where we felt he didn't really want to be with his son, that it soured the whole movie for us. Two scenes with flatulence humor may seem off-color to some viewers. One curiosity is that when the original Santa slips on Tim Allen's roof, the stunt man's hand catches the edge of the fake-snow blanket and throws it into the air. It's odd Disney Studios would let such obvious mistake through to the final film.
Santa Clause 3
After the disappointment that was Santa Clause 2, we were prepared for the worst in this third installment of the series. To our mutual surprise, we enjoyed much of it. The story line is interesting, situations unexpected and Martin Short, who in general we don't like, is deliciously mischievous as a disgruntled Jack Frost scheming to take over Christmas. Particularly noteworthy are the special effects, which are excellent and not overused. The reasons this movie didn't make it to our "Most See" list are the use of flatulence humor, some bathroom hunor, an offensive scene where Santa wheelbarrows his in-labor wife at a dead run to the infirmary oblivious to the fact that such a rough ride could endanger both her and the baby and finally that her parents, brought up by Santa to be with her, are so relentlessly mean and manipulative that they sour the Christmas spirit.
A Season For Miracles
A jobless, homeless sister of a drug addict mother who's in jail kidnaps her sister's children so they won't be placed in foster homes. They end up living in an abandoned house in a small town where she falls in love with a policeman. Predictable feel-good movie with cliched situations and characters. But the lead actress is very good and so attractive that the movie is worth seeing once.
Secret of Giving
A 1903 frontier widowed mother with a sick son struggles to keep a banker from foreclosing on the family ranch over Christmas. Into the scene wanders a stranger with a hidden past. This movie starts off with virtually every cliched situation imaginable yet comes across very effectively, largely due to the outstanding acting of Reba McIntyre. As the story develops, several interesting twists are interspersed with humorous moments to make this a pleasant, if not memorable, viewing experience. +
A very good movie about a slightly cynical reporter (Jeannie Garth) who goes to a small town to discover the identity of an anonymous Christmas gift giver. Along the way she finds serenity, a new life, a possible love interest and the Secret Santa's identity. What makes this movie good is that while the lead character is cynical, she's not too cynical or mean so that viewers can empathize with her. The weak points are a ridiculous minor character and the fact that the implied romantic relationship is never developed. We're left wondering about whether it's going to happen or not. There was also a missed opportunity with her old VW bug that left us feeling cheated. +
Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus
Santa's son has to find a wife before Christmas. This has been done many times but this version kept us entertained. Steve Guttenberg plays Santa's son a little too sweetly and his artificial "Ho Ho Ho" came too often but in spite of these problems it was fun watching his romance with a Christmas non-believer develop. +
Thief drifts into a small town and helps the locals build up their businesses so the bank's deposits increase, which he then plans to steal. Love and compassion turn him around. While it's predictable, the story was done well enough that it might have made it to the "see once" list if the lead actor, Tony Danza, didn't look so old and weary that many of the scenes he was in were uncomfortable to watch. This movie almost got banished to the "avoid" list. What saved it was that the ending wasn't sickeningly sweet like so many movies of this type.
Ben Afleck plays a shallow, lonely business man who ends up at his childhood home over Christmas and hires the disfunction family living there to pretend to be his family so he can relive the happy Christmases of his youth. Many hilarious sight gags and an outstanding supporting cast almost make up for Afleck's over the top performance. The problem is that he's supposed to be a successful, wealthy advertising executive, yet no one who acts as flaky as he does could ever have made it in the corporate world. The movie's credibility also suffers from his paying the ridiculous amount of $325,000 for a few days of the family's life. Several sexually related scenes may offend some viewers, either because of the subject matter or the clumsy way in which the scenes were handled. I wanted to relegate this movie the the "Avoid" list, but several scenes had me laughing out loud so it got bumped up to the "barely okay" list.
NEW!!! Three Wise Women
Another Christmas Carol movie. This time a hospital administrator is Scrooge. We couldn't stand to view another film using this overworked plot.
NEW!!! The Twelve Wishes Of Christmas
silliness about a woman who squanders 12 wishes granted by a
fairy-God-mother. It's clumsily filmed in summer to cut production
costs. The connection to Christmas is minimal and several hiphop
songs don't fit the mood of the movie. It also gets preachy in a
couple of sports. Still, the female lead is enjoyable and the second
half of the film is interesting as she has to deal with the negative
consequences of her wishes. In spite of it's flaws we enjoyed
watching it, though we doubt we'll ever want to see it again.
An FBI agent takes a rough-around-the-edges nightclub waitress home over the holidays to protect her from the criminals she's supposed to testify against. The predictable follows in this "B" grade remake of Remember the Night. Still, the acting and screenplay were good enough to hold our interest so we're giving it a nod to see once.
Under the Mistletoe
Ghost of a recently deceased father returns to help his son and wife get on with their lives. Very predictable and we thought the wife showed too much anger to be attractive but it had some fun moments. An interesting twist is that the ghost was as befuddled as the living characters. Some questionable special effects and a cliched ice hockey game at the end weakened the movie but all and all we'd recommend giving it a try.
This movie is proof that not everything made during the golden age of movie making, 1940s, was great. There isn't so much of a plot to this sequel to Holiday Inn. It's just an excuse to string together scenes of the actors singing and dancing. The movie was made largely to capitalize on the enormous popularity of Bing Crosby's mega-hit White Christmas. This movie is okay to watch once to see the virtuosity of some of the performers, but ignoring that it almost deserves to be in the "movies to avoid" group.
Movies to Avoid:
Brother and sister conspire to bring their separated parents back together. This idea has been done so many times it came across a being lame. We could have accepted it if the writers had come up with some interesting twists but they didn't. What really killed this movie for us was the male lead. The actor portrayed him as such an absent minded nitwit that it was impossible to believe he was a successful lawyer. Even worse were the many artificial mannerisms that gave the character a slightly maniacal look. Finally, this movie was a complete rip-off as far as the title was concerned. It had nothing to do with Christmas, in fact it took place in a beach house in sunny California. If the movie hadn't opened with a few shots of Christmas decorations on the side of a mall I'd never have suspected it was supposed to be a Christmas movie. I'm guessing the production company realized the movie was a bomb and added a few token references to Christmas in the hopes that holiday viewers would be more willing to accept it. The trick didn't work on us.
All She Wants For Christmas
Terrible. The female lead plays an accountant for a struggling Christmas ornament company with a giggly, over-the-top valley-girl personality that's ridiculous.
An Angel in the Family
Dead wife returns as an angel to help bring together her daughters who hate each other and sooth her aging husband who's starting to suffer from dementia. An extremely negative opening left us cold to whatever followed. Cliched characters and uninteresting plot make this a poor movie. Also, the plot isn't really about Christmas. Everything that happened could just have well taken place anytime. Playing Christmas music in the background doesn't make this a Christmas story.
The Angel Of Pennsylvania Avenue
During the great depressions, three children trek to Washington to obtain a pardon for their unjustly jailed father. Overly melodramatic to the point of being painful to watch.
NEW!!! Annie Claus Is Coming To Town
Santa's daughter goes to LA to see if she wants to live in thre real world. While there, she's romanced by an actor hired by an evil elf to keep her there. The female lead was so over0the-top in the sweetness department that we could never get into this movie. Many scenes of the north pole stuck us as being childish and weak acting made things worse.
Billy Bob Thorton may is a drunken, lecherous, abusive crook hiding behind a Santa costume. The constant flow of profanity, even after being edited for television, and crudeness goes so strongly against the Christmas spirit that we were revulsed by this movie.
Battle of the Bulbs
Two neighbors stage a relentless battle over who can put up the gaudiest Christmas display. This is a heavily conflict-based story which is was counter to the Christmas spirit that for so much of the movie that we ended up not caring how it ended.
NEW!!! Beethoven's Christmas Adventure also titled as Beethoven's Christmas
Silly and childish film about a talking dog helping a lost elf and teenager. We found it punishingly ridiculous.
NEW!!! Becoming Santa
A 40 year old man who's lost the Christmas spirit following the death of his parents enrolls in Santa school to be able to enjoy the holiday again. This is an interesting documentary but low production values and a script broken in many places by long narrative interview segments made this a movie we didn't enjoy.
