For years, the idea of a Christmas movie, was something that was in black and white or made before you born. Like: It's A Wonderful Life, or the classic Rudolph, Frosty, Grinch or Charlie Brown specials.
Then Hallmark came along, and turned it into a month long event of new, romantic films.
Today, it's a free for all! Between Hallmark, Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, Lifetime, UpTV, Paramount Network, OWN, Netflix, Hulu and on and on...we are buried in a blizzard of festive films.
While I admit, I still have about 30 on my DVR I hope to finish before December 25th, here's my list (so far) of the best and worst I've watched this holiday season...
#1 Christmas In Vienna
It seems that each year, Hallmark spends the big bucks, to send the cast and crew of one of its films to an overseas destination. This year it was Vienna. And it paid off. This movie is gorgeous! The scenery is incredible. It will soothe any soul that is missing going on vacation this year. And star Sarah Drew is wonderful!
#2 Dash and Lily
This new Netflix series has everything. Tons of New York Christmas cheer, an adorable cast of talented actors. A fun and poignant plot and an awesome soundtrack! I get so annoyed with my local radio station that plays the same 4 Christmas songs over and over again. Discover some new ones in this really fun (and at times sexy) Netflix series.
#3 The Christmas Setup
While I give Hallmark credit (see #4 below) for being the first to put a gay couple in a holiday movie, they were just side characters and didn't get a feature love story of their own. That is NOT the case for this new Lifetime movie. The Christmas Setup is a sweet, romantic holiday movie that happens to be about 2 guys. Kudos to Lifetime for that! And if that weren't enough, Fran Drescher is wonderful as the match-making mom! Sometimes she gets typecast as The Nanny. But, in this movie she is loving, fun and totally believable as a meddling mom.
#4 The Christmas House
Last year Hallmark made headlines, when phony conservatives melted like snowflakes over a commercial that happened to feature a lesbian couple. It wasn't even a movie, it was a commercial! But Hallmark folded, apologized and pulled the ad. Well, then people who actually care about human rights spoke out and Hallmark apologized for that, then cleaned house at the executive level and promised new leadership and more diversity.
This year, they started to make good on that. They were the first to debut a gay couple in one of their new movies. But, it was sort of a cop-out. While I give the cast and crew of the movie (especially writer and star Robert Buckley) tons of kudos for making a romantic, fun, inclusive film...this is NOT the gay love story we were promised. The gay brother and his husband, are side characters. This is NOT their love story.
Hopefully Hallmark will do even better next year.
#4.5 The Christmas Chronicles 2
It's not easy to create an instant Christmas classic, but that's exactly what director Chris Columbus has done...again! The man who brought us Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire has created another masterpiece. I loved the first Christmas Chronicles, but the most fun moment was the very end (spoiler alert) when we saw that Goldie Hawn was Mrs. Claus to Kurt Russell's Santa! Clearly, we needed more of that. And in this sequel we got it! Goldie's smile alone, could light that magic star. This entire cast, including Darby Camp, Jahzir Bruno (and a special appearance by Darlene Love) are just terrific. It will make you laugh, cry, and fear demented elves. Watch them both, every year from now on.
#5 A LEGO Star Wars Holiday Special
This one has BB-8 and Grogu meeting in the same scene! What else do you need to know?! Any Star Wars fan will love this holiday, crossover, silly, fun special. Watch it with kids (as I did over facetime with my friend's 2 boys) for extra enjoyment!
#5 (tie) Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special
The queen of Christmas has done it again! I don't know how she managed to produce this gorgeous mini-movie in the middle of a pandemic, but it is wonderful. Fantastic costumes, sets, effects (how they made it seem like Mariah, J-Hud and Ariana were in the same room is miraculous), and of course the music! This special has everything you love about Christmas: the Peanuts gang, the Nutcracker (performed by Misty Copeland), Billy Eichner, Tiffany Haddish and most of all Mariah. Cuz, when you get down to it, all we really want for Christmas is her. (streaming now on Apple TV+)
#6 A Nashville Christmas Carol
While I admit I am partial to any movie centered around a tv producer, this one was extra delightful. The main reasons: country music stars Wynonna Judd and Kix Brooks. There are even more fun, cameos from Nashville stars. Call it: Scrooge meets Opry. Hee haw!
#7 Christmas Waltz
Lacey Chabert is wonderful in this (as she's been in everything she's done since Party of Five) but it's really Will Kemp who steals the show. He is a terrific actor and a phenomenal dancer. This is a really beautiful production.
#7 (tie) Chateau Christmas
This Hallmark movie has beautiful music, beautiful people and a beautiful story. Star-crossed musicians brought back together by the sound of Christmas.