A disgusting slasher movie.
Poor special effects to make reindeer fly and talk make this fantasy ridiculous.
Businessman "rents" a single mother and her daughter to make a potential client think he has a happy family. Cliched and annoying characters and plot lines.
NEW!!! A Bunny For Christmas
This is a typical, heavy-handed and ponderous Christian Network production about a troubled young girl in foster care who has a fixation on a bunny her older foster brother shoots with a BB gun. Drearily sad for most of the movie the few bright moments weren't enough over come the melancholy this film evokes. Particularly annoying was a scene in the second half where the brother who shoot the rabbit earlier, decides to use it as a crash dummy in a snowboarding experiment after it's mostly healed. The young girl justifiably attacks him yet the parents don't acknowledge he did anything wrong. This isn't boyish pranking, but two incidents of deliberate animal cruelty. Finally, the plot didn't have anything to do with Christmas. The movie could just as well have taken place any time of the year.
NEW!!! Bush Christmas
This is a dated, slow moving Australian western filmed in soft black and white in 1947 about children thwarting horse thieves. We fell asleep halfway through it so we can't recommend it.
Call Me Claus
Santa has 4 weeks to instill the Christmas spirit in Whoopi Goldberg, a hard-as-nails business woman designated to replace him. She's funny as a cynic but doesn't sell it when she turns nice. Lame with poor special effects and cliched elves.
Call Me Mrs. Miracle
Weak sequel to the mostly good Mrs. Miracle. An angel (Mrs. Miracle) helps save a struggling department store during the Christmas season. The main characters weren't as interesting or appealing as the original. The acting and writing also weren't very good. Particularly annoying was the female lead's egotistical, artificially unattractive boss. We wanted very much to like this movie but 20 minutes into it we both thought it was a waste of time. We suffered through to the end but nothing happened to redeem it.
NEW!!! Cancel Christmas
People are losing the Christmas spirit and a board of overseers decides it's Santa's fault. He's directed to prove he still has a place in Christmas by instilling the Christmas spirit in three selfish boys. This movie had so many things wrong with it I wanted to turn it off after five minutes. In spite of this I ended up watching the whole thing, asking myself all the time why I was subjecting myself to such torture. The reason hit me as I started typing this review. For all its weaknesses it had something all the other movies I'd watched so far during the 2011 season lacked: it was about Christmas. All the others were stories that occurred over Christmas but didn't have much do do with either the holiday or the Christmas spirit. This movie, on the other hand, was 100-percent devoted to the value of Christmas, something sadly lacking in most movies of this genre. Having said that, I still have to warn interested viewers to avoid this movie at all costs. What's wrong with it? Let me count the ways:
1. It's filmed in Atlanta to excuse the fact that it doesn't look like winter. This was done to reduce filming costs.
2. Lame, childish special effects that were embarrassing to watch.
3. Santa was played as a weirdly spaced-out character who was uncomfortable to view.
4. Santa's elf, a full-sized man, looked and acted goofy, silly, creepy, strange and obnoxious. This was the very worst elf I've have seen in over 200 Christmas movies.
5. Production values were extremely poor. The number of sets was kept to a minimum and those were as plain as could be. For example, it was supposed to be a board of Santa supervisors that put him to task. Yet to save money the producer only hired one person to deal with Santa offering the lame excuse that the other board members were busy with other things. Worse still, the meeting wasn't even held in a board room. Santa and the one supervisor simply met in an empty hallway of some building.
6. The title is misleading. The movie isn't about cancelling Christmas, only firing the actual Santa. The board member states they they will retain all the image and merchandising rights to Santa.
7. The dialog is lame and accept for the female lead, the acting was mostly poor.
8. The board member is presented as someone who has personal issues with Santa, yet the audience is left hanging as to how this will be resolved.
9. When we see Santa in full garb, beard, suit, etc., he looks scruffy and unappealing.
10. What the board is and how it works are never explained.
I could go on but I think you get the idea. Unless you enjoy visual self-abuse we strongly recommend avoiding this movie.
A Carol Christmas
Tori Spelling plays a selfish, self-absorbed talk show host who gets the "Christmas Carol" routine. Cliched situations, cheap special effects, predictable writing and "B" grade acting combine to make this flick a waste of time.
A Chance of Snow
While snowbound at an airport, a separated wife and husband meet and circumstances force them to resolve their issues. Though not badly acted, there's an offensive thread running through the plot that made it a real turn-off. The couple separated because the husband had an affair. All through the movie the husband's affair is portrayed as a minor, almost innocent, transgression while the wife's anger and frustration at it is portrayed so as to make her seem selfish, unreasonable and that the affair was really her fault. Both of us found this anti-wife prejudice disgusting. Also, the fact that all the action took place in an airport made the scenery boring.
Tom Arnold is unattractive as a Christmas cynic who is subjected to a gimmicky, hip version of that overworked theme: A Christmas Carol.
Christmas at Maxwell's
Overly somber movie about a family dealing with their terminally ill wife and mother. They take in an old man as a Christmas guest and he ends up providing miraculous cures for both the mother and the daughter when she falls and hits her head. Although this takes place over the holiday it's more of a christian faith movie than a holiday movie.
Christmas at Water's Edge
The opening scene has a senior angel showing a new angel his first assignment on a heavenly television screen: a young woman devoid of the Christmas spirit. Predictable with poor special effects.
The Christmas Blessing
This sequel to The Christmas Shoes depends too much on having seen the original. It has too many story lines and a young boy dying at the end of the movie soured it for us.
Lady jewel thief hides out in her home town and discovers love and the value of home. Painfully predictable and the girl playing the lead has an extremely tired look around her eyes. It gave us the impression she hated being in this movie but had to do it for the pay check.
The Christmas Child
Better written and acted than many made-for-TV Christmas movies, but so sad that we can't recommend it. Also, the preacher and sheriff are extremely cliched characters.
The Christmas Choir
Inspired by actual events, an accountant forms a choir of homeless men to help them and the mission they rely upon. Although it was cliched, hokey, and unrealistic, we nonetheless enjoyed this movie until a little over halfway through when the writer decided the plot needed some conflict so out of nowhere he had the main character throw a tantrum and give up on the choir. It was so artificially staged that it ruined the rest of the movie. Almost as bad was another hard-to-believe tragedy near the end.
The Christmas Clause
Lea Thompson, whom I normally like, tries too hard in this movie about a harried mother of three who makes a wish to a mall Santa to have a glamorous life. Within minutes her children pummel her with so much attitude and mean-spirited behavior that she passes out to awaken in the life she thought she wanted. The predictable happens as she learns how much she misses her real life. She wakes from a three-day unconsciousness caused by a fever to discover it was all a dream, but one from which she learned valuable lessons. Similar to Holiday Switch and just as bad.
NEW!!! Christmas Comes Home To Canaan
In this sequal to Christmas In Canaan, Billy Ray Cyrus once again fights racial prejudice in his home town. This time out he also finds love in a doctor helping his son regain the use of his legs. Christmas has nothing to do with the story and 90-percent of it takes place during summer and Spring.
Another knock-off of the Christmas Carol theme. This time a girl publicist is visited by a dead client to show her how she's mistreated her ex-boyfriends to convince her to make amends. Poor acting and grating characters made this painful to watch.
Unfunny remake of Groundhog Day. A Christmas-hating divorced father goes home for the holiday. He's so frenetically sarcastic that before ten minutes had passed neither of us cared what happened to him. He was such a jerk that he hated the idea of spending a single day with his son. It was unbelievable that anyone would have married him in the first place.
George Raft stars in this 1940-era movie about three adoptive sons who return home to prevent their mother from having control of her estate taken away. This isn't a Christmas movie because the only purpose of Christmas (eve, actually) is to serve as a time for them to meet the judge who will review the case. Ninety-percent of the story is really about the lives her three sons have led, and isn't very interesting. One son saves the day in the last two minutes of the movie by blackmailing the lawyer trying to get control of her estate in an artificial and contrived ending.
NEW!!! Christmas Evil
A psycho stalks "bad" little boys and girls.
The Christmas Gift (Sometimes billed as The Christmas Wish)
John Denver plays the widowed father of a young girl. He's sent on Christmas to evaluate a quaint town for development. Along the way he falls in love with the town and a lady post office manager. This movie has an overly contrasty look that causes enough eye strain to be uncomfortable after a few minutes. Additionally, it suffers from being noisy, several continuity errors, weak acting and forced dramatic situations.
Christmas in Canaan
This story about racial prejudice is being relegated to the 'avoid' list not because it's a bad movie, but because it has practically nothing to do with Christmas and the vast majority of it takes place during other seasons of the year.
Christmas in Connecticut (1992)
Dyan Cannon stars in a lame remake of Barbara Stanwyck's 1945 classic.
Melodrama about a couple in a troubled married trying to survive a small plane crash in the wilderness over Christmas. The plot and all the faults are virtually identical to Lost Holiday reviewed farther down this page.
NEW!!! A Christmas Hope
Please see A Christmas Wish below.
The Christmas Gift
Please see The Christmas Wish below.
Christmas in Paradise
Single parents on a cruise with their children meet and fall in love. Each has a cliched good kid and one with attitude, the soundtrack is annoying, the director uses too many split screen effects and the editing is choppy. This movie gave us both eyestrain. Adding to this long list of negatives is some weirdness about the three kings from a Caribbean nativity scene coming to life and appearing sporadically throughout the movie.
Christmas in Wonderland
Terrible. The children of a financially strapped family find $200,000 in counterfeit money dropped by two inept thieves. The silly, infantile behavior of many supporting actors made this one painful to sit through.
NEW!!! A Christmas Kiss
This is a predictable romantic comedy about an interior designer working for a mean boss and falls in love with the boss's boyfriend. The lady boss is so viciously self centered that she didn't come across as believable and soured the entire movie for us. An early scene where the female lead and her love-to-be meet in an elevator that seems on the verge of falling was totally unbelievable because instead of reaching for the emergency phone they fall into each others arms for a passionate kiss. Worse still, immediately afterward she runs away from the man she instantly fell in love with. Several dialog scenes between three girl friends felt forced.
NEW!!! Christmas Mail
Paranoid anti-Christmas postal manager orders a mail carrier to spy on a girl sent by the home office to answer all of the letters to Santa. The boss's character was clownish and the female lead character was so sweet as to be silly. The predictable happens. This one had us groaning in agony within the first half hour.
A Christmas Memory
Overly-colorful and quaint characters make this depression-era story of the emotional trauma about a hard-as-nails aunt sending her nephew off to boarding school difficult to watch. While it doesn't end as expected, the ending is so sad it robbed us of Christmas spirit rather than boosted it. The connection to Christmas is so weak as to be almost nonexistent.
Christmas on Chestnut Street
A disgusting movie about a Christmas decorating contest that turns everyone into win-at-any-cost monsters. Vile humor derived from an man's affliction with Alzheimer's, cliched character humor from a Frenchman and a dwarf, crude language and a brawl over Christmas ornaments make this one of the worst Christmas movies we've ever seen.
A Christmas Proposal
Ruthless land developer Tom Arnold plans to wipe out a quaint town to build a new ski resort. He sends his top headhunter to close the deal in spite of opposition lead by the young man's former girl friend. The predictable happens. Lame acting and screenplay weaken this movie. It's also not really a Christmas movie in that Christmas doesn't have anything to do with the plot.
This movie demonstrates a growing pattern in many of Christmas movies we viewed in 2008. To reduce production costs the movie is shot during the summer and to cover this glaring problem some lame comment is made early in the movie to the effect that it's odd that snow hasn't fallen yet. This is so obviously false, because scenes are filled with summer plants in full flower and trees in full leaf, that it's an insult to the viewer's intelligence.
A Christmas Romance
This movie starring Olivia Newton-John as a widowed mother struggling to keep her house from bank foreclosure could have been alright except one of her daughters displayed an annoyingly negative attitude and the bank officer sent to inform her of her status, who later becomes the love interest, is so self-centered that we hated him from the start.
The Christmas Secret
Richard Thomas is a great actor but even his skill couldn't make this movie about a flying squirrel expert becoming obsessed with the science of flying reindeer believable.
The Christmas Shoes
This movie was so sickeningly tender and the boy playing the lead such a poor actor that it was painful to watch. (Stories about someone's slow death are extremely difficult to write, direct and act and have only been successful a very few times. Dark Victory starring Bette Davis is one of the best.)
A Christmas Snow
Workaholic restaurant owner gets trapped by snow with her boyfriend's young daughter and an old man over Christmas. The daughter is cliched as being resentful that the woman may take her dead mother's place. She's so offensively obnoxious during the first half of the movie that it really turned us off. While that acting is mostly good, the overall tone is so somber that it didn't make us feel like Christmas. Additionally, like many movies produced for the Christian Network, this one gets a little heavy handed at times as it pushes its religious agenda.
NEW!!! The Christmas Star
Ed Asner stars in this 1986 Disney movie about a cynical escaped convict mistaken by children as Santa. In the process of using them to recover stolen loot he's converted to a good guy and saves their parents from being evicted from their home on Christmas Eve. A greedy landlord is artificially mean and a couple of miracle-type scenes felt out of place. The movie feels very dated and with its other problems relegates it to the "avoid" list. One good thing is that unlike so many movies shown during the 2011 season, Christmas themes are echoed throughout the story.
A Christmas Story
Although this movie received several positive reviews, neither my wife nor I could get into it. The adult voice-over reflecting a boy's feelings as he tries to convince his parents to get him a BB gun for Christmas sounded forced, over exuberant and distracting. Production values were poor with many sets seeming jumbled and confusing.
NEW!!! A Christmas Tale
In French with English subtitles. Catherine Deneuve stars in a movie about a family holiday where the matriarch is discovered to be ill. Graphic violence and obscene language turned us off on this movie as did the fact that Christmas was only used as the excuse for bringing the characters together.
Single mother who doesn't believe in Christmas takes her son to visit his grandfather in a remote northern town. He discovers a sleigh he thinks is Santa's and hides away in it to sneak into Santa's Factory. His mother searches for him while doing so catches a glimpse of an arm in a Santa suit and somehow this convinces her Santa is real. Lame acting, obvious blunders, cliche'd situations and a couple of unattractive characters made this a poor Christmas movie for us.
A Christmas Visitor
William Devane stars in this movie about the ghost of his son, killed in the Gulf War, coming back to fix things at home. The story was sad and I found the patriotic gestures too forced, and I say this as a 20-year veteran of the Air Force.
NEW!!! The Christmas Visitor
This is a harmless, "G" rated family movie about a 1890s sheep ranching family struggling against a drought and mean land baron. While there are a few passing references to Christmas, it felt more like a western drama. Filmed in Australia, where Christmas takes place in summer and filming expenses are corresponding lower, it spends most of its time dealing with the hardships of sheep farming rather than Christmas. I found the cliched ending where a young boy melts the hearts of both a thief and an embittered land baron to be too predictable to be entertaining. This movie features a common weakness that pops up from time to time with televised features. Someone who didn't watch the movie wrote the description of it to go with the title and this description is simply copied and forwarded along with the movie where ever it's shown. The problem is that no one checks to make sure it's correct. In this case it isn't. The description states that the movie is about a young boy mistaking a gold miner as father Christmas. In reality, the man is a vagrant and thief who's blackmailing the land baron.
Business woman called away on a job leaves organizing her wedding to her fiance. Confusion results. This isn't really a Christmas movie since the holiday has no effect on the the plot.
NEW!!! The Christmas Wedding Tail
Talking dogs scheme to get their masters to fall in love and marry. This is a lamely written and acted summer-time romantic comedy with a couple of Christmas songs added as background music to make it qualify as a Christmas movie. It didn't work for us as either a romantic movie or a Christmas film.
A Christmas Wish ( Sometimes billed as A Christmas Hope)
The tragic tone of this movie about a marriage on the verge of divorce, a sick orphaned baby and a young girl who's single mother just died in a car crash make it uncomfortable to watch. Besides that, although it takes place over Christmas the plots don't have anything to do with the holiday.