#8 Mistletoe & Menorahs
I know what you purists are thinking, this movie first aired on Lifetime last year! But, I missed it in 2019, sorry! And, as a Jew who loves holiday movies, when I discovered it this year, I was delighted! It does a great job of sharing Hanukkah traditions, in a way that doesn't feel like a boring Hebrew school class.
#9 Cranberry Christmas
Let's just say it, Nikki DeLoach is the princess of Hallmark holiday movies! I know this is controversial, but for the moment I stand by it. She is so loveable in everything she does. In this one, on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, she is giving me Joanna Gaines vibes. It is rare when Hallmark presents a couple that starts the movie, separated and struggling in their marriage. The love story isn't about 2 strangers, but about a husband and wife trying to rediscover their own romance.
#10 Dashing In December
While the plot of this movie is bizarrely similar to the above mentioned, The Christmas Setup, I still really enjoyed this movie. Like The Christmas Setup, this is a holiday love story, that just happens to be about 2 guys.
Andie MacDowell is terrific as the mom. Peter Porte is as handsome as Clark Kent, but not exactly likeable for most of this movie. But Juan Pablo di Pace has enough charm for both of them.
The Colorado setting is also quite wonderful and that scene with the first dance, will require tissues. Kudos to Paramount for this dashing movie.
#11 (tie) A Sugar and Spice Holiday
I think we can all agree it took way too long for there to be a holiday movie, centered around an Asian-American family. This is one has just the perfect amount of sweetness.
#11 Christmas On Ice
I love a movie with a surprise plot twist, combined with a community crusader and a handsome hockey player. This movie has all of that and more.
#12 (tie) One Royal Holiday
Ever dream about running into Prince William at a gas station convenience store? Now you can experience it, with future Tony award winner Aaron Tveit in that fanciful Hallmark movie.
#12 Dear Christmas
If you grew up in the 90's get ready to freak out when Clarissa explains Christmas to Brandon Walsh!!
#13 Love, Lights, Hanukkah
What a gift to have a movie that just purely, unashamedly celebrates Hanukkah! They get the food right, the candle blessings right, etc. etc. And how did I forget that Marilu Henner is such a wonderful actress? Plus, why should only 90's women (like Candace, Danika, Lacey) have all the fun? Glad to see Boy Meets World Ben back on tv!
#14 Good Morning Christmas
One of my biggest pet peeves about Hallmark movies, is that as soon as the couple falls in love...the movie ends! WTF? I want to see what happens next! Well, for Hallmarkies who watched The Irresistible Blueberry Farm, earlier this year...now we get to see a continuation of Allison Sweeney and Marc Blucas' love story. OK, so they're not playing the same characters, but it's the same actors, so I'm pretending this is a sequel.
#14 (tie) Five Star Christmas
Imagine if The Family Stone, was reimagined as a game of Clue with a little Newhart thrown in. Come for the B&B experience, stay for the beautiful scene-stealer that is Bethany Joy Lenz.
#15 Christmas Comes Twice
I have just two words: Tamera Mowry! She just lights up the screen! Pure radiance. So loveable and likeable. Her performance is a Christmas gift. But so is the great Sheryl Lee Ralph...legend, gorgeous, such a powerful presence. And finally there's the eye candy; Michael Xavier.
#16 Jingle Bell Bride
A latina leading lady! A black leading man! Love the representation, long overdue! We should all be so lucky to get stranded in a town in Alaska with such welcoming hospitality.
#17 Feliz Navi-Dad
Did I mention I love the 90's nostalgia? This is a sweet story about families overcoming grief and learning to love again. And AnnaLynne McCord would have A.C. Slater saying: 'hey mama'!
#18 Happiest Season
Sorry to say I didn't love this. I very much appreciate that it's a love story centered around two women. But the script was kind of lame and wasted such a talented cast. For me, Aubrey Plaza is the best part of this movie. The scenes between she and Kristen Stewart were my favorite. The genius, Dan Levy, is kind of wasted as the not too funny best friend. And the way they treat Mary Holland's Jane was so offensive I nearly stopped watching. But, overall I'm truly grateful for representation of the 'L' in LGBTQ+.
#19 (tie) Christmas Unwrapped
This Lifetime movie kind of peaks too soon and then fizzles. But Marco Grazzini's smile is bright enough to guide Santa's sleigh. It's produced by Tiffany Haddish and has a sweet story. But Cheryl Ladd's scroogey character is a bit much.
#19 A Little Christmas Charm
A fun who-dunnit. Major Colbumo vibes.
#20 A Ring For Christmas
Lame script, but wonderful cameos by two legends: Lorraine Bracco and Michael Gross.
So far, Holidate has been my least favorite of the season. It's kind of over the top and a bit much. But, my boss liked it, so I'm adding it as an act of Christmas kindness.
As I keep watching more of the movies on my DVR, keep checking back for more recommendations!
Happy Hanukkah and Merry Christmas!
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