The Christmas Wish (Sometimes billed as The Christmas Gift)
John Denver plays the widowed father of a young girl. He's sent on Christmas to evaluate a quaint town for development. Along the way he falls in love with the town and a lady post office manager. This movie has an overly contrasty look that causes enough eye strain to be uncomfortable after a few minutes. Additionally, it suffers from being noisy, several continuity errors, weak acting and forced dramatic situations.
Christmas with the Kranks
This isn't really a movie with a plot but rather an excuse to string together a series of sight gags. I found one scene where a neighbor's cat is abused to be particularly offensive. How can something like this claim to represent the Christmas spirit?
Crazy for Christmas
Howard Hessman is over-the-top as a rich man tossing away hundred dollar bills during Christmas as he stupidly and clumsily tries to bond with a daughter from an affair with her mother. Particularly offensive is the cliched portrayal of two elderly women.
This is a grating, unattractive thriller about a family Christmas trip gone terribly bad.
Deck the Halls
Single mother business woman recaptures the Christmas spirit from her new neighbor who is employed as an advertising specialist at the toy company where she works. The problem is that this guy is supposed to be quirkily enigmatic but the actor goes so over the top that he comes off as an irresponsible flake. And guess what... he ends up being the real Santa.
NEW!!! Deck The Halls
This is a lame suspense movie about a lady private detective's father who's kidnapped a few days for Christmas. Filmed in L.A. in summer to reduce production costs, it has nothing to do with Christmas other than that's when it takes place. Christmas spirit and themes play no part in this movie so we can't really call it a Christmas movie.
Deck the Halls
Danny Devito plays the inconsiderate neighbor from hell as he attempts to put enough Christmas lights on his house to be seen from space, igniting a mean spirited feud with his straight laced neighbor. Similar to Christmas with the Kranks, this movie is little more than a string of antagonistic sight gags. The overall atmosphere is distinctly non-Christmas.
A Dennis the Menace Christmas
Horrible. Unattractive people behaving unattractively. Making a joke out of almost burning someone's house down does not fit in with our concept of Christmas. The universally bad acting almost makes this mess laughable, but not quite. Robert Wagner, who was once a respected actor, must have been in dire straits to star in this disaster.
The Dog Who Saved Christmas
Marginal acting doesn't help this remake of Home Alone with a dog protecting a home from to inept thieves over Christmas. The dog's voice-over actor struck a good tone, but was presented so strangely when relating to other animals that viewers come away thinking that animals use telepathy to communicate.
The Dog Who Saved Christmas Vacation
The same problems that plagued the first entry into this series haunt this movie. This time out, Zeus saves the poodle of his dreams from two dog nappers while his family is on a ski vacation.
A Dream for Christmas
In 1950, a country pastor moves his family to Los Angeles during the Christmas season. This movie felt hokey, like an over-long episode of Little House on the Prairie or The Waltons, but with weak writing and lame acting. Production values were very low.
Susan Lucci as Ms. Scrooge, a cold hearted department store manager. Offensively cheap special effects and the use of the overworked Christmas Carol idea make this a good movie to avoid.
While the idea of a human being raised by Santa as an Elf then sent to New York to be with his real father is creative, we found the humor edgy and so frenetic that the movie didn't pull us into it.
Eloise at Christmas Time
Unattractively spoiled and inconsiderate young girl terrorizes the hotel where she lives. Terrible.
Ernest Saves Christmas
Retiring Santa enlists super Christmas fan Jim Varney to help convince a children's actor to become the next Santa. Mr. Varney has a few funny sight gags and humorous muggings into the camera, but that's about all the movie has going for it. A sexily dressed teenage girl seems out of place as Varney's comic foil, a Jewish movie director is a painfully cliched stereotype and production values are weak. A big disappointment is that with so much of the movie focusing on Varney, the viewer starts feeling that he should be the next Santa. When that doesn't happen you're left with a sense of disappointment.
Unattractive con man, at one point he steals money from an elderly man by making him pay COD for a box he thinks his wife ordered before she died, grabs two runaway orphans off the street and hires a too-sweet lady to act as his wife and their mother so he can inherit $20M from an uncle. The predictable happens.
The Family Stone
Straight laced business woman, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, spends Christmas with her in-laws to be. Her intended fiance's family is formulaically quirky and greet her with ridicule and hatred. She calls her sister to come and provide support and the expected happens. An interesting movie to watch because of top notch acting, but stripped of that the plot is predictable. This movie also suffers from "kitchen sink" syndrome. That is, the writer throws in so many interesting family character twists that it becomes unbeleivable. For example: one son is gay... but that's not interesting enough so they make his partner African-American... but that's still not enough so the gay son is also deaf... and the mother has cancer, and the family is ultraliberal while Sarah jessica Parker is ultraconservative and on and on and on.
Finally, the movie could have taken place at any time of the year and nothing would have changed. Christmas only serves as an excuse to get the family together. It really doesn't play a significant part in the story line.
A Fare to Remember
Advertising lady connects with an enigmatic cabby on her way to discovering fulfillment. The female lead exhibits so many stupid behaviors (losing her purse, losing important documents, failing to verify transportation arrangements and dancing on a curb to attract a cab when there aren't any cabs around) that it was totally unbelievable that she'd ever have been a success. The male lead begins with such offensively off-the-wall behavior that in the real world he'd have been locked up long ago. These two problems ruin the very few good moments later in the movie.
Ridiculous story about a teen who travels back in time to save his girl friend. The constant, angry flow of profanity make this movie an offense to the Christmas spirit.
Flirting with Forty
A mother nearing forty, but looking twenty-something, decides to do all the things she dreamed of but never had the courage to pursue. While doing so she falls in love with a younger man. Every person in this movie is unbelievably beautiful but that doesn't make up for the fact that the occasional Christmas decoration seen stage-left doesn't make it a Christmas movie. I'm not saying this is a bad movie, or a good one either, just that it's not really a Christmas movie and shouldn't be billed as one. It could take place anytime of the year and the plot wouldn't be affected.
NEW!!! Four Christmases
Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn play a happily "un"married couple forced to spend Christmas with each of their four divorced parents one at a time. Crude, ridiculous and even violent humor is sandwiched between several anti-family and anti-marriage dialogs to create a movie that deeply offended us. Christmas only served as a reason to bring people together in conflict. Any holiday could have served the same function. If you enjoy watching two abusive brothers and their young children strangling, hitting and kicking another brother while their father laughs, you may enjoy this film. We didn't.
NEW!!! Friday After Next
Crude humor about rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube getting mugged by a storefront Santa. Aside from the subject matter, this film has a low budget look that was extremely unattractive.
A Golden Christmas
A single mother returns to the family home after distancing herself and son from everyone and announces she wants to buy the home only to discover that it's already been sold. She proceeds the scuttle the sale. Complicating the plot is the fact that the buyer is the childhood friend she longs to reconnect with. Attractive actors do well with their parts in a plot that promises some interesting scenes. The problem is that the lead character is so arrogantly self righteously and self centered about the house being her's that it completely turned us off for the entire movie. She eventually comes around but by that time her mean spirited machinations to take the house away from the the owner ruined what could have been an entertaining film. Also, the magical golden retriever who acts as the cupid to bring the two together is a bit farfetched.
The Good Witch's Gift
This is the third entry of the "Good Witch" series. The movie's only connection to Christmas is that her wedding takes place on Christmas Eve. Other than that it's all about the problems of pulling the wedding off while she solves the problems of all the people around her. If you like watching Catherine Bell smile sweetly then you'll enjoy this movie, but don't think that you're going to get a Christmas movie.
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas
While this movie admirably shows off Jim Carey's physical virtuosity, the fact is that the makeup design and behavior of the inhabitants of Whoville are so unattractive that this movie has a very uncomfortable edge to it.
NEW!!! Hercules Saves Christmas
Ridiculous story about Santa's telepathic, he talks without moving his lips, dog named Hercules who's sent to reinstill the Christmas spirit in a surly young boy. Cliched characters, childish special effects, lame writing and poor acting make this a real mess.
NEW!!! A Hercule Poirot Christmas
David Suchet is outstanding as Agathy Christy's Belgian detective and the mystery is interesting but this movie has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, other than that's when it takes place.
NEW!!! Holiday Engagement
Repeatedly promoted as a Christmas movie, this film takes place completely over Thanksgiving. It's a predictable plot about a jilted woman who hires an actor to play her fiance at a big family Thanksgiving celebration. Fans of the popular TV series Cheers will be alienated by the beautiful Shelly Long as an older, overweight mother.
NEW!!! Holiday Heist
College students get held hostage by two bumbling thieves trying to steal some college artwork. Cliched characters from a poor teen movie populate this film and although they are supposed to be in college, offer such juvenile behavior that watching them made us cringe.
Holiday in Handcuffs
A girl whose boyfriend dumps her right before a family gathering, kidnaps a handsome man at gun point to force him to fill in. Interesting concept ruined by the lead actress because she portrays her character in such a frenetic, scatterbrained manner that it's both unbelievable and jarring.
Holiday in Your Heart
Rising country singer, played by LeAnn Rimes, learns important lessons from a past great singer, played by Bernadette Peters. This movie has only the slightest connection to Christmas and could just as easily taken place any time of the year. For the most part it's just an excuse to showcase Ms. Rimes' singing ability.
young wife and mother dissatisfied with a life with love but in
poverty dreams of marriage to a rich, successful man. She bumps her
head and after awakening, crawls through her clothes drier into the
life she imagined she always wanted. It turns out the life she
dreamed off wasn't as sweet as imagined. Lack luster acting couples
with a predictable script to produce a movie worth avoiding.
A Holiday to Remember
Divorced mother moves back to her hometown. Her teenage daughter and a runaway boy are so cliched and have so much attitude that this movie was painful to watch. It stars Randy Travis and amply displays the limitations of his acting.
girls from different sides of the track trade psyches when they wish
upon the same star at the same time. Lame.
Home by Christmas
I like Linda Hamilton, but she looks so old and beaten up in this movie about her being a homeless person that it was painful to watch. Additionally, she and a friend conning their way into a real estate sale was totally unbelievable. (Sometime listed as Home for Christmas. There appear to be two other movies with the title Home for Christmas.)
Lame, low budget science fiction thriller about global warming causing earth-threatening earthquakes. The only connection to Christmas was that that was when it took place. It's marketed as a Christmas movie because it's so bad that's the only way people can be tricked into trying it.
I'll be Home for Christmas
Horrible. Self-absorbed wheeler-dealer college student has to be bribed to come home for Christmas. One of his schemes falls through and his dissatisfied clients, whom he was helping cheat, glue him into a Santa suit and leave him in the middle of the desert. He struggles to get across country in time for Christmas, not to be with his family but to win the car with which his father bribed him to come home. A few humorous sight gags during his journey, like his being befriended by a vulture, don't come close to saving this unattractive movie. One problem right off the bat was that the lead actor was supposed to be a college student yet looked more like a high school freshman. Even worse, his targeted girlfriend looked to be 25 and enough taller than him that it was unbelievable that they'd be a couple. The final nail in this mess's coffin is that it wasn't really a Christmas movie. It could have taken place any time of the year.
Michael Keaton plays an inattentive father who's killed in a snow accident. One year later he's reincarnated as a snowman to help his son. Ridiculous premise not helped by a creepy looking snowman that would be more in place in a slasher movie.
Psychopath is killed in a toxic soup of chemicals and turns into an evil snowman. This is even worse than the Michael Keaton version above.
Jingle all the Way
Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a father willing to do anything to get the latest must-have toy for his son, including theft and violence. Many people like this movie and applaud it for Arnold's comedic skills and the satiric look at the commercialization of Christmas. We felt it was so harsh it failed to reflect the Christmas spirit.
The three ghosts get the wrong address and end up at the neighbor next to the Christmas hater. An interesting idea ruined by the male lead being unattractively flaky and actually almost as anti-Christmas as his mean neighbor. The ghosts were ridiculous characters.
The Kid Who Loved Christmas
about a musician who looses his wife and struggles to maintain
custody of his adopted son. The plot is all about the father's
situation and only has a passing connection to the holiday.
Production values were poor.
Melodrama about a couple on the verge of divorce getting stranded while snowmobiling. Supposedly based on a true story. The wife was relentlessly critical for so long that by the time things started turning around we didn't really care if they were found or not. There were also far to many artificially angsty subplots.
NEW!!! Love's Christmas Story also sometimes titled Love's Christmas Journey
Good production values and attractive actors give this movie a good start... but then things go bad very fast. First, like more and more Christmas movies it's filmed in summer to save production costs. Second, that characters are all cliched and uninteresting. Third, the connection to Christmas is almost nonexistent. It could just as easily taken place any time of the year. Fourth, at 4 hours long even if it was a great movie it would be hard to watch it in one sitting. The plot is as cliched as the characters and one the Hallmark has recycled many times. A young widow goes west to live with her widowed brother and in so doing finds love and thwarts an evil land developer. The only difference is that this time it's a western costume drama taking place in the late 1800s. This movie is sometimes listed as Love's Christmas Journey.
NEW!!! Lucky Christmas
Struggling single mother wins a lottery but loses the ticket when her car is "borrowed" by a clutsy character to get his sick friend home. The story revolves around the friend trying to return the ticket. This could have been a "good to watch once" movie except for the clutsy friend who is so self centered and weasely inconsiderate that instead of being comic relief he's disgustingly offensive. Another glaring problem is that to stretch out the difficulty of returning the ticket the writer invokes a ridiculously impossible accident where the ticket gets stuck to the bottom of the heroine's son's boot. The connection to Christmas is only a token gesture and like many such movies the plot could have occurred any time of the year by simply changing a few words and two sets. Particularly artificial was one scene where to give the impression that it was supposed to be cold a store front Santa in a heavy Santa suit could be seen wrapping his arms around himself as if he was freezing, at the same time that everyone around him were wearing much lighter clothes and walking by unaffected by the supposedly low temperature. Small details like this jump off the scene to destroy what little credibility the movie had.
NEW!!! Mandie/Forgotten Christmas
Tomboy girl at a 1890s boarding school for rich girls discovers a poor girl hiding in the forbidden attic so she can pretend to be attending the school to which she always wanted to go. The dialog was so artificially stilted that none of the were believable. The story takes place around Christmas but the holiday could just as when been any other. It wasn't about Christmas at all, rather about how the tomboy was going to convince the cliched mean head mistress to accept the poor girl as a student.
Merry Christmas, Drake and Josh
young men get ordered by a judge to help a little girl have a happy
Christmas. Filmed in Spring to save production costs. Weak acting and writing.
NEW!!! Mistletoe Over Manhattan
Santa is losing the Christmas spirit so Mrs. Claus goes to New York to find something to help him recapture it. She ends up working as a nanny to a family that's breaking up. Mr. and Mrs. Claus act so soppy it's almost like they are children. Once in the big city she's a mixture of cluelessness and wisdom that seemed contradictory. The two children in the marriage were cliched characters and several situations felt artificial and forced. This isn't the worse Christmas show we've watched but we caught ourselves wanting to click on the fast forward button so often we can't recommend it.
Noisy, frenetic, unfunny comedy about a suicide help line service being foreclosed on over Christmas.
A Mom for Christmas
Olivia Newton John, who normally I love, plays a mannequin brought to life by a lady angel to fulfill a young girl's wish for a mother for herself and a wife for her widowed father. This "B" grade production was written as if no one knew where they wanted to go with it. Cheesy special effects and music reminiscent of The Exorcist gave the movie a disjointed feel. The ending is so predictable it made us wince.
Cicely Tyson is over the top as a cold pawn shop owner who gets the Christmas Carol routine.
The Munsters' Scary Little Christmas
Even Munster fans will have a problem with the poor acting in this story of little Eddie Munster having a hard time dealing with a school bully and his family's recent move to the US from Transylvania. The caste overplay their roles generating the uncomfortable feeling that they are trying too hard and in so doing make it impossible to accept them.
National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
If you enjoy Chevy Chase's constant comic mugging you'll like this movie. We found it repetitive, crude and a complete waste of time. I have to admit, though, that I did enjoy the scene when he turns on all 1,000,000 Christmas lights he put on his house and the drain on the power grid maxes out the town's generator station.
Eighteen year old amateur blogger has a tree planted for him on his first birthday selected by a contest to be planted in the White House ellipse for the new national Christmas tree. As he and his father truck it across country, the marketing manager at the corporation sponsoring the planting decides to have it cut instead of planted so that the contest can be repeated every year. We wanted to place this movie in the "see once" list but couldn't because it has too many cliche's and is painfully predictable. The father is the cliched ultra-serious widower type, the son is the cliched irresponsible youth and the marketing manager at the corporation is the cliched heartless business man. Particularly annoying are the son and his girl friend. Miscasting actors that are obviously in their 20s to play teenagers makes them hard to accept and their using a few too many 'like's in conversation makes them appear artificial. Keri Matchet as the father's new love interest is the best thing in the movie, but not enough to save it. The second the movie discloses the evil corporation's plants to kill the tree are revealed, the way the tree will be saved is ridiculously obvious. Finally, in spite of this being a movie about the national Christmas tree, Christmas plays a very small role.
Naughty or Nice
George Lopez is a radio sports shock jock trapped into being nice. The expected happens. My biggest quibble is that on three occasions the main character crossed the line about what is acceptable abuse and in so doing becomes ugly. Once that line is crossed it's hard to empathize with the character. For example, he makes a joke out of announcing on the radio to thousands of people that his teenage daughter has hairy legs and needs to shave them. In real life this sort of thing would make her the laughing stock at school for years to come. Also, the twist at the end was unbelievable and unnecessary.
The Night Before, The Night Before Christmas
Santa takes off a day early, crashes, looses his memory and ends up with a disfunctional family. Slow, predictable, weak writing and unispired acting make this a good one to miss. One of the stand-out negatives of this movie is that Santa doesn't look like Santa and his suit seems scruffy.
The Night They Saved Christmas
Lame dialog and weak acting make a ridiculous story about arctic drillers threatening to destroy Santa's workshop painful to watch. Grade B production values and Paul Williams' silly characterization of Santa's head elf don't help. What's amazing is that many talented people participated in this mess: Art Carney, Jacelyn Smith, Paul Williams and Jackie Cooper just to name a few. (Sometimes also listed as The Night They Saved Santa.)
Penelope Cruz plays a woman engaged to an excessively jealous policeman. His jealousy is so extreme it's offensive. Add to this a silly story line about an old man thinking the policeman is the reincarnation of his wife and the whole thing becomes an unredeemable mess.
A reporter finds a note from someone who died in an airplane crash written to someone named "T." She writes a series of stories about trying to find who "T" is. The movie's not that bad, though a little too sweet at times, but isn't in any way a Christmas movie and the few Christmas decorations in the background doesn't make it one.
Nothing Like The Holidays
Cliched Puerto Rican family gathering with too many subplots. The acting was good but infrequent coarse language and the fact that Christmas is hardly mentioned make this a movie we consider not worth watching.
An Old Fashioned Christmas
A rich American brings her granddaughter to England to meet a royal flame who's fallen on hard times. His wife plans to marry his son to the granddaughter to save the family estate. This is a typical, though not bad, 1900 costume piece that we're relegating to the avoid list because although it's supposed to occur over Christmas, despite all the green grass and trees, the plot has nothing to do with Christmas.
Once Upon a Christmas
Santa thinks the world has lost belief in him so he threatens to quite. Good daughter decides to visit a non-believing family to convince them to embrace the Christmas spirit and in so doing restore Santa's faith. Bad daughter attempts to thwart her. Lame and ridiculous ending with a glowing-light, laying-on-of-hands scene that was painfully hokey.
Henry Winkler plays a con man so unrelentingly self centered and manipulative for so long that by the time his visiting 8-year old son turns his heart around, that we couldn't believe it and didn't care. Additionally, other than the barest mention of Christmas this movie has nothing to do with the holiday.
One Magic Christmas
A wife and mother who's cynical about Christmas has to suffer through her husband's unemployment, eviction from their house, her getting fired, her husband's murder and her children's kidnapping and death while an enigmatic field agent for the spirit of Christmas lurks nearby performing a variety of minor miracles. In the end he takes one of her children to visit Santa to provide proof to the wife that Santa exists. When she embraces the spirit of Christmas he rewards her by shifting her back in time so that through a couple of acts of kindness she prevents a bank robbery, saves the robber's life and even convinces the mean boss that fired her to give her the holiday off. In spite of all this action the movie plods. The acting is generally lame and most of the characters are boring cliches. Production values are extremely low. Particularly annoying is the implication that if the wife hadn't embraced the spirit of Christmas she would have been left to suffer even though none of the tragedies were her fault. This doesn't sound very much like the spirit of Christmas too me.
Overly quaint, poor mountain family struggle through a year of tragedy. This movie has only the slightest connection to Christmas.
A Perfect Day
There are three things wrong with this Rob Lowe movie released in March of 2008. First, although the final scene takes place during Christmas it's not a Christmas movie because Christmas has nothing to do with the plot. Second, the plot of a nice-guy writer seduced by sudden success and turning into a self absorbed egotist is cliched. Third, the surprise revelation at the end of the movie was so poorly written that it felt contrived.
Young girl asks Santa for a husband for her divorced mother. Predictable, cliche'd, weak writing and acting and Queen Lativa's narrative mugging into the camera was distracting.
The excessively adorable girl of an overly curmudgeon single father saves an injured reindeer thinking it's Prancer. The deer is captured, put on display, she gets injured trying to free it and the deer saves her live by laying next to her to keep her from freezing until help arrives. The last scene shows the obvious truth about the reindeer. The entire movie was corny and unbelievable.
NEW!!! A Princess For Christmas
In this weak remake of Little Lord Fauntleroy, an American girl caring for the children orphaned when her sister and royal heir husband are killed is called to the ancestral home of the children's grandfather, a Duke. The children warm his bitter heart and she finds love with his son. Every single character and scene in this movie is a painful cliche. One adult character has a scene that's so childish it's embarrassing to watch. This is actually a lame romantic comedy that could have taken place any time of the year. One particularly odd problem is that the royal family is supposed to be Germanic yet all of the principle characters have English accents. I'm giving it + because while it's not very good, it's still more watchable that most of the movies in this "avoid" list. So if you choose to watch it consider yourself warned. Think of it as the best of the worst. +
Richie Rich's Christmas Wish
Adolescent silliness. The ridiculous toy gimmicks might entertain children... if they're very young.
The Road to Christmas
Lady fashion photographer gets stranded in the middle of nowhere. A single father and his daughter give her a ride to her supposedly dream wedding. The expected happens with painful predictability.
Cheesy low-budget 1959 European-made fantasy about Santa fighting the devil. TCM's programming director should have been fired for airing this mess.
NEW!!! Santa Incident
Silly, low budget movie about Homeland Security shooting down Santa. He's taken in by a nurse while two silly Homeland Security agents try to trap him into revealing where his sleigh is so they can steal its technology. This movie frustrated us because while the plot and acting were terrible, the actor playing Santa was one of the best we've ever seen. Still, he couldn't save it from being relegated to the "avoid" list.
Plodding soap opera involving betrayal, death, suicide, guilt, sacrifice and eventual happiness. This movie has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas except for a few scenes that take place on Christmas. Also titled Anne Tyler - Saint Maybe. (Anne Tyler was the author of the novel upon which this movie is based.)
Santa Baby 2
Unlike the very good original, this sequel in which Santa decides to retire and turn over the family business to his daughter, is a good movie to pass on. It has a harsh, frenetic look and an excess of angry conflict. Jenny MaCarthy isn't as believably as an efficient business woman as she was in the first movie and that takes a lot away from it.
NEW!!! Santa Buddies/Santa Paws
We found this Disney movie to be irritatingly sweet. It about talking puppies with animated mouths helping Santa to restore the Christmas spirit in the world. "B" grade special effects and a dreary beginning with a lame narrative to explain the plot quickly established that this wasn't a movie for us. Very young children may be entertained once they get past the opening few minutes.
NEW!!! Santa Buddies/ The Search For Santa Paws
Talking puppies save Christmas again when Santa is hit by a car and losses his memory. This one suffers from the same problems as the first Santa Buddies with the added detractions of being an ineffective musical, using an orphaned little girl in a cornily manipulative manner, a cliched mean orphanage manager and a Santa that looked a little creepy to us.
The Santa Clause 2
Tim Allen has to get married or lose his position as Santa Claus. He also has to deal with his now teenage son who has turned into a graffiti vandal. While Santa's away dealing with these problems a creepy looking artificial Santa is used to keep things running at the north pole. This movie tries too hard.
Santa Claus, the Movie
This is one of the strangest movies I've ever seen. The first hour is a heavy-handed account of how Santa Claus came to be. It's stylistically archaic, like a grade "B" presentation of a European myth. The second half is like a completely different movie took over the plot as one of Santa's elves leaves and hooks up with an unscrupulous toy manufacturer. Like a mixture of Monty Python and Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory held together with low budget special effects, the second half, filmed in an oddly flat-looking manner, is bazaar to say the least. John Lithgow has some funny lines as the toy manufacturer but many times he plays it over the top. This is a good one to miss.
Santa Conquers Martians
Avoid at all costs! Lame special effects, childish acting by adults, embarrassingly poor writing, a ridiculous plot and production values so bad they'll make you go blind in one eye make this one of the worst Christmas movies of all time.
Santa's son gets arrested for breaking into a house. The police think he was stealing presents, not leaving them. Some interesting twists in the first third of this movie get it off to an interesting start. But, it quickly deteriorates with the introduction of a couple of coarse characters, several unfunny slapstick scenes and it ends with ridiculous special effects and sickeningly sweet and artificial sentimentality. The most disappointing aspect of this movie isn't that it ended up poorly, but that by changing just a few plot and character details it could have been a keeper.
Leslie Neilson seems as confused about what he's doing in this movie as the amnesiac Santa he portrays. This is an unfunny "low-B" movie filled with uninteresting characters. The particularly poor special effects by themselves make this a great movie to avoid.
The emphasis is on physical-abuse comedy in this unpleasant version of A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray plays it over the top as a anti-Christmas, counter culture TV network president. None of the characters were believable and the acting in general was extremely poor.
Linda Hamilton is good as the German mother who convinces American and German soldiers to leave their guns outside her cabin over Christmas. The story is interesting and the acting good yet I put this movie in the "avoid" list for one reason: although it's supposed to be based on a true story I found it impossible to believe that a battle-hardened, German-hating sergeant would lay aside his weapon and allow his men to be out numbered just because a woman stamped her foot, metaphorically, and told him to so. Even if he was trusting enough for his own sake, to place his men in jeopardy was too difficult to accept. Perhaps if the scene had been staged more believably it might have saved this otherwise good movie.
A stereotypically unsympathetic work-comes-first father drives his photographically gifted teenage son to run away over Christmas. The boy lives on the streets making a living selling photos to a magazine. Predictably, everyone ends up finding the spirit of Christmas, love, and the son gets reunited with his father.
A Smoky Mountain Christmas
This could have been a nice little movie about a frustrated country singer who escapes to a mountain hideaway, meets the love of her life and has a merry Christmas. But, someone decided that wouldn't hold viewer's attention so they added a troop of too-cute orphans, a lecherous sheriff, a buffoonish tabloid reporter, mean orphanage matrons and even a witch. Watching this movie gives the impression the director or writer kept throwing things at it in the hopes these tricks would support the plot. It comes off as one of the worst movies we've ever seen. Dolly Parton plays the singer and is relentlessly provided contrived situations to sing, the child actors can't act and poor Lee Majors uncomfortably plods through his scenes. I like Dolly Parton but even she couldn't save this mess.
Santa's son (Tom Cavanagh) looses one of the reindeer to a zoo hunter a week before Christmas and uses a spacial warp (like Stargate) through a mirror to find the animal. Stereotypical sassy young boy, perky blonde, lecherous bad guy, dithery old people and everyone trying too hard make watching this mess pure torture.
Snow 2: Brain Freeze
Santa (Tom Cavanagh) looses his memory in this sequel to Snow and the hunter from the original movie, now down on his luck, sees this as an opportunity to even the score. The actor playing the hunter portrays his character with such gleeful badness that it almost saves this movie. The problem is that Cavanagh is so over-the-top frenetic that the movie becomes ridiculous.
Cliched characters are tiresome in what is supposed to be an Italian family, except the father is African American and the two daughters are Hispanic. We have nothing against mixing ethnicities to create interesting interactions but this felt artificial, like the casting director decided to add one of everything in an attempt to please everyone. Also, the mother, one of the daughters and her husband are unbelievably selfish. (At one point they try to take over the other daughter's apartment and expect her to pay for the rent because they can't afford it. Then they give her attitude because she doesn't think it's fair.) The theme of the story is that the single daughter doesn't like her life and gets pulled into the ideal Christmas world inside a snowglobe. Magically, things, including two of the globe's inhabitants, come back with her into the real world. In the end she finds the man of her dreams and learns to love the family and life she has. It was a cute idea handled very poorly.
Sons of Mistletoe
Overly cold hearted daughter of a philanthropic man plans to sell his business and cancel all his charities after he dies. Excessively buoyant director of a boys home romances her and tries to get her to change her mind. Cliched characters and plot combine with pedestrian performances to make this a movie to avoid. Some people may feel I'm being unfair but the lead actress looked so anorectic that her face had an unattractive, almost skeletal, appearance.
So many troubled people, a young boy with a virulently-negative attitude and the kidnapping of a sick baby made this movie so revolting we couldn't finish it. Maybe it has a redeeming finish but the first half was too bad to endure.
Success-driven business man sees his wife die and an angel grants him the chance to relive the last three days of her life. There's a desperate melancholy running through this movie that doesn't make watching a pleasant experience. The ending is painfully predictable.
NEW!!! Three Wise Guys
Tom Arnold is a sleazy casino owner who sends three thugs on a mission to kill an informer. Along the way they meet their match in a pregnant woman named Mary. Filmed in Las Vegas in Summer to reduce production costs, this movie employs a lot of silly, slapstick humor to entertain. It starts off with prostitutes, murder and glorifying archetype criminals. Also, the story could have just as well been adapted to any season. We can't recommend it.
The Three Wishes
Dean Cain plays a financially challenged husband who runs a toy factory. He invites three boys to spend Christmas with him. They think he and his wife are only going to adopt the one of them they like the most so the boys engage in lying, deceit and sabotage in a mean spirited battle as each tries to become the favorite and get adopted. The child actors aren't that good, the war-to-be-the-favorite is offensively not in the Christmas spirit and the ending was so predictable that it was obvious after five minutes of watching.
To Grandmother's House We Go
We don't mean to be unkind but the sad fact is that Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen are terrible actors. Besides that, their constant bickering spoil the Christmas spirit in the movie about their decision to take off to visit their grandmother and managed to get kidnapped along the way by two inept thieves. The male lead's acting abilities are equally unimpressive and odd black and white snippets from old westerns cut in as he's driving around singing Roy Rogers' songs give the film a disjointed feeling. Add to this the fact that it had little connection to Christmas and what you end up with is a complete waste of time.
The Town Christmas Forgot
big city family gets stranded in a failing town over the holiday.
They end up joining in, helping many people recover their Christmas
spirit and save the town from bankruptcy. We wanted to like this
movie because even if it was predictable, if done well it could have
been a good movie, as Christmas in My Hometown was. But, it
suffers from so many cliches that it's painful to watch. The father
is too much "let's embrace the situation and have a great
holiday", the wife is a dancer who gave up her dream to become
and excessively successful business woman, the young son is overly
adorable, and the teenage daughter is disgustingly spoiled with
sarcasm dripping off every word.
A Town Without Christmas
Child writes Santa to say he's going to kill himself to help his parents. Public outcry develops and a reporter struggles to figure out mystical clues and dim memories of his own past to save the child. I found it ridiculous, unfunny and unsatisfying.
Trapped in Paradise
Three brothers rob a bank on Christmas Eve. Two of the brothers are so goofy and stupid that instead of being funny they were offensive, an impression quickly supported by an abundance of crude profanity.
NEW!!! 'Twas the Night
A rebellious teenager and his con man uncle steal Santa's magic orb and sleigh. The uncle uses them to rob people, the boy finds out and returns the sleigh to Santa. Corny and lame.
The Twelve Men of Christmas
the first few minutes and the last few take place during two
sequential Christmases, the bulk of this movie takes place during the
year between them as a New York ad saleslady moves to Montana to take
the only job she could find after being fired for creating a scene
when she discovers her boss having an affair with her fiance. Even
during the brief time when Christmas is in season the movie plays
little attention to it, consequently this really isn't a Christmas
movie. Add to that the irritatingly nasal voice of the lead actress
and you get a movie that isn't worth the time to watch.
Twice Upon a Christmas
Sequel to Once Upon a Christmas. Santa's evil daughter is at it again, this time selling off the old homestead. Good daughter returns with her children to save the day. Silly.
Five children without their parents get stranded in a snowed-in airport. Mean security guards try to control them. They resist. The connection to Christmas is almost nonexistent and the comedy revolves around children outwitting bumbling adults. Early in the movie viewers are treated with a scene where 100 adolescents have a belching party.
The Ultimate Christmas Present
Two 13-something girls find Santa's weather controlling machine and use it to create a winter storm. Lame writing, plot and acting.
Bar singer Dolly Parton dies and is given one change to save her soul: instill love in a family consisting of a widowed father and his two children. The father is the stereotypical man burying himself in work and neglecting his children. They are stereotypical kids with attitudes, yet beneath it all have hearts of gold. Dolly is okay but instead of figuring out how to solve the problem herself keeps turning to St. Peter for help. This weakens her character. Several scenes were painfully contrived to provide her with the opportunity to sing. Don't get me wrong. I like Dolly Parton and appreciate her as both a singer and an actress. It's just that in this movie the writers and director didn't give her much to work with.
One interesting note is that Allison Mac, later of Smallville fame, portrays the young teen daughter.
A Very Brady Christmas
My wife and I were wincing in pain before the opening credits finished on this film. Watching it made us feel as uncomfortable as if hundreds of spiders were crawling over our skin. The weird style of writing and acting made it seem more dated than movies made back in the 40s. I acknowledge that there are fans of the Brady Bunch who will love this film, but for us it was a fingernails-on-blackboard experience to watch.
A Very Cool Christmas
An unattractively self-centered 16 year old girl meets a Mall Santa, who happens to be the real thing, and precedes to give his look an up-to-date makeover. George Hamilton seems uncomfortable, and in some scenes ridiculous, as Santa. The movie begins with a weird dream scene and ends with the usual cliches. Like many current Christmas movies, this one's filmed in summer to save production costs. Not even southern California looks that good in December.
A Very Married Christmas
Happily married man discovers his wife's been unhappy for a long time, has had a affair and is leaving him. Feeling lost, he signs on as a mall Santa in the hopes of going out with a woman he sees working with the program. This movie has a edgy, weird feeling caused by the subject matter and many flashbacks and vignettes. The one good thing about it is that it features the always attractive Keri Matchet.
A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride
Daughter of a mother-daughter wedding planning business tries to break up her mother's wedding. Although this takes place during the Christmas season the connection to the holiday is so weak that should not be called a Christmas movie. Forgiving that, the movie still suffers from a predictable plot and the lead character too light and flaky to be believable.
What I Did for Love
Young lawyer accompanies his fiance to her widowed and bitter father's ranch for the holidays. Everyone picks on the clueless city boy until he finally proves his worth. Predictable plot and cliched characters. The only connection to Christmas is that the holiday is used as the excuse for the daughter to bring her boyfriend home. Particularly offensive are two painfully obvious imbedded commercials for a well known jewelry chain.
When Angels Come To Town
Katey Sagal (Married... with Children) has several funny scenes as a bookkeeper angel sent down from "the home office" to knock field agent angel Peter Falk back in line. The portrayal of the heavenly realm being as bureaucratically bogged down as earth was refreshing. The spoiler for this movie was the male lead whose knife-lipped portrayal of a son heartlessly modernizing a family ornament company was nothing short of vicious. At one point, as he hands an employee her last paycheck before firing her he smiles with relief as he says how much he's looking forward to not writing paychecks any more. The frantic vehemence of the actor's portrayal of his character soured us on the movie after just 15 minutes. If that was the only problem we would have bumped this one into the "okay to see once" list. But, a stereotypically mean social worker and the female lead's self-absorbed younger brother forced it to be relegated to the dungeon. Too bad too, because with a few changes this could have been a "must see" movie.
While She Was Out
Kim Bassinger is trapped in a mall over Christmas Eve and terrorized by hoods. Poor acting, writing, unattractive theme for a Christmas movie and it could have just as well taken place any time of the year. I recommend skipping this one.
Will You Marry Me
Young Jewish girls gets engaged to a man whose family goes overboard at Christmas. The engagement brings the families together for a culture clash. The actress playing the young girl has such an annoyingly nasal voice that listening to her was like listening to nails being dragged across a blackboard. The girl's mother was unattractively arrogant and the boy's parents unbelievably enthusiastic about anything Christmas.
While watching all these movies I noticed several mistakes were repeated again and again which either weakened or ruined what would otherwise have been good movies.
The most common problem concerns the plot where a cynic is converted by love or the Christmas spirit into being a better person. Far too many movies start off portraying this character as unattractively mean. I understand that the actor or director may be trying to emphasize "before and after," but making the character too mean prevents the audience from forming an empathic bond with him or her. This is the obvious problem with A Christmas Romance. A better approach, as executed in A Holiday for Love, is to have a basically good character forced into doing something bad. Equally good is to have the character regretting doing cynical things but forced into it by circumstances beyond their control or haunted by an unfortunate experience in their past. Either way, it's important for the audience to know that the character has remorse.
Equally important is the quantity of the cynicism. Even if the character regrets it, a constant, unending torrent of cynical behavior is such a turn-off that the audience quickly loses empathy for the character.
The type or quality of cynicism must be carefully metered. For example: the character should never make a young child cry because in the audience's mind this crosses the line from redeemable cynicism to unforgivable meanness. The female lead character in the movie If You Believe commits both this and the error mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Too many Christmas movies are simply familiar romantic plots recycled using Christmas as a backdrop. The fact that it's Christmas doesn't significantly impact the plot. Titling such movies as "Christmas movies" is misleading. The audience will quickly realize it's being baited-and-switched and will think less of the movie because of it.
Quality control is also a big problem with most Christmas movies. Writers, producers and directors should appreciate that just having a Christmas tree in the background doesn't issue them a free pass to cut corners on production values or good acting. One cheap special effect can turn an otherwise good movie into a laughing stock. In the case of special effects it's better to do without than use something obviously artificial and second-rate. Christmas Magic is a very good movie about a Christmas angel that doesn't have a single special effect, yet it's far more effective than every special effect heavy movie we've viewed. If for some reason "cheap" can't be avoided, then at least keep its impact to a minimum. The cheesy "Christmas powder" used at the end of Santa Jr. is a good example of what to avoid.
A growing trend in many of the new Christmas movies is to reduce production costs by shooting during the summer and to cover this glaring problem with some lame comment made early in the movie to the effect that it's odd that snow hasn't fallen yet. This is so obviously false, because scenes are filled with summer plants in full flower and trees in full leaf, that it's an insult to the viewer's intelligence. Audiences pick up a lot of subliminal impressions from unitended reality. For example, in one scene in Christmas Angel, which was filmed in winter, the subtle sound of crunching snow under the actor's feet as he walks along a street created more reality that the acres of fake snow blankets used in most movies.
I appreciate that because Christmas movies aren't given a great deal of respect, it's not economically practical for production companies to invest a lot of money in such movies. But, the suggestions above could be implemented without additional cost. Why they aren't is a complete mystery to us.
During the 2011 season I noticed a significant increase in the number of times an older movie was renamed to trick people into rewatching them. Every time I discover one of these bait-and-switch movies I feel cheated.
During the 2011 season I also kept track of the number of new movies made during the year. I was astounded that Hallmark alone produced over a dozen new movies. It would seem that the demand for this market, at least for television, is great enough to support a significant industry in this genre.
